Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Being White

I realized the other day that white people here get the exact same reactions as unicycle riders do in the US. Seriously. The only difference here is that some kids will try and shake your hand if they get close enough, as if you're a celebrity. Adults generally don't care.

In the North I'm 'batooray', but when I get to post I'll be back to 'yovo'. They also have a song in the south, which I used to enjoy, but now it's starting to get annoying. Fortunately, I hear that kids in your community get used to you and stop singing it.

Still, I completely understand their behavior. Whenever I see a yovo that I don't know I start gawking at them like a slack-jawed yokel, wondering who they are and why they're here.

Also, I've started to get letters that were sent at the end of July (three from my parents) so if you sent me anything around then I'll probably be getting it soon.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Large Update

I'm very busy right now and I have limited access to computers, so it's hard to write awesome posts. That will change when I actually move and start working, but for now it'll have to do.

Right now I've begun teaching English to practice classes (basically, kids who were offered free summer English classes). It went really well, so the scariest part of this trip is over. The classes only have about 20-25 students, and the kids all want to be there, but I'm still happy with my performance. That will go on for four more weeks and then I move to my town to actually start teaching.

I visited my post last week with the principal of my school. My post is probably the best one outside of Cotonou. It's located in a village, but there's a large city 10 minutes away by bike that has pretty much everything. There's even a Robot Cafe and a Robot Bakery (just the names, but they have pictures of robots on the front. Seriously, what are the odds?). I'm taking over a post from another volunteer who left me everything that she owned, which rocks on so many levels. I have electricity and cell phone coverage. Water is drawn from a pump down the street, but apparently my neighbor kids will just go get it for me if I ask. I'll have a local PO Box when I move there that I'm going to share with the school, though I'm really close to Cotonou so anything you send there can be easily retrieved. Also, it costs me nothing to receive phone calls, so if you're bored, feel free to call me (I'll get a number when I move).

I think prose isn't the best way to talk about Benin with my time constraints, so here's a list of points of interest:

I saw a moped run into a goat today. The guy just kept driving and the goat just walked away, a little startled. I was shocked that it wasn't dead. Animals walk around the streets here pretty freely and I'm surprised that didn't happen sooner.

Little girls and boys dress the same and have the same haircuts, so the only way to distinguish them is by looking to see if they're wearing earrings.

When it gets below 70 degrees, you'll see a few people wearing winter coats with the hood on.

You can see the Milky Way, which rocks.

BBC Africa is my best friend (it's my only source for news since I can only get on the internet occasionally and newspapers here are only local).

On the sides of roads people are selling large jugs with what I thought was liquor. It turns out it's gasoline brought from Nigeria. That was a disappointment until I actually tasted a drink called "sodabe" which basically is moonshine.

I've vomited twice for no reason, but always without fever, and I was better the next day. I just got over a cold, which was very annoying. Otherwise I've been quite healthy.

I'd go on but I'm out of time. In any event, I'm having a lot of fun and I'm really glad I came here.

No Letters

I sent two emails to my mom but I'm not sure if they were receieved. But to sum up the main point, I'm going to have reliable and frequent internet access at my post (starting Sept. 25th). Everyone should still feel free to send me letters (it's always nice to be able to re-read them), and I'd definitely appreciate any books anyone sends me. I'm going to post this and then try to write an actual update since I can't be sure if the connection will persist.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

In Djougou

Jim sent me a very short email from Djougou:

"The internet cafe here isn't always reliable. I'm sending you a very long letter tomorrow. Also, my host family rules."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Some Thoughts on International Mail

A few people have asked for more detailed information about sending letters and packages to Benin. Having never paid much attention to how a letter gets from one place to another, I started thinking, " How does this all work?" As it turns out, there is quite a bit to international mail.

The Universal Postal Union is the organization that coordinates postal policies between nations. It was founded in 1874 and is headquartered in Bern, Switzerland. The UPU became a specialized agency of The United Nations in 1948. Currently 190 nations belong to the UPU. Member countries agree to the same set of terms for conducting international postal duties. Among other things, the UPU decided that there should be a uniform flat rate (mostly) to mail a letter anywhere in the world.

Addressing international mail:

* Print the delivery address in all uppercase letters.
* Use arabic numerals and Roman letters (what we always use here in the U.S.)
* Addresses should be five lines or less

Line 4: COUNTRY NAME (the last line should be country name only)

Ths sender's name and address should be on the front, upper left hand corner of the envelope. Don't forget to include zip code and country of origin.

CORPS DE LA PAIX (this is slightly different from the above directions)
B.P. 971


The postal world has been divided into five zones, or rate groups. Benin falls into rate group number 5. The cost of a one ounce (or less) letter is 84 cents. A one pound package costs $9.75. You can access the postal service web site for the complete rate chart:

Par Avion stamps: If you go to the post office to purchase 84 cent stamps, they will give you small blue par avion or airmail stamps. These are not postage stamps because they have no real value, but rather, they direct the post offices all over the world to put the letter on the airplane, not the boat. The official language of the international postal system is French, so all post offices will understand par avion.

In the last email we received from Jim, he asked us to send him letters only until he gets his own post office box when he's done training. He explained that since he will be living with a host family, he doesn't need anything for the moment.