Monday, September 25, 2006

There is a Bat in my Latrine

All the trainees got sworn in on Friday by the new Ambassador, so I'm actually a volunteer now! We took an oath to defend the US Constitution and then partied the rest of the day.

The electricity is temporarily out at my post, which made cooking my first meal difficult, so I just had oatmeal with a packet of Swiss Miss mixed in. Breakfast today was Mac and Cheese with some beef jerky on the side. I'm going shopping after this, so hopefully I'll be able to start cooking proper meals (not that what I'm eating is much different than what I made back in the US). The neighbor kids are quite helpful. One guy came over today to make sure I didn't mind if he helped me with chores.

My house is bigger and better stocked than I remember from post visit (my predecessor left me almost everything she owned). There are lots of lizards in the shower room and outside of my house. The tin roof makes the lizards crawling sound like a small child is up there.

My cell phone works in village, but there's no service at my house. This internet cafe has DSL, though it's about 20 minutes by mototaxi. Next door to the internet cafe is the fitness center. During post visit I thought I saw a sign that said it offers massages. That was incorrect. It offers massages AND hydromassages. I don't know what that means exactly, but I do know where I'll be on my birthday.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Animals and Miscellania

It turns out that the pregnant goat had three stillborn babies, so that was a bust. Also, one of the five kittens died, though I can't tell from what. I found out that the mother cat is named Paix-joie ('Peace-joy'). My dog's name is Rex, though no one can pronounce the /ks/ sound so they all call him Ress.

My brother further explained today that the goats' legs are broken because when the thieves can't steal the goat, they throw a pipe at it to break its leg. I don't know why, because they never come back to steal the much-slower goats. I'd guess they're just mad they were thwarted by a goat.

I will have a cell phone as of Thursday. I'll send the number around sometime thereafter. Whenever I told a member of my family that I was getting one they congratulated me, which I thought was confusing until I remembered that a cell phone costs about 15% of the average annual income here.

I become a volunteer on Friday and move to my post on Sunday. Apparently no one in my market speaks French, so I'm not sure how I'm going to buy things for a while. Most likely I'll have to find some kid to translate for me.

This will be the last update for a while.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Choppin' Birds and Other Stuff

OK Mom, the chicken preparation went like this:

My 12-year-old sister grabbed a chicken, laid it on the ground, and pinned its legs and one wing with her feet, so it couldn't move. Then she grabbed its neck and pulled out some feathers. Then I took the knife and started cutting. I'm pretty sure she was choking it since it didn't make any noise. She wasn't pushing back very hard so I wasn't able to cut through the bone, so she took the knife and finished the job, though it was quite dead at that point.

Then she said, "Chickens don't want to die."

For the past few days Maman has been telling me I'm going to kill some ducks today, but I told her I like ducks too much, though I'll still eat them if she kills them for me.

In non-killing news, Swear-In is on Friday (I'll actually be a Volunteer after that), and I move to my post on Saturday.

Best Conversation Ever

Me: Do you break your goats' legs?
My Brother: What do you mean?
Me: I noticed that two of your goats have broken legs. I was wondering if you break them for a reason.
My Brother: Oh, no, it's because of the thieves.

I have no idea what he meant.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Things Not to Teach

In one of my French classes we got a reading about a guy who crashes on an island and ends up eating another person in order to survive. After the reading we had a really long discussion, around 90 minutes, about what we would do in that situation, and it eventually turned to religion and other matters. A great class overall.

Thinking I was being clever, I translated the story into English and held one of my practice classes over it. It was a complete flop. Every single student said they wouldn't eat a person, and wouldn't talk any further. I was expecting controversey, but after class a volunteer told me that it's a huge taboo to even discuss the subject, and that some students probably associate cannibalism with witches, which they won't talk about either.

Otherwise, Model School is going great. There's one week left of practice teaching, and the week after is just some administrative tasks followed by my swearing-in ceremony.

Good News

I can't say I've never killed a chicken anymore.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My Email

I realized I didn't have it on here:

j5g2bvk8hzp@gmail.com

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Good Times

People have been asking me to write about a lot of various topics so I'm going to write about them all in this post.

Bathing: I take bucket showers with water drawn from a well. My family has a latrine out front, but a few weeks ago my host dad installed a toilet and indoor shower area. The toilet doesn't flush (you dump a bucket of water into it), but it's still pretty sweet. At post I'll have a latrine. My house has electricity but recently it's been getting cut off a lot at random hours of the day.

Food: The meat here is extremely good, and I get protein with every meal. Breakfast is always one omelette, a bunch of bread with jelly, and a chocolate mix drink. Lunch is usually some meat with a starchy substance, normally p√Ęte. I sometimes get vegetable salad and an orange. Dinner is the same as lunch with a larger emphasis on meat, and fish is more common. People here love fish, but I find I prefer meat just because I don't like dealing with all the bones.

Language: My French is getting pretty reasonable and fluid, so I'm happy with that. I'm able to make my family laugh, and I'm not going to starve, which was pretty much my goal. The local language that I'm learning is Fon, which my family speaks. I don't know much at all, but I learned how to say "My name is not Yovo," which made my dad fall over laughing when I said it to him.

Cultural/Religious Stuff: I realized how accustomed I am to things here when I laughed at an Italian tourist for asking me where the trash cans are (note: there aren't any. You can just throw trash wherever you want, which makes things real easy). I almost always eat alone, though my dad sometimes has tea while I eat breakfast, and he might eat with me if he happens to be home when I eat. The first day the entire family ate together and that never happened again. It's an honorary thing to eat alone, which I think is probably kinda like they're treating you like you're at a restaurant. The Christian and Muslim communities are very visible here, and if I hadn't read about Voodoo I wouldn't know it existed. I wake up to the call to prayer every day, which is nice, as I can't really tell what time it is in the morning but I know it's 5am whenever it starts. You'll see women in full burkas here sometimes, especially on Fridays. My post will be entirely Christian (that's Catholics, Protestants, and Celestial Christians). People also practice voodoo things, but it's usually on the down low.

Teaching: Model school has been interesting. I taught Seconde, which is like junior year of high school. The kids abilities varied widely, some speaking well and some not being able to conjugate verbs in the present tense. My accent is extremely difficult for them to get through since they've been studying English from non-native speakers for the last 5 or 6 years. Since few students can afford books, they just have kids copy everything down exactly into notebooks. But, since they're essentially creating their own books they do this extremely slowly, so when planning lessons you have to factor in copying time. Some students use more than one color pen and underline with rulers.

Having kids ask you questions as a warmup is really fun. When I told them I was 22 they looked really confused and said they thought I was 30 (probably because of the righteous beard I've grown to look older). Also, inevitably, they'll ask you what you think of Osama bin Laden. At that point they're usually pretty riled up and it's best to just start the lesson.

Speaking of Osama, there's a very popular wallet here that has a picture of the American flag on one side and Osama on the other. I can't figure out what the hell it's supposed to mean. I start teaching in exactly one month! Things are moving along quickly here.

Random Observations:

My mom taught me how to play that game with the 12 bowls and little stones. There are two rule sets according to her: white people rules and black people rules. I was playing my 9-year-old brother with the black rules (which are more fun), and after completely dominating him my mom saw us and laughed at the fact that I had beaten him with their rules.

It turns out you don't really have to refrigerate eggs if you eat them within a couple days.

Goats like to be higher than other goats. As in, they'll stand on anything to be higher than any nearby goats. I don't know why. There's one really pregnant goat that should give birth before I leave for post, so that will be fun.

You can only buy pirated movies here. To get legit copies, you have to go to Cotonou and pay what is about 25% of my monthly income.

Kids will just ask you for stuff. A typical conversation goes like this:

Kid: Give me some candy.
Me: I don't have any candy.
Kid: Go buy some from that stand.
Me: No.

This isn't rude at all, and I think it's kinda cute. Still, they aren't going to get any of my candy.

someone once said the one invention they couldn't live without was air conditioning. This is incorrect. The correct answer is toilet paper.

Presents: If you want to send me stuff, here are the things I can't get:

Books: Anything about economics, carbon sequestration, cognitive science, or physics would be good.

Food: Ranch dressing mix or any instant mix, and skittles. Also recipes for chile.

CDs: Just anything you like, or mix CDs. I can play mp3 CDs. I'm always looking for something new to get into.