Sunday, February 18, 2007

Petites Annonces

I have uploaded more photos, including ones of Jem's.

"Jem's?" you say? Yes, Jem's. That's how it's spelled - don't ask me why. It still counts.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


My tailor (and best friend in village) had a son born today, which he graciously named James.

Crater of Zarzok

Instead of having winter in Benin, it just doesn’t rain for three months. This is good for people who don’t like getting motorcycle trips interrupted and who like drying clothes in one day, though prices for food tend to go up during dry season. I told some lady I wouldn’t buy her eggs since they were too expensive, and she said (in Fon, which someone translated for me) “Well damn, if the yovo thinks it’s too much, what the hell are we Africans supposed to do?”

It gets really, really dusty during dry season. The word in Fon for the dry season is ‘white wind’, since all the sand from the Sahara blows south, hangs in the air, and blots out the sky (during the rainy season it gets rained away). It’s like a permanent, sandy fog. Pineapples are readily available for some reason, though every other fruit isn’t. I haven’t had an orange in two months. Dry season ended a few days ago with an awesomely huge storm. I was pretty stoked that it was raining, even though the roof started leaking onto my face while I was sleeping.

Probably the best thing about it raining is that a student I’m working with can finally start growing moringa on a commercial basis (moringa is this jazzy plant that’s full of protein and vitamins which are lacking in many people’s diets). He’s been pretty diligent about getting it started, and seems to be an exceedingly competent farmer, so I’m actually hopeful for once that a secondary project might come to fruition. Usually I find out that anything I come up with either already exists or isn’t remotely possible. Zinvie is (fortunately) developed to the point that my presence here is almost unjustifiable, so I was pretty happy to find something I could do that needed doing.

The goal, in theory, is to teach people to cook moringa powder properly (since the traditional way of preparing a sauce destroys the nutrients), then sell it in bulk either at the market or to the local hospital, which would resell to expecting and nursing mothers. The only downside is that it may take a year or two before any of the plants are old enough to be harvested, but with any luck I should see it all come together before my service is finished.

In That Case, You CAN Have My Number

Conversation between me and a student (in English):

Student: Can I have your phone number?
Me: No, I don’t give it to students.
Student: But I want to call you.
Me: Too bad.
Student: Can I help you write grades in the gradebook?
Me: No, you can’t see the grades.
Student: But it’s for a different class.
Me: Yes, but you have friends in that class.
Student: No I don’t.
Me: Why don’t you? It’s good to have friends.
Student: I don’t need friends.
Me: Why not?
Student: Because I am a god.

American Food Day

Back when I was studying Fon I kept learning a bunch of words that all began with yovo: yovozen (orange), yovokoklo (european breed of chicken), yovotome (land where white people come from). So I asked the kid who was tutoring me if there were any other words that began with yovo.

“Well, there’s yovodudu. It means white people food.”
“What’s white people food?”
“You know, the food that white people eat, that Africans don’t eat. I’ve never had it.”

I reasoned that it couldn’t hurt to spread the glories of yovodudu around the world, so we created American Food Day after having that conversation. Supposedly, it’s part of my job description to share American culture with Beninese nationals, so I figured it was worth the expense (it actually was pretty expensive relative to my living allowance).

The day of, the kids came over, but before things could get started they told me I had a bush rat living in my yard, and they wanted to kill it. “Forget it,” I said, but they insisted. They found it and hit it with a shovel, then discovered that it had some babies in its hole. One student suggested they bury them, another objected, but the argument was put forth that they would starve no matter what action was taken, so they might as well go back in the ground, which is what ultimately happened.

The hamburgers were surprisingly good. I taught one kid to make them, mostly since I didn’t want to cook anymore, but he did a great job. At first all of the students took apart their hamburgers and ate each ingredient one-by-one, but I half-jokingly told them they were required to eat it the American way, which they ultimately did, much to their satisfaction. If it wasn’t the best meal they’d had in several years, they concealed it well.

Friday, February 02, 2007


You can see them here.