Saturday, January 26, 2008

Your Tax Dollars at Work, Part 1

Natitingou gets a lot of tourists who are on their way to see the national parks a few hours to the north, and most Western NGOs that work in this region have their headquarters here, so local restaurant owners can make a lot of money by offering Western dishes.

Some Volunteers found a really cool guy who owns a bar but wants to start catering to tourists. So we taught him to make pizza:

Kneading dough

Making sauce

Making crust

Sauce complete

Adding sauce to crust

We cooked it in a Dutch oven since Justin doesn't have a standard one. This method works just as well for one pizza. Also the lights broke a while ago so we had to cook with a flashlight

We didn't have a grater so there's sliced cheese on top. It was excellent.

Sarah and Justin

We also taught him to make ice cream in a bucket last night (I forgot to take pictures), using some random Betty Crocker recipe. It was awesome. Unfortunately, it’ll have to be kinda expensive if he chooses to sell it so I’m not sure any Beninese people would buy it. Volunteers would though.

Charity is Generally Bad

A few people have asked me if they can send money to help. My answer up to now has been no, not at all. There are several reasons for this:

1) Free money can build a dependency and/or inferiority complex (and in many people I’ve met, it has).
2) When you can get more money just by asking for it than you can by working, there’s no incentive to work.
3) Free money rarely goes to where it would actually be most useful.
4) Money isn’t always what’s needed to aid development.
5) Some donations are worthless when there’s no follow-up. For example, someone might donate equipment to a farmer but not teach them how to fix it, so once it breaks down they stop using it and the equipment rusts in a field somewhere.
6) People are more likely to squander free money than money they had to work hard to get.
7) Free money doesn’t always get used in the way the donor wants.

Eventually I’ll try and get a project started that could benefit from donations, most likely involving tomato producers. But this is still a few months away at best.


A Volunteer got robbed of her purse while visiting a restaurant in Natitingou this last weekend, so I got to spend the entire week sitting in the police station to make sure everything happened as it was supposed to. A Beninese guy who was with me asked if I had gotten the week off from work.

Fortunately, the purse was returned with everything in it. It turns out the restaurant owner was deeply implicated, though he wasn’t the one who originally took it. The sad part is that we really liked his restaurant and he had always shown us a good time, but since he stole the purse and then spent the entire week pretending to help us while constantly lying (which eventually helped us figure out that he was responsible), we just can’t go there anymore.

Moral of this story: The Natitingou police rock, and apparently no one expects criminals in Benin to act at all like those in America. At one point during the investigation the police told the restaurant owner that he was acting very suspiciously and that his story was contradicting the evidence, but then they asked him to leave and try to find the kid who they thought first stole the purse(!). So he left, and then came back. I even told the police that I was worried he was going to flee, to which they replied, “But he owns a restaurant and has a lot of stuff. Why would he flee?”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fiber Optic Cable, Part 2

So apparently the fiber optic cable is getting activated much sooner than I had been told, so we should be able to get ADSL in my house sometime in March. Though I'm assuming when people say March they mean April or May. The coolest thing about this is that this is the better of two options for Internet access that citizens of Natitingou will have this year. Five years ago they didn't even have cell phone coverage.

Monday, January 14, 2008


For reasons beyond me there’s relatively high-resolution satellite imagery of Natitingou on Google Earth. The pictures were taken at least a few years ago as there are no cell phone towers anywhere and the workstation still hasn’t been expanded. Still, I was able to mark pretty much everything worth going to. Google Earth is rejecting my tags because they’re either not detailed enough or they don’t have a picture, so as soon as I fix that I’ll get them all online.