Greetings! And thank you for your comments on my last post – it means a lot to me to hear from people back home!
I’m in the city of Porto-Novo right now where pre-service training has begun. First up is language and culture immersion, so we are staying with host families and taking French classes 7 hours a day, five and half days a week. I have to say, I’m finding I love it and hate it for the same reasons. The rapid integration and language competency that result from a good immersion experience cannot be achieved any other way, and yet sometimes I just want it to go away! I want a break from having to think so hard about everything.
The first time we went walking around to try to practice conversing in French with local people, I got really flustered and couldn’t understand a thing being said to me. It made me feel so discouraged, because after 4 years of French in high school and a year in college, you’d think I could have a simple conversation! But Beninese street French is a lot different than French French, and it wasn’t easy. My instructor, Aurélien, must have noticed my mood and reminded me that, “Petit a petit l’oiseaux fait son nid.” Little by little, the bird makes its nest. Taking things one day at a time, I will make steady progress.
If I pass the French proficiency test before August (I can do it!), then I will likely begin learning a local language, as assigned by my program manager. After language training, each stagière (trainee) will make a two-week visit to their future work site, and finally, we’ll all return to Porto-Novo for the technical training. But though that is still a ways off, I’ve already learned all sorts of handy dandy little tricks, like how to ride a bicycle in dress without letting your knees show (which would be a little scandalous).
Cleanliness is a big deal in Benin. It’s ironic because on the one hand you see garbage all over the streets, but on the other hand, people sweep the whole house everyday (loudly, usually between 5 and 6 in the morning) and are otherwise very keen on being neat and tidy. Sunday is laundry day. Now, I’ve hand-washed my clothes before, but based on experience I figured my host mom would want to show me how she does it, so I washed my clothes with the family last Sunday. My host mom kept saying “More soap!” and I tried to resist, but it was futile. I knew my clothes were dirty, but I’m telling you, there was way too much soap going around. Those buckets looked absolutely rabid, frothing all over the place. By the end of the afternoon I had some nice crispy clean clothes. Then just as I got them all hung up to dry, it began to pour. C’est la vie.
Also this past weekend, I went to the market. I didn’t know what to expect, and I was completely blown away. It’s spectacular! I hadn’t seen any stores in Porto-Novo yet, so I was kind of wondering where people, like, buy stuff, but then I discovered le grand marché. You can buy anything and everything at the market. I could have very easily gotten lost somewhere in those narrow passages, but I was with my host mom, who knew exactly where to find what she was looking for – fabric for a dress, spicy peppers, a new straw mat, eggs. The market has it all. Oh, and animals. Any kind of animal you might want – dead or alive. Or, select it alive, then come back ten minutes later and pick it up dead. Comme vous voulez. As you like it.
When I’m home in the evenings, I usually try to get a little exercise in. I’m not sure if people really go running around here, and at any rate I’d probably get lost, so for now I’m just using a laundry line to jump rope in the yard. Soccer of course is quite popular so I occasionally kick the ball around with my host brothers, too. Then I finish off the evening with dinner and studying. By the time I’m ready to call it a day, I’m so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open :)
Till next time,