Post Announcements and One Month In!

!!!!! They’re here! Post assignments were just announced Friday, and I’m heading to… the Collines! That’s the hilly region in the center of Benin. My host organization will be a beekeeping association that has requested a volunteer to work with them on improving their operation and conducting outreach activities on reforestation in the area. This is so exciting! We will be making a two-week visit to our posts next week, and then the intensive technical training begins back in Porto-Novo.

I’m so happy to finally have this – to finally feel like I’m moving forward. The French immersion has been good, but I’ve been getting restless. Some days were so exhausting; in fact, I actually managed to fall asleep one day in a class with just three other students. It was “etudes personnels” time, so Aurélien (the instructor) had gone for a walk while we did some simple translation exercises. I guess I just drifted off because one moment I was working on the sentence, “The herdsman lost a bull and two goats in the storm,” and then the next thing you know I was in a kitchen where a pizza – an American pizza – was just coming out of the oven! Unfortunately, I woke up before I got to have a piece :(

We think and talk about food a lot here. Really, it’s just a matter of getting used to a new diet with far less variety. Some of the food is quite delicious and even nutritious, like the avocados, the pineapples, and the yams with frîtu (I think that’s how it’s spelled – a spicy tomato sauce). Still, initially my body resisted, and I had a very small appetite for the first two weeks. Then as I started to adjust my appetite swung the other way. I felt hungry all the time and started to eat that whole bowl of rice or pâte (maize meal) when it was served to me. Now the pendulum is coming back to the center as things even out. I’ve lost about 8 pounds since arrival – probably mostly muscle since I haven’t been exercising much – but once I’m at post where I can cook for myself and work out more, I think things will come back to normal.

We had our first in-training LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) last weekend, and evidently the semi-reckless pace at which my little French class has been plowing through the language has paid off because in three weeks time I went from “novice high” to “advanced mid” – that’s five levels, totally bypassing the intermediate stages! Yeehaw! I still have a lot to learn, but at least I’m pretty comfortable with the French I need to use on a daily basis now.

I was particularly pleased the other day when I successfully managed to discuter with a taxi driver to get a reasonable price for myself and another stagiaire heading home after class. I figured out ahead of time that a good price would be 250 cfa and decided I wouldn’t settle for anything higher. Here’s a translation of the conversation:

Me: “Hello sir, we are going to the Danto neighborhood near motel plaisir, on the road by the cemetery. Do you know it?”
Driver: “Yes.”
Me: “How much?”
Driver: “450.”
Me: “You’re joking! 200.”
Driver: “350.”
Me: “Lower your price, please.”
Driver: “300.”
Me: “250.”
Driver: “No, 300. That’s the price.”
Me: “We can wait for another taxi.”
He paused, and for a second it looked like he was going to drive off, so I picked up my things like I was about to walk off.
Driver: “Okay, come on.”
Me: “250?”
Driver: “Yes, 250. Let’s go,” he said, rolling his eyes.

Score one for moi!

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29 Responses to Post Announcements and One Month In!

  1. Judi Anderson says:

    Hi Heidi,

    Finally figured out how to add a comment, doesn’t say much for someone who is supposed to teach computer skills to adults! Your posts are so informative. This will make quite a journal when your 27 months are up. Just like one would expect from you, you are taking everything in stride with enthusiasm and positiveness. This truly is an education for you, and through you, for us as well.

    This week I’m working on decluttering our house. Can’t accomplish it all, that’s for sure, but I’m making a stab at it. This is my only full week at home before school workshops start. I taught this summer and we went to Boulder whenever I was off. Courage Center called yesterday stating a truck was going to be in our neighborhood on Thursday, a little impetous to get moving. I always hear your mother’s words in my ears when I look at all the stuff we have here, doing nothing but taking up space.

    Klara and Anders are busy kids. At the beginning of August, we visited Boulder for a 10 days. The kids were in numerous activities and lessons. Klara loves climbing, Anders loves tennis and both are fish in the water. Put their goggles on and they are gone, above or below the surface, it doesn’t matter.

    I just returned from a 2 1/2 day ABE (Adult Basic Education) conference. Education here is becoming much more technology oriented–a little late in Community Education since we don’t get the thousands of dollars the K-12 system does for students. (Would you believe–$700/student?) Interesting the changes that have been occurring over the past 5 years. At Fairview, we are getting a new student lab with 25 new Mac-Windows computers and 20 iPads, plus 4 for teachers. Most of the sessions I attended at the conference dealt with using technology in the classroom. There will be a lot of learning going on this year, for the teachers as well as the students.

    I thought about you again this morning. Dr. Michael Osterholm discussed the swine flu situation on WCCO. As you probably remember, the MN State Fair is opening soon. People from the MN Health Department (?) have stated that it is important to not bring food into the animal barns and to wash hands with soap and water after visiting there. Dr. Osterholm said that although that was good advice, the swine flu is a respiratory problem and so washing hands is good, but doesn’t stop the infection from begin passed on to humans. He felt the Fair should close the swine barn and not have pigs in close proximity to other pigs, hopefully reducing the spread of disease. Supposedly 11 states in the US have experienced that problem. What kinds of animals are common in Benin?

    My boxes are calling for me right now so I’ll see what I can accomplish by Thursday. Hope your days continue to be interesting and challenging. Keep up the informative journal :).

    Love, John and Judi

    • Heidi says:

      Wonderful to get an update from you guys! Good luck with the decluttering – always a chore but so rewarding when it’s finished (although, I suppose it’s never truly finished)! I talked to Bjorn yesterday, and he said he was going to the fair right before heading back to Emory. I haven’t been to the Minnesota state fair in so long! That’s interesting about the animal barns and how they are trying to prevent swine flu transmission. I’ve talked to some farmers in the past who say they will never bring their animals to the state fair just because it is too stressful and the risk for disease transmission is so high with all those animals from all over the place crowded together. Benin has lots of animals. In my village I see a lot of goats, pigs, and chickens running around. That conference sounds interesting – technology is always changing which is a challenge for students and teachers, and sometimes, I think, a distraction from what’s truly important.

  2. Anne Lee says:

    Dear Heidi,

    I am happy for you to have such a wonderful assignment. Although I know little about bees, I understand their importance in our ecology, and I try to tell kids not to swat at them. Since we are now back in IL, and it is very dry, I don’t see many bees in the garden, and that is a concern. I look forward to hearing more about your work. Congratulations on your clever bartering skills! The next step to is to tell jokes in French…then, to dream in French. Good luck!
    Anne Lee

    • Heidi says:

      Oh the dreaming in French is well underway! Especially since Im on malaria drugs that make dreams more vivid I’m coming up with new clever ways to barter in my sleep :)

  3. Noelle Chaine says:


    Happy (belated) birthday! Beekeeping sounds amazing! (Sorry for all the !!!!!!!)! Just wanted to give you a heads up that I am about to send you an email. Wasn’t sure how often you check your email versus your blog.


    • Heidi says:

      Thanks Noelle! I was just thinking about Cornell and the good times there yesterday – oh wait I do that every day. I dont have time to check my email today but next week back in Porto-Novo I shall.

  4. How wonderful to read your writing and see what you are doing! I’ll be praying for you in your new adventures.
    I LOVE the negotiating story!

  5. Mike & Sue Ostlund says:

    Heidi – congratulations on your assignment and your work in the Peace Corps. We will ‘bookmark’ the blog – check back from time to time and continue to pray that God will continue to guide your life.

    AB (aka Aunt Betty) told me about your life’s direction on Sunday – I’m between projects at work and had a few minutes, so I just had to check it out. We wish the best and God’s Blessings on your work.

    Mike and Sue Ostlund

  6. says:

    Happy Birthday, Heidi! Today is your birthday and we can’t believe that the little sweet, good natured baby of the past is now in Benin, Africa. Can’t tell you how much we think about you. Did you get your birthday card from us?

    Sounds as though you are so excited about your assignment. We can hardly wait to hear more as time goes by.

    Grandpa has a deer tick disease and ask your father what the name is anyway, he has been pretty sick and is some better today but thought yesterday we might have to hospitalize him. After all these years of him running around in this area and now at the age of 82 he acquires this disease. Anyway, we hope that he continues to get better.

    It is a rainy day again today and I am going to make some zucchini bread and later hope to play cards with neighbors at the south end of the lake.

    Love to you, Heidi from both of us and hope that you will have a very nice birthday.

    Grandpa and Grandma

    • Heidi says:

      Hey now, I think I’m still pretty good-natured :) Haven’t gotten the card yet but I bet it will be waiting for me back in Porto-Novo! Tell Grandpa I hope he gets better soon… love you!

  7. Judy Lubben says:

    Happy Birthday, Heidi! On behalf of the pastors and your congregation at Peace Lutheran, we want to send our best birthday greetings to you today! Hope you are celebrating. We really enjoy checking your blog and finding out what’s happening with you. Keep the news coming. We pray for you often and are so proud of the work you are doing in Africa! Love from all of us. Judy

  8. Dad says:

    By now you should be in your first full day in Koko. How exciting. I can hardly wait to hear more about it. Also, Happy Birthday in 2 more days! Number 24 – celebrating in West Africa. We will be with you in spirit.


  9. Anna Keener says:

    Eddie Izzard on bee keeping.

  10. I’m excited for you to get to your beekeeping post! Thinking of you and sending lots of love!

  11. says:


    Just wanted you to know that we got your letter today. What a wonderful surprise, it just made our day. It was very newsy and so much fun to read.

    Today, July 31st has been very warm and humid again. Summer is going rapidly.
    Is it summer now in Benin?

    I wake up each morning thinking of you and praying that all is okay.

    We are going to the TC today so that I can see the skin doctor and have some spots on my back removed.

    Thank you again for the letter and your blogs are so exciting and interesting.

    God Bless you……Grandma and Grandps

    • Heidi says:

      Glad you got my letter! It’s actually a cooler season here right now – hot season starts in October I think. Love you!

  12. Dad says:

    Wow. I’m so excited for you for your post. Bees (and I presume some honey), teaching, a nice village not far from a larger town. I can’t wait to see more pictures.

    You are the new “negotiator”. When we visit, I’ll let you do the talking (besides, I do not speak French…)

    Miss you, hope all’s well. Keep up with the blog posts.


  13. says:


    What a gal! What bargaining power! You are so impressing your grandparents.
    We hope that you will like your assignment but do be careful, won’t you?

    We are still having some warm weather as well as it is so humid all the time.
    Grandpa is playing golf today and he still likes that.

    Hans will soon be headed back to Stanford and Bjorn to Emory and the summer is well on its way.

    Heidi, we will send your birthday check to your Mom and Dad and I guess that they know what to do whether it goes to your account or what. That is the easiest way for us.

    Love you big bunch and God Bless…Grandma

  14. Carol Newman (Aunt) says:

    Hi, Heidi,

    I enjoyed hearing how you “bicker” Sounds like you are adjusting to life in Benin and looking forward to your training!!

    By comparison, life in Rochester is pretty much standard. I took mom, (grandma), to a garden tour last weekend.

    Krista will be in Uganda for about one month. She is also making adjustments but excited for going to clinics even if for a short time.

    Wish you well and will look forward to reading your journal posts.



    • Heidi says:

      Hi Carol! I am guessing Krista is in Uganda now or soon to be there. I want to know how it goes and what she does! Some of the Peace Corps Trainees here are in the health sector and will be doing projects in clinics around the country.

      And by the way, I randomly heard that there have been black bears moving into Rochester! (My mom sent me a newspaper article) That’s pretty cool!

  15. Amy and Steve says:

    Heidi, Good for you!! CAn’t wait to hear more of your adventure-especially the bee aspect. Bees are on my “to do” list.
    Aunt Amy

    • Heidi says:

      I’m so excited for the beekeeping! I met my supervisor yesterday, and he told me my village has the best honey in all of Benin! I’ll report back – we’ll see if it’s true.

  16. Holly Anderson says:

    Congratulations on your successful French negotiations. You drive a hard bargain for a little American! I’m as excited as you are for your post and can’t wait to know about Koko. We are still hoping that some of our many packages from home are going to make it into your hands within a reasonable amount of time. lv, mm

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