!!!!! 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?”
Me: “How much?”
Me: “You’re joking! 200.”
Me: “Lower your price, please.”
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.”
Driver: “Yes, 250. Let’s go,” he said, rolling his eyes.
Score one for moi!