It’s a good thing I like surprises, because Benin (and Peace Corps) is full of surprises. Like when you go to a “pizzeria” and discover they do not actually serve pizza or anything else on the menu. Surprise! Or when you schedule a meeting for 9 AM and people are knocking on your door at 7 AM. Surprise! “This is so logical and predictable,” is one phrase you will never hear a Peace Corps Benin volunteer say (along with, “For dinner, I could really go for some sticky white edible paste,” and “My, what clean feet I have!”).
Sometimes it’s maddening to feel like nothing ever goes as planned, but I’m learning to love it, too. Peace Corps is all about going with the flow and seizing the day. As an environment volunteer, my job is entirely unstructured. It’s taken a while for me to figure out how to get things done, and perhaps more importantly, how to find the discipline and initiative to try on a regular basis. But little by little, things are coming together. I’ve cleared an area behind my house for a garden, I’ve planted some trees, and I’ve started auditing classes at the village middle school/high school and attending their environmental club meetings. Last week the topic was hygiene. For now I’m mostly observing, but I comment here and there. At the end of the lecture the instructor asked the students if they had any questions for me. “English!” exclaimed one student, “Sing a song in English – about hygiene!” All eyes turned expectantly to me. I do not know any songs about hygiene, so I am now composing one which I will present next week, lol.
I get random questions and requests like this all the time. Greetings are very important in Benin, and the first two questions are pretty standard – how are you and how is your family (or house, or work, etc.). But because I’m a white foreigner, third question is a wild card. It might be – and how do you charge your cell phone? Or – why don’t you give me your dog, now? Often, people ask where my husband is. I usually tell the truth, but on days when I am too lazy to explain why I don’t have a husband I just say, oh he’s “là-bas” (over there) while giving a vague hand flourish over the shoulder. Surprisingly, this usually satisfies the interrogator. The Beninese are all about ambiguity!
The adjustment continues, and in fact, it will probably be a part of my entire service just because the culture really is so different here. I can’t say enough how thankful I am for your support and encouragement – your prayers, letters, packages, and comments carry me through! I have to reiterate as well that I’m sorry I can’t respond to email reliably – the only internet café near my village abruptly shut it’s doors last week and the internet at the Nati workstation is not working (I’m currently borrowing another volunteer’s “internet key” – a device that allows one to access the internet through the cell phone network. I’d get one for myself but my village does not have electricity or reliable cell phone reception so it wouldn’t make much sense for me). Anyways, thanks for the love and for embracing the different sort communication world here with me!