Quick post tonight. Today was Day 1 of staging (and Day 2 mostly consists of getting immunizations and beginning our travel). It was a long day, especially after arriving at my hotel around 3am last night, and I am pretty exhausted. We also have to get up tomorrow around 6am (I’m sure you all know that I am decidedly not a morning person, but I suppose this rising at dawn thing may be a pattern in my new life, so maybe it’s good to start getting used to it). But it still feels like 9pm to me and I did get some answers to previously unanswered questions so I thought I would give a quick update.
Q1.) How many of us are there? A: 54 Peace Corps Trainees headed to Benin. It seems like a good group of people (as much as one can judge something like that from 10 hours of interaction). It’s generally a young group, with over half of us having just graduated from college. There are a handful of middle-aged volunteers, and a good number of people in their mid-twenties but not fresh out of college. A few of the volunteers are embarking on their second Peace Corps experience after having been evacuated from another country earlier this year when conditions were deemed unsafe for them there.
Q2.) Are you really only allowed to bring 80 lbs of luggage? A: No, it’s not a firm weight limit. Some people have more, but they will have to pay an excess baggage fee. (Some also have less. One woman has only 1 bag–about 30 pounds! I am in awe…) But I’m still glad that I’m under the limit because lugging 65ish pounds around between Denver and Philly was enough.
Q3) How long is the trip? A: We’ll be traveling for about 24 hours total, but we actual flying time is about 15 hours. 7.5 hours from JFK to Brussels, then 8.5 hours from Brussels to Cotonou (but with a stop in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso). Turns out we begin the trip with a bus ride from Philly to NYC. I have no idea why our staging event did not occur in NYC instead of Philly, but such is life.
Still unanswered: How the heck do you pronounce the country name? (I’ve heard Beh-NIN and Beh-NEEN, and no one seems definitively sure of which one is correct.)
Those are really the only updates I have tonight. I’m pretty psyched to get on the plane tomorrow. Leaving home was a lot harder than I anticipated; to be honest there were a few moments when I considered changing my mind and calling the whole thing off. Saying goodbye to all of you people definitely made my heart hurt. But now that I have taken that leap, I feel really ready to head to Africa. I met a lot of the other volunteers, and I am excited to get to know them better as training progresses. They seem similar to me in a lot of ways and I already feel at home in this group. Philadelphia has also been cool and it was fun to wander around a new city a little bit. Good practice for another new city in my immediate future that I suspect will be much more different from what I know than this one is. Being here has kind of reminded me of why I enjoy leaving my comfort zone (even though it feels very uncomfortable when you first do it), and I am finally feeling ready for this next phase. I’m excited for new sights, smells, and sounds; for the buzz of different languages; for the confusion of choosing between many foods that I don’t recognize. I look forward to the thrill of discovery that comes with figuring out how to live somewhere new–how to get from point A to point B, how to buy things and from where, how to use the currency, even little things like how to walk down a busy street (does traffic move on the left or the right? Do I look up or down, meet people’s eyes or not?). These are things that one takes for granted after solely existing in one place for awhile; one knows how to live there, and so doesn’t experience the excitement of small discoveries like these. There is something so exhilarating about going somewhere totally new. It is both amazing and terrifying at the same time. I’m excited to finally find out how hot it is, what “rainy season” actually means, if the motorcycle taxis there are similar to ones I rode in Uganda, what the city feels like, how difficult communication is given my limited French ability, and so much more. And it’s SO CLOSE. Less than 24 hours left in the States. I’ll catch up with you on the other side of the pond:)
Bonne nuit! ~CMK