To begin, a quick recap of some of the more interesting lessons I have learned (or re-learned) since arriving here:
+Not knowing what is going on or why certain things are happening is part and parcel of this game; being OK with that is a survival skill.
+Do not count on being able to wear any part of the same outfit two days in a row when packing for a trip. Rain starts suddenly and heavily here, and you can be completely soaked through in less than a minute.
+Even melted American candy can be sold for a decent price to other volunteers in culture shock (that sounds mean, but we bargained and I think she ended up with a fair price).
+Peanut M&Ms are one of the best candies to pack, because they do not melt or explode
+Getting mail is even more exciting here than in the States (I know, I was surprised too. I didn’t realize another level of excitement existed, but it does!)
+Mosquito bites on your feet are by far the itchiest, and even heavy duty DEET bugspray will not protect you if you insist on kicking your feet against your mosquito net when you sleep.
+Nothing wakes you up in the morning like dumping a bucket of cold water on your head.
+Buying your lunch from some lady scooping food out of a cooler on the street is less sketchy than it sounds.
+No matter how far you walk in search of lunch, you will find basically the same thing everywhere: rice or pate with spicy sauce and fish or hard boiled eggs.
+Frozen things do exist here! (They did not in Uganda for the most part, so this is a pleasant surprise.) A great popsicle-like treat can be bought for about 20 cents and is widely available in the city.
+Three things cross cultural and linguistic boundaries with great ease: Disney movies, soap operas, and sports.
+Never, under any circumstances, do all of your laundry at the same time.
+More to come as I learn more…
So I think Tuesday is going to be my blogging day for awhile. Internet cafes are more difficult to come by than one would expect in the capital. But on Tuesdays, we have training at this interesting place that is like a mini village within Porto Novo. They are doing all sorts of cool things with organic farming and different methods of raising livestock as well as some other things that I haven’t figured out yet. And they have an internet cafe! [Albeit a very slow one…I tried for almost half an hour to post my previous blog and was about to give up when I finally succeeded. Very frustrating.]
Frustration is a bit of a theme in my life right now, unfortunately. It’s mixed with other, more positive themes, but all the same it exists. I had a bit of a debate with myself about whether I should include this in my blog, because I feel a bit like it’s too early in the game to be frustrated, but I feel like I have a rapport with my readers partially because I am honest about what I am doing and feeling, so I thought it needed to be mentioned. Things are generally going as well as could be expected for the first few weeks, I think. (Though it also feels like we have been here for far longer than 2.5 weeks.) I am making progress with my French, learning about the culture, getting along with my host family, and making friends. However, I guess I’m anxious to move on to the next phase. Peace Corps training seems to be very comprehensive. This is probably a good thing, especially for people who lack experience with travel or need a lot of structure, but I’m used to living a very independent life and I feel much like a child right now, as I go between my homestay (where I am limited in what I know how and am allowed to do) and training (where we are shuffled from activity to activity in a way that is a bit reminiscent of middle school). The PC staff here are amazing so far, and I’m appreciative of all the help, because it certainly is an adjustment to move to another country that is so different from what one is used to. But I came to Benin to help others, and the opportunity is so close, yet I can’t quite grasp it. Basically, I feel a lot like I am repeating my semester abroad. I’m doing a lot of learning and exactly zero things that are useful to other people. I know that it’s early and this may sound a bit ridiculous to you. I know that training is important and an effective program cannot just throw people into a community and expect them to do the right things. But on the other hand, I kind of want to know what the point was of the ridiculously long application process in which I showed how qualified I was if we were all going to start at the bottom of the training ladder anyway.
But that’s enough negative energy for the moment. It’s something I’m working through, and I know that in the big picture, two more months isn’t that long. It’s just that as you all know, I’ve been waiting for this for so long, telling myself that a year wasn’t that long, that six months wasn’t that long, that two months wasn’t that long…and now I’ve finally made it to the other side of that waiting game, and it turns out there is more waiting! I used to think that I was a pretty patient person, but I’ve come to realize that in some ways, I am really not. So I guess I’m working on that right now.
Last weekend we had a fun training experience, called “demystification,” that took us out of Porto Novo and into various smaller towns and villages throughout southern Benin so we could experience the real life of a PCV for a few days. (In addition to being an opportunity for us to get a better idea of what our placements might be like, this is also rumoured to be a technique that is used by PC to weed out the people who are not serious about going through with the commitment or are on the fence about changing their minds. Though as far as I know, we still haven’t had anyone decide to go home yet, so I guess people weren’t too shocked.) We were split into small groups and each group was assigned to a current volunteer working in the same sector. I was actually quite surprised at the high standard of living that my host volunteer had at her post; she had a very nice little house (2 bedrooms plus a bathroom) with running water and electricity! It was basically right off of the main road in a good sized town and she said she could get most things she wanted/needed without walking more than five-ish minutes. Honestly, the experience really threw off my mental image of what the next two years of my life are going to be like, because I was definitely envisioning a hut in the middle of a village without running water or electricity. From what I understand, that is still a possibility, and other host volunteers had living situations more similar to that than ours did, but I guess something more “modern”/urban also a possibility. Though interestingly, it looks like I will definitely have a house and not a hut, because the regulations for PC housing in Benin are different than those in other countries, where volunteers definitely do live in huts sometimes.
We’re getting our post assignments in a little over two weeks, and I don’t exactly know what I am hoping for. In much the same way that I felt about getting my country assignment for PC, I think I will be OK with whatever site I am given; I just would like to know so that I can start preparing mentally and otherwise. I guess I am hoping for something more rural than urban, because I feel like it will be easier to get to know my community if it is a small community rather than a large one. I’m very much on the fence about the electricity question, because on the one hand I want to live at a level similar to the people with which I am working, but on the other hand, it would be really nice to have electricity. Mostly, I would just like to be able to charge my computer and my phone on a regular basis, and I’m sure it would be awesome to have a fan that I could turn on when it gets hot. I can use my headlamp for light, and all of my other electronic gadgets can be charged off of my computer, if I can just charge my computer battery in some way. Whatever the situation, I’m sure I will figure out how to make it work. I’m just really curious to find out!