So there is this French phrase used frequently here that drives me crazy. It is only two words: “la-bas,” [pronounced ‘lah bah’] which means roughly “over there,” and can be used to describe almost anything. Its meaning differs in a variety of situations to mean across the room [is that your water bottle over there?], across town [oh sure, the post office is over there], across the world [what is food like over there in the US?], or any number of things in between. It is maddening in its vagueness. When someone describes something as “la-bas,” it doesn’t give you any helpful information about the thing in question. It’s great to use if you want to be vague yourself (such as when a man you’ve met on the street is asking where you live–then “over there” is a great answer) but I’m usually on the receiving end of the phrase. I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week because post announcements are on Friday, and “la-bas” is a very fitting way to describe where we will all be in a couple months. Not here, but somewhere over there.
I am super excited to find out where my post will be. It sounds like we will get quite a bit of information when the announcements are made. I will find out where in the country I’ll be living, what my electricity and water situation is going to be, what type of organization I will be paired with, and what my primary work project will be. I will also be seeing which other trainees/volunteers are going to be located nearby. A lot of people are anxious about that aspect of it, since by default your neighbors will be some of the people you see the most. (As one volunteer phrased it, “Peace Corps kind of chooses your friends for you.”) I still feel like I like all the people in our stage, so I’m not terribly worried about this. I’m actually not worried about post announcements in general–just excited. I know there is good work to be done in all of these places, and I don’t really know enough about the different regions of Benin to have a geographical preference. There are pros and cons to each one, as with most things in life. I do think I will feel a bit more settled once I know where I can plan on going, though. It will be nice to know whether I should prepare to have electricity or not, what the weather will be like so I can buy appropriate clothes, and how far I will be from the bigger cities, so I know how much I should stock up on things that one can only buy there. So I am waiting. But not for much longer!
In other news, we started technical training last week, which was a very welcome addition to language training. We got an overview of the health system and health issues in Benin and visited a health center just outside of Porto Novo. The health center was pretty similar to health centers that I saw in Uganda. I was less shocked by it than I was by them, but I’m not sure if that’s because the conditions were less harsh or if I am just a little used to seeing things like that. Certainly it was nothing like a doctor’s office or hospital in the US. But also it did not seem overly crowded or terribly understaffed. Though there is only one doctor working at that center, which serves a population of (I think) about 12,000 people. Nurses and their aides apparently take on a lot of the work here. At any rate, I’m psyched to be delving into the health stuff, and even the small amount of training has been helpful to get ideas flowing about possible projects that I might take on once I get to post.
Tomorrow (August 1st) is Benin’s Independence Day. We get out of training early in order to be able to participate in the festivities. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing yet, but I hear that people generally have parties and there might be a parade. So sounds like a fun day. And it’s exciting to get to be here to celebrate with people, because it’s really a big deal. Benin only got its independence in 1960, so it is still young and every birthday is exciting. Tomorrow is also the first day of the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, which is relevant for me because I realized several weeks ago that my host family is Muslim (which definitely explains why they did not try to take me to church on Sunday!). I don’t know how observant they are, so I’m not sure if they’ll be fasting during the day as others will be, but I gather that they will be doing something. And at the end of Ramadan (mid-September, I think the 13th?), there will be a big party. I’m glad I was placed with a Muslim family, because I don’t know a whole lot about Islam and I think it’s a great opportunity to learn. So I am looking forward to seeing the changes that take place in my family and across the community starting tomorrow.
Until next time, take care!