Well, the big day finally came! On Friday, all fifty four of us received our post assignments:) They were announced one by one and as our names were called, we each stepped forward and found the name of our town on a massive map of Benin that the staff had drawn in chalk on the cement floor of the classroom. It was quite suspenseful–sort of reminiscent of being assigned to cabins at summer camp or of being picked for gym teams (even though there was nothing wrong with being last this time, one still got a little nervous as the crowd of waiting trainees got smaller, thinking “what if they placed everyone else and just forgot about me?”). But heureusement (happily), we all had a spot on the map. I’m quite pleased with my post, given what I know of it. Without putting my exact location out there on the internet, here are the basics:
+I will be in the Collines region of Benin–sort of the middleish of the country, and widely rumoured to be one of the most beautiful parts with rolling hills that might or might not be mountains, depending on one’s definition of mountain.
+My town has about 3,500 people, which is on the smaller side but not tiny
+My house has three rooms and no electricity
+Several of my friends from stage are also going to be in the Collines region, so we can probably see each other fairly frequently (and one of them has electricity in her house, so I should be able to charge things there when I visit)
+My water source is located 20 meters from my house, but I don’t know what kind of a source it is. We will find out in a few weeks when I visit my post.
+I have a private latrine somewhere either in our outside of my house (this is one of the things that PC Benin requires in all its posts–everyone has a “toilet” of his or her own)
+I will be working with both the local health center (centre de sante) in my town, as well as with an NGO in a neighboring town
+My Beninese counterpart (the person with whom I’ve been assigned to work) has been doing community health work for almost as long as I have been alive
+The closest large town to my post has a weekly market that is apparently the largest in Benin and is well-known for vegetables (excellent news for a vegetarian, especially in a country where I have been told that many volunteers can only find tomatoes and onions at their markets)
+I will be the first PCV in this village, which means that my life is going to be more difficult in some ways (i.e., I will have to get my own furniture made because I will not inherit it from my predecessor, people will not be used to having someone around doing the kinds of things I’ll be doing) but I think it’s pretty exciting to be the first one
+It sounds like I will have a lot of freedom in terms of finding and selecting projects, but it looks pretty similar to what I expected–a lot of work with mothers and children, working on nutrition, malaria, HIV/AIDS, immunizations, sanitation, etc.
So that’s it in a nutshell. Like I said, I am pretty content with it. I think our supervisor worked really hard to try to give everyone the type of post that they wanted, and he did an amazing job for me. I wanted a small town, not in the southern part of the country (weather is better, meaning less humid, a bit farther from the coast. Though my info sheet about my post said that region has some of the most extreme temperatures–so I guess I need to prepare for some serious heat). I would have been fine with being placed farther north, but I kind of think my location is perfect because it is far enough from the coast not to be in the weather zone that I dislike, yet it is still close enough that if I was very sick I could get to the PC doctor in Cotonou fairly easily (from what I’ve heard, it’s probably about six hours from my town). Even though Benin is a fairly small country, some people in the north will have journeys of nearly 24 hours between their posts and Cotonou because the roads are largely unpaved and in disrepair.
I’m still adjusting a bit to the idea of not having electricity. Given what I saw on my de-mystification weekend and what other volunteers had said, I had been thinking it was somewhat likely that I would end up with electricity at post. So when I read the part on my info sheet that asked “Is the village electrified?” and the answer was “no,” I was a bit surprised. I’m sure I will adjust and on the plus side, life will be much simpler and much cheaper. But we may have to adjust this weekly blog post agreement. Bi-weekly or monthly seems a bit more likely. Though once I get settled into life in my village, I will probably have less to write about anyway. The good news is, this means that communicating by mail is actually going to make sense! I’m so excited. I was talking to a current PCV who lives in a nearby town, and she said she has found it more efficient to rent a post office box in her town than to have people continue to send things to the Peace Corps address, so my friend and I are looking into doing that. I’ll keep you posted (ha, posted!) but anything sent to the PC address should still make its way to me eventually. It will just be a bit slower once I get to post, and considering how slow it has been even during stage, this concerns me a bit. Which is why I’m considering the other option. But we will see.
That’s really the big news for the week. In other news: 1)Training continues to go on. I think we have passed the halfway point now, which is great news. 2)Independence day turned out to be less of a big deal than I thought it was going to be. Even though the preparations for the holiday were a big story on the news for weeks, it turns out that most Beninese people seem to celebrate the holiday by staying home and taking a nap. At least that’s the consensus that the other trainees and I came to while we were sitting at the buvette (pub/bar) where we had all congregated because our families weren’t doing anything that day. 3)I survived my first encounter with food poisoning this weekend, which of course wasn’t fun, but I’ve come out the other side still swinging, so that’s what matters. 4)Ramadan also continues, and along with it, much prayer. In addition to the customary calls to prayer that happen five times every day (though sometimes I am sure it’s more), there is a new call that occurs around 4am every day now, to wake people up so that they can eat before the sun rises. While I don’t love being awoken at 4am every day, I’m sure it’s much more difficult to go the entire day without eating, so I’m certainly not going to complain.
In conclusion: SO EXCITED ABOUT MY POST. Life is good, friends. We get to visit in a few weeks to see our house, meet people, and get acquainted with our village. I cannot wait. Hope all is well with you! Peace and love!!