Potatoes and electricity and wi-fi, oh my!

Hello friends!  Hard to believe that at this time last year I was stressing over what to pack for Benin, wondering what it would be like, and squeezing in a few last get-togethers with all the people in my life.  Now I’m approaching my one-year anniversary in country and the new group of volunteers will be arriving this month, making me part of the “experienced volunteer” crew.  The time has really flown, though certainly last June feels very far away.  

At any rate, I have some excellent news to share with you today–our Camp GLOW project is fully funded as of a couple weeks ago!  Meaning now we are all set to bring the girls up to Parakou in September.  Fantastic!  So a huge, giant thank you to everyone who donated–in Fon, we say enachenuwe (meaning: it will come back to you–because what you have done is so important that nothing I could say would really convey my gratitude, so I just trust that the powers that be will ensure that you are rewarded for it).  I really appreciate the huge wave of support for this project that I got from you guys.  And if you meant to donate but didn’t get a chance, don’t worry…there will certainly be other opportunities to support my work in this community.  

I’ll try to post again soon because I am in the city this week with electricity and even wi-fi at my hotel.  I’ve brought two students from our high school to get trained to be peer educators on health topics.  They are a boy and a girl who are in the rough equivalent of 9th grade and are somewhere between 14 and 17 years old.  After this week of training, we will officially introduce them to the community as health workers and they’ll begin doing health education sessions with other young people in the town.  The program focuses a lot on sexual education/family planning, but also covers things such as malaria and diarrheal diseases, all of which are extremely relevant in rural Benin.  I’m excited about it because it’s a much more sustainable model of educating than if it were me doing the work.  Because these kids live in the community, they will be able to continue after I leave or pass on the roles to other students.  And also, because peer pressure is such an important force in the lives of young people, they have the potential to make change that would be extremely unlikely for me to achieve.  So this week is dedicated to supporting them through this training [and taking advantage of city luxuries such as hot showers and fresh vegetables].  And though the schedule is pretty packed, I think I should find time to finish a post I’ve been working on, so stay tuned…

Also, an aside, as long as I’m talking about unrelated things: I’m sorry for the lack of mail correspondence lately.  I owe many of you letters and I promise I will get them to you in the next few months.  I’ve been finding myself with less letter-writing time recently, due largely to an increased amount of work (which of course is a great thing) and have really fallen behind on correspondence.  I still love to receive your letters, to stay up-to-date on everything that’s happening in that parallel world across the ocean, and I know that it’s discouraging when you write letters and you don’t get them back, so I will make an effort to get better about the responding part.  Thank you to everyone who is still sending me mail–it makes my day every time!  

Heading out to get some sort of fancy city dinner now (maybe even salad!), so until next time: eyizandé!

P.S. Rafiki update: While I was gone at my last training, Rafiki decided to embark on a home improvement project.  I had left him with my concession family, in the spare room of their house, so I was quite surprised when I got back to find him waiting for me inside *my* house.  Apparently he was so distraught at being locked out that he ripped off the bottom corner of the screen that covers my front window and wedged himself himself through the wooden slats that are on the inside.  (I had forgotten to close the slats before leaving, because I usually keep them open for light and air, but when I leave I like to close them to keep the dust out and in case of rain.)  And once he did that, he could easily enter and exit through the window without anyone helping him.  What a problem-solver: he created his own cat door.  I’ve left it like that for now, because it’s kind of convenient not to have to let him in and out of the house, but I think he’s about to outgrow that option, because the space between the slats is not large and he’s getting closer and closer to full-sized these days.  So I think when I get back from this training, I will get the screen repaired and start training him to use the door again.  Silly cat.  But an innovative one.