So, it’s September and for the first time in memory, this does not mean the beginning of a new school year for me.  Even though this marks a change from what I’ve known my whole life, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable and I don’t long for the familiarity of the school routine.  I continue to be very glad that I am done with school.  I recently was looking through past entries in my journal–those from the end of my senior year–and it reminded me of how little I enjoyed school by the end.  Those were the days of staying up way too late, sleeping far too little, trying to do much more than was feasible, and barely staying afloat in what was supposed to be my primary activity: being a student.  So though I miss the fall weather a bit–the crisp breeze and the changing leaves of the east coast–while I am living in what I expect to be a perpetual summer, I’m nonetheless immensely pleased that my life is different now.  Even though I still feel like a student in many ways, these days bring a lot less dread and anxiety than days in the recent past.  I feel a lot healthier, too.  I sleep more, exercise more, eat better, and rely less on caffeine to function.  And when I look at myself in the mirror as I’m brushing my teeth each morning, it’s nice to see a face that looks more human than zombie, with eyes that aren’t bloodshot or surrounded by dark circles, and skin that is pleasantly tanned and freckled instead of oddly pale.  So glad I decided to do Peace Corps instead of grad school!

September also means that training is almost over (thank goodness–i thought the end would never come).  In a little over a week, I’ll be swearing in as an official volunteer and moving to my village.  Though we’re not really supposed to start any projects in our first three months at post, I think I will still feel a lot more useful once I get there, as I’ll be able to start talking to people, assessing assets and needs, and doing small things to help around the health center.  I also look forward to being viewed as a professional who has expertise and is working instead of a “staigaire” [trainee] who is just learning.  I am excited to set my own agenda each day instead of being a slave to our training syllabus, and to do the things that I see as important and useful without being bound by what other people have decided I need to do.  In some ways, this training period has been more structured and controlling than anything I have experienced in recent memory.  We have classes every day from 8-4:30 (with recommended activities after classes many days, and a half day of training on Saturday) and undergo periodic assessments and evaluations by various people involved in the training process.  I suppose this is probably useful for a big organization like Peace Corps; they want to make sure that all of their volunteers have certain core capacities and knowledge of key subject areas–essentially they want to ensure that we are truly capable of carrying out the duties requested of us.

But I guess I am struggling with two main issues rooted in the training process.  The first is still that I feel like before I was even invited to serve in PC, I had to prove that I was competent in most of the things required for the work I’m going to do; yet once I got here I received comprehensive training as if I was starting from zero.  I acknowledge that well-trained personnel are important for any organization, and I know that some of the trainees came to Benin with far less experience in the health field than I have, so it’s good in that respect that the training has been so thorough.  But it’s frustrating, and ultimately not a good use of human and financial resources, for people who already have those skills and knowledge to have to sit through it again.  It seems to me that it would be more efficient to group the training classes by level of experience–people who need more training would be together, and people who need less or more refined training would be in a separate group.  The second thing is that to a certain degree, I am sure that some of these things simply will come with practice, and that it feels to me like it would be more productive for me to be learning through experience in my village instead of hanging out here and practicing for the sake of practicing.  Part of the reason that I feel so strongly about this second issue is because when one is going to be working with people, the only way to practice realistically is to practice with people.  And I am just not comfortable with using humans as test subjects for the purposes of my own learning, even if ostensibly I’m learning so that I can help others later.  For instance, one of the activities we will be undertaking as health volunteers is running “sensitizations” with different groups of people in and around our villages on different health topics (which is basically a fancy way of saying we’ll be giving mini health classes on relevant topics).  I’m looking forward to doing these in my village, once I figure out what people know and do not know, and what information is relevant and appropriate to present to each group.  However, as part of training, we have to give a practice sensitization tomorrow to a group of random people whom we have never met from a village that we have never been to.  These are real people who have lives and jobs and children and obligations, and we’re going to be taking their time to talk to them about things that we’re not even sure will be relevant to them, and then we will never see them again.  To me, this feels a lot like we are using them.  Though at least with this activity, unlike some of the similar things we have done in the past, the discussion that we’re going to be leading has the potential to benefit them if they don’t know a lot about our topic.  It just feels presumptuous to me to take a random group of grown adults and to assume that they don’t know about HIV or how to put on a condom.  I was trying to think of when a similar situation might exist in the U.S., and I really couldn’t think of anything where someone could get away with doing what we are going to do here.  I am going to do the activity, because it is a mandatory part of our training and it will probably be good practice, but I’m very glad that it is the last of activities like this, because the whole situation makes me very uncomfortable.

Anyway, life goes on pretty much as it has for the past two months.  As far as Fon goes, I have to really get down to business with studying more intensely, I think.  I’ve barely mastered the greetings (OK, actually I still haven’t mastered them, but at least I can usually remember them), but I recently found out that I will be giving part of a speech in this language during our swearing-in ceremony, which will be in front of 400 people and also televised.  Additionally, I have nowhere near a functional understanding of even the basics of the language.  It is so drastically different from English, French, or Spanish–simpler in some ways, but it’s hard to grasp onto because there are so few similarities between it and the way I think about language, if that makes sense.  I am thinking a lot about what I need to buy for my house to make it livable in the first few days, and my host mom said she is going to help me make some of those purchases.  It’s going to be a lot of work to furnish an entire house (even if it is small), but I”m pretty excited about it.  This will be the first time in my life that I will have had my own house and I think it’s going to be kind of fun to set it up and start living independently.

Oh, and I have a new mailing address!  Mail will still reach me if it is sent to the PC address, but I think I’ll be able to check this new one more frequently once I move to village.

B.P. 337
Savalou, Benin
Afrique de l’Ouest

Hope all is well on the homefront!  Until next time:)

C’est bon, no?

It’s funny, the past week was so full of interesting things, and yet I had so much trouble writing this post. (Which is the reason it is late, in addition to the fact that life has gotten a bit busier lately, so it’s harder to find time to go to the internet cafe….)

I returned on Sunday from a short trip to visit my future home in the Collines and now I am sitting in the living room of a very nice house in Porto Novo, writing this post as I watch all of the Harry Potter movies in French with my host family.  I guess my brain is a bit confused about what my life is really about right now.  The life I just glimpsed for a few days is so extremely different from what I’ve known for most of my twenty two years, and even from the way I’m living right now.  I’m having trouble processing the whole thing enough to distill it into something coherent that I can put here, but I’m going to try anyway…

Last Wednesday, I woke up way before the sun rose in order to get on an early bus heading “up country” with my future work partner (henceforth known as my homologue, because that’s the terminology that PC uses), a fatherly man whom I had met only two days before.  I think it took about seven hours for us to reach Glazoue, which is the closest large town to my village.  It’s not on the map that’s in the sidebar of the blog, but it’s about in the middle of Cotonou and Parakou, which are both shown there.  The road there was paved and not in great condition, but also not too terrible.  There were a few sections where there were an absurd amount of potholes, and the Beninese road builders seem to really enjoy putting small speed bumps in clusters in the road when it passes through a town, which is not my favorite thing (they’re small enough to slow the bus down a little, but mainly they just yield sort of a washboard effect), but generally I was pleasantly surprised with a smoother-than-expected and uneventful ride.

My future supervisor and a few other people were waiting for us when we disembarked from the bus, and they took me out to lunch at a restaurant down the road, which was a relief because I was a bit worried that my homologue would take me straight to his house, where his wife would have prepared some fancy meal featuring many different types of meat which I would be obligated to eat because not eating it would be terribly offensive.  So we were able to broach the subject of vegetarianism in a place where there was no danger of hurting anyone’s feelings, and that worked out well.  They were a bit disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to feed me bush meat, which my homologue informed me is quite good, but I think they’ll get over it.

Here commences one of the themes of the visit: eating a ridiculous amount of local food with my hands.  It’s an acquired skill to eat things of a consistency similar to mashed potatoes and gravy without the aid of silverware, but after this week I feel like I’m a lot better at it.  I finally got to try most of the Beninese foods that I hadn’t eaten yet (due to my host mom’s continued habit of making American-style food for me at most meals, and dutifully shielding me from the Beninese foods that Americans don’t tend to like) and I actually didn’t run into any dishes that I truly disliked.  I wouldn’t necessarily choose to eat some of these things on a daily basis, but all of them were fine in moderation.  Of course, I didn’t quite have the luxury of eating anything in moderation, because my hosts felt very strongly that I should eat A LOT.  This is a cultural thing that I suppose stems from the fact that malnutrition is still a problem here and food is not always available, so when it is there, it’s probably good for them to eat a lot.  Also, I gather that it is seen as prestigious to be able to afford to prepare certain foods/a large amount of food, so they were probably acting on cultural norms that are in place to honor guests.  And I know enough to realize that it’s important to people to know that you like the food that they’ve made for you, and the way to show this is to eat a good amount of it.  However, I am not in fact a malnourished Beninese child, nor am I accustomed to eating that amount of starch/carbohydrates at one time, so I felt very cumulatively full, and like I must have gained at least five pounds by the time I left.  As my friend put it after the visit was over, “It’s the surprise meals that get you….You eat a big dinner at 7:30, and then they come around with more food at maybe 9:30, and expect you to eat again.”   And they were always so surprised when I said “but I just ate; I’m not hungry,” as if they hadn’t been sitting there piling more and more food onto my plate two hours before.  It was pretty hilarious, if kind of frustrating at some moments.  I got very tired of hearing the phrases “il faut manger” [one must eat] and “tu manges petit; je ne suis pas content” [you eat little; I’m not happy], especially because, as I continually pointed out to them, I was in fact en train de [in the process of] eating a lot every time they said those things.

Anyway, I got a bit ahead of myself with that section on food.  After we had lunch in town, I got on the back of my supervisor’s motorcycle (a bit of a challenge in a skirt–I’m still working on doing that gracefully) and we rode for about 40 minutes through the countryside to get to our town/village (henceforth referred to as “my village,” though it may be large enough to be considered a town…it feels like a village to me, so I am going to use that terminology for now).  The landscape on the way was so beautiful, and not quite like anything I’ve really seen before.  The best word to describe it is “green.”  So many different shades of green–bright green, dark green, yellow-green–as far as the eye can see.  The name of the region, Collines, means “hills” in French, and that is indeed a fitting name, as it is the land of rolling hills.  (Definitely not mountains, to clarify from a few posts prior to this.  Small hills, that I’m sure will seem much bigger when I’m trying to ride my bike up them, and a few large rock monuments that are sort of similar to Castle Rock-type things in Colorado.)  We passed by field after field of crops of different sorts, as well as fields that looked natural, with short-ish, broadly branching trees interspersed throughout.  And at some points, one could see mountain-like ridges in the distance.  I don’t quite have the words to adequately describe what it looks like, but when I move in, I am going to take my camera out to the countryside and attempt to photograph it, so you’ll see it then.  The basic idea is that it’s ridiculously pretty.

When we rolled up to my village, I immediately thought “OK, wow, I can see myself living here.”  It is small and I like the feel of it.  Some of the other villages we passed through did not feel as open and welcoming to me (as much as you can make that kind of a judgement in a few minutes), but my village made a good impression from the beginning.  I am pretty sure that it is more rural/less developed than anything I have ever experienced before.  Most of the houses are very simple cement or mud brick rectangles with one to two-ish rooms and sheet metal roofs.  This threw me off at first, because in rural Uganda we learned that only the people who had slightly more money could usually afford to build that style of house; the sheet metal roof was a sign of prestige there, because everyone else had huts made out of mud and grass.  But after spending some time in the village, I think the building materials that exist here may just be different from what is readily available in Uganda, because I have seen very few huts here and I really don’t think that most of the people in my village have a lot of spare money.  It is a farming community, and I think most of the cumulative income of the village is generated by selling their crops at the local markets.  As was previously mentioned, there is no electricity in the village (the health center keeps its vaccines in a refrigerator powered by a kerosene-burning generator), nor is there running water in the sense that we think of it.  There is water that can be accessed from a few public faucets, due to a development project that was completed last year by the Japanese and Beninese governments.  The village now features a huge water tower that collects water and disperses it to different faucets throughout the area, so people no longer have to walk so far to get water and they also don’t have to manually pump it out of the ground; they just have to pay 30 francs (about 60 cents) to fill up a sizable water jug.  One rather shocking thing that I found out was that there are almost no latrines in the village.  There are a few that are only for the private use of certain people (such as the one located in my backyard) but most of the community uses the bush as their toilet, which is obviously a major public health issue.  So that’s something I may try to work on in my time there.  Though latrine-building wasn’t really on my radar as a possible activity, mostly because it isn’t really in my repertoire of things I know how to do and it can be kind of tricky sometimes, from what I understand, I’m sure I can learn if that turns out to be something that the community sees as a priority.

At any rate, for the post visit, I stayed in my homologue’s house, but I also saw the house where I’ll be living for the next two years.  I’ll post pictures soon (maybe today, depending on the internet situation), but I’ll describe it quickly anyway.  I will be living inside of a concession (a group of houses) with a tall cement wall around it and a gate that can be locked from the inside and the outside.  There are two one-story cement buildings in the concession; both are duplex-type structures and I have half of one of the duplexes as my house.  It’s a simple house (exactly what I was hoping for), with a sizable bedroom, a small living room/kitchen area, and a room for bathing.  It has cement floors and walls, a sheet metal roof, and a “ceiling” of woven mats that is supposed to keep the house from getting quite as hot when the sun shines.  Currently, the walls are painted a teal/sky blue/green sort of color which I’m not crazy about, but the landlord assured me that I can paint it whatever color I want, so I’m thinking that will be one of my first projects when I move in.  But my favorite part of my house isn’t even inside: it’s the huge mango tree in my front yard.  It’s not mango season right now, but come February or so I will be able to eat mangoes every day for free (YES).  The tree itself is also very nice and I am looking forward to sitting under it and reading, writing letters, etc.  And as a surprise perk, the house actually is wired for electricity, because apparently my landlord has a generator that he turns on from time to time, so this is excellent news.  I will get the experience of living without electricity most of the time and won’t have to deal with the hassle of an electric bill, but will be able to charge things and benefit from the convenience of electric lighting at night every so often.

For the remainder of the visit (when I was not eating mass quantities of food or inspecting my house), I did a lot of walking around/meeting people with my homologue and supervisor and worked on perfecting a look of friendly, contented blankness while they talked about me in Fon, which is the local language of the village.  They were pretty good about explaining things to me in French so I would know what was going on, but they would customarily end an explanation with “c’est bon, no?” [it’s good, right?], which started to make me a bit crazy by the end, because I had probably said “Oui, c’est bon!” [yeah, it’s great!] about two hundred times and that was obviously the only answer I could give; but I think it was just very important to them to know that I was liking what I was seeing and that I was having a good time [and would be coming back to stay].  As I mentioned before, I will be the first volunteer in this village, and it’s clear to me already that my arrival is a big deal there.  I met all of the local authorities–the chef du village [village leader/chief in the political sense], chef du terre [the more traditional/cultural leader], chef du arrondisement [the person in charge of the larger area, similar to a county in the US I think], the police chief, and the military chief in the area.  They all were very gracious and seemed pleased that I would be there and told me to contact them if there were any problems.  The police/military here don’t make me nervous the way the ones in Uganda did, and it’s nice to know that I have the police chief’s cell number in my phone in case of emergency.

When I got back to Porto Novo, I found out that in our most recent language test, I finally hit the level of French needed to be able to swear in as an official volunteer on the 15th.  This is fantastic news because a)it takes off a bit of the stress that I was experiencing related to language and b)it means I get to start learning Fon, which is highly important because I realized during my post visit that very few people in my village speak French.  (And obviously, English is virtually unknown.  So basically, as another trainee put it, French is going to become my English now.  Ha.)  I started Fon classes on Monday, and HOLY COW it’s tough!  It’s a tonal language, like Chinese, so you can say what sounds like the same phrase to us English-speakers with the wrong intonation and it will mean something totally different than what you intended.  Additionally, there are a lot of sounds in Fon that don’t exist in English and are really hard for me to make.  It’s a bit discouraging but I know it will get easier, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to start learning before going to post, because having some Fon skills is going to be very necessary for successful integration into my village.

Anyway, this has become WAY too long now so I’m signing off before I babble on any more.  Hope all is well on your side of the pond.  In peace, CMK.

Qu’est-ce que c’est le Benin?

Or roughly translated: “What is Benin?” or “Talk to me about Benin.”

I learned the qu’est que c’est que sentence structure in preparation for one of our language tests, because there is always a section at the end where the testers ask you if you have any questions for them.  I like this structure because it asks a very open-ended question and gives the person on the other side of it the freedom to tell you whatever they find to be the most important things about the topic.

As I’ve been getting to know Porto Novo and Benin these past couple of months, this question has really been on my mind: What IS Benin?  I’ve been living here for awhile, and yet I still don’t quite understand this place.  And as I think about what I want to write about it here, I have trouble putting different aspects of life into the “boxes” that we all use to make sense of the world.  For instance, I read before I came that Benin is one of the least developed countries in the world and I learned some troubling statistics about malnutrition, illness and education here.  However, when I look around, I see people who seem to have enough to eat, who don’t seem to be crippled by illness, I see boys and girls who attend school even in the summer to advance their studies.  When we did our baby weighing activity in a nearby village, only one out of maybe fifty or so babies was at all underweight.  However, then I also think about the fact that as soon as one leaves the handful of main roads in Porto Novo, the terrain turns to dirt roads in such poor condition that they are sometimes challenging to drive on, and about the goats and chickens that I see eating trash around the city, and the children that I see out begging on the street; I ask myself if I would ever see these things in Washington, D.C., and of course the answer is no.  (Though, to be fair, there are things happening in DC that are just as severe as the things I have seen so far here; it’s just that they are different types of things and perhaps they are better hidden from the casual observer.)

So at any rate, I decided that the best thing to do for this week’s post would be to put together a list of brief statements about what Benin (at this point, mostly Porto Novo) is to me, based on what I have observed and experienced so far.  These are by and large still first impressions and will probably change, but it’s kind of fun to put together anyway.  Also, if there are things that I write here that you would like to hear more about, please let me know and I will expand upon them in subsequent posts.  It’s hard to gauge what would be interesting for you all, so I would love feedback if you have it.  So here it goes.

Benin is….

+A country in Africa
+Not remotely similar to the United States in most visible ways
+Similar in some ways to other African countries that I have visited

In Benin, one sees…
+Women sweeping the dirt off the street every morning even though it will settle right back on in a matter of minutes
+Laundry hanging off of balconies or on lines outside of homes
+Men holding hands with other men, and women holding hands with other women, but it doesn’t signify anything romantic, just that they are friends or they are going somewhere together
+Gas stations that are completely empty while zemi drivers fill their tanks at gaz-oil stands down the street
+Exhaust spewing out from the tailpipes of many motorcycles, cars, and trucks driving down the highway
+Taxis filled far past their intended capacity with people, luggage, and livestock
+People wearing clothing that would be considered outrageously quirky in the United States (lots of bright colors and really wacky patterns–like spaceships, chickens laying eggs, computers, dollar bills, and more–usually both in the same fabric) without people thinking anything of it.
+Far more traditional clothing than western-style clothing
+Televisions turned on for most hours of the day in households that can afford them
+Men urinating on the side of the road into piles of trash or bushes
+Women who change their hairdo completely every few weeks or month, because they keep their real hair quite short and get “weave” braided in by the hairdresser (I didn’t realize how much I identified people by their hair until I was having so much trouble recognizing people when they changed their hair style)
+Most places of residence hidden behind some sort of wall or gate, but people rarely spending their free time inside their house
+Women walking around and riding zemis with babies tied to their backs
+Food and other items being sold off of huge platters carried on the heads of walking women (who are sometimes also carrying said babies on their backs)
+People who can dance really well
+People balancing all sorts of improbable things on the backs of motorcycles–sometimes up to four people, couches, refrigerators, mattresses, etc

In Benin, one hears…
+Many different languages that are not English
+People joking and laughing a lot
+The sound of horns honking nearly constantly as drivers signal to others that they are nearby and trying to pass
+The occasional American song that people listen to without having the slightest idea what the songs mean (my favorite example is my host mom’s nephew who loves to listen to and sing along with the Aqua song, “Barbie Girl.”)
+People greeting you as you pass and vendors calling out or making smooching noises to invite you over to see their wares (I am still trying to figure out if the smooching thing is impolite, but I think it is not considered so here)
+If you are a foreigner, you hear the yovo song and people yelling “yovo!”
+Music blasting from storefronts where music or sometimes cell phones are sold
+The Call to Prayer ringing out from the mosques five times a day
+Rain pounding on tin roofs that makes even a mild rain storm sound like a tropical storm
+The squeaking of the FanMilk horn (the type of horn that one might put on a child’s bike in the states), which signals that the FanMilk guy is walking down your street, pushing a cart that is insulated well enough to keep hundreds of small packets of ice cream cold even under the hot African sun.  This is the Beninese version of the ice cream truck, except that it’s socially acceptable for grown people to buy ice cream from this guy.

In Benin, one eats…
+A dish called “pate” [pronounced like ‘pot’], which is essentially corn flour that has been boiled into a mashed-potato like consistency.  This is the main dish in the southern region of Benin (compare to matooke in Uganda–same position as the favored dish, same composition of 100% carbs, same bland taste, same contribution to malnutrition in children because it fills their stomach so much while giving so few nutrients)
+Pate rouge (red pate), which is similar to above, but with more taste (and I think a significant amount of red palm oil)
+A sauce made of tomatoes and onions and oil that can be put on almost any dish
+An absurd amount of white bread baguettes, which are really cheap and sold everywhere
+Rice, beans (though usually not those two together, which is unfortunate in my opinion), a sauce made of chickpeas, a lot of fish, some chicken and goat, rarely beef or pork, and if one is vegetarian, a lot of wagassi (Beninese cheese) and hard boiled eggs
+Ground manioc flour, called gari (this is often eaten with beans)
+A lot of fried foods (fried dough of various sorts to make donut-like snacks, fried bananas, fried omelettes, french fries, etc)
+Something called yam pile (yam pee-lay) which is some type of pounded yam thing that is presented in a fat disk shape that looks the way the dough for a small loaf of bread looks when you are done kneading it.  This eaten with one’s hands and dipped in a spicy peanut sauce with either meat or wagassi.  Probably one of my favorite Beninese foods, and rumoured to be very popular in the Collines, where I will be posted.
+A porridge-type food called “bouille,” which can be made out of many different types of flour, but I think the millet flour type is best.  They often feed this to babies but adults can also eat it for breakfast.
+Lots of good fruits–fresh pineapples, avocados, bananas, oranges, coconuts (is that a fruit? Maybe not), and when the season comes, mangoes!

This is getting pretty lengthy now, so I’m going to stop, though I feel like I could probably go on quite a bit more.  This is going to be an exciting week for me, because tomorrow we each get to meet our work partner and supervisor, who are traveling to Porto Novo for a couple of days to attend this trainee/counterpart conference (I think the conference will basically answer the questions “What is a Peace Corps Volunteer?” “What do they do?” and “how should you treat them/what do they require?”).  Then after the workshop concludes, we will travel with them back to our posts and stay there for 3-4 days.  I’ll be staying with a host family for the post visit, but I’ll see my house, my places of work, and start to meet people around town.  I’m super excited, a bit nervous, and generally can’t wait!  Wish me luck, and I’ll tell you all about it when I get back. Peace and love!

With dreams of lattes dancing through her head

You know how Wednesday is often one of the hardest days of the week?  Monday is hard in its own way, but at least you’re coming off of the weekend so you’re kind of recharged.  Wednesday, however, is sandwiched there in the middle of Tuesday and Thursday with the last weekend fading from your memory and the next weekend seemingly far in the distance.  It’s the “hump day”–Wednesday often feels very long, but once you get through it, the remainder of the week goes much more easily.  I feel like I’m on the Wednesday of training right now.  I’m at the point where being here isn’t as new and exciting as it was at first, but I also still have a month until I move to my posts, so I’m just stuck here trying to get through the middle of the metaphorical week.

This Wednesday feeling has brought a bit of minor homesickness.  Today is a cloudy, humid day and I woke up thinking that it would be the perfect day to go chill out at a cafe and drink some coffee and/or a smoothie (smoothies are definitely the thing I miss most at this point) while reading a good book.  Unfortunately, as you might guess, there are no cafes of that sort in Porto Novo.  Obviously I know this but I haven’t been able to shake the feeling of wanting to go to one.  Isn’t that strange?  What a random thing to miss so strongly.  Overall I am really enjoying living here, but it’s little things that I miss.

It’s also a bit tough because I know that Porto Novo isn’t going to be my long-term home.  On the one hand, I want to meet people who live near me and build relationships and train the children to call me by name instead of screaming “yovo” every time I pass, but on the other hand, it takes time and effort to do that, and that’s a lot of energy to expend when I know I’m just going to have to do the same thing again in my new village next month.  I am starting to get to know the city a bit better, though, and I’m finding that I kind of like it once I get off the main roads.  Walking around the neighborhoods where people actually live is like being able to feel the pulse of a city, and I like getting to know the area in an intimate way like that.  It also feels like people are a bit more calm as one moves away from the downtown area, which I think bodes well for what the smaller towns/villages will be like.

I’ve switched from my Tuesday blog day because I found a superior internet cafe pretty near my house.  But I’ve still been using the internet less lately than I did at the beginning of stage.  I just feel like every time I get online, I become so frustrated with the things I can’t accomplish that it isn’t really worth it.  So I’m shifting to a more complete reliance on snail mail (though I’m obviously still going to update the blog).  Mail delivery has not necessarily been the most reliable thing, but I have also gotten some letters ridiculously quickly (9 calendar days from postmark in the US to my hands–not bad at all!).  I’m not sure how fast mail is traveling from me to the states, but I’ve heard that it’s arriving eventually.

As far as cultural integration goes, I’m still working on parts of that.  I walked out of our house today to find my host mom in the process of cutting up two goats’ heads to use in a stew.  This reminded me of how glad I am that I don’t eat meat.  At times I consider abandoning the vegetarian thing when I move to my village for the sake of integrating better, but after that little experience today I’m not feeling so excited about that idea after all.  It’s cool and a good use of resources that they use all parts of the animal so fully (and my host mom says that people here consider the stuff that we don’t eat to be the best parts of the animal), but I’m just a bit grossed out by it.  Which I guess is probably partially due to the fact that it’s new for me to be seeing the meat-getting process so up close and personal.  This isn’t unique to me, since in the states even if one eats meat, there’s a good chance that one will never see the meat in the actual form of a dead animal because it will be purchased already packaged or possibly prepared.  I have a feeling I’m going to be getting a lot more familiar with this stuff as my time here goes on, though.

Anyway, not a ton else to report so I’m going to keep this post short.  This coming week we get to visit a health center and weigh babies as part of our training.  I’m pretty excited about that.  Baby weighings are a really simple way to catch malnutrition in the early stages and intervene to save lives, so we’ll actually be doing something useful as well as getting to hang out with a bunch of cute babies.  Excellent!  So, hope all is well.  Peace and love until next time:)