Back from village
Trip Start Dec 19, 2008
5Trip End Jan 16, 2009
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Where I stayed
Charlotte's guest house
There is so much to say, I don't know that we'll be able to put it all in this post.
We arrived first to Mama Charlotte's, Rebecca's work partner. We had stayed with her for our very first week in village, so we knew she would take good care of us. She was so surprised to see us, and relief swept over me, when she embraced us in happiness. She has added on to her house a "guest house" which made it perfect for us, even our own private shower room! Charlotte cooked us great meals everyday, and we showed our appreciation by giving her some money and showering her with gifts, which she loved. Meals included bouille (corn or millet porridge) for breakfast, and for lunch and dinner a variety of either pate de mais (boiled corn meal), pate de mil (boiled millet flour), couscous, or igname pilee (big pounded potatoes)
After a day or tracking him down, we got to see Dassibou, our best friend while we were there. Our first meeting brought tears of joy to my eyes; I was so relieved to see him healthy and doing well. He also embraced us and was overjoyed at seeing us. Almost all of our good friends talked of how it was like a dream for us to be there, something unbelievable that we had done, coming back to see everyone.
Dassibou is working for a non profit organization and doing well. Dassibou had to drop out of school when his father died but fortunately he worked on finally got his Junior High diploma (this opens a lot of doors for jobs). He has also taken a wife. She is from a smaller village and does not speak French, but at least we could greet her in the local language. Our local language returned the minute we began hearing it, much to the surprise of the locals. Many would respond by saying "Oh! You foreigners speak Biali??? Ho!!" And we would respond, "just a little", which would further floor them that we could speak and understand even further what they were saying. That part was fun.
Many of our friends were students in higher levels of high school during our service, and it was great seeing that they had graduated and were either down at the university in Cotonou, or working a job somewhere and were back in village celebrating the holidays with their families. They looked all grown up and mature, we felt like proud parents seeing them so independent and doing well. One of the girls that we supported while we were in village and after we left through Benin Education Fund, had found a job with a non profit organization and was driving around on a motorcycle! This is quite the status symbol in village, and shows that she has become a "grande".
We saw our family that we lived with. Unfortunately, Maman left Papa and went back to her village. She has the two younger children with her, and two older boys are with Papa. The boys are going to schools and very shocked to see us. We were just as shocked when they ran out as greeted us with Bon Arrive (welcome in French!). While we were there the extent of their French was Bon Jour and Ca Va? So seeing them after a couple of years of school was great especially from Nambigua, the younger boy. Mama gave birth to another child, Sambieni, who is about 10 months. He is a very happy child and seems very well nourished. Narou, the youngest while we were there, was also happy to see us, but shy at first to approach us
Much to our surprise, Materi now has cell phone reception and everyone was walking around talking on cell phones. I thought it was a hyperbole seeing someone on a cell phone speaking an only partially written language. However, after reflecting on this, I am glad that they have kept certain things like their language and clothing, preserving their culture despite the technological developments and Westernization that is occurring. I think a Beninese woman will always value her pagnes (colorful pieces of fabric).
With the new President Yayi Boni, change can be seen throughout the country. There is a huge new highway being built from Cotonou north. People in Materi told us that he got some rice from Japan and had it shipped all over and was cheaper than the other rice, which allowed people to eat more last year when the harvest wasn't good
Another excellent change (which we talked a lot about during our service) is that the president has implemented free elementary education. This is huge for smaller villages and as a result Benin is now grappling with just a big teacher shortage. To solve this they have implemented a military/teaching program. If you have a high school diploma you can go through basic training and are then shipped out to teach in schools all over Benin for a 2 year service. As an incentive, those that go through this program are then eligible for "veteran's status" if government jobs or something else is available. One of our good friends is now doing this and its cool hearing how people from our village are now living all over.
As far as transportation, the bus system is AWESOME!!! Air conditioned and bad martial arts movies included. Unfortunately it still took us from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm for a taxi to fill up with enough passengers to leave. Curse you taxi-man!!! Fortunately we had the seat of honor in the front of a Toyota Mini Bus that normally holds 8 or 9
Well we're now back in the heat and humidity of the South. It was really dry and dusty desert winds in village (highs in the 90s and lows in the 70s with no humidity). As soon as we stepped off the bus in Cotonou we were back in Houston like weather (high 90s and humidity 90%). Oh well at least it for only a couple of days and then we're off to Morocco. It's so weird thinking about how its 0 degrees back in Helena right now.
Once we get to Morocco we'll write more. Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year. Everyone in Village says hi too!
Jason and Rebecca