Trip Start Jul 18, 2006
18Trip End Sep 2008
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This has truly been a whirlwind. As we learned at staging, our experience there in Philadelphia was supposed to be a blur. I have to say, however, that life after staging in pre-service learning is much more of a blur.
Upon our arrival into Cotonou, we were greeted by some Peace Corps higher-ups who took care of getting us through customs and immigration. Then, there was the overwhelming greeting by the current PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). They cheered and clapped for us as we exited the airport, overloaded like mules with luggage and exhausted from all the travel. Their enthusiasm was contagious and I found that they have helped to make me more and more excited about my forthcoming two years.
We spent the night outside of Cotonou where we will be for five days until we go to our training sites - where I will spend the next 9 weeks training with all the other health trainees (11 of us total).
This morning, we ate a good breakfast of coffee, fruit and bread and were then briefed on Peace Corps policy and staying healthy. As with any new job, we were given more paperwork and information to read. The US Ambassador to Benin greeted us (even though this is his last day on the job) and let us know that we are the "true ambassadors" - he's probably right. Two other foreign service workers also spoke to us briefly and both are RPCVs (Return Peace Corps Volunteers) from Korea and Poland.
After a lunch of some potatoes in some sort of sauce, peas and other veggies and some fried cheese (for the vegetarians only), we made our way by Peace Corps bus to the Peace Corps office in Cotonou. There, we split up into groups to get some things done. Today, I got fit for a bike, bike helmet and moto helmet. We also got a sweet bike fixing kit. I'm so stoked to get started with all the biking that we will be doing and learning how to do repairs (which will be helpful in me and Hannes's plan to start up a bike shop/coffee shop/book store/cd store). I'm not so excited, however, about the moto training. The main form of transportation is by moped (or zemidjan - zemi). We will learn how to ride on the back of one of them. This is a bit scary with the seemingly insane traffic patterns, but I'm sure I'll get the hang of it and eventually love it. I also got a shot for meningitis and took a language placement interview. The whole interview was conducted in French and the results will tell which level I am at so that I can be placed into the appropriate language group during training. I'm sad to say that it didn't go as well as it could have since I haven't used French since freshman year and have taken 3 other languages in between, but I feel that once I am using it, I will get less rusty and will be speaking near fluency in no time (hopefully!).
The weather, for those of you who may be wondering, is quite nice! It's not too hot (certainly not nearly as hot as it has been in the US recently) and there is a steady breeze. The palms blowing in the breeze make it sound like there is a little rain shower outside. I slept great last night under my blue mosquito net and awoke to rooster cock-a-doodle-dooing outside (followed by my crazy loud alarm clock and a little lizard scurrying across the wall).
As for my access to the internet and other technologies, it doesn't look like I will have much access to the internet - at least not very frequently. But, I have been typing my entries on my laptop and will post them as I get the chance. Most of the volunteers have cell phones in country. They buy them for about the same price as in the states and get phone cards to call out. Calls in are free! So, my plan is to get a phone once I figure out where I will be posted so that I know which service works best in my village. At that point, it will be a little easier to stay in touch (and I will feel more at ease knowing that I can be in touch with someone almost instantly if necessary).
Tomorrow we will go on a tour of Cotonou with a volunteer and at that point, I'm sure I will have plenty to share about my impressions of the city.
This has been,