Camp GLOW and more

Trip Start Jun 02, 2003
Trip End Dec 31, 2006

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Monday, August 30, 2004

Alright, alright....I know. What on earth have I been doing all summer?! Why haven't I had time to write? Well, I have been busy.

The summer began back in the middle of June. I finished grading my last exams, filled out the grade books and report cards, and said goodbye to my students for the summer. Then, I jumped back and forth between Parakou, Cotonou, and N'Dali trying to get ready for both Camp GLOW and my parents' visit.

On July 4, I met eight girls at the CEG in N'Dali, packed up a crickety old nine-seater taxi (an ancient Peugot station wagon), and drove to Parakou under rainy skies. And thus, Camp GLOW began. Thankfully, the rainy skies were no indication of how the week went. We had a fantastic time. To all of you who donated and helped make Camp GLOW happen, I send out a huge "chauffez, chauffez, chauffez, chauffez, FIRE!" What is this little mantra? Well, "chauffez" means "warm it up" or "get it hot," if you will. Imagine 48 girls and about 20 more women (throw a few men in the mix, too) rubbing their hands together, while saying the "chauffez" part and then pulling their arms back and rushing them forward to slap the hand and finish with the hands in the air on the other side while screaming "FIRE!" All of this is done with huge smiles and laughter, of course. This was how the girls thanked people, and so this is how I thank you. Some day, maybe I will be able to demonstrate in person.

The camp lasted for one activity-packed week. It was exhausting, but worth it. Just to give you an idea of what the girls did, I will write out a typical camp day timetable and then give you a sample list of sessions.

6:30 Wake up
7:00 Sports (or Yoga on alternate days) or Computers (10 girls sent each day)
8:00 Breakfast and showers
9:00 Session on HIV/AIDS
10:30 Coffee Break
10:45 Session on Family Planning
13:00 Lunch followed by rest time
15:00 Feminine Leadership and Sexual Harrassment
16:45 Coffee Break
17:00 Making Marionettes
18:30 Dinner
20:00 Village group activities with their tutrices and Staff meeting
21:00 movie or music/dance

Sample Sessions:
Rights of Women
Visit to Songhai (a sustainable farm)
Visit to the radio station
Goals and Motivations
The Art of Tye-Dying

Sometimes this got changed a bit as we realized that we didn't have enough rest time put in. The movie at night often got dropped. The girls also spent an afternoon shadowing a professional woman at work and at home for dinner. This was a huge success. The very last night included a candle ceremony, complete with Fire Spinning!

The camp was not without its frustrating moments, though. One day seemed cursed! In fact, many folks thought maybe everything was caused by gri-gri (black magic). It began in the morning with one of the girls getting sick (many got sick when they were there just as a matter of course--perhaps the free medecine was a factor?). Then, later in the afternoon, during a relay race I organized, a girl fell down after doing the bat spin and hurt her foot pretty badly (a sprain?).

Later in the evening, when the girls were meeting with their tutrices, a crazy man walked into the large room where we hold our sessions and sat down next to a girl from N'Dali and started to touch her, talking to her. Cecile, our tutrice, said something to him to get him to stop and go away, and he stood up and started going nuts, screaming and waving around a long, dangerous stick. The rest of the staff were up on the stage having our meeting when we were suddenly surrounded by tons of girls who had run up to get away from him. Quite scary! We managed to shoo him out with the help of some guards who finally showed up.

The culminating scary factor, though, was a small girl, the daughter of one of the tutrices, having an epileptic seizure for the first time. Her mother told her to go outside to wash her hands, but she was afraid. She told her mother she thought something bad would happen to her if she went outside. Her mother told her to go anyway and followed her out. Her daughter began to pick up sand and wash her hands with it instead of water, and then, she went into the epileptic seizure. I guess after an seizure the body is extremely tired and just wants to sleep, but we were afraid to let her lose consciousness until the nurse arrived. Erica, a health volunteer, kept snapping her fingers over Monique's face and asking her questions to keep her awake, but her eyes would just roll back and her eyelids would fall down with exhaustion. The nurse arrived and gave her a vitamin shot and something else, and they took her to a relative's house in Parakou where there was supposedly a doctor. Later, Erica read up on what could have caused the seizure. Apparently, people will often exhibit strange behavior before going into one, which would explain washing her hands with sand. Also, she read that stress (maybe the crazy man) and severe vitamin deficiency can also be factors involved in causing a seizure. She said that frequently playing with or eating dirt and sand can sometimes be a sign that a child is deficient in certain minerals that are in the sand and dirt, which is why they are attracted to it. I am no doctor, and neither is she, but I thought I would tell you what she found. The girls at the camp, as well as many of us, were freaked out. Some of us, including myself, ended up staying late to talk to some of the girls about everything.

When Julie and I were finally ready to go, we exited the school compound at the same time that people, some in costumes, were marching by, chanting and drumming. It was a little creepy. We got on a zemidjan (we had to share as it was late and zems are difficult to find at that hour) and asked the driver who the people were. He said they were evil voodoo fetichers and that tonight was not a good night to be out. Julie and I got so creeped out! We told him what had happened, and he said that it surely was because of the voodoo celebration. We got to her house and shut the door behind us. A few minutes later, every dog in the neighborhood started barking their heads off, and we sat shaking on her couch as though we had just watched a terrifying horror flick!

Thankfully, the rest of the camp carried on without any major upsets! Again, thanks to all who contributed to make the camp a success.

Immediately after the camp ended, I headed down to Cotonou to pick up my parents. It was really great to see them, though I wish that I hadn't already been so exhausted because of the camp. The week that my dad was there was packed full of activities. We had a whirlwind tour of Benin! They visited Parakou, N'Dali, Abomey, Lokossa, Ouidah, Ganvié, and Cotonou. In N'Dali, I watched my parents try to pound yams (photos forthcoming), and I saw them eat the gooey pounded yams and sauce with their fingers. They seemed to enjoy my neighbors. My mom had brought a baseball, and we taught them how to play using a pestle as a baseball bat! They loved it.

After my dad left, my mom and I headed to Ghana, where we mostly relaxed in Accra and enjoyed nice restaurants (well, nice for me anyway). We did make it down to Cape Coast, though, and the Canopy Walk. We met a very nice Dutch couple in a restaurant overlooking huge, crashing waves on a rocky shore, and they came to the Canopy Walk with us. The Walk in the rainforest was beautiful and not a bit scary! Afterwards, we went on a nature walk in the forest and learned about some of the different trees that are there. Trees really are amazing! Much more in a rainforest than your average oak or mesquite. One that sticks in my head in particular was covered in spikes and looked like some sort of medieval war weapon. After the nature walk, we went to a restaurant at a hotel between the forest and Cape Coast called Hobb's Cottage (if I remember correctly). The restaurant is sort of in the middle of a small lake with little islands with one tree on them sticking up and crocodiles. The trees near us were overrun with small yellow birds (someone told me later they are called weavers) that were constructing these nests that hung down like little baskets. They would fly into the nests from underneath to escape the rain. I may turn into a birdwatcher after all! Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling my best during our time in Ghana, so we didn't stay much longer in Cape Coast. Also, the castles and forts were on strike, so we wouldn't have been able to visit them anyway.

My mom couldn't stay forever, and we eventually had to make our way back to Cotonou to put her on the plane. It was great to see both of my parents, and it was a good lesson for future visits. So, if you are planning on visiting me, either plan to stay longer than one week or expect to see not much more than N'Dali and maybe one other tourist site. Cramming too much in one week is exactly that - too much.

Since my mom left, I have spent a considerable amount of time in Cotonou. The new stagiaires arrived, and I was there to greet them. They seem to be a fun group. As they climbed out of the SUVs on their first night there, though, I couldn't help but think, Wow, that was me a year ago. It is strange to be on the other side of the coin. I am almost a senior volunteer now, but do I really know that much more than I did a year ago? It doesn't feel like it.

Now, I am getting ready to go to Lokossa again to see my host family and to attend a funeral. Leonas Pedro, a very famous Beninese singer in and creator of the group Africando (which has actually performed several times in the US), recently passed away from cancer. He lived next door to my host mama. In fact, we nearly had our Swearing In party at his house. I only met him once, so I didn't really know him.

This past week I have been in N'Dali. For a town that doesn't have electricity, we are certainly coming up in the world. We now have a place that has satellite television. But, I watched the Olympic semi-finals women's soccer match between USA and Germany the other day. What a match! Even the Beninese men were getting worked up, flailing their arms about and crying in victory or frustration. I have to say, they were quite impressed by our women. And, after going into overtime, we won! Hooray! I sat very proud and happy for them all the way across the world sitting on a wooden bench under a tin roof in a room whose walls are woven together millet stalks.

NB: I am writing that this is being written in Ghana because I want the Ghana map to go on the page.
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