Happy Holidays

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

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Flag of Benin  ,
Thursday, December 23, 2004

Well, it's that time again. Tinsel, carols, cookies, wrapping paper, and last minute shopping. Does that translate over to Benin? Well, not too much, though I will have to do some last minute Christmas shopping today on my meager budget for my host family. I am going to go down and spend Christmas with them before I head over to Cotonou to pick up Sarah and Jeremy, who are coming to visit from the States! Hooray!

So, the school semester ended on a discouraging note. The teachers are still striking. We haven't even had our first exams. Students sometimes don't even show up for class because they are tired of their teacher not being there. And we? Where are we? In the dark. Rumors fly around. Some say that the government must come to a decision by the end of the school vacation, or there will be a white year. Others say that they will not do that until January 11th. Who knows? I am just going to assume that we are still going to be teaching because I imagine that that is what will happen in the end. If the year is not whited out, it will be prolonged, which means that the national exams (the BAC and the BEPC) will not be held until August, and we would be teaching possibly into July. Slightly frustrating, but we'll see what happens. Can you imagine this happening in the United States?

Just earlier this week, I found out that one of my favorite neighbor girls will probably be moving to Canada to live with her aunt. Odile told me that she just found out when her mother called her step-father and said to send her down to Cotonou to get her passport because the aunt in question was coming over to get her and take her back. Odile was kind of freaking out. She reminded me of how I felt before I left for Benin. I tried to talk to her and show her pictures of the States to get her excited and to help prepare her for the culture shock she will experience, but how much can that really help. Who knows if she will really end up going in the end anyway... I am sure that it will take some time to get her passport and visa. She'll probably be sitting in Cotonou for a while. What an amazing opportunity for her, though. I will be sad to see her go because she is such a sweet girl to have in my concession, but I am happy for her.

Last night, I attempted to teach Ibourahima yoga. We cleared a spot in the little gazeabo-esque spot at the workstation, and I led him through the sun salutation and some other poses as best as I could. It is not easy explaining (in French no less) and doing at the same time. Luckily, I had had a little bit of practice with Odile and her brother Destin before, so it wasn't so awful. Ibourahima is kind of funny...very interested in all that new agey stuff that you have the States. He reads books on astrology and such. A rarity in Benin, he is!

Or maybe he isn't! Julie found a new bookstore that just opened up in Parakou that is exactly like a new agey bookstore in the States. It has relaxing music playing in the background (the type you might hear while getting a massage), and they sell that type of music, incense, herbal teas, and books on everything from Kabala to astrology to how salt can be used in purification rituals (or something like that). Very very bizarre! I checked it out before coming here this morning. I seriously wonder how on earth it will sustain itself, but apparently the same bookstore has a branch in Cotonou that has been open for 16 years! I still continue to be surprised in Africa.

It's amazing to see the ways in which things are developing here in Parakou. For instance, I am now sitting at a brand new internet place that is probably one of the nicest internet places I have ever been to, ever! All the computers are new. It has a satellite connection. It has nice tables and rolling chairs, headphones at each station. Two rooms (in addition to the large one) that have computers and are used particularly for computer classes. It has a large room that has bamboo couches and a blank wall onto which a person can project the computer screen. This room doubles as a cinema, showing DVD movies at night for a mere 300 francs. I'm in heaven! A movie theater! And one in which you can pick the movie you want to watch if you show up with several people. Haven't done this yet, but soon... I know most of you probably don't care about this drawn-out description of an internet place, but consider that this place feels so out of place here because it is so clean and new. Not much is clean and new in Benin.

Then, I return to N'Dali, where electricity is still a thing of the future (supposedly going to arrive in January or February - won't believe it till I turn the lights on) and people still collect water from a gigantic well by the market to cart back to their camps kilometers outside of town. But even N'Dali is making some progress. They now have garbage pick-up two days out of the week! No more throwing the trash on top of a heap in front of my concession. That has been cleared away somewhat to encourage those of us in the house to subscribe to the garbage collectors. Change is possible here...slowly but surely.

Well, I hope that everyone reading this has a wonderful holiday season.
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