I’m neither homesick nor lonely (I’m exactly where I want to be right now), but nor do I want to spend the next twenty-five months in a world completely cut off from those I care about. I love getting emails from home. I love hearing about the small things that make life interesting and different from life here. I’ve only been gone for a few weeks, but it seems much longer. Jumping from a world where friends were at most a phone call away to a world where I’m lucky if I check my email once a week has been a little bit disconcerting. But I still love mail, so keep it coming. And yes, that’s a hint, to those who haven’t yet written.
I keep getting some of the same questions, so I’m going to try and address them here.
What’s life like in Africa? is probably the hardest. Life in Africa is hard for Africans. For Americans with access to excellent medical care, pocket money, quality transportation, and an education, Africa is not so difficult. It’s hard to describe the contrasts that confront me every day. I live with a fairly westernized family, that is, relative to the rest of Benin, as opposed to relative to the States.
I have electricity and an indoor toilet. I take bucket baths, but I could also go outside and turn on a pump, if I wanted a cold shower in the morning (I don’t, because I’m the first one up, and it’s fuckin’ loud). I eat like a queen. The cuisine is different, of course, but once you accept that you’re not going to discern the exact contents of any particular sauce, it’s pretty darn good. I go to Stage every day. The facilitators are Beninese, but my fellow Stagaires are all American. I speak French, which gives me an enormous advantage here. I can have a conversation with almost anyone who’s gone to school, and at least negotiate prices in the marché. A lot of my fellow stagaires are having a much tougher time of it because of that.
Life is good for me, but I’m not living like the Beninese. Living in such obvious comfort here makes me feel like an asshole, sometimes, but most times I just ignore it, because that’s all I really can do. The scenery is beautiful, but the poverty here is going to break my heart.
What do you do all day? is a somewhat easier question. I get up between six and six fifteen in the morning, and pour water I boiled the night before into my Nalgenes, then I start new water boiling while I take a bucket bath. By the time I’m out, my water’s boiled for the requisite five minutes, and I can turn it off to cool while I’m at training. If I’m running low on filtered water, I start some more going (water has to be filtered then boiled before I can drink it), then get dressed for the day, except for my shoes. Breakfast is usually bread and hot chocolate, then I clean my room. Cleaning involves picking up (spotless), then sweeping. Yes, I clean every day. Try not to be so shocked.
Usually I have time to get some reading done, then I head out for training around 7h25. It takes about 10 minutes by bike, less if I’m feeling feisty. I’m a pretty aggressive rider, and the ride gets easier each day. Heh. PCT/Vs are the only people in the country who wear helmets while riding (we don’t have a choice).
I get there just after 7:30, so I have a few minutes to relax, smoke, read, study, or whatever. I like the peace and quiet of the roof in the morning. Class is from eight to ten (usually, but not always, language). There are three of us in my class, and despite our wildly different personalities, we seem to get along, especially considering how much time we spend together. At 10, we get a half hour break. We’re always hungry at this point, so we head to our favorite omlette stand. Mmmmm. We have another two hours of class, and then we’re free to go at 12h30.
I usually bike home for lunch, because it’s free, and I like talking to Maman. After lunch, I generally take a nap, because I’m pretty much a lazy piece. Class starts again at 15h00, and runs until 17h45. After class, we all go out to a buvette (bar) for a pint (or three). Not everyday, of course, but often enough. It’s good bonding time, since we spend the majority of time in class with our language groups. After that, it’s home for dinner around 20h30, or just hanging out wherever until I’m ready to fall asleep. Generally, I hit the sack around midnight, then it’s up again at 6 the next day.
Saturday’s are spent hanging out and running errands. Sundays are spent washing clothes (by hand, and it takes hours), running errands, and hanging out.
Where’s your post gonna be? The economic capital of the country. Sweet love. It took me a while to get over the fact that my “African Experience” is actually going to involve me doing a lot of what I did at home before I left, but now I’m starting to get excited about living in a city. My primary project is ICT at an NGO that aims to get economic, financial, and other management information out to SMBs and communes throughout the country. Lots of information management (database design, website, ecommerce, etc). My secondary project is a kickass web project. I’m not going to have any problems keeping busy, which was my biggest worry. Also, I like my apartment and my neighborhood.