December 2005

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Updates

Maman and Papa Sarah: Your daughter is bomb. She brought me whole wheat flour from Ghana!!!!

Maman and Papa Ben: Your son brought me software. He is bomb too.

Mamans and Papas Katie and Carrie and Maman Amanda: Your daughters took me out to lunch yesterday. Again, BOMB.

Everyone else in SED/ ICT 18 is also doing well (as is Garrett, whom I just saw). They are not as bomb, but I like them anyway.

I will be visiting Sara in a few weeks. Expect pictures of the hilarity that will surely ensue.

Pasta Pasta

Dear Internet,

My entire apartment is covered in slowly drying pasta right now. And flour. Flour is everywhere the pasta is not. I’m sure I made at least two pounds of pasta last night. Maybe three. Pasta making is a lot of fun, it turns out, but it’s also really fucking messy.

All this is in preperation for what was going to be a simple dinner between postmates, but what is rapidly turning into a dinner party for all the vols in my city. w00t. Turns out, I love throwing parties. That’s one of my back-up plans for life. I would be a KICK ASS wedding planner. No, really. I’d be great at it. But that’s not the point of my story.

The point of my story is that my apartment is a disaster. And also, that pasta is really easy to make.

Love,
Theresa

There’s no snow in Grand Popo.

Damn straight.

Christmas on the beach was incredible. Turns out, we’ve got a pretty amazing group of kids here. Everyone kept complimenting me on my excellent planning, but the truth is, I didn’t have to do a damn thing. I sent an email, figured out dinner, and everything else just fell into place. This group is chill enough and comfortable enough with each other that elaborate arrangements were unnecessary.

Dinners on both the 23rd and the 24th were incredible. There are some darn good places to eat in this country, and we’ve found two of them in Grand Popo. It helps that enough of the group that was there is at the beach often enough that they know our faces, and they know we’ll spend a lot if they give us a good deal (which they always do).

Of course, the beach itself was fantastic. For the first day, we were the only ones around. Once we’d switched hotels (we wanted a pool!), there were a few more people, but it was deserted for the most part. Beautiful aqua water. Clean (mostly) sand. Water as far as the eye can see. Picturesque fishing boats in the background (OMFG fresh fish = love).

I even managed to go the entire weekend without getting sunburned, which is a pretty incredible feat for me. I don’t exactly burn easily, but the last three days were probably the first in my LIFE that I was responsible about applying sunblock.

Let’s see . . . I slept in a bed one night, on the floor another night, and outside on a wicker couch the third. I had one mediocre meal the entire time, and it was my own damn fault for asking for too much hot sauce. I drank about half a litre of Jack (the other half was enjoyed by my lovely fellow PCVs). I had exactly one beer the entire time. I ate it in the surf more times than I can count. I played with two sparklers and zero firecrackers. Others played with one sparkler. I ruined two in the sad (dammit). There are two evenings of which I don’t remember significant portions (speaking of sounding immature).

And dammit, it was just about the best Christmas ever. Seriously, PSL-18 is the mostest awesomest (and I guess our lone 17-er isn’t too bad either).

Merry Fuckin’ Christmas.

In which t talks about an interesting guy

I met someone absolutely fascinating last week. Our relationship was strictly professional, and we didn’t exchange contact information at the end. I will probably never see him again. That said, I learned a hell of a lot from him, and I’m really glad I didn’t turn down the opportunity to meet him just because I fucking hate translating.

The longer I’m here, the more convinced that the Peace Corps is like my college sorority. While I’m here, it’s all about service, development, and good PR for the United States, but once I’m done, I have a pretty good feeling that it’s going to be more about the people I met, the relationships I sustained, and the way of life I experienced.

In 10 years, it’s not going to matter that my coworkers frustrate me, that I don’t like my primary project, and that I can’t convince this idiot boy that we are not, in fact, dating. It’s going to matter that I worked my ass off and made a good impression on my work partners. It’s going to matter that I lived for 2 years in a culture entirely alien to my own. It’s going to matter that I worked and voluteered in a world far out of my comfort zone.

I dunno. It’s comforting to remember sometimes that the little things really don’t matter.

In which t talks about clothes! Yay!

Yay! It’s lesson time! Traditional Beninese clothing!

First, the fabric. There are lots of different kinds of fabric, but the stuff I can afford is the stuff you’re probably used to seeing. Large bright prints (waxes, actually) that are bought by the pagne (2 meters). There are three pagnes in a demi-piece, which is the length I usually buy. A demi-piece is enough for a top, bottom, and a pagne.

To give you a better idea of prices, one pagne ranges from 750 CFA ($1.50) to upwards of 30 000 CFA ($60). Usually the stuff I buy is around 5 000 to 6 000 ($10 – $12) for three.

A pagne is also a finished piece of cloth, still 2 meters long, worn wrapped around the body as a skirt. It also makes an effective towel, a comfortable sheet, and a serviceable cheese cloth (although occasionally they do dye whatever I’m straining . . . green ricotta cheese . . . mmmm). I use them as sacks (tie the corners together), pillows on long trips, cover-ups at the beach, cover-ups when I take a zemi in a skirt, and a dozen other things. Pagnes are fucking USEFUL. I will be bringing several home. Haha.

A complete is a modele (fitted top) and a jupe (skirt). It takes two pagnes to make. The tops are generally closely fitted, but can also be loose and flowing. The skirts are long (always!) and fitted. They’re oval cut, which means they get narrower at the knees, then usually flare out at the bototm. To give you an idea, I have to TAKE OFF the skirt to use the bathroom, instead of hiking it up over my hips. Yep. Usually the tops and bottoms are lined so that they lay better.

Complete + pagne = une grande beninoise, which is just a fancy way of saying a complete outfit.

The modele and jupe are nice, and are, in fact, what most professional women wear, but the traditional Beninese attire is a boobma. Yep, it’s a demi-piece again. From that, you get a loose-fitting top with a wide neck and long wide sleeves. This is tucked into the pagne you have wrapped around your waist. The third pagne is worn as a second wrap around the waist, as a head wrap, or folded and lain over one shoulder. A well dressed woman always has the extra pagne. I rarely think to grab the extra one in the morning, and thus, am rarely REALLY well dressed.

Men also have a version of the boomba. It’s pants on bottom, of course, with pockets. The top is loose fitting like the female version, but includes artfully hidden snaps down the front so that they can unbutton and cool off. Lucky bastards. Pants AND buttons. Often the male version includes embroidery around the collar, sleeves, and pockets. Yes, I have a man’s boomba. I love it.

My seamstress is excellent. She does a fantastic job with Beninese clothes, and, now that I’ve explained that Western clothes fit differently, she does a fantastic job with thsoe too. She has about 6 apprentices who are well on their way to becoming damn good tailors as well. She knows my waistlines should sit about and inch and a half below my belly button. She knows that I like Western skirts to be loose and comfortable, not snug like Beninese bottoms. And she knows that unless it’s something really nice, I’m going to find lining too damn hot for the weather here.

A boomba costs 500 CFA ($1) to sew. The price of a complete depends on the complexity of the top and bottom ordered, but generally runs between 2 000 CFA ($4) and 4 000 CFA ($8). A male boomba is around 2 000 CFA ($4=. Embroidery costs between 1 000 CFA ($2) and 3 000 CFA ($6) , again, depending on complexity etc. I tend to eschew (sp?) embroidery.

I really like the clothing here. The light cotton fabric is perfect for the heat, and believe it or not, there are days when covering up keeps me cooler. It’s also easier to just throw on local stuff than to worry about whether I’m dressed appropriately or not. The boolba is possibly the least sexy thing I’ve ever worn, but strangely enough, the men here go nuts over it.

And it helps that I can pick out quality fabric have it custom tailored into a beautiful outfit for under $20.

It occurs to me that this would be better with pictures. Dammit.

In which t chats about her ass

Turns out, content migration is a bitch. It’s data entry for the 21st century, and it fucking sucks. Luckily, I have hella experience in it (yay internships!), so I’m quicky getting a system down for the type of stuff I’m doiong here.

More or less.

The problem is that my system isn’t *quite* well enough defined for me to train someone in it. Not only that, but training a complete neophyte to do content management *well* is fucking difficult. There are just too many tiny details that you can’t forget. I can make a list and write out effective instructions (yay internships!), but it’s difficult to communicate the attention to detail that’s absolutely necessary for a professional site.

ARGH. It doesn’t help that my coworkers also lack confidence in my counterpart’s ability to do a good job.

Anyway, it’s been kind of an interesting day. Lots of chatting about politics and gender and human rights and everything that’s absolutely different between the States and Bénin.

Another of my coworkers, whose work ethic I respect immensely, was surprised to find that in addition to being a hard worker, I’m funny as hell (and in French, no less!). All of a sudden, everybody’s treating me like one of the team. It’s bizarre, after almost three months of sitting in my office by myself, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that people can finally see the product I’ve been putting together. It looks fuckin’ GOOD. Cookie cutter, but that’s okay, since it still looks a fair sight better than ‘most anything our copetitors have got out there.

In other news, I saw my face in the mirror today for the first time in forever. I mean, I’ve put make up on in the last month, but I haven’t taken the time to really LOOK. Holy shit, I’ve lost a lot of weight. My grandparents and Lynne (THANKS! A letter is written and will be mailed on Friday!) sent some clothes that would have been a snug fit when I got to post (or at least, when I left the States). Now, they’re actually all a little bit big. Which is fine, because tight clothes aren’t really appropriate for me here anyway.

It’s just . . . weird. You get used to seeing yourself a certain way, you know? And it’s a shock when you’re . . . not the same as you always thought you were. Africa’s brought about some bizarre changes, and I’m not entirely certain I’m ready to face them yet.

Anyway. The coolest thing is that the confidence has come entirely seperately from the weight loss (thanks cute African boys!), so catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror this morning was an extra bonus prize. Sweet!

The weekend in brief

Free drinks bought for Sarah and Theresa by Beninese men: 2 (each)
Marriage proposals received: 3 (and one more this morning)
Indecent propositions received: 1 (after marriage was refused)
Drinks paid for after Beninese guest walks out on tab: 2
Men who just couldn’t stop touching Theresa: 2
Sketchy Lebanese showing up at Theresa’s apartment looking for Michelle: 1
Sketchy Lebanese then proceeding to invite Sarah and Theresa to the beach after realizing that Michelle was nowhere to be found: 1 (yes, we turned him down)

It was one of those weekends. Good times had by all, of course, and strangely relaxing, considering my current stress level and the sheer amount of stuff we actually did (actually, we did nothing at all, but we sure did move around a lot while doing it).

In other news, it’s back to content migration for Our Heroine. I fucking love this country. :-p

(Untitled)

Turns out, “t” is just as much for “trouble” as it is for “Theresa.” Heh.

That said, I’m happier this morning than I was when I went home last night. A friend knew I’d be working late and brought dinner over, and we chatted for a while about the enormous disparity between men and women in this country. It was disheartening because he had no idea how large the disparity really is, but also encouraging in a way, because at least he sees it as a problem. So many men here just shrug their shoulders. Why spend all that money educating their daughters when girls just get married and have babies anyway?

Anyway, the pate was good, and it really helped that I didn’t have to walk home at 20h30 and start cooking for myself.