Monthly Archives: June 2006

In which t loves her projects and hates the Peace Corps.

Franklin: Meow! (Play with me! Play with me!)
Theresa: I’m trying to work, shit for brains.
Franklin: *lies down behind Theresa’s laptop and bats at her fingers while she types* Meow! (That’s okay! You work! I play!)
Theresa: *swats at cat* Not a good idea, animal!
Franklin: Meeeooowww! (I like this game!) *swat! swat!*
Theresa: *sweeps cat off the table*
Franklin: Meow! (no fair! you’re bigger than I am!) *jumps back on table*
Theresa: I’m fucking going to drown you.
Franklin: Meow! (Is that a new fun game?)
Franklin: Meow! (Jesus Christ, woman, get a grip!)
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Happy English Day!

Saturday was my English Club’s n-th annual English Day. Every year, five or six Wake Forest (fuck the Deacs, go Terps!) students come to Benin for about a month. They explore Cotonou and some of the surrounding areas with a Beninese-American professor. Anyway, it’s a big pony show, and part of that is the cooperation between the students and one of the English clubs I work with.

ENEAM is basically Benin’s b-school. It’s an arm of the state university, and it’s a pretty good school. The kids are bright and motivated. The English Club regularly has an attendance of over 40. It’s entirely student run and funded. The students just want to get together and practice English. They’ve realized that all of the theory they learn in class is worthless if they don’t get any experience actually speaking. Thus, the club.

Every year, the ENEAM English Club (ECE) hosts the WFU students for a bit, does some exchanges, and then puts on a massive show to celebrate the English language. There are musical guests, games, presentations, speeches, and of course (this is Benin, after all), a fashion show!

I was a co-emcee with one of the students (former club president), but my partner did, by far, the greater part of the work once we got on stage. We spent the better part of the last two weeks putting together a PowerPoint slide show to go along with things (ended up being more or less useless, but whatever), fixing last minutes problems, and filling in the cracks of the last minute details. I say “we,” but what I really mean is that I was a cheerful spectator who gave language advice and put in some long hours, but effectively did very little to actually put the event together.

The credit for the four hour event goes entirely to my (“my” haha) English club, who worked their fool tails off and put on an incredible show. Doubly so, because all of the prep work happened during mid-terms (or a rough equivalent thereof). In fact, some of the organizers had mid-terms Saturday morning, then came directly to get the show moving when they were done. Craziness.

After the show, we took the WFU students (or more accurately, caught a ride in their van) to the beach to play. I face-planted several times in the sand diving after the frisbee (why yes, I’m as competitive as ever, thanks for asking), which was a blast. I didn’t take part in soccer or handball, which confused my friends to no end, but that’s the way it goes. The athleticism and grace here is incredible sometimes.

Clearly, I had a really great time. They did an amazing job. And I’m sad that the school year is ending soon because I’ve only just started working with these students and dammit, I’m just having so much fun!
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In which t cleans. But only a little.

It’s going to rain again tonight. Which is good. I’m sweating my ass off and my fan burnt out, so if Cotonou were to, I don’t know, cool down about 15 degrees, that would be motherfucking sweet.


You know, there are some negative sides to actually having Beninese friends here. Like the fact that I can’t let my apartment slide into disgustingness. God forbid I should have papers lying out on the table. Unacceptable, let me tell you. And dust on the backs of chairs? Oh, what a slob am I. But the worst (and I do mean WORST) thing is keeping the goddamned dust off of my windows.

Windows in Benin aren’t like American windows. They’re not large vertical planes that slide horizontally. Instead, they’re vertical sets of horizontal slats (think mini-blinds six inch deep and made of glass, metal, or wood) that can be rotated open for air and light or closed for privacy.

When open, they’re horizontal, and they gather a lot of guess. You can guess which position mine spend most (all!) of their time in and the frustrating dilemma that leaves me. I can’t dust my windows every day. I can’t even find time to sweep every day (although I’m getting there), much less take the time to drag a chair around the apartment wiping off each and every slat.

I try to keep the public areas (read: kitchen and living room) picked up. I do dishes every or every other day (sometimes they build up . . . I’m still Theresa, after all). I sweep the living room every other day. I deep clean my about three times in any given two weeks. My room is spotless about once a week (sometimes more, sometimes less). And I scour my bathroom when I feel like it (just about never, although this last time was the longest it’s ever been, and I’ll never do that again ever ever EVER).

As for everything else (you know those small household chores like organizing paperwork, going through books, hanging posters, etc), they generally wait until they’re driving me absolutely nuts. Or until another project depends on them.

For example, I wanted a clean living room. But I’ve got too many books, so they were stacked on a table and on top of other books on my shelves. So in order to make more shelve space, I had to shuffle papers around, but in order to shuffle papers around, I needed to actually go through those papers so I wouldn’t lose anything important. In order to have neat piles when I finished, I had to take care of some outstanding paperwork, toss the deadweight, and organize the remains.

And thus, Theresa doesn’t want to be embarrassed = clean living room = neat books = organized shelves = go through paperwork = Theresa finally filled out her language reimbursement forms.


And that’s the only way anything ever gets really done here. Just call me Theresa “I hate being humiliated because I’m a slob” Carpenter. :-p
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Help me raise some cash!!

Benin is a tiny resource-poor country. It has a literacy rate of less than 50%, and literacy among women is less than 25%. Even where there are means, girls often remain uneducated, while their brothers and sons go to school. They marry early and die young. Women are just now beginning to enter the professional workforce, but are still often confronted by discrimination and even harassment.

Because professional women are so rare, those who succeeded in the business world feel an obligation and need to encourage younger women (girls) to continue their education beyond that of the 9th grade, and continue onto high school, and even university. As a Peace Corps volunteer, this year I have the privilege of coordinating an internship program with a network of professional women who want to mentor and support girls who seek professional careers, but face grave
difficulties at home. The program is called Etoile Apprentissage.

This internship program targets urban girls going into (the rough equivalent of) the 11th grade. The girls range in age from 16 to 25. They are from Cotonou’s most disadvantaged families, but demonstrate continued scholastic excellence and dedication to continuing education, despite the difficulty of paying theirschool fees each year.

Each girl is paired with a professional woman in her chosen field. Four days a week, the girls will intern with their mentors in a structured setting. The girls will not only be shadowing, but also
interviewing both men and women in their offices, making contacts in the professional world, and gaining a detailed prospective of what it’s like to be a woman professional.

Fridays will be spent working with the other girls in the program. The girls will enjoy training sessions on money management, feminine hygeine, and ways to continue their educations. In the afternoon,
they will work in groups to prepare projects related to their chosen field. At the end of the program, each group will travel to a rural village and teach 5th and 6th grade girls about their field. For example, girls studying law and government might organize their students and stage a mock-trial, or teach how a bill becomes a law. These brief workshops will give the girls practical experience in public speaking, as well as encourage a spirit of volunteerism and greater community.

It’s a fantastic project. We’ve selected our girls and are in the process of tapping networks of professional women to find the best possible mentors.

But all of this costs money. These girls are incredibly impoverished, to the point of having trouble paying 16 000 CFA ($32) school fees each year (yes, Peace Corps Benin runs scholarship programs too). We hope to not only pay their transportation fees, but also provide for meals during the day. The community of Cotonou has offered space for classes, to teach the Friday sessions, and to arrange transport for the mentors, but it is up to us to find a way to finance the girls’ internships.

As Americans, we’re privileged that primary education is universal and free. No one has ever questioned whether those of us who are female have the right to learn how to read, and no one ever will. These Beninese girls are not so fortunate. For $3055, we can provide 15 girls with amentor that will last a lifetime. This money includes their transportation to and from the internship each day, lunches, opening and closing ceremonies, a French-French dictionary (the girls may or
may not be familiar with certain field-specific vocabulary), and basic office supplies.

Please, consider donating. These girls have virtually no role models, and this is a chance to expose them to women who have dedicated their lives to advancing women in their chosen professions.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via email at theresac@gmail. I can also be reached by telephone at (229) 97 31 26 12. This is an incredible program, and I’m honored to be workingwith the women and girls who will be particpating in it.

The Peace Corps donation page is

In which t remarks that live is much improved.

I finally have a love/ hate relationship with my post. It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally stopped alternating between resigned resentment and outright hatred. Now I vacillate between absolute adoration and hatred, but at least it’s love half of the time.

It took a lot. My primary project needed a boot in the rear. My secondary projects needed to be herded and organized into some semblance of actual projects and not just fun activities. I needed to make friends outside of the volunteer community. And damnit, I needed projects to go well here in Cotonou, not just when traveling.

Well, it’s finally happening. Thank God.

I mean, I’m still swamped. My post mate did a double take when he saw my schedule in Outlook the other day (yes, it’s color coded by category, and yes, I’m compulsive like that). I’m pretty busy. But I think I’ve also got a schedule that’s pretty workable right now, even if it doesn’t leave as much time for hanging out as I’d like.

I wish I could communicate the immense energy and excitement I’m feeling right now. It’s incredible. Oh man, I’m having so much fun right now.

P.S. When I first tried LiteStep in high school, it was an awkward, clunky pain-in-the-ass of a program. Six or seven years later, and it’s evolved into a pretty sweet shell replacement. But if anyone else has something they like better, feel free to holler at me with suggestions (and no just installing Linux is not a viable alternative at the moment).
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Done and . . . done.

Wow. I don’t know how to describe what I’m feeling right now. Three weeks of desperate typing, fighting volunteers for chair space in the med unit, and frustrating changes, and . . . it’s done. The things you never expect to be doing as a PCV.

Basically, it was a giant clusterfuck. Ben and I have become fond of saying that if this project had been farmed out to contractors in the States, it would have taken a five person team at least a month to crank it out, cost at least a couple of thousand (more, for my bilingualism and his sound expertise), and all of the material would have been prepared ahead of time.

Instead, Ben spent two weeks, and I spent the last three, running around like madmen, trying to pull this thing off. Essentially, the language coordinators decided (about five weeks ago) to put together a pre-departure CD for our incoming stagiaires, to help them learn French. So when I got back from my tourney (about four weeks ago), they asked me if I could help. I said yes. They defined the scope of the project (about three and a half weeks ago), and started getting me material (just over three weeks ago).

With the Bureau, there’s a great deal of mysticism associated with computers and those familiar enough with them to make interesting things happen. There’s a certain amount of “oh, there are computers and ICT volunteers involved, of COURSE it will work and of COURSE it can be done inside of insane time constraints.” So I send out a plea for help (three weeks ago). Ben answered (saving my ass, as usual).

It was an interesting project. Useful or not, I learned a hell of a lot about managing an unmanageable project. The experience is going to help me a hell of a lot during the rest of my service. And after. And I have this strange feeling that this won’t be the last time that the bureau calls for something like this.

It’s not what I signed up for, but none of this has been, really. I’ve got the next couple of weeks to sit down and think about what I want out of my service, then it’s back in the saddle for another two months of all admin, all the time.

*sigh* topod