Category Archives: Peace Corps

Computer melt-down = Theresa melt-down

Last Sunday, my computer bit the dust. I didn't realize HOW much it had bitten the dust until Friday evening, when I tried some basic computer repair (take out RAM and put it back in, check all hard drive power and motherboard connections, etc), and nothing worked. NOTHING.

Dear God.

18 months of photos, down the drain.

I was able to kluge a working computer together out of an older computer we'd dragged along with us from Cotonou, get Windows 7 installed, and use an external SATA case to connect the hard drives and save my data.

It was exactly as much of a hassle as it sounds, particularly since our Internet connection is dial-up speed. I'm still downloading software, and still getting used to the fact that I'm using WIndows (!!) on my personal machine for the first time in almost a decade. Sorry, Ubuntu, with no Internet connection to download drivers, I wasn't about to try a fresh install on a kluged together computer, particularly since your wifi and printer support is so damn mediocre these days.

Back when Bertrand and I were running People Online, we kept a thumb drive filled with applications, so we could frequently reformat his virus ridden laptop. It wasn't ideal, but it allowed us to get a Windows machine up and running again in a few hours. I also kept a thumb drive of PortableApps, including a plug-and-play Linux distro around, just in case. I used them ALL THE TIME.

Now that we're no longer running an IT business, we've given up those best practices.

Oops.

After this weekend, I won't make that mistake again. We've got all of our photos backed up. We've got all the free programs we use regularly on an external drive. And I'm still pulling my hair out trying to get all of the Windows ecosystem versions of my favorite programs downloaded.

The bad news is that after 48 hours of this, I am grumpy and irritable. The good news is that I was able to restore (almost) all of our data, and while I was mucking around, I went ahead and installed our printers on the network. Now we can print from all of our computers (including iPhones and iPads) from anywhere in the house.

I figured out some workable Internet solutions as well, so hopefully (bwa ha ha) you'll see a bit more of me over the next few weeks.

Lots of lessons learned this weekend. ARGH.

On misunderstood directions

Traffic around Cotonou, Benin port
Image via Wikipedia

Me: I want to go to the airport.
Zem: That’ll be 500 francs.
Me: What?!? 300 francs.
Zem: No problem! 400!
Me: 300 or go away.
Zem: No. problem!

We take off in a vaguely wrong direction. 5 minutes later, I ask him “Are we going in the right direction?”

Zem: Of course!
Me: The airport’s in the other direction! We have to cross the highway first.
Zem: No problem! We’ll cross in just a minute.
Me: Are you *sure* this is the quickest way to the airport?
Zem: No problem! No problem!

We reach the highway, and we’re definitely not getting any closer to the airport. In fact, a suspicion dawns on me as we approach the Mosquée Centrale.

Me: The airport’s on the other side of town! Where are we going?
Zem: What are you talking about? We’re almost there.
Me: What?!?! (I realize what’s going on.) AIRPORT. With PLANES. Not PORT with BOATS.
Zem: Planes?
Me: Planes that fly not boats that float. I want to go where planes land and take off.
Zem: Not boats?
Me:
The AIRport, not the REGULAR port.
Zem: Planes are at the airport?
Me: You don’t speak French, do you?
Zem: No problem!
Me: Do you speak Fon? (Fon is the predominant language in the South, particularly Cotonou.)
Zem: No problem!
Me: The airport is THAT way. Let’s go.
Zem: You know airport with planes?
Me: Just go where I tell you.
Zem: No problem! On y va!

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Yes, I am finished my Peace Corps service.

Indeed. I don’t really have much to say here, except that it’s been a wild ride, and I’d do it again in a second. If any of you ever have the chance, DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT.

I’ve learned more in two years than I thought possible; certainly I learned more than I managed to teach. The chance to see and do and meet and just . . . everything. You’ll never get an opportunity like this living comfortable yuppie lives in America. There’s nothing wrong with living a comfortable yuppie life, of course, but leaving it all isn’t nearly as hard as you think it is (and, believe it or not, the Peace Corps’ll let you use some of your readjustment allowance to settle credit card and student debt while you’re serving).

I’ve pushed my comfort zones further than they’ve ever been pushed before. I’ve had to work harder to just exist than I had work at my toughest, most interesting jobs back home. I wasn’t risk adverse before, and now . . . risk? What’s that?

At some point, I might write a retrospective, but I don’t feel like anything’s really ending right now. I’m staying in Benin. I’m starting a non-profit with the insane goal of changing the way Benin sees and uses information and communication technologies.

It’s incredibly exciting, and it feels far less like an ending than a beginning.

Yes, I am engaged.

I apologize for the lack of personal emails, but internet is expensive and if I’m at the cybercafé, usually I’m working. Anyway, it wasn’t terribly romantic, but it got the job done.

No, being engaged here isn’t the same as being engaged in the States. Bertrand had no idea how important it was that he actually ask. We’re living together, which, in the eyes of everyone in Benin, means that we’re married anyway. So the ceremony is just a formality, whereas for me, these steps are HUGE and IMPORTANT and DISTINCT.

So that confusion’s cleared up now too. Haha.

It’s GAME DAY, BABY!!!

In line at 6am to buy tickets. Huge lines of people shoving and pushing and yelling as the ticket booths opened an hour late. What?!?! Only the expensive tickets can be bought in this line? Canny smile. What if we buy a lot of the cheap ones? Is it possible? Fantastic. WHO WANTS TICKETS! RAISE YOUR MONEY! Great. We want 20 2000 FCFA tickets. Twenty?!?! Yeah. That’s enough, right? Okay, we’ll wait while you go get them. Finally. Who’d we buy tickets for? Get out of our way! We aleady bought ours. We want out of the mob!

Insanity.

The whole town was filled with spirit for the Benin vs. Mali soccer game. A qualifier for the Cup in Ghana in January. Yikes. Faces painted. Everyone wearing yellow, Beninese flags, outrageous hats, and of course, drinking.

The game was due to start at 16h00. We packed sandwiches at my house, and the Benino-American posse left my house at 12h30. The parking lot was packed and we were glad we’d left the motos safely ensconced in my building’s courtyard. When we got there, it was a mad rush to get in the gate to the stadium complex. Tickets waving above our heads, we ran through with everyone else. Of course they didn’t stop to check ours.

We finally arrived at the stadium proper, they tore the corners off our tickets and directed us to the 2000 franc section. What? Already full? We pushed and shoved and stepped on people until we found enough seats to accomodate our party. Three hours to go. Some drummers were behind us and the crowd was singing and dancing. Go Benin! 3-0! 3-0! 3-0! (The anticipated score.)

At 14h00, the stadium was packed. Only the expensive seats were left. At 14h30, even the expensive seats were full. What? The stadium oversold the tickets? They do that for every game! The oversold are angry, and they break open one of the stadium doors, rushing in. People are pourning over the inside walls. They’ll stand and watch the game from underneath the seats at field level.

The field was circled several times by traditional religious leaders, “charging” the field for Benin. Any advantage is welcome because the Malians are supposed to be a tough team. They even let a pigeon loose on the field.

Finally, it’s game time. The game isn’t nearly as exciting as the build-up, but there are some decent plays. The first half runs to 52 minutes. Halftime is actually half an hour, and the second half was also 50-some minutes. The game ended in a draw. One point in the series for each team.

Neither team had scored, which means that Mali didn’t score against Benin, and isn’t that something to celebreate? The crowd files out, disappointed, but not angry. We met up with friends, and wearily walked home to collapse into bed.

COS Conference

Was a drunken orgy that mostly, I slept through. I seem to mark all important trips, conferences, parties, etc. here in Benin with extreme bouts of food poisoning.

Other than that, the conference was surprisingly full of good information, good food, and good company.

Not in Benin!

Actually, I’m in Senegal. Dakar, to be precise. Why this sudden change of capital cities? Turns out, I need to get some wisdom teeth pulled. Turns out, one of ‘em’s not growing in straight and causing the rest of my teeth go go all crooked ‘n’ shit.

So that’s that.

Dakar’s absolutely insane. I’m surrounded by multi-story buildings. There are no zemidjians, only real taxis that are ACTUAL CARS and not MOTOS. Since today’s Labor Day, and thus, a holiday, I plan to spend the day exploring the city. Yay! Fun and exciting.

Work harder, not smarter.

Me to security at work as I come in this afternoon: Who’s responsible for turning on and off the generator?
Security: I am.
Me: Oh, you might want to switch it off then. Power’s back in this neighborhood.
Security: Yeah?
Me: So you’re gonna switch it, right?
Security: No.
Me: Why the hell not?
Security: Yesterday, SBEE (state power company) came and cut power. They haven’t paid their electricity bill in months.

So they’re powering the building with a fucking generator which is oodles more expensive than paying the bill on time would have been.

P.S. My last day of Peace Corps service is July 1.

No, I’m not going to be home before Christmas.