I knew Halloween would bring nostalgia for all things American, because nowhere else in the world can people dress up like idiots and eat their weight in high fructose corn syrup, and have a damn good time doing it. So I decided to be proactive and attack Peace Corps goal number 2 by sharing culture. I was lacking in decorations, a costume, or fun size candy bars, but I invited my farm friends over to my house for an “America party.” The party was planned for 4 PM since I go to bed early here (it’s dark by 7 o’clock and the only safe place to hang out after dark in malaria-ville is under my mosquito net, so why not just call it a day?).
By 3:55 I had Michael Jackson, Akon, and Celine Dion (Beninese favorites when we’re on the subject of American music) queued up on my iPod, a giant pot of mac and cheese, and a pitcher of Kool-Aid ready to go. Four hours later, when everyone finally showed up, my eyes were red from crying about getting stood up in my vulnerable, homesick state. And it was past my bed time.
But my friends were ready to party, and they had even partially understood what I was trying to explain about wearing costumes… They were all in plain clothes but introduced themselves as “Barack Obama, Bob Marley, and Martin Luther King Jr.” If that wasn’t entertaining enough, they all also put tape on their nostrils to look like a nose piercing à la Michelle. This should have made me laugh, but I was too grumpy. I had to explain to them why I had been crying, so I said that I was homesick for my friends and culture, and how showing up 4 hours late to a party in my culture means that they don’t want to come, don’t care about me, etc.
No one got it. They were all shocked and confused at my sadness and proceeded to lecture me about how in Benin, people never show up on time, no one actually parties until it’s dark, the host should never prepare food until people actually get there, and adults are not allowed to cry unless a child dies. So much for me sharing MY culture…
On days like that, it feels like I will never get a grip on Benin, that I will never be understood here, and that I should forfeit all efforts at a social life and bury myself in work or limit myself only to the PC community. But the way I’ve been thinking about it lately, the people on the farm are becoming like family – even if we don’t understand each other, they support me and I learn a lot from them. And in the end we did eat cold mac and cheese and dance the Thriller.
I don’t have great access to news here – no T.V., internet, or newspapers. But on election night, I was able to channel in Radio France International on my cell phone, as well as receive texts from well-informed volunteers. As the news has slowly travelled to village, I’ve received numerous congratulations and jokes about the success of “my husband.” Benin likes Obama!
22 to Go
I think the last two months have flown by. I feel very much at home in my village now, but I still spend most my time meeting people, observing life here, and looking for work opportunities. I meet weekly with a women’s group of gardeners, and this weekend I am starting an English club with some of the neighbor girls. I’ve also been spending a lot of time at the schools: a primary school across the street from my concession, and a CEG (College d’Enseignement General = secondary school) about 7 km away. After the Christmas break, I plan to start environmental clubs at both and a girl’s club at the CEG, as I have been observing that the number of girls in school here drops off throughout secondary school – the ratio of boys to girls is about 10:1 by the time students get to their terminal year and the Bac, the exam that allows them to graduate and attend university. I’m still taking Wemε lessons, tending to my own garden (the cabbage and carrots are on their way!), and learning the ways of the farm. Geo is grossiring, I am not, and all is well!