After running some errands on Monday with my Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) friend Sarah (including a stop at the local market and then the PC office, which has a great collection of used books to borrow), we set off for Sarah’s home, the village of Lobogo.
Lobogo is northwest of Cotonou, on the way to Lokossa. To get there from Cotonou, you take a bush taxi for a couple hours (depending on the road conditions) and then a 20 minute zemi into the quazi bush. Riding a zemi on a narrow red dirt road through stalks of corn is much more refreshing than riding through the smog of Cotonou.
Sarah lives in a concession (a group of rooms around an open space) with a man and his two wives and two kids, goats and chickens. Her house consists of a front room (which serves as a living room, dining room and office), a back room (which serves as her bedroom and kitchen) and then the latrine is behind the house beneath a banana tree. There is no running water, but you can collect rain water or have well water brought to you. Once you get used to the routine of filtering and boiling water for cooking and cleaning, it’s really not so bad. We actually cooked up a storm, making no-bake cookies and banana cake the first night (Sarah has a camp stove, but no oven, so I finally learned the art of creating your own dutch oven when making the banana cake). The second night we made a peanut sauce with tomatoes, onion and grated eggplant to go over lots more veggies (carrots, green beans, squash, more eggplant and green peppers… all purchased from the local market) and some kind of wheat pilaf stuff similar to rice. We also made a delicious salad and some orange oatmeal bread. PCVs in Benin have written a cookbook which is awesome to experiment with. I think I could really develop a love of cooking here. You have to love it because everything take so long to make! Cooking also requires a lot of creativity. Like when making the orange oatmeal bread, after cracking 3 rotten eggs (one exploded all over me) we finally gave up and substituted 1 tablespoon of corn starch. Worked great, though the rotten egg smell did linger in the house a bit longer than I would have liked. Gross. Anyway, being in the village is a great break from the city. I actually felt pretty darn pampered this morning. Sarah heated up my bucket shower water over the stove, so I had a warm “shower” in the crisp morning air under a banana tree. Who wouldn’t love that?
Sarah works as an English teacher in Lobogo. She has 4 classes of about 60 kids each, and each class lasts 2 hours. I fielded questions for 2 of her classes on Tuesday. Are you married? How old are you? How many children do you have? How many children does your father have? Do you have an identity card? Where are you from? Where do you live? Are you a teacher? Will you marry me? Sarah is a great teacher. She has the softest voice in the world, but it somehow carries over the 60 kids in her classroom (or more than 60 kids, if you count the kids that stand just outside and watch, which is easy enough when your classroom has only one wall).
After school on Tuesday, we met up with some people working with Population Services International (PSI) for an HIV/AIDS workshop hosted by two peer educators that have just been trained. They are a young man and young woman from the village who have agreed to be trained and to volunteer their time. The workshop they led was supposed to be for all the hairdressers of the village, but lots of other people came by to learn as well. At least 40 people were present. I was pretty impressed until the end of the workshop, when everyone ran up to grab fistfuls of free condoms, then ran off triumphant into the street. It made me wonder if that was the only reason they sat through the training, just to get free condoms. You’d guess by how quickly they ran off that the condoms wouldn’t last through the afternoon. But this was the first time the volunteers had completed a workshop, so they learned from the experience, and will handle condoms a bit differently next time. I learned a lot from the experience too.
Only other exciting village news to report is that I bought 4 meters of fabric at the market on Monday. It’s totally simple and my favorite colors (blue and brown), but completely comical, since the print on the fabric is of large electric fans. You can find the funniest fabrics here, decorated with the most common household items… toothpaste, tea cups, rolls of toilet paper. I’ve contemplated buying several, and finally settled on electric fans. It’ll make a lovely pagne!