a bit meaty

Today was a full day. I got up and fixed my favorite breakfast here, yogurt on top of cereal and fruit. I don’t know why I crave yogurt so much here, maybe because it’s readily available and I don’t have to argue on the price. It’s also good to eat now that my malaria medication is an antibiotic I have to take daily. Got to replace all the good bacteria to keep my body happy!

I walked over to “Pont Ancient” (the old bridge) and met Madeleine. We had made plans to go shopping together and then make meat sauce. So we set off across the bridge to Ganhi, one of the more manageable markets in Cotonou. Together we bought tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, squash, lettuce, onions, garlic, bananas, pine apple, and rice. I was a little nervous that I was buying most of my veggies from a stall near all the live chickens, given the recent outbreak of bird flu. Eh, the birds looked healthy enough.

We also bought meat. The meat section of the market is, well, meaty. Men stand behind tiled counters and hack away at animals that were alive just hours (or minutes) ago. Flies are everywhere. If you’re not careful, you’ll get hit by a piece of meat or meat juice as a man slams down a cleaver knife or swats at flies. Madeleine asked for a half-kilo of beef. I watched her pick the piece of meat to be cut. The skin of the animal was beside the meat, in case there was any doubt as to how fresh it was. She then asked for it to be ground, a request most Beninoise don’t make. They dumped the ground beef into a black plastic bag and handed it to me. Forget about clear cellophane sealing. Things aren’t usually stored long anyway, so it’s just not necessary.

Madeleine and I headed back to Melissa’s apartment to prepare the meat sauce. Madeleine works for Melissa but has become like a mother/sister to me. I don’t know why she has adopted me the way she has, but all my African mamas (including the yovo mamas) make me feel pretty special. Anyway, we made a delicious sauce, and she reminded me about 6 times before leaving that I must eat very well. “You work hard! You should eat well!”

I got back to my house in time to put the sauce, veggies and fruit away before Yves came by to pick me up. We scooted off to visit two schools on the other side of town. I think YFC has 30 clubs in schools in Cotonou. It’s grown a lot this year already. We stopped by a school in “Godomey” first, as Karim (a student leader) talked to his classmates about rejoicing before the Lord. We then went to a school in “Jericho” where I knew more students, including Rocky, Roslyn, Apolinaire and Augustin. YFC leaders Jucascar, Alexis and Anthelme were all present as well, since this particular meeting was to discuss HIV/AIDS. This was actually the first training I had seen on HIV/AIDS, even though I know it’s something YFC has been actively involved in in the past. Toward the end, Anthelme asked me to say something. I wasn’t really prepared to talk about HIV/AIDS, but I just emphasized the importance of having and sharing good information, knowing there are so many myths to be debunked here.

Yves dropped me back home, where I read my mail (a newsletter from Desiree and Damien and a note with stickers and m&m’s from Christin!) and thought of (and prayed for) peeps back home. Then I packed up my gear and headed to Porto Novo for my Wednesday night class. I graded papers in the car (procrastination works in Africa too), which instantly elevated my status in the bush van. At one point my papers were rattling too much, and my neighbor shut the window a bit to cut back on the wind. I told him not to worry, but he insisted, so the rest of the bush van enjoyed a little less fresh air because of me. After I finished grading, someone behind me said “Teacher, please!” in English. I turned, and he asked to see the red pen I had been grading with. “I like this pen very much, let me have it?” “No, I need it to grade papers,” I responded in French. “But you can buy others?” “No, I bought this in the US.” “Can I have your address?” “No.” This is a pretty typical conversation. No matter where the conversation starts, it always ends in “Can I have your contact?” “No.”

Class in Porto Novo was fun. I told them about my Christmas traditions back home and they told me about their traditions here. We sang two verses of “Silent Night” in English, and they did VERY well! I told them I’d like them to perform for our Christmas party on Monday, and they were excited about the idea.

On the bush ride home, I was overwhelmed by the smell of red meat. You know the smell if you stick your nose right up next to a big piece of meat and breath in? It’s the same smell in the meat market, only more pervasive. But, I wasn’t in a meat market… I was on the road. Tomorrow is Hajj a Muslim holiday. To celebrate, people everywhere purchase goats and kill them. I’ve seen goats on the side of the street, piled in and on top of cars, being carried (live) in the lap of someone on the back of a zemi jan. It’s not unusual to see goats handled so, it’s just unusual to see so many! Even when I walked out of the school in Jericho this afternoon, I saw three goats with slit throats being skinned on the side of the road. I was surprised I didn’t react more strongly, half-expecting to pass out or at least feel dizzy. So with goats being killed everywhere, the whole country smells of a meat market. You smell in the back of your nose with every breath.

Once home, though, I started boiling pasta (I also boiled my toothbrush after noting some bacteria growing between the bristles) to go with the sauce Madeleine and I made earlier in the day. My second official dinner cooked in my newly functioning kitchen. This time I actually put the food on a plate rather than eating out of the pot. So sophisticated. What with seeing all the animals being slaughtered throughout the day, I couldn’t help but thinking, this meat was alive earlier today. It was a good sauce.

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