Tag Archives: Africa

welcome… home?

i’m leaving benin tomorrow. after living here 9 months, it’s hard to say where home is. i was actually in the US for all of 38 hours a few weeks ago–yes, that means i spent more time in the air than i did on the ground… but it was for a job interview and it was totally worth it. when i got back to benin, my adopted family picked me up from the airport… which actually felt more familiar than when i landed in the US a few days before. i got to the house and my “little brothers” had made signs to welcome me home.

i am super psyched to move back State side, but i’m going to miss my family, friends and students here like crazy.

peace out benin!

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graduation

so my students graduated from english class this weekend. we had a bit of a ceremony and i gave them all matching fabric so they can all have matching outfits. the quintessential gift of benin. here’s vincent (his english name was vinnie) receiving his certificate and gift.

i’m very proud of each student. they worked so hard! it’s been especially fun to watch those that were too scared to even try at first… now they laugh at their mistakes and give it their best. good times.

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photo shoot

so while i refused to stay put yesterday in my recovery… i did at least try to pick outings with air conditioning… the cyber cafe, the embassy, and fondation zinsou. the cyber cafe is an obvious must for blogging… i had to swing by the embassy to add pages to my passport (no room for visas!)… and zinsou was just for fun.

here are ricardo, ashley, romeo, me (holding ricardo’s niece catia) and rhett. zinsou has a photography exhibition i really enjoy. this was maybe my 4th visit. on certain afternoons, you can actually be part of the exhibit, which was the purpose of our group venture. props courtesy of zinsou. any guesses as to who the male models are?

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gatorade saved my life

so yesterday i thought i was about to die. granted, i get a tad bit dramatic when i’m sick… but really, i felt like death. i lay in my bed with a cold rag on my face thinking of how i’d have to say all my goodbyes from behind my mosquito net… that instead of leaving africa next wednesday, i’d be leaving this earth this weekend. whoa is me.

though i usually live by myself, i’m staying with a friend my last days here. she decided to work from home for the afternoon after seeing my sad state. eventually, i worked up the energy to go to the malaria clinic to get my finger pricked. results were negative. i went to my doctor friend’s house. she was concerned. i had a fever and really low blood pressure. she handed me gatorade and told me to call her in the morning.

well, i’m not 100% today, but i feel sooo much better. turns out “heat exhaustion” can really knock you out… and progresses to heat stroke and coma if you don’t treat it with… gatorade. i’m under strict orders to stay indoors and lay low… which i’m not obeying… but i am wearing a baseball cap for the first time since i moved to benin. that should do the trick. i can’t spend my last days here indoors!!!

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not as young as i thought

my friend ashley just got back to benin from morocco, so a group of us (rhett, ricardo, romeo and i) all went to the pool to celebrate. we have less than 2 weeks to hang out together, so we’re making the most of it. anyway, rhett has been teaching romeo to swim and he helped out ricardo yesterday as well. he also taught me to do a back dive. other than that, we pretty much hung out in the shallow end all day, playing like kids… because that’s what you do when you can’t swim well. seriously, we were like a bunch of 7 year olds. crawling all over each other, flipping and doing stunts. i think we pretty much annoyed every single patron there.

the result? today i am sore beyond belief. i did something to hurt my neck, and i’m guessing it had something to do with romeo and ricardo throwing me back and forth like a sack of flour. ow. at one point rhett and i tried to do that trick where you jump off the others’ shoulders, only we found we’re too old and heavy to do so.

def not as young as i used to be.

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last class

last night was my last english class and probably my last trip to porto novo and back. it was quite the adventure. i arrived about 30 minutes late due to a major accident that stopped all traffic (and here, people actually turn off their cars… no use in wasting petrol, especially when there’s no AC to keep on in the first place). then, as i walked to the entrance of the school, i noted a huge political rally. i’m pretty sure the US embassy (or anyone else official) would recommend avoiding rallies of any sort in any country. but me? i join them.

like in palermo, italy. i once joined in on a parade, singing and skipping with everyone else. only later did i discover they were demonstrating against the american “fascist pigs.” oops.

or in la paz, bolivia. my bolivian professor’s father was running for reelection as a senator, so a bunch of us piled in the back of a truck wearing political shirts, waving political flags. that was fun.

and yesterday, when i couldn’t seen any other way to get past the crowd to my students, i started walking behind a car covered with political posters, smiling at all the shouting bystanders. good times. at last i walked in the classroom to find all my students quietly and diligently working on their exams. you can tell by their smiles they feel pretty good about their work. this i will miss.

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bathroom humor

perhaps this is a bit off color for laurenlaughs… but i was in the paris airport yesterday (long story) and the bathrooms were just cracking me up. i walked into the ladies room in concourse E, near gate 90, and found that the doors to the stalls all made up a mural of white horses running wild. okay, whatever. interesting artwork, but nothing worth blogging over, right? oh, but then came the sound effects. yes, the speakers in the bathroom provided lovely “neigh!!!”ing and galloping noises for my listening pleasure. is this the frenchies’ idea of a joke? or is it to cover up other, er, less pleasant bathroom sounds? or perhaps some kind of new art… both audio and visual at once?

another funny thing… i ran into 2 friends from the cotonou salsa club in the paris airport. granted, we were all flying back to cotonou, but really… what are the odds?

and finally, i was flying next to a benin mama who kept asking the flight attendants for more chocolate or bread or anything she could then stash in her plastic baggy to take home to her family. ask and ye shall receive! i was glad the flight attendants were cool with her. she had a heart melting old lady smile.

and now i’m back in benin… for 2 weeks and 1 day… it’s not easy to say goodbye!

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babies

in benin (and most of africa), babies are carried on the back. no fancy baby-carrying-doohickies here. just a simple pagne (piece of fabric) wrapped around you and the baby, much like you’d wrap a towel.

i’ve decided this is genius. i mean, women do all kinds of things with babies on their backs here. they hand wash clothes, carry stuff on their heads, ride on the backs of zems, clean the house, cook over charcoal fires along the street… the list goes on. nothing about a baby slows a woman down, it seems.

so i was picking up some things from my seamstress last week and asked if i could tie her 7 month old baby to my back for a picture. she got SO excited. she gave him a bath and put on his very best “lacy” outfit. here is the result:

and now i’m thinking… you know… if i don’t get married in the next few years… i think i might adopt a baby. armed with a pagne, i’m pretty sure i’d make a good mom.

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not-yo-mama’s rosary beads

so, there are just a few things i need to buy from cotonou before moving back to the states, and funky fabric is one of them. last week, i was on a mission to find toothpaste fabric… today it was the virgin mary as well as chickens and eggs (not all on the same pattern, mind you!)

so my french tutor (angelica) went with me to dantokpa, west africa’s largest open market. the place was crawling with guards, as someone had fired some shots there on tuesday… which is pretty unusual here. cotonou may have crime, but no one can afford guns.

anyway. we’re out shopping for fabric when i point to a huge pile of long strands of multi colored beads. the untrained eye would take these for jewelry… but if you’re been in africa long enough, you know “les perles” are worn low on the hips of just about every woman (and little girl) around. i asked angelica if she wore beads, and she said yes, that she actually needed to buy some new ones… so we stopped. she pointed out some and said, “these will catch the light at night, you should try them.” i said, “who is going to see my beads at night but me? i think that’s a bit overkill.” so we picked out several strands for each of us, i bought them, and the shopping excursion continued. then i turned to angelica and said, “why do women wear beads on their hips?” she said, “to seduce men.” EH? i just bought my french tutor seduction beads? i said, “but the little girls wear them too!” and she explained that the young girls wear beads in order to give them hips (we’re talking infants and toddlers on up), but women wear them to “excite” their husbands.

oh brother.

there are some questions better left unasked.

so we’re still shopping. i was searching high and low for fabric with the virgin mary (this is a very common pattern) and finally we decided to check out a boutique by one of the catholic churches. bingo. only, oddly enough, the virgin mary fabric was more expensive than the Jesus fabric. who knew? i bought the Jesus fabric. it’s awesome. like Jesus.

when you put it all together, it makes for quite the eclectic shopping list.

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local lovers

when i came here, i had no intentions of dating anyone from here… and that’s pretty much still true now. i mean, i am going home in about 4 weeks. plus, there are some major cultural differences that i can’t expect any man here to understand unless he’s been in the US, which is never the case. but i came pretty darn close to a bit of romance this last weekend. i figure, why not share…

ricardo is a friend from salsa. you may be wondering how a guy from benin got the name ricardo… well, because his father, who he has never met, is italian. this means ricardo is beautiful. half italian, quarter cameroonian, quarter beninois… tall, dark (though light by african standards) and handsome. he’s a male model. no, seriously, he is… as are most of the guys at salsa. it’s a very strange sub-culture at the salsa club. nothing like zoolander, though.

anyway, i guess ricardo and i have been admiring each other from a distance for a while… and only discovered this mutual admiration over the weekend. but, whoa, that doesn’t mean i want to date him, right? well, to be honest, i had to think about it. i mean, would it be soooo bad to have a fling the last few weeks i’m here? expats do that kind of thing all the time, isn’t it just part of the experience? but now… this is people we’re talking about. not play things. so, i geared myself up sunday for a little heart to heart with my favorite mulatto. somehow everything fell into place. we got away from the crowd, sat down for a little chat, shared a bit about our lives and families… and at the end of the conversation, ricardo turned to me and said (in french), “lauren, i don’t usually find white women to be attractive. i don’t even like mulatto women. but the first time i saw you, i liked you. i didn’t know you, so i distanced myself from you and watched how you interacted with others. i liked what i saw and i want to know you better. but after learning more about you and your work as a missionary, i want you to know that i respect you and will let us rest as friends. i will not try to be anything more with you.” my mouth just about hit the floor. here i’d been so afraid of how to have the, “i like you, but…” talk in french… and i didn’t have to say a word! ricardo understood it all.

so while i’ll admit i’m slightly sad that i gave up the opportunity for a little local romance, i’m also relieved to be spared the drama of a fling, knowing full well that there are better things (hopefully a man) awaiting me. thank you God.

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