I visited the Tata Sombas in northern Benin this past week. They are about 9 hours north of where I live, near the town of Boukombe. I was lucky enough to travel with Jeff, Rima, and Rima’s mom, Aire. The Tata Sombas are the homes of the Somba people who live in the Atacora region. The Somba have been very isolated for centuries and their homes look like mud forts. Centuries ago when there was a lot of warring in Benin between different kingdoms, the Somba chose to protect themselves by living not in large towns, but by building these large mud houses in isolated areas. By living in small groups, they made it difficult for foreigners to come in and take over the entire region. These people were also trying to avoid being kidnapped and sold into slavery. The homes are really interesting. Their made of mud, so they have to be rebuilt annually or else they could erode. Yet, they are very sturdy and strong. The families cook and store food inside and sleep outside on the roof. There are also little cubbies you can crawl into to sleep if it is too cold. To get to the Tata Somba we stayed at, the four of us hiked three hours through the countryside with our guide, Antoinette. We passed many homes and lots of fields where people were hoeing and tending to their igname (yam) crop. Most people just looked at us and some waved. Children actually bowed, which is a sign of respect here. I was so tired when we finally reached the Tata Somba and it was a relief to sit down. The kids entertained us, especially Borris, who told us some folk tales in French. We spent the evening lying on some mats on top of the Tata Somba watching a storm in the distance. The lightening was beautiful until it became clear as the stars started to disappear from the sky that the storm was going to encroach on our evening. I wasn’t about to crawl into the cubby that bats had been flying out of, but luckily they didn’t expect us to. We stayed in a more modern house to avoid the rain… I uploaded a few pictures, but not that many. Unfortunately, the batteries ran out! Sorry! One of the nice things was that Borris told us he remembered Kate and her mother. It was hard to hear but nice at the same time. More proof that everyone who met her really did love her.
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I lost a dear friend this month and much of my time and energy has been spent with other friends remembering her remarkable spirit and kind heart. I wanted to share some memories…
-being squeezed 16 into a toyota land cruiser as we were evacuated from Burkina Faso during last year’s riots
-spending two hours in a taxi to go 8 kilometers to a water hole that no longer lets you swim in it.
-kate taking care of my burn during our iron chef competition
-working with new volunteers during training
-visiting her village for the whipping fete. she’s the best hostess!
– kate and megan telling everyone to faire la douce (be careful) while walking the streets of Abomey… it kept me from stepping into the sewer!
-A bag flying off the roof of our mini-bus, kate saying I hope that wasn’t mine, it was indeed hers!
-That same mini-bus making strange loud bangs and going slower than donkey carts on the side of the road.
-kate’s love of games…
We all love Kate very much is she is greatly missed.
I am proud to let you know that we had our spelling bees this past week! My fellow teachers seemed to enjoy the event and were impressed that many students could pronounce the alphabet in English. Amazing both of the winners are from the same class! Christine and Akim made their fellow classmates very proud and the kids escorted them to the Headmaster’s office chanting, 6eme1… which means First Form 1. Now I will escort the winners to Parkou in April or May for the national competition.
These are two very motivated students and I am happy that they have been recognized for their hard work. Akim came to our weekly study sessions every week and it payed off! In a place where most people leave their future to fate, it is refreshing to see people work hard to achieve. Christine has one of the highest grades in all of first form. I was surprised to find out that her father didn’t speak French. She must work very hard at home considering she can’t ask her parents to help her with her homework.
I put some pictures up from the spelling bee, so check them out!
Gosh, it has been a long time since I have posted. Sorry! So what has been going on lately? Well, I am preparing students for an English spelling bee. I meet everyweek after classes to help them study the words. I have some very serious students who come all of the time. They like learning new vocabulary and they love looking at the pictures I’ve cut up from magazines. Books, magazines, and other reading materials are very scare and expensive here, so it is a treat for them.
On Wednesday, we are going to have our local competition. Then I will bring the winners (a girl and a boy) to Cotonou for a regional bee. The winner of the regional bee gets to go to Parakou for the national competition. I hope that this will encourage students to take their work seriously and study more. A lot of students are so busy with chores (you try doing your laundry by hand!) that they don’t have a lot of time left over for things like studying. Plus, they haven’t been taught study skills. In our weekly meetings we went over how to make flashcards. They especially like playing memory!
I miss everyone and am looking forward to returning home this summer!
I had the chance to stay up all night and watch the election coverage at a staff member’s house. It was about 5am when CNN announced Obama as the winner. Beninese people have been rooting for Obama because they believe he, as an African American, will give more support to Africa than previous Presidents. I’ve actually seen posters that say “Go Obama” in Cotonou and people have told me that I should vote for him.
What is whipping fete? Well fete is French for party and you already know what whipping is. Whipping Fete is a cultural celebration in a small northwestern region of Benin. It happens every October (it is scheduled around the moon) and has been one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had while in Benin.
My friend, Kate, is posted in the village of Badjoude, near the Benin-Togolese border. It is amongst the Lokpa that she lives and works and it is they who celebrate whipping fete. The celebration is a time for boys and young men to display their strength. They wear noisemakers on thier ankles, carry handmade whips, and often wear intricate costumes. Then they march through town where different neighborhoods or groups of boys meet up to battle and whip eachother! They spar off in pairs, usually with an older man supervising and giving advice as to how to whip one’s opponent or how to block a blow.
We got to see two whipping fetes. One in Togo and one in Kate’s village. In Badjoude, the local King served us chouk and let volunteers take turns trying out the whip. Watching the thick crowds of boys whipping eachother seems chaotic, but no one seems to get seriously hurt, although those whips can leave some deep gashes if you aren’t careful!
The “it” in the question would be the school year. School was originally slated to start in early September and has yet to get going. I finally got my teaching schedule last week, but I can’t start meeting with my new students because they haven’t been grouped into classes yet. If you visit my school right now, you would notice that desks aren’t out, classrooms haven’t been swept, and long lines of parents and students are quing up to enroll and pay the fees.
They also haven’t released the school calendar, so no one knows when they will have their spring break, etc. It is really difficult to make plans without a schedule. I, especially, like to know what is going to be happening, so I have a hard time being flexible and not knowing what will be next!
There are rumors that the teachers will be striking against the new curriculum. They are disgruntled because it is difficult to get the textbooks, even for teachers and nearly impossible for students. My copy is a copy of a copy of a copy and they have yet to make the final revision.
I hope you are all enjoying the fall weather!