Introducing the cat…

So we’ve been plagued with mice and some larger mice which lead me to believe they are actually rats. Our friend Rima’s cat had  kittens and thus we are now the proud owners of a cat that Jeff calls Tiger. She is super cute and I think she has the killer insticts that we need. She also likes to cuddle up on our laps. I just hope she doesn’t attack our mosquito net!

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Eyeballs for Sale! (not really!)

I am putting out a plea for assistance!

My friend Rima (another English teacher) and I are organizing free eye exams for our students. Over the past year, we’ve noticed that many kids struggle to read the board clearly. I remember, when one student, Angelot, actually got up from his front row seat to walk up to the board to read it! The kids all taunted him, telling him to get glasses. Of course, Angelot, and most students in our communities can’t afford the luxury of glasses and corrected vision.  I can’t imagine what school would have been like for me if I had never gotten glasses!

The Peace Corps Medical Officer in Cotonou has helped us find an eye doctor willing to give exams. Rima and I are going to screen students using eye charts. All we need are glasses! I’ve already got one donated pair from a departing volunteer. If you could mail any used (but not damaged) glasses, they will be put to good use! The students are aged 10- 18. The doctor will match the glasses to the child, so that they get the closes prescription possible. Our goal is to collect at least 200 pairs of glasses (100 for my post and 100 for Rima’s post). We are basing our project on a similar project executed by former volunteer Betsie Frei in Tobre, where she helped 80 children get glasses. Our schools are much bigger, so the impact could be really huge! Please Help! We want to do this project in November and mail takes about two weeks to get to Benin, so please mail any donations in October if possible!

MAIL DONATIONS to:

Phoebe Guevin, PCV

Corps de la Paix Americain

01 BP 971

Cotonou, Benin

WEST AFRICA

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40th anniversary

Peace Corps Benin celebrated 40 years of service in Benin this September. When the new volunteers were sworn in, a big party was thrown. All the different sectors (TEFL, business, health, and environment) wore the same fabric in different colors. It was a special commemorative design that said Peace Corps Benin, 40 years and had the map of Benin printed on it. TEFL looked a little bit like Barney (pink) and SED was orange. Environment was green and for some reason I can’t remember what color health wore (I must be getting old…) L:ike our own swear in ceremony last year, there was singing and lots of speeches. One of the current volunteers, Steve, made a cool video about peace corps in Benin, with photos from the begining and up to today.  We had been hoping that the President of Benin would attend but he couldn’t. He did however meet with Peace Corps staff to sign a new agreement between the Republic of Benin and Corps de la Paix. He has asked us to help create a national volunteer coprs similar to Americorps in the United States. I know that there is a young Beninese man in Parakou who has started a Beninese volunteer organization so hopefully it will spread throughout Benin.

The big boss came in to Benin from Washington D.C. … that would be Mr. Henry McKoy, the Regional Director of the Peace Corps for Africa. He even visited our post and saw Jeff do some work with the tradespeople in Agon.

It’s hard to believe a year has gone by already. This time next year, I will be back at home and hopefully getting to see many of you!!

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Adventures with Susie Part 2: Burkina Faso and Mali

After the seemingly interminable bus ride to Burkina, we arrived in Ouagadougou in the afternoon. We found a place to stay for the night and then went looking for food. We made our way to my favorite restaurant from my previous trip to Ouaga… Le Verdoyant where we had brick oven pizza and delicious ice cream. The next morning we headed North to Ouhigouya near the border of Mali. We stayed there that night and the next morning took a mini-bus stuffed with 18 people to Koro in Mali. We ran into two other peace corps volunteers (who serve in Burkina).

Our guide’s brother for Dogon, Oumar Guindo, met us in Koro and then took us to Bankass where we met our guide Mikey and stayed for the night. The next morning we got up early to take a horse and cart 6 miles out to Dogon country. The Dogon are a group of people who have lived very isolated lives. They are famous for having built homes into the cliffsides. A lot of travelers like to hike through the different villages. If you do all of Dogon it can take a month. We decided to do three days and saw 2-3 villages a day. We started in Tely, one of the oldest Dogon villages. Then walked 3 miles to Ende where we visted a waterfall and met some wild young boys. We found the boys on the outside of town watching over sheep. They were running around playing “kung fu”, also known as kicking each other. My friend Susie, took out her camera to get a photo and the mass of boys converged on her screaming, “photo, photo, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” She got some good pictures.  Ende is also a good place to buy mali mud cloth, it is cotton fabric that has been died with mud and very beatiful.  We spent the night at Mikey’s house in Ende where we slept on the roof.

We climbed up to the top of the plateau the next day, which was very steep at times. By the time we made it to the top, it started raining, so we didn’t make it to Begnimato that night as planned. Oh well, when we did make it Begnimato, we got to meet two hunters. The first guy, Thomas, was really funny. We got to his house and he started putting on his hunting clothes for us and then made us pose for a photo with him.  We gave him some kola nuts and he seemed satisfied.

All in all, the Dogon people were very friendly and their culture is fascinating. As they open up to outsiders their way of life is changing… we saw many schools being built and the Dogon people are a mixture of catholics, muslims, protestants, and animists. They are also great artists, their wood carvings are beautiful and adorn everything from doors and window shutters to masks. They also make mud cloth and indigo cloth. It was an amazing experience!

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Adventures with Susie Part 1: Ghana

Jeff and I were very fortunate to have our good friend (and my maid of honor) come visit us. Susie took the summer off to travel all over the world. Before landing in West Africa, she had traveled to Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Spain, and England.

Susie arrived in Accra, Ghana on August 4th where Jeff and I picked her up from the airport. We spent the next few days in Accra eating very, very well. We went to sports themed restaurant named Champs that had chili fries, nachos, and milkshakes. So good!!! We also tried to get visas for both Mali and Burkina Faso. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time for the Mali visa and when we went to the Burkina Faso embassy, they were closed because it happened to be their indepedence day!  In Accra, we found comfortable and cheap accomodations at the Prison Ministry. Yep, the Prison MInistry. At first I thought it might be the government agency that oversees the prisons, but it is actually a group of protestant ministers who preach and work with people in jails.

We left Accra and headed to Cape Coast where we visited old slave forts. The Portuguese built the forts and then were later taken over by the British. The Africans who went through these forts were sold into slavery in the New World, including the American colonies. We saw the fort at Cape Coast and the fort in Elmina, which is the oldest European structure in West Africa.  From Cape Coast, we took a trip to the Kakum National Park where we got to walk in the canopy of the rainforest on suspension bridges. I was a little nervous to walk on the rope bridges, but I remembered the suspension bridge work we did at the Igo, and tried not to look down.

After two nights and two days in Cape Coast, we headed north to Kumasi, the heart of Ashante land. Kumasi is very developed town and has lots to offer. We visited the Ghana Military Museum, that had lots and lots of guns, including bazookas. We also saw the king’s palace and learned more about the Ashante kingdom.  The kings are picked through matrilineal succession, meaning from the mother’s side. So the king’s son wouldn’t be the next king. It would be his sister’s son. They are very wealthy… Ashante land is famous for its gold.

We decided to take a 24 hour bus to Ouagadougou in Kumasi. It was crowded, hot, and the driver started playing movies and music at 10pm. I didn’t get any sleep and couldn’t wait to get to Burkina Faso.

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PSL 21

A year has gone by (and so quickly too!) and a new group of volunteers arrived in Benin on July 4, 2008. We call the training groups PSL. I was in PSL 20 and this group is PSL 21.

I got to work weeks 3 adn 4 of training and met many trainees. I spent most of my time with the new TEFL volunteers. I worked with a volunteer named Carly who is from Kalamazoo, Michigan and is posted in the north of Benin near Bassila. Carly and I shared an apartment of Porto Novo together. Lucky for me she isn’t as squeamish, so when a dead mouse was discovered, she didn’t hesitate to remove it from the premises.

Carly and I did model lessons for the new volunteers, to show them what teaching in Benin might be like. We also tried our best to answer all of their questions. The trainees are living well in Porto Novo, which is the capitol of Benin. Most of them have running water, private showers, and toilets. They’re families are fairly well off. I ate at two families homes and was very well fed.

The trainees are very enthusiastic and working hard.  They have at least 3-4 hours of French language classes, then they also do bike training, cross cultural training, cooking workshops, and of course they study how to be a teacher. Most of them just graduated from college and this will be their first time teaching. During training, they also receive lots and lots of vaccinations or shots. Peace Corps does their best to make sure we don’t get sick!

While I worked, stage, as we call training in French, I got to go on the cultural excursion to Ouidah. This time I put the python on my neck! It slithered around a little but it wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of it! I do have a picture of Carly wearing the snake!

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Egypt

I am returned from a fabulous vacation in Cairo, Egypt. ! For those of you who don’t know, Jeff studied abroad in Cairo almost ten years ago.  One of his friends, Mike, hosted a party that we decided to attend.  Our first night in Cairo, we spent the evening on a boat that cruised the Nile, while 80s music played. The next day, Jeff’s friend Rainer, our friend Sam, and a new friend Jocelyn visited the Khan… or market in Cairo. Sam haggled away to buy lots of stuff.  On July 6th, we took a short cab ride to Giza and saw the pyramids and the Sphinx. Afterwards, we had a delicious lunch at Pizza Hut (it’s across from the pyramids!).  That evening, about 11 of us took an evening bus ride to Sinai Penninsula where we camped out at an isolated beach… we had to offroad in the back of pick up trucks for two hours to get to this beach! I saw Lionfish, corral, and some gross looking eels. I also saw camels wandering around!

A few days later Jeff and I returned to Cairo so that we could visit more places. We went to the City of the Dead. It is a poor neighborhood that is actually a cememtary, but people have moved into the Mausoleums. One nice family invited us into their “house”. In their leafy courtyard were marble tombs or long dead people. 

We also visted Coptic Cairo, the oldest part of the city and home to Coptic Christians. The streets are narrow and the buildings old. Its a tiny neighborhood. Islamic Cairo is much bigger and also beautiful. The mosques we visited are gorgeous. I love the geometric patterns that are all over the walls and moldings. You can’t go far in Cairo without walking by a mosque.

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