Friday, July 6, 2012

The First Week

Still Surviving in Benin. 

This week has had a lot of Ups and Downs. Mostly downs to be completely honest, but I think that is almost expected for a PCT's fist week of intense language training and host family immersion. 

I know everyone's biggest question is how is my host family? So I will start there. Luckily my host family, while obviously a  big adjustment, is not one of the downs. They are tres gentil. I have my own little apartment area in the back of the house, with a bedroom, a small bathroom, a little living room, and a small kitchen where I can boil my drinking water. There are a lot of communication difficulties, which I was really overwhelmed by earlier in the week (I think Mama was too).. but we are working through it. We get along well, it is usually just me and Mama around, and while we can't really speak very easily to each other we have enjoyed our attempts... and have done a lot of looking at photo albums.

My big story this week however is not my host family, it is my bicycle. Mon Velo.

I have a funny story to share, at least funny to anyone who knows me.. and how timid I am with a bike. There is this major road that runs through Porto Novo where I am currently living. On Tuesday we were given our bikes... and expected to ride them home.. through a city I don't know... down a road that I never imagined biking on in my worst nightmares... in the heat.. with impending downpours. I can do this right?

So I call papa... and he comes with the Moto... (The plan being for those who don't know the way home yet to follow someone home). Now I am doing pretty good over all considering there are giant ditches.. I am barely breathing.. sweating up a storm.. can't figure out how to switch gears on this bike (that I have never ridden before), and on the verge of tears because I am absolutely terrified. In fact at this point I have made it more than half way home with out dieing. Only stopping to walk the bike once for a little bit (because I thought I was going to pass out from fright). I get back on the bike.. excited because I am almost home.. and next thing a I know I have to swerve out of the way of a Zemi. I lose control of the bike and fall off. YES I FELL OFF THE BIKE ON DAY 1. 

So I know how to fall of a bike, I landed on my feet, didn't get hurt, am bareing the fact that there are many people laughing and yelling YOVO the local word for “look its a white person” and trying to decide my next move.. When all I see is Rachel running towards me. Why on earth is Rachel running towards me?? Oh. The Peace Corps bus full of health trainees going back to Dangbo saw me fall and pulled over to come save me. So now my slight misfortune has become a spectacle. Lots of Yovos... and me sobbing out of fright and embarresment and just everything from the week coming out all at once.. and Papa looking absolutely ?terrified?. They collective decision was to load my bike onto the roof of the bus, and have Papa take me home on the Moto, the bus followed us back to drop off my bike... and everyone got off the bus to give me hugs one by one and wish me a happy belated birthday (another spectacle... although much appreciated). And now... I am not allowed to ride my bicycle (says Papa). So glad I took those classes. 

While at the time I was absolutely horrified and embarresed I am actually really glad this happened. After about three straight days of wanting to give up and come home (between home sickness and actual sickness and just feeling lost) I realized that the worst that has really happened thus far... is I fell off my bike. And really, that isn't that bad. I also realized how supportive everyone is in my training class, and within just a few moments, I went from feeling like I had nobody to feeling (as Mama put it later that evening) that I have “many many brothers and sisters.” 

If I had written this post before the bike incident.. my outlook would have been very bleak.. but I am optimistic now. I have a lot to learn, and while I am not the best with my French or my bike riding and yes I am also afraid of the Motos... I have come to realize I also have a lot of positives... experience in my field, the desire to learn, and the endurance to go through with what is probably going to be the most difficult (and rewarding) two years of my life. 

As we say here at Peace Corps Training..

Du Courage! 


  1. i think my first comment got lost--anyway--thank you for making me laugh---love these posts--do lots!!!!!!

  2. I love reading your posts! :) Glad to hear all is well! I miss you tons girl<3

  3. Dear Zoe,
    Almost 7 months ago you left your friends, family and country to go on a journey of self discovery and a chance to make a difference in the world. Today I'm beginning my first experience in following someone's blog and catching up with your life. As I was reading your biking experience in Porto Novo, I was struck by how much you have grown and how not "timid" you are now. I am looking forward to reading on and seeing the transformation of the young girl I knew to the young woman who is becoming...du courage!