Now that Thanksgiving has passed.. I can say I have officially say I survived my 3 favorite holidays!!!
For the most part... I handled it better than would have expected. I think I owe a lot of this to the fact that my three favorite holidays are non-existent here in Benin [so I just ignored them]. I am not sure if I should be patting myself on the back for surviving them – or reprimanding myself since my over all method was pretending they didn't exist.
Fourth of JulyFor those of you who don't know... I love the Forth of July. It is my favorite holiday.. and no.. it isn't because it usually falls on the same weekend of my birthday (something I have spent most of my life being somewhat unhappy about). This holiday also happened to land right smack in the middle of our first week training in Porto Novo. I was expecting to spend the Fourth curled up in a little ball somewhere sobbing to go home -- Since that is similar to what I did when I spent my first Fourth of July away from family (in the far off land of Madison NJ).. an occasion on which I was so distraught by the fact that I wasn't home.. Erik felt compelled to go out and buy me flowers and it is amazing that any cupcakes got made for the party we happened to be going to with some of our Professors
So how did I survive it in Benin? - I think two things saved me this past Forth of July. Firstly.. the obvious fact that it isn't celebrated here. It wasn't in my face. I could just simply block it out. Secondly.. the disaster known as my 24th birthday would have made anything look like a sunny day.. the close proximity of the two making my homesickness seem like a pleasure cruise by the time the Fourth rolled along. That being said.. I have two more of these to get through and the first week in July was definitely my darkest moments during training (How did my favorite holiday also end up being the only holiday I am going to miss 3 times in my 2 year service?) – Next year my strategy is to make my 25th birthday a week long celebration.. and just ignore it all over again. I have yet to come up with a better method for this one.
*I think it is important to note here that I did COMPLETELY fall apart on Benin's Independence Day.. when I found out we weren't going to get to attend the parade... or buy little souvenir flags to wave in the street
ThanksgivingThis is a special holiday. I really do love Thanksgiving.. but my family does not celebrate it in the “traditional sense” and my personal Thanksgiving Tradition has undergone some serious changes throughout my life. For the past 6ish years I have spent Thanksgiving out west with my awesome brother and his awesome wife and their equally awesome kittens. High School was a mix of Thanksgiving with good friends (I am not sure that I did the same thing two years in a row for Thanksgiving in HS). Also when I was in Junior High my Grandmother decided to stop having Thanksgiving so that she could travel which interestingly enough helped prepare me for Thanksgiving Peace Corps Edition. I think I might have been freakishly well adapted to just.. do something else this year.
Don't get me wrong.. I missed the festivities that I have come to know as my Thanksgiving tradition with my brother terribly.. I missed the animals.. and the vegan feast... and playing boardgames. BUT unlike the Fourth of July.. I am accustomed to this specific holiday being a little more fluid. I happily wished my family a good holiday.. and prepared my [incredibly simple] little addition to the holiday feast that was held buy some friends here in the Oueme/Plateau. That being said.. Next year I plan to visit home for Thanksgiving. I will be very thankful for that.
HalloweenI think that Halloween is my third favorite holiday – simply because I don't like the rest of them. BUT I do like it very much. There is something really amazing about getting dressed up in a costume.. going to parties.. and carving pumpkins. There is something amazing that during this night of the year children go door to door and are given candy. There is just something magical about Halloween.
My strategy for dealing with Halloween was more similar to how I went about the Fourth of July.. Just ignore it. I avoided the various Halloween festivities being thrown by other volunteers in Benin. I tried not to think about all of the fun that was being had at home that I was missing out on. I was not in the Halloween spirit. I did watch some Halloween movies.. and I did try to throw a pumpkin carving party [there are pumpkins in Cotonou] but I was unable to find the pumpkins in Porto.. which is probably all for the best. It probably would have really freaked the neighbors out. I just kind of bummed around and reminded myself it would be over soon. Next year I promise myself I am not going to do that again.. Looking back over the last 5 months.. aside from the initial shock of being here.. Halloween was actually the hardest for being away from home. I think it will be better if I allow myself to enjoy it.
When you are away from home the holidays are definitely some of the hardest days. You really realize how far away you are. On the other hand realizing that I have successfully survived what I previously considered my top three most likely days to have crippling homesickness.. makes me realize how fast time is flying by.
The next wave of holidays to pass – Christmas/Winter Holiday and New Years.
These have ever been my favorites... I am not a huge Christmas fan (although I do get super excited about the stocking) and New Years never seems to live up to my expectations. Both of these holidays are widely celebrated here in Benin.. and will be very much all around me. SO I guess I will just have to embrace them and make them my own :) I think I will try decorating for Christmas around my house.. if nothing else it will make my neighbors very happy. Who knows.. maybe without the cold weather and snow I will actually enjoy the fete!