There is a famous quote in the Peace Corps. It is a quote by JFK in reference to the 1961 dropped postcard incident (you can read about it here if you would like) which almost ended Peace Corps before we even got on our feet.
“Keep in touch... but not by postcard!”
The understanding in Peace Corps is that there is letter talk and there is postcard talk. Letters are closed off and are meant for the eyes of the recipient.. but nothing can stop anyone from reading the back of your postcard while it is in transit. Because of technology and access to information it is more important than ever for Peace Corps Volunteers who are viewed as Ambassadors in their country of service to be careful what they say and where they say it. You never know who will be checking up on you. Google translates everything. In place of letters most volunteers send e-mails.. in place of postcards we have blogs. Not only do we send out the postcard to friends and family back home. We are openly offering for it to be read by anyone who so chooses to do so.
On a positive note this be careful what you say rule – makes me sound like a very cheery person most of the time.
A few things have happened recently that reminded me why this is important:
Firstly, Someone I know in Benin Googled me on their smart phone. Yes, if you have the money you can do that here too.. but it is very slow. I mean, I know people have Googled me at home. Friends, prospective employers, strangers... For some reason, in Africa, you just feel a little more separated and safe from being Googled. I guess not. I know what happens when I Google myself.. so at least I know there is nothing negative to come of it.
The second thing, and more culturally shocking: At the office I had someone start sounding out the notes I had written in English in my notebook.. he was reading my notebook from the other side of the room (literally). While I know to use sense when writing my blog posts.. for many reasons. I was kind of thrown back by the fact that I was having my personal notes read by someone who wasn't even sitting near me!! Of course it wasn't anything bad.. but it was good to know that it was happening.
I have also had people I know pick up personal letters on my table in my living room.. and start sounding out the words. I understand that they don't know what it says.. and that for them it is just a way for practicing their English. To me it is a major breech of privacy. Especially since they then expect me to provide them with a translation. Just one of the many cultural differences I face here in Benin. Privacy, private time, this is not yours it is mine -- these are not concepts here.
Mostly I am just rambling because I don't have anything nice to say this week --
It's all good -- I survived!
PS -- I had said back in September I would revisit my TOP 10 things I miss about Benin post when I finished my integration period. I personally feel like that makes for a very boring blog post. However, I made a link thingy on the right of the page. That is where those updates will go from now on. It was kind of funny how some of the things that left the Top 10 in September made it back for the January review. If you want you can check that out here.