Friday, May 31, 2013

In The Middle

A general update:

Mid-Service, in reality, is not for another month or two.. but here in Benin we are already feeling it full force.

The old volunteers are buying their plane tickets home and we are questioning whether we really have the knowledge to guide in a new generation of Benin PCVs. Of course we will find that we do, but that doesn't mean that we know it yet.

Some of us are feeling overwhelmed that there is a whole year left.. overwhelmed that a whole year has already passed.. and overwhelmed by the amount of work we feel like we have yet to do.

A really great time travel to the middle of the country for some really productive conversation.


This week I am up in Parakou for a gardening workshop. This workshop was organized by another volunteer -- in order to assist with network and communication between actors at all levels of the market gardening process. Seed production/distribution to garden production to markets and restaurants.

As most of you know I work with market gardeners in Akpro-Misserete (the Porto Novo region of Benin). Since I live close to the cities there is access to a good diversity of seeds in my area, as well as access to information, but this does not mean that the farmers know this, or have the means to access it. On the other hand.. there is often a problem with accessing markets willing to pay a good price for produce, especially when experimenting with something not previously grown at said farm in the past.

Benin has lots of resources but there is a lack when it comes to communicating and network, which is what I believe was the purpose of this workshop.


Right now, in Misserete, I am working on a project to diversify the crops grown by my farming groups. For the past few months we have been working with seed samples of different varieties to grow crops such as tomatoes, hot peppers, cucumbers, okra, carrots and radishes – and this week I received a whole new batch of samples seeds from East-West Seeds . I am excited to try watermelon, onions, lettuce and beets with the farm ladies!!

All of these crops can easily be grown in my region of Benin, once the farmer knows the process, and most of them can be grown year round. Some of these crops (such as tomatoes and hot peppers) the farmers have tried in the past, but perhaps couldn't find an opening in the market, or just didn't succeed due to insects, or water access. All of these crops are sold in Benin, and the majority of them are imported from neighboring countries to be sold in our local markets. In the mean time the local farmers (all) grow fields and fields of the same African legumes, corn, and manioc. By teaching the farmers to grow these new crops we are increasing the local access, and potentially lowering their prices, making it so that vegetables that aren't bought by your average family because of the cost might be able to be more widely eaten enriching diets of families. Also, if farmers grow the crops that are currently imported, they should be able to make more money per area of land then they currently do.

The problem with this.. is that people are creatures of habit. People like to eat the foods that they are familiar with.. and they like to buy from sources that they know and are comfortable with. Its just little steps. So for now, we will continue working with these seed samples, raising the farmers confidence in the new crops and trying to build vending connections.

Earlier this week,  before I came up to Parakou, we had “a rose and a thorn” (as Erik's mom likes to put it) in this project...

One of the crops, that is definitely gaining popularity at least in my region of Benin, that we were hoping to have success with is cucumbers. Unfortunately, in the first farm where we planted our trial plots, all the cucumbers (3 different varieties!) have died. – Luckily (and completely unexpectedly) I received a second batch of cucumber samples today.. so we will try again. I just worry about people becoming discouraged or thinking a crop is too hard to grow. For this specific “harvest” of cucumbers I had been traveling a lot, so I will monitor our new batch more closely, hopefully they take this time... and I really hope we have better luck with cucumbers at the other farms where I work.

Radishes, on the other hand turned out to be a more positive, and very interesting experience. One of the seed samples was for large white daikon style radishes. Not a crop you normally see here in Benin, but we had the seeds so it couldn't hurt to try and see what happened. These radishes grew amazingly well.. and we had beautiful large radishes in just 3 weeks. The women were visibly very happy with them, they enjoyed growing them, they especially loved the large green leaves that they immediately removed and used as a sort of mulch for the tomatoes (not sure why but hey whatever). The problem, we thought, was not even the “exotic” vegetable vendors in Cotonou wanted to take them off their hand. - - That being said I made a show about calling a volunteer I know who works with some restaurants, and acted very confident that we could sell them. This apparently motivated the women, because they called the next morning to say that they found a vendor and sold the radishes. – And WE LEARNED that the reason we couldn't sell the radishes, is because they are considered a fete food, and are generally sold during the months of December and January. Its interesting to think that while in this country most things can be grown and potentially sold year round, people have preset ideas about when they will buy them.. and therefore the market is still “seasonal” in a sense.

It is really exciting to me that this project seems to be moving forward. I was also really happy that the radishes worked out, and hopefully counteracted the disappointment over the cucumbers.

This is what I've been up to recently.

I'd love to get some updates from home!


Saturday, May 25, 2013

On The Home Front

Dear Parents/Friends/Loved Ones* of future Peace Corps Volunteers,

It is hard to send your PCV off to work in a place that you (most likely) have never seen and know very little about. It is hard for us to leave you too.. We know that you are are worried, stressed out, want to hold us close, and probably are crying when we aren't looking. The best thing that you can do for your future volunteer as they prepare to leave is JUST BE SUPPORTIVE.. spend time together as a family.. don't nag about all of the possible bad things that could happen during your volunteers service. Yes bad things can happen anywhere. Your volunteer is doing something special.. something a lot of people wish that they had the courage to do. The best thing you can do for them is show them your support, truly. Once they get here.. write letters.. send packages... I would even suggest starting with the letter writing now!! The 3 months of training followed by the first 3 months at post ARE the hardest 6 months of service – the sooner love starts coming in from home the better. You may never see the way your volunteers face lights up when there is a letter for them in that pile at the end of a long week of training.. but believe me if you could you would send 100.

My parents lucked out in that I have a high school friend who is also serving here in Benin with me – and she started her service the year before (I am from a very small town – what are the chances of that!?!).. This gave them easy access to another parent for asking questions and sharing concerns – Not everyone has this type of luck.

So I asked them (yes I know this is a bit cheesy) if they would be willing to write some thoughts on being a Peace Corps Parent (sans all the gushy stuff – sorry dad <3)..

Here is what they came up with.

Getting approved by the Peace Corps was a long and arduous journey. The Corps does a fantastic job of making sure that the applicants have the right stuff. They make sure that the applicant it prepared physically mentally and emotionally for the adventure. That being said it is still a test of the volunteers metal in many ways that would never be guessed.

When Zoe went to college she had decided to go 3000 miles from home. It was hard for me to leave her at the dormitory and made my heart ache. I did it because it was what she wanted and I felt an obligation to help her grow and follow her path. We all missed each other and she ended up coming back after her first year to go to a University “closer” to home. This was a good learning for the whole family and helped to prepare us for her volunteering in the Peace Corps. [Note from Zoe: Transferring schools was also Peace Corps biggest qualm with my application – More so than being in a long-term relationship.. or my Vegan diet.]

Even though, you will miss your volunteer very much, and they will miss you the same. It is important to show your support as they stick through their service no matter how hard it gets at times. We tried to prepare each other for this but there are many things that you would never guess would be a problem. The hardest part of being a Peace Corps parent is when you know your child is sad, frustrated, and probably homesick... and trying to be strong for them. Just remember that you have to be strong for them. 

Zoe is about half way through her journey and one of the most difficult things that she has run into is being a foreigner. As a tourist it is for a short period and much of the time you are paying people and they are polite. As a Peace Corps Volunteer not everyone is happy to see you and since you do not speak the local languages well you are subject to insolence and the inference that you are stupid. That can be tolerated for a period but after a while it would start to wear even the strongest down. Being so far away there is nothing that you can do but listen and try to sympathize but I have to say it is hard to know your child is upset or hurting. As a side note: I now feel a greater empathy for people who do not speak English here in the US.

I am proud, as any parent should be when they have a child that wants to help others and will go so far to do just that. When Zoe's service is over next year, we will all be stronger for it and we have and will continue to be tempered by the experience. I know how difficult I am finding it and knowing that it is harder for her makes me admire her even more. Showing support and encouragement makes it easier for everyone. This will be a great learning experience not just for your volunteer but for you as well. Make the most of it.

I hope my words prove to be a strength to anyone who is reading.. whether it is because you are interested in joining the Peace Corps (or doing similar work) or if it is because your child (or loved one) is planning to start their own Peace Corps journey. Please know that it is not easy but like anything that is hard it will reap great rewards. We love our daughter and miss her so very much. I am glad that we are missing her because it means that she is in the Peace Corps and following her dreams. - SC


To be the mother of a Peace Corps Volunteer – what is that like? 

Well! Of-course I am very, very proud. When she left I packed her off with a ton of supplies, mega amounts of advice, some trepidation, endless love and hugs. Also, knowing the reality – that I'd be missing my child like crazy, constantly telling random people about Zoe, thinking of all the things we'll do together in 2014 (her plans will be a bit different!), wondering if she'll like my vegan cooking (I've had to take up cooking since she left.. she's the cook in the family), and wondering how this experience will change her. Weirdly, the time is flying by so fast. Its hard for me to believe it has been almost a year since we've seen Zoe...

As the person experiencing the Peace Corps from the “Home Front” I live for photographs (will beg for them) – so if you have the means send your volunteer with a camera!!  I constantly check FB and Benin PC blogs to maybe be rewarded with a new photo from Benin. Five stars if my PCVs face is in it! 

As the family of a PCV we are so lucky to have all this technology. If this was 20 years ago I'd be constantly stressed and worried! I'm one of the lucky parents and Zoe lives in an area that has good communication. Having an international phone plan comes in very handy and sometimes we're able to SKYPE when she has to go to the office in Cotonou but really that is usually just typing back and forth – the internet connection isn't always strong enough for video or voice. I'll take it.

Knowing that your child is trying to do good in this world and how strong they have grown to be helps you to let go a little (well maybe). Anyway--you get used to it. As a PC parent you find yourself worrying at times, you will have random moments of wishing time to go faster, but then your own routine will blessedly evolve you back into life. My own friends and family, and of course the dog have been a great support to me here – which in turn helps me to support Zoe when she is so far away.  As I said the time really does fly.

Letters and packages are incredibly important. I write her twice a week (I'm up to ninety something letters!) Do I feel she needs these letters – yes - but I need them too..They are just rambles probably saying most of the same things yet they make me feel connected to her. I know the for PCV's getting a letter or package from home means a lot.. so really letter writing is a win win for everybody. 

Reading this blog also makes me feel connected--I love it!! BUT it's not only Zoe's blog that I read! I also enjoy reading the other current Benin PCV's blogs. It gives me a more complete picture of their life in Benin. I love them all even if they don't know I'm reading about their experience. They really are a great group of people.

We are lucky enough that Zoe will be able to come home and visit this winter. This of course, might not be possible for everyone but I'm very excited about it!! --YEA!! We do not plan on going out to Benin to visit her, but recently her Erik went to visit. It was really great to hear his impressions about her village, the country, the people she knows, and to see all of the pictures he took! Five stars!!

You will you worry and fuss and miss your PCV like crazy --yes-- but you will also be incredibly proud. Much love--FC

So basically: write letters, be supportive, don't worry too much, keep yourself busy at home as well.. and the time will fly by. You will learn from this experience through your PCV. It will be awesome. 

Also EVERYONE at home read the PC “On The Home Font” book.. and they all found it very helpful. I didn't read it personally.. I don't know.


*I know this is a little "parent-child centric".. and there are all types of families and volunteers of all ages.. I think that the things said here can really apply to any one at home supporting a volunteer.. parent, child, grandparent, best friend.. aunt or uncle.. anyone. I hope it helps <3

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Je me fais recenser!

Today I was censused by a Beninese census taker.

The Beninese census started earlier this month.

Between being in Cotonou and the fact that at night fall I close up the house (and it probably looks like there is no one home to outsiders).. it is possible that the past few days the census taker missed me and probably would have continued missing me if I wasn't in the living room doing some typing for my neighbor (Even when typing in French I type faster than the average Beninese – well as long as I change the keyboard recognition thing-a-ma-jig to EN).

It was pretty late and I was sitting typing out a document I could barely read about agriculture and enhanced rice.. and some guy comes to my door “ko ko ko-ing” I say “Oui” and he just does his ko ko ko again.. I say “C'est qui!!” and I get another ko ko ko. At this point I'm annoyed because I am hard at work.. and anyone who (as far as I'm concerned) has any right to be stopping by my house after sunset would have probably just walked in.. and now I'm going to have to get up and go to the door!

So I get up to see who it is. Here is this kid (late teens early twenties) looking really official. He has a brief case. He is carrying a stack of papers. Has a census themed t-shirt on.. and an identification card with the rules of who needs to be censused on it. He proceeds to explain to me that he is here to take the census... to which I respond ok.. but I'm American.. (and if sarcasm existed in this country he would be thinking “No, really? I thought you were Beninese!?”) He picks up his little ID card thing and starts reading me a blurb about how everyone who currently lives in the country needs to be included in the census.

He asked if he could sit down about 5 times, even though I made it clear that I was fine with taking his census if it made his life easier, at least it would be an interesting experience. After insisting I verbally say “Yes! You may sit in the chair!” I kind of felt like he was a chair vampire or something.

Anyway the census was funny.

It was very short, and unlike at home where you get your census in the mail fill it out and send it in, he had to read me the questions and fill it out himself. This is probably to avoid embarrassing anyone who can't read or write, but it lead to a bit of confusion with things like spelling my name.. and me just not knowing certain french words. I can only imagine what its like for foreigners in the US who fill out the census on their own :-/ – I'm really not surprised that some people just don't do it.. between the length and just being culturally confused.

I gave him the basics - my name, when I was born, what country I was born in.. he couldn't spell Etats-Unis and my accent is really bad for spelling.. so he gave up and wrote USA for that and for my nationality. I told him I was married out of habit.. oops. He didn't believe me when I told him how little I make. He was shocked that I don't own a television and asked if I needed his help finding/getting one. There were questions about how I cook my food and how I get my news. His list asked if I had a bed (could you imagine if that was a question on the US Census).. and then asked if I had something else which he described as for sleeping. I think it was a mattress.. so I said yes, but he was really confused when I said I had both and went back to the original questions to make sure I understood when he had asked if I was the only one living in the house. So I'm not really sure what I told him I had.

He didn't care for any information about my “husband” or parents, since they don't live in Benin... but like all Beninese he was shocked that I have no children. When (as always) I told him not until I go back home – he went into the typical “No you will stay and have a family in Benin” speech that every HCN memorizes at some point in their childhood.

Overall it was a very interesting experience.. filling out a census as a foreigner.

I know I made a few mistakes but I am sure I would have made even more if I had been filling it out on my own, and it was great to see this strangers facial expressions as I answered his questions. Mostly I think he was just happy to get out of the rain for a bit.. and I'm sure he deals with a lot of hostility from people who don't want to fill out the census.

Hopefully I didn't screw it up too much!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

To The New Volunteers

The new volunteers are going to be here in a little over a month!
(I'll be in the group at the airport welcoming you!! Can't wait!)...

Also all the EA volunteers are going to be joining me this year in Misserete for their training! 

I am sure you have all figured out by now that you should be stuffing your faces full of your favorite foods and spending every last moment with your loved ones..

At this point you have your suitcases all packed up!? Right!! Just kidding – but I bet that you at least have that pile ready to go and are wondering how on earth you are going to fit it into your bags.

Here are some of my tips for packing and getting ready to leave :)


I think that the biggest mistake I made (well one of two) was that I spent so much of my free time before I left being stressed about my luggage. I wrote this in an earlier post but honestly – If it is something that you can not (literally) live without you will be able to find it here – this is a country and people live here – and they are surviving somehow. Everything else is just comforts.

My second biggest mistake was probably that I waited to long to stop working and spent a very “short” amount of time trying to visit with family in friends – and getting everything set to go. Everything felt rushed. It is also possible that any amount of time would have felt that way... and I needed the money.. so it is what it is.

Pack your favorite snack foods. Hide some away so that you can't touch them until after training. You may think that you are having a bad day and just really need that handful of Peanut Chews during training – but you will regret eating them all if none of them make it to Post – and you are all alone in a village you don't know sitting around in an empty house missing home. When I packed my suitcases I packed one for training – and everything for my house went in the second one (with at least half of my snacks) that way I didn't even have to open that second suitcase until I moved into my house at post. I would do that again.

Don't pack to many clothes. You will get more made when you get here anyway. Pack gray or brown cotton t-shirts.. sandals.. underwear if you wear it.. if you are an EA volunteer pack some clothes for working in the fields. I know that Peace Corps stresses the business casual – but honestly in our sector – you won't need business casual to work in a garden. As long as your skin is appropriately covered in the right places its OK. Bring clothes that are going to get dirty. Bring clothes that you won't mind throwing out before you COS.

Pack a Photo Album. I had a photo album printed on Mixbook (it might be too late to get one of those printed for your stage – but hey care packages!!). In this country it is really popular, when you are visiting with someone, for them to bring out their photo albums to show you their family, or big events in their lives (weddings, funerals, graduations).. Beninese people LOVE when you have photos to share with them as well. Plus if you are like me – kind of shy – and don't speak french (at least didn't a month before departure) – a photo album is a great way to break the ice with your host family.

Pack vitamins. Pack face cream. Pack a Journal. Pack a solar charger if you are so inclined (I haven't used mine yet because I have electricity – but there are still black outs and I am glad that I have it!). Pack a Camera. Pack USA Forever stamps.. most of us send our mail back to the states with other volunteers to be posted. Pack tacky putty (for hanging photos on your walls).. and one of those 3M hooks for hanging up your raincoat. Pack a towel and some Duct Tape. You will be fine. :)

Stop worrying about how you are going to fit all of that stuff in your suitcase and go eat a stress free dinner with your family.. if you drink have a nice glass of wine.. eat something delicious for dessert. Give your family lots of hugs tell them all not to worry :)

Oh and if anyone wants to pick me up a Vegan Cheesesteak in Philly.. there is a really awesome place called Blackbird Pizzeria on 6th and Lombard.

I don't care how old and squished it will be when you get here.

** To my friends at home.. no I have not gone crazy.. Citi Marketplace is still my favorite for a Veg Cheesesteak – but Blackbird is closer to their hotel.. and it is also incredibly delicious – plus I miss their pizza. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Boy In Benin Part 3

Erik left to go back to the States on Friday.. I have been insanely lonely since then. It will be good to get back to work tomorrow and back to normal. 

Anyway he agreed to write a post wrapping up his thoughts on his visit here in Benin.


For 24 hours I have been back in the United States. I am clean, comfortable and well-fed. Now that I've gotten those first steps out of the way, I have had a chance to look back and review the past few weeks spent in Benin. I greatly enjoyed my visit, spending time with Zoe, and seeing another part of the world.

I could tell you about all the cool things we did, but I decided that instead of recapping the events of my journey, it would be more meaningful to share a few of my personal reflections. In all my travels, Benin has proven to be one of the most thought-provoking places I have ever been. Their way of life - their culture, their world-view - is in many ways drastically different than our own. Ultimately, as human beings, we all have the same basic wants and needs: food, shelter, and a good life for our family. However, there is great variety in the means by which we achieve these basic goals. I am grateful to have been able to visit Benin and for the opportunity to reflect on their way of life.

In general, I found the people of Benin to be very warm and friendly, welcoming us to their home, excited to share their beautiful country with us. During my time in Zoe's village, I found the community quite charming. Everyone says, "hello, how are you? Welcome." People spend most of the day sitting outside enjoying each others company. Even in the market, women will sit side by side selling the same thing as friends, not competitors. Although they have very little relative to Americans, what these people lack in possessions and technology they make up for with a connectedness that does not exist in most "American villages." It's like a giant family - everyone is looking out for each other. I would often walk alone through the village just to feel like a part of it.

I enjoyed the village life a lot, and it was cool walking amongst goats, sheep, cows and chickens everywhere we went, but the main thing I disliked about the village was EVERYONE'S incessant need to point out that I am white. Almost everyone we passed would call out to us "Yovo Yovo!" At first I kind of liked it. It was like being a celebrity; but by the end of the trip I became frustrated and really just wanted to pull some people out of their ignorance and explain that we are the same and what they're doing is rude. I tried to remind myself that I am to them what a purple person would be to me. I chalked their heckling up to curiosity more than anything else.

The food was also very different, but I liked most of what I tried. The religions were very different as well, Voodoo in particular, and it was sometimes difficult to take certain beliefs seriously (specifically those regarding sorcery), but I suppose fervently believing in something completely irrational is part of all religions, ours included. Benin would be a great place to conduct an ethnography, particularly one linguistic in nature. There are so many interesting languages spoken, and it would be neat to look further into how the local dialects reflect the peoples' perspective and outlook. Even though I could understand next-to-nothing, I enjoyed listening nonetheless.

One interesting thing that struck me is that the Beninese are insanely comfortable being uncomfortable. They seem to love prolonged stares and awkward silences. In the "Tro" taxis (cargo vans gutted and fitted with benches to fit 30 people), you are tightly sandwiched between 5 other people, your feet almost instantly lose circulation, everyone is sweating on each other, 10 people are screaming on their phones or to each other, and I was the only person on the bus that seemed to mind at all. As a side note, I must say, those taxis have to be the world's most uncomfortable mode of transportation, but I doubt that anyone in the country is aware. 
[Note from Zoe: I made a point to ensure Erik had only the most comfortable taxi rides possible – It can get way worse than that]

In a nut-shell, Benin is a country rich with natural beauty, pleasant people, and interesting culture. I am definitely not going to take as much for granted now that I'm back, and I am truly grateful for all that I have - hot showers, food variety, air conditioning, education, healthcare, etc. Still, I find myself wondering just how good some of our amenities are for the soul. Although the more impoverished citizens of Benin will pester tourists for money and food, they still seem happy with their lot. Without the common stresses of first-world life (9-5's, car payments, schedule juggling), people can focus more on those basic wants and needs mentioned earlier. They can wake up with the sun, cook a fresh, plastic-free non-processed meal, and work on the farm or at the loom, using their hands to create their livelihood. They're not connected to the ramblings of their peers on social media, or the depressing stories in the news. They work a little, the eat a little, they relax a little, and they are content. This lifestyle may seem almost lazy to a college-educated American worker, but lazy would not be the right word for it; I think 'easy' would be a better word for it. And while (when applied to work) that word carries negative connotations in our culture, there, taking it easy on the job is viewed in a positive light - and they be the right ones after all.

We desperately seek to impose our western sentiment that "development" ought to be the chief goal of any given society, and that societies should strive for progress through hard work and innovation, but the more I see of the rest of the world, the less convinced I find myself of the merits of this philosophy. The people in Benin are happy, they're healthy, and they appreciate the time they get to spend with one another. Likewise, I appreciate the time I spent with them. Being in Benin has reinforced within me some deep realizations that can only be achieved by traveling around the world, and I would enjoy spending more time there some day if the opportunity arises. A la prochiane! - Erik


Oh.. I also wanted to mention. Erik seems to have made more friends here in two weeks than I have made in the past 10 months (no surprise there we all know he is the social half of this whole). All day today – while I just felt like sitting around in my pajamas.. eating chocolate.. watching Remember the Titans.. and being left alone. People kept showing up at my house asking to see Erik. Not to mention the number of people who called to make sure he made it home safe. He is pretty awesome like that.. <3

Lots of Love and Happy Mothers Day!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Boy In Benin Part 2

Erik and I devoted this week to seeing my village and the surrounding areas – this included experiencing the frustrating life of a peace corps volunteer (where work plans are currently being postponed, shuffled around, or just plain canceled).. He experienced the disappointment of watching a school garden die because the water pump is broken, the strange excitement of children (and adults) as they constantly shout at the foreigner walking by, and he got to meet lots of my friends both Host Country Nationals and Peace Corps.

Early in the week we went to Ouando where he got to experience the sites and sounds of a large West African market. We went tissu shopping (and he even bought some fabric from my regular tissu lady).. I showed him lots of different foods.. we walked through the animal section (which is super depressing but necessary to see)... I know from experience that the market can be really overwhelming the first time you see it, so I am hoping that if we go again next week he will be able to take more in..

On Monday we made a point to see Porto Novo's Botanical Gardens.. I had not been here before, but now that I have seen it I highly recommend going. Just as a note! ** The gardens are in fact not open on Monday. Some random guy who may or may not have been associated with the gardens in anyway let us in... and it was really great.. but I can't promise this would happen for everyone. The gardens house what is left of Porto Novo's Sacred Forest and is also the home to a very curious and friendly family of small monkeys (we think they are Mona Monkeys)

Between rain (and failed attempts to bring him with me to do actual work) we went over to Songhai so that Erik could take a tour of Songhai while I had my local language lesson... due to this being West Africa.. the tour didn't start until well after my class was over so I joined him (the tour was only 500cfa a person – not bad) the tour guide was really great. Although I am obviously a little over-dosed on Songhai.. I think that Erik really enjoyed the tour.

We have visited a lot of my neighborhood friends – and even made some new ones. Erik really enjoyed hanging out with my Supervisor, where we ate Igname Frites and helped feed his rabbits. We had a really great time at my landlords house one afternoon talking with their family, taking pictures and he even got some free reflexology from one of their friends (no that isn't normal).. And of course he has gotten to know my tailor, local bread lady, and bar and cafeteria owners.

As far as food is concerned we have done a lot of eating in because.. that is what I am used to doing.. but I have made a point for him to get to taste as much local fair as possible. We went to two restaurants in Porto Novo that are popular with Peace Corps Volunteers. Java Promo is a nice restaurant located near The National Assembly (and the gardens) and Erik tried Igname Pile (with Peanut Sauce) a Benin specialty found more frequently in the North. We enjoyed vegetarian chwarma at a restaurant near Ouando called Esperence Maquis (1500cfa for a chwarma plus soda). Erik enjoyed his meal here so much we even went back a second time. At Songhai we stopped for drinks and sampled locally made soy milk and my personal favorite baobab juice and snacked on (another personal favorite) Voandzu from the Bean lady across the street. We have had all sorts of beignets and fried foods.. Erik now understands my ridiculous addiction to bissap (a popular hibiscus drink). He has sampled sodabe... enjoyed a Peace Corps style taco feast.. tried most of the local beers.. and has eaten spaghetti omelets at my neighboring cafe.

I can't believe how fast his visit here is passing by.
Next week we are going to try to make a few day trips to see more of Benin.

Lots of Love

Answers for April "C'est quoi ça?" post are now available HERE (at the bottom of the post).. and Erik will be bringing home a tub of All Natural Shea Butter for fcrum!!!  - - Thank You Everyone for participating <3