Sunday, July 28, 2013


The last few days I have been sick with a bad cold. You know the whole deal sniffles, sneezes, body aches, runny nose, coughing and a sore throat. I am feeling a bit better today, so no worries or anything. It's just being sick like that really makes you wish you were home, or at least in a place where there are the comforts of home. Someone to tuck you into bed and brew you a cup of tea. The possibility of a warm bath. A refrigerator full of easy to make food for when you aren't feeling well enough to venture to the market yourself. Or just someone to give you a big hug.

Apparently this led me to more list making ---
So like last week, I am going to give you some more lists. I like lists.. I hope you do to.
This week it isn't a reading list. This week I'm going to talk about comforts.


Comfort Items I Packed From Home

Photographs: I know in the past I have mentioned the importance of having a photo album for showing neighbors. In the Beninese culture, it is normal to pull out family photo albums of big events to share with your visitors. Especially if it is a new acquaintance. I know that most of my friends and neighbors have really appreciated me sharing my photos with them as well. It is more than that though. It is also an important thing to have for yourself. I keep photos up on my walls. That way I don't have to sit and open a book to think about home, I have all these great memories I can just look at whenever. Sometimes you don't even realize you need to see your best friends smile until you happen to pass it on the wall and you feel 100 times better than you did a second before. 

Comfy (and warm) Pajama Pants: I get cold really easy (yes even in the tropics). I am the type of person who will quickly adjust to 90 degree weather, and then when it drops to 85 I will be bundled like its 70. So in packing to come here... I packed for tropical weather, not taking into consideration that by month 3 I would be adjusted and wishing I had packed some warmer clothes. I wasn't thinking ahead. I did however buy a really comfy pair of lounge/pajama pants in a last minute packing crisis target trip. These pants have proven to be one of the only clothing items from home that I still wear regularly even thought they don't leave the house. When I am sitting around, I can be comfortable, and that is important.

Computer: This is an obvious one.. and at first my paranoid half wasn't sure about even listing it. Then I realized that anyone who reads this blog OBVIOUSLY knows I have a computer. So whateves... Anyway as a member of my generation – my netbook is a necessity. Not feeling well? Watch a movie. Stressed? Play a game. Have some thoughts but you live in a country with horrible gridded paper?.. No biggie just type it up. Your handwriting is atrocious anyway. For example. I couldn't post on this blog every week if I didn't have a computer. Even if there are some weeks when I don't want to write, in the end I am glad that I have this blog as a sort of time marker, or set thing that I have to make myself do each week. Kind of like getting out of bed in the morning.

Comfort Items I Bought In Benin

Overpriced Soft Pillow: I didn't pack a pillow. I am not a pillow person. That is probably funny to my parents because I own tons of pillows. Seriously though, for sleeping I don't generally use one. I like them for sitting. Or for propping myself up while reading. I also like them for hugging or throwing in my sleep – the latter being what usually happens if I fall asleep with one under my head. Anyway.. I didn't pack a pillow, and then I promptly bought one, and it makes me happy. 

Electric Tea Pot: I bought an electric tea kettle at a local grocery store. This allows me to make tea after dark without having to go out to my kitchen to boil water. My kitchen is attached to the house, so going out to it isn't really a big deal. However it is somewhat open, and on the other side of my back patio. I can now avoid the mosquitoes and the waste of gasoline that previously caused me to not always make myself a cup of tea during the hours that I normally want to drink one. All I have to do is fill it with water and plug it in.

Pagne: A pagne is a 2 meter piece of fabric. You can not be a volunteer in Benin and avoid owning at least 5 pagnes. This fabric can be used to have clothes made of course, but a two meter piece is also ideal for a blanket, or towel, or exercise mat cover, or a table cloth and so on and so forth. I like things I can wrap myself in when I'm not feeling well. Like blankets. So as basic as owning a pagne is, kind of like eating beans and rice, it still makes the list as a super important comfort item.

Comfort You Have Sent Me

Letters: Believe it or not, letters aren't a one time use item. Did you send me a funny story? I can always read it again if I need a laugh. Thinking of you but I can't call.. maybe I will just reread one of your letters and it will almost feel like we got a chance to chat. Unlike emails, I can hold them in my hands and they are still there if the power is out or the internet is down. Letters are good for smiles.

Nail Polish: This is NOT an invitation for EVERYONE to start sending me nail polish. The reason I don't need everyone to send me nail polish is that I have one really amazing awesome friend who already has this task covered. As far as a comfort item, the reason this (somewhat obscure) care package item is making the list, is because sometimes after a rough day you just need to pamper yourself. Sometimes, putting on a new coat of nail polish while you watch a favorite old movie is just the way to do it. Sometimes you just need to feel pretty, and believe me after you put on a new coat of nail color, all the mamas in the marche will have positive feed back to give you as well. Nail polish, not only comfort but also approval from the mamas, can't go wrong with that.

Snacks & Candy: This goes with out saying. Nothing beats food from home when you are stressed, homesick, real sick, or even just worn down. I don't think I really need to elaborate on that.. but maybe just say thank you again for everyone who is doing their best to keep me well stocked.


Like I said, I'm not feeling 100% so that's all for this week. If I am feeling better I will do a post some time this week with pictures or something. I know everyone likes when I post pictures.

Love and Miss

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Reading List

So I know this is kind of a lame excuse for a blog post.. but I saw some other people do it and thought it was a good idea for a week when I have little to write home about (or at least little to blog home about).

One very good use of PCV time is reading. In the day and age of the electronic book reader.. we are able to carry many many books around with us at once.. so we are able to read lots and lots of books.

*books books books*

Top 5 books that I have read (in order of appearance):

The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula Ruin
Loved this book. Loved the idea, the story, and I love that I thought to read it because it was quoted in one of our Peace Corps workbooks.. just saying. If you enjoy sci-fi... I think you should read this book. The reason it stood out to me at this point in my life is because of the theme of cultural understanding (or misunderstanding?) and communication. I was able to relate to that feeling of being completely lost and out of place.. luckily I'm still on Earth. Seriously though, this book was amazing.

Lamb – Christopher Moore 
I'm not a super religious person. I don't generally enjoy religious themed books. This book was suggested to me by another volunteer.. and I picked it up as a paper back to carry around with me. This book was HILARIOUS and well written. Exactly the type of book you need on a bad day.. when you have very little to cheer you up.

The Princess Bride – William Goldman
If you know me, you know I am a huge stickler about reading the book before watching the movie.. or TV show.. or what have you. In this case, I was a little hesitant to read the book because.. OBVIOUSLY this is a movie my entire generation grew up knowing by heart and loving every line. Except for one thing (which I'm not going to give away on here!) I want to say that the movie was completely true to the book. Not only was the book an enjoyable read.. but after reading it.. I appreciated the quality of the movie even more (which I didn't think was possible!) And as for that one difference.. I think the change was the right decision for the film.

The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton
Another paper back I picked up in the Peace Corps library (all of our workstations have really well stocked library's full of books that past volunteers brought along and then left behind. It is really wonderful). The Outsiders is a quick read (not just because it's short – also because I didn't want to put it down). A coming of age story about greasers. Completely unrelated but I was surprised to see that this book was written by a girl (based on the subject matter -- I know I know) and more surprising was how young she was when she wrote it!! Really well written. I have yet to see the movie.

Breakfast at Tiffany's – Truman Capote
Like The Princess Bride.. I have seen this movie many times, and was a bit hesitant to read the book. In the case of Breakfast at Tiffany's I liked the book way better than the movie. I thought it was more realistic.. and more thought provoking than the movie. I still love the movie... but the book is definitely better and was really surprised by how much I actually enjoyed reading it.

Books I am currently reading:

Existentialism From Dostoevsky to Sartre – Selected and Introduced by Walter Kaufman
I always am in the process of reading at least one “physical” old fashioned hand held book – for situations where I might not feel completely comfortable pulling out fancy electronics. Especially since most Beninese people swear up and down that you are using an I-Pad when they see your Kindle no matter how hard you argue the fact. – This book is a collection of existentialist essays. I just finished Notes from Underground – so not very far yet, but I am really enjoying it.

1776 - David McCullough
This is a book that has always been on my reading list. So I started reading it on the 4th of July.. because I am also a bit of a nerd. Unfortunately, I haven't had much time to sit and read the past two weeks. I hope to finish this book next week. I love historical books.. so this is a very refreshing break (which I needed) from Game of Thrones.

A Dance With Dragon (Book 5 Game of Thrones) - George R. R. Martin
To be completely honest I am not enjoying this book series. Each book has been a struggle with lots of required breaks... and I just want to be done reading them. I am being stubborn and finishing the whole series with the hope that maybe something will click and I will start enjoying them. We shall see. It is funny because I really expected to enjoy this series.. it seems right up my ally. Up there on the list for biggest reading disappointment during my Peace Corps Service.. it isn't alone though so don't worry. Please, don't crucify me over this.. but I just don't get the hype.


Does anyone have any suggestions of what I should push to the top of my reading list for my next reading enjoyment?? Most of you should know this BUT just in case – I generally enjoy Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historic Fiction, Non-Fiction and Children's Literature.

Missing my book club girls <3

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Longest Month

I honestly CAN NOT believe July is half way over.

Last July was easily the longest month of my life.. I know that I am not the only one here in Benin who feels this way and I know that all of the new trainees are probably feeling equal or at least similar to how we felt last year. So, it is really crazy to me that I feel like they just got here (even though they should be getting their site announcements in 10 DAYS!).. when I know they probably feel like they have been here a year. (Sending them all a mental DU COURAGE!) Honestly, – Arrival in Benin to Site Announcement – felt like it was at least a few months for me. Every time any of us go back and look at the calendar from last year, we are all always surprised by how short training actually was.

That is all.
Just a thought.

Love and Miss

Also..While I'm online..  I updated the "What I Miss" list last month and never mentioned it.. so fyi.. that's HERE.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Amour & Vie

Amour & Vie is a program run by ABMS/PSI. The focus of this program is getting the message out to the Beninese population about health and sanitation issues, mostly by getting teens and young adults interested in these important messages. Using the project Amour & Vie – ABMS/PSI distributes a monthly magazine about sexual health issues for teens and they also do a radio show.. occasionally they also throw events and do tours of the country.

Peace Corps Benin partners with ABMS/PSI for what they call the “Activités Communautaires Amour & Vie” – aka community activities. ABMS  wants to reach out to villages and Peace Corps has lots of Americans living in these villages praying for something useful to do. Match made in heaven.

Every year there is the opportunity for 12 non-health volunteers to select a community team and participate in this program (all health volunteers do this program but their training is separate).

A community team is: 1 Community Counselor – someone who lives and works and is respected in the community.. and 2 Peer Educators – two “high school” students from the community between the ages of 18-24, one girl and one boy, who will be in charge of going out in the community and giving health demonstrations.

The reason (I think) this program is so great is that, while I organize the team and am here to monitor the team for the first year.. it is not MY team. It is their team. They decide what they want to talk to the community about and what groups they want to focus with. I am just here to report back to Peace Corps and ABMS on their progress. The program also gives an amazing opportunity to the two students who over the next year will learn to be leaders, become very comfortable speaking in public (about sensitive subjects at that!), and who will hopefully also become looked up to by their peers. People in the communities are much more likely to really listen to these community groups then to me (if I were to give the present the same discussion or demonstrations).. aside from the fact that they speak the local languages.. they also live in the village and understand life here in a way that I never will. They are the heart of this program.. the future starts with them.

This past week was our training (a very long week of training and all of the new Peer Educators were really really awesome!!) The community groups learned about HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Family Planning, Nutrition and also Diarrhea (specifically infant diarrhea) and how to present these topics to groups in the community. There were some amazing guest speakers who stopped by, and a really dynamic team from last year who came in to talk to the students about their experience as an Amour & Vie team. By the end of they were doing practice demonstrations... and we even went out into Parakou to practice working with real people (as opposed to just practicing in front of the staff and volunteers). Even the really timid students were comfortable and confident presenting in front of each other. This made me feel great about the training, since even if the teams fall through or don't go as planned, as occasionally (but only occasionally) happens.. all of the students learned some truly invaluable lessons this week. Lessons that will stick with them.

Now it's time for my team to start planning our Kick-Off Ceremony for August!!

I can't wait!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Phone Etiquette

In America.. we are a little crazy about our “phone privacy” so to say. We can see who is calling.. if we don't know the number it is possible to look it up online before calling it back (especially if they didn't leave a message).. we can leave a message!! We are generally picky as to who we give our personal number out to.. business numbers are more public but we still regulate to the best of our ability.

In the US.. I personally am a huge stickler about what calls I answer. If I don't know your number, I will not answer. I even make a point to tell people when I give them my number. If I don't know your number, and you don't leave a message, I will not call back.

When we make phone calls, except for an occasional long call to a close friend or family member, we keep our talks short and simple. We aren't big on formalities. These days many people will just send a text and avoid the conversation all together. Why waste time on the phone when you can just send out a text “Restaurant 5 o'clock” and be done with it.

This leads me to the point of this post. In this country greeting and talking with acquaintances is a huge part of the culture, and as some of you know from trying to call me, voice mail does not exist. Someone might call 10 times, but since you don't have an answering device, you don't know why they called, and most often it is for no reason at all except that at 1 am they decided they just HAD TO call and say hi.

I don't really consider this a bad thing. It is really nice that people call to just say hi and ask how your family is and how work is going. It is a concept that has become almost completely lost to us in the US.

On the other side of this.. there are some things that (as an American) drive me up the wall.

As an American.. I do not appreciate you calling.. because you got my number from someone or somewhere, and since I may or may not know someone you know (and since as an American I stick out like a sore thumb/ most people who have ever known an American think that they know me too). If you don't know me. Don't call me. DO NOT call me and when I say “Hi, Who is this?” Respond with “What is your name?”... if you don't know my name.. why are you calling me. Also, you are speaking way to fast and I'm probably going to hang up. If you do know me, I'm sorry, but then again, you wouldn't be asking for my name.  **This also goes for Beninese men who think that they might be able to get me to go out on a date with them... or help them get to America.. just because they know I'm an American and they got my number from somewhere. Do not call me.

As an American.. I do not appreciate the beep. Since there is no messaging system, and since you  “pay as you go” and have to go out and buy phone credit every time you run out.. people beep you. Basically, it is when you have enough credit on your phone to make a call, but not enough to actually talk. SO you call, let it ring once and hang up.. and often you do this repeatedly. The reason this is infuriating (as an American) is that some people will just do this because they don't want to spend their own money talking to you. However, they have no real reason that they are calling other than just to say Hi. – As I mentioned above this has become a foreign concept to the American.. and quite frankly.. we feel that if you just want to say Hi.. call with your own money. That might come across a bit insensitive.. but when someone beeps me 10 times in a row. As an American, I assume something is wrong. If I stop what I am doing, go out and buy credit, and call you back and its nothing, I will be friendly as a peach on the phone, but I am secretly boiling up inside.

As an American.. I don't understand why you called three times last week just to say Hi.. but can't be bothered to call and tell me the meeting is canceled.

As an American.. If you call me super early in the morning or super late at night, just know I'm probably not going to answer. That being said, I also might forget to call you back in a timely manner.. since I was half asleep when you called.

As an American.. I don't understand why you can't just send me a text.


Monday, July 1, 2013


Kudo jiji zan ce sin xwè!
Happy Birthday Me!

Woah. 25. I may or may not be in denial over that one.

Anyway, I just wanted to post a big giant THANK YOU to everyone who sent me birthday cards and birthday packages. – Thank you for all the birthday emails and birthday messages. – I wish there was a way for me to express how much it all means to me to know I am so loved. To the volunteers here in Benin who went out of their way to celebrate with me over the weekend (even though you are in Africa with me and probably won't ever read this) THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

Really.. Thank you for everything. Not just on my birthday. Everyday of the year!

You are all awesome.