Sunday, September 29, 2013


One of the big concerns when you are getting ready to go into the Peace Corps is – how on earth are you going to keep in contact with friends and family at home???

There are lots of romantic ideas about letter writing – packages taking a year to get to you – sending mail with exotic postage – phone calls once a month... or less..

In reality it is really easy to communicate cross continent in the year 2013. Even to the third world.

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin I generally get to speak to my family every week. Mail moves much quicker than expected and rarely (but sometimes) gets lost en route. Technology advances have made communication seem almost science fiction – for example when I am using my MP3 player to have a face to face conversation with someone on the West Coast USA.

The reason for this post is I recently (within the last month) discovered how to use the “FaceTime” technology on my Ipod – and it has changed my life. Skype chat never works with the internet here – but for some reason FaceTime works great!!!


Ipod: If you are going to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin (and probably most of West Africa) an Ipod or an unlocked Iphone with wifi capability is a really brilliant idea. The Peace Corps workstations in Benin have wireless internet. Which means that you can chat with all of your friends who have Iphones at home and also use FaceTime!! Which is a really scary but really amazing invention. The volunteers who are lucky enough to have Iphones are able to pay for a monthly internet plan that goes straight to the phone.. no wifi needed!

Skype: Skype doesn't always work as well as you would hope. Ipod FaceTime works much better. Skype is really great for chatting and having conversations with your friends. It is just nice sometimes to have a free conversation in real time. The face to face thing -- not so much.

Internet/Email: We live in the day and age of “internet keys” a usb internet device that you charge with phone credit and then plug into your computer allowing you (sketchy but doable) internet access to your email and facebook accounts. Just be sure that you load everything in the html or mobile versions or else you will end up spending a fortune. The internet doesn't always work.. but it still allows many of us to check in with family and friends at home way more often than we had ever dreamed possible. Well at least for those of us who get good enough “phone coverage” in our villages. (It also lets me to communicate home with things like.. this blog!)

Cell Phones: Everyone in Benin owns a cell phone. Every volunteer owns a cell phone. Most of us have multiple numbers (one for work and one for other volunteers) – this also allows us to still be connected to the outside world if one of the networks goes out or we are in a dead zone. This wonderful device not only keeps us connected to home but also connected to other volunteers in ways that would have been really difficult if we had been volunteers just decade or two earlier..I can't imagine living here without my little nokia flashlight phone.

Snail Mail: aka snack food delivery system. With all this technology and communication you would think that the old fashion snail mail wouldn't make the list.. but really there is nothing like a hand written letter to give and get updates. We all are way more connected to home than we ever thought we would be, even just with the ease of cell phone use – but letters are still nice.


I can't even imagine what it was like to be a Peace Corps volunteer before the age of cell phones and internet. Technology has definitely changed the experience, but it has also enriched it in many ways. Making it easier to share, and to provide cross cultural understanding.

Sometimes I wonder, based on the technology here, if when I get home everyone in the States will have advanced to telepathic communications.

Either way my mind will be blown by things like voice-mail and fast speed internet.


Friday, September 20, 2013

A Year At Post

A year ago today I moved into my house in Misserete. 

Here are some pictures of how my house looked (after I got everything moved in) on the first week -- and how it looks today after living there for a year!! Well.. everything but the bathroom because that looks exactly the same. 

Tables and Chairs and Curtains and A BED! 

The Way In

Living Room





Back Patio

I also updated what I miss now list!

Sunday, September 15, 2013


It has been a really long week of party planning and party prep AND I am exhausted!!

I'm not going to write a big long post this week. I am just going to say Congrats and Du Courage! To all the newbies who swore in on Friday – Thank you guys for making your Swear-In Party such a great success!!! Good luck at post!

For everyone at home I was going to a picture post about swear-in and setting up for the party that we (The Peer Support Network) threw on Friday night for all the new volunteers BUT my camera was stolen.

So instead I leave you with a picture of my giant party weave:

Love You
- Z

Sunday, September 8, 2013

1 Dollar

This weeks post was all planned out and then I lost pictures in an Ipod mishap :(
I was able to “replace” most of them -- It's not QUITE the same but I will live
I did lose the picture of pineapples – so I will add a new photo later this week! 

This is 500cfa. It also comes as a coin (but the bills are crisp and newly minted).

500cfa generally equates to one US Dollar.
I make about a handful of those a day –
There are lots of things that you can buy for 500cfa:


Four Baguettes, One Ride Between Porto and Cotonou, Get a Boumba Sewn (Fabric Not Included), Knockoff Sunglasses, Bubbly Water (aka kitten entertainment), 500cfa Phone Credit = 50 Text Messages, 1 Kilo Flour (or Sugar), Fancy Owl Sandals, One Large Beverage (Beninois or Coca),*MIA* 5 Pineapples.

This week I would also like to send out a big thank you to Stage 24.

The group that came the year before me (24) has officially closed service. The last non-extender has left the country. 24 had a crazy number of extenders (12 I believe!) so they haven't completely left us to our own devices but it still feels much different now with most of them gone.

I learned a lot of things from my friends in 24 – aside from how to not go crazy. They taught us the importance of laughing at the end of the day and not to take ourselves to seriously. The Peace Corps is hard and some days are terrible – some weeks are terrible – but other times it is great. They taught us it is ok.. as we fumble shamelessly through local languages and cultural differences. How to fearlessly trek around West Africa on zem bus or taxi.– They reinforced the idea through their own experiences that everyone's Peace Corps is different – every village is different and every project is different. They were there to tell us through out training (and even through those early months at post) that no matter how miserable (or how great?) we were feeling IT WAS PERFECTLY NORMAL! Every single volunteer from group 24 welcomed us with open arms and taught us everything we needed to know. They were amazing friends and mentors and I can only hope that I can be as helpful to the new group as the old group was to me over the last year.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

September Already?

Happy September Everyone!!
I'm not gonna lie the weather isn't changing here.

Papaya Kitten has gotten much bigger over the last two weeks - - he is eating his kitten kibbles like a champ and even got his rabies shot on Friday!!

Not really much to report on – I started the week off with a normal Monday morning meeting. Tuesday I was super busy trying to get a tree count, transplanting lettuce and onion seedlings with one of my farming groups and checking in with some other farmers nearby. Later that afternoon I joined the trainees as they did an insecticide training with one of my newer groups (whose veggies look wonderful by the way!!) I was really surprised to see that they made nice little placards for the crops they are growing with me – I will have to remember to bring my camera next time. I spent most (and by most i mean barely a day and a half) of my week in Cotonou getting some things done that required internet and eating some much needed Cotonou food. The week ended strong with a trip out to another volunteers village to help with a tomato conservation (jarring) formation followed on Friday by various Misserete escapades and friend visits – including of course the visit by the vet that Papaya was thrilled about.

A big portion of my down time the past few weekends has been taken up with the PSN Bakesale. The PSN Bakesale is an "annual event" that takes place during training (since we have a captive audience of Americans who would kill for cookies and cake!) My house (due to my location) has become a sort of hub for all things bakesale related during the training weeks - I have had a few overwhelming days but I do love helping out.. so in the end the stress of a few burnt cakes is completely worth it! The proceeds of this fundraiser go towards the Swear-In Party. A party that PSN throws for the trainees after they swear in as volunteers to celebrate the fact that they made it through training. Training is rough. The party is well earned. We have been trying to switch up the baked goods each week (although chocolate cake is hard to replace) and so far we have offered chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake, chocolate cake :-P, and lemon pound cake (which magically appeared out of a lemon cookie recipe – you never know what will happen in a make shift oven) –  This week I am planning on brownies and pineapple cake – but it might just end up being chocolate cake again if I can't find any pineapples!! I really do love to bake I just prefer to do it in the land of real ovens and grocery stores. Brownies AND chocolate cake? Why not.

Anyway, nothing fancy this week! Just a brief update.
I would say it was a typical week.. but that isn't true.
Those don't really exist here. (Why do I feel like I've said that before?)

Miss Home and Love You All