I sometimes joke with other volunteers that I have “village envy.” Of course by the standards of anyone reading this in the USA - I live in a village.. but compared to where the majority of the other volunteers live, I don't live in a “real” village at all. I have running water, transient neighbors, electricity, other yovos. and most importantly I live on a paved road.
Misserete can be a great place, and I have learned to make it my home. That doesn't change the fact that whenever I visit a friend who lives in a village – I get that twinge of jealously. The small tight nit community, the village fetes (that the volunteer is actually invited to), a concession full of people who are also part of the community and can therefore help you integrate... women and children who speak the local language with you and help you learn!! When I see the small villages that other volunteers have I can't help thinking to my self “Zoe, this is the experience you expected to have!” Then of course I have to remind myself that every volunteer experience is different, and I am having the one that I was meant to have, whether it was the one I really wanted or not – well that's not really important anymore. At the end of the day (or most days at least) I am happy with the experience I am having and the lessons that I am learning from it.
What brings this up? Well this week I have been traveling the Oueme-Plateau doing “PSN site visits” which means... visiting villages!!! I am not going to go into the whole who and were, because I don't want to interfere with anyone’s security. I share my village on here but that is my choice. I will say, that the places the new volunteers live are beautiful AND PEACEFUL! So peaceful. I wish I could have taken pictures to show you on the blog (have no fear I will be getting a new camera soon!)
My favorite part of going to visit other peoples villages is seeing the personality that the village has. Some villages are big like mine (yet still further away from the big cities and major roads) – some are small – some literally feel like they are just one road! Not everyone has a daily market like I do (or even regular access to fresh veggies – unless of course they work on a farm or grow them themselves).I don't always love eating the village food (I am spoiled city folk) but I love seeing what is available. It is really an eye opener to me. . Some people don't even have bubbly water!!
I love seeing the vodun and statues that are visible in the different villages. Here in Misserete there are small statues, and there are “spirit scarecrows” that go up during the corn season. One of the villages I went to the other day actually had a small shed like “house” for the zangbetos!!! A lot of villages have guardian houses (where spirit protect the entrance to the village) and most villages have statues like the ones found near me. Sometimes small business will have statues, or there will be memorials to something from the past (in Ketou a larger town, up near some of the volunteers that I visited this week, there is actually a sacred trash pile!!) My favorite statue in Misserete is a statue of of Africa with lions located in front of the Maison de Jeunes. Why is it my favorite? Well.. because the artist felt the need to give the statue real whiskers, obviously.
When you live north of well.. almost everything is north of me.. so just when you live north. You always have reasons to come south and many people have passed through my village and slept at my house. I am on the way to Cotonou – where we have to go to see administration, have medical exams, and to get on an airplane. In the reverse direction, from Cotonou, I am on the way back to village. There is also a lot of training done in Porto Novo (which is the city that I live in a “suburb” of), so people come through here a lot. Which is awesome in many ways but it also means I rarely have a reason to go North, and because of where I live, I think I get a very skewed view of the rest of the country. I mean, I know the rest of the country isn't like the cities, and there is less money, and less available.. but it is hard to really understand that without seeing it.
PS – I found a (small) pumpkin at a veggie stand in Cotonou, got excited and brought it home.. and have no idea what to do with it!! I can't really roast it on my stove, it would take too much gas. Any suggestions? I know all you brilliant people can come up with something.