Friday, February 21, 2014

That Time of Year

Lately, I have been getting emails from prospective Benin PCVs asking questions about living and working in Benin.

I love getting these e-mails. It is really great to hear that people are finding my blog useful, and it is wonderful to know that people feel comfortable e-mailing me with their questions. PLEASE if you have questions about Peace Corps or about Benin. Feel free to e-mail me, just remember it might take me a bit to get back to you, this is Africa after all.

Most of the questions that I get around about Benin's climate, and food, and occasionally they are about the application process and Peace Corps in general. So I am going to try to address some of the bigger questions here, (because I know not everyone with questions sends e-mails!) but like I said if you still have more questions, feel free to ask.

The Peace Corps application process has changed A LOT since I applied (yes in this short amount of time) – and honestly I have no idea how the current system works. Over on this side of the pond we have even heard rumors that current invited volunteers are being given options of countries. WHAT?!?? “Back in my day.” We were given one country and we could either take it or not do Peace Corps – and then we walked to school uphill in both directions.

Seriously though, back to Benin.

Benin is a tropical country with two very different climate regions. In the south it is hot and humid (think NJ in the summer time, or probably lots of other places that I'm not familiar with). The north is dry and has a hot season and a “cold” season known as harmatan. I have been told the north of Benin has a climate very similar to that of Arizona's. Both regions have rainy and dry seasons, however the traditional seasons have become out of wack due to recent climate change. How you deal with the heat has many factors, personal factors (such as where you are from and what weather you prefer), post factors (do you have electricity? A fan?) and regional in country factors. We all find ways to adjust to our climates, and it is really funny to hear the southerns complain about the dryness and being cold up north and vice-versa.

The language is more varied than the weather. There are over 50 languages in Benin. That is a lot for a large country, Benin is not a large country. During training everyone will be trained to speak French, and by french I mean African French. You will not start with a local language until at least half way through training, because you will not know your post, and therefore your language, until after French language training is over. The first month is used also for safety and security training, meetings with your program managers to discuss post preferences, and of course for the staff to get to know you so that they can place you well.

I am not going to lie. Food is the hardest part of being a PCV, at least here in Benin, we are not joking when we tell you to pack your suitcase full of snacks from home and buy your clothes when you get here. --- The variety of food, like the weather and the language, also varies drastically by region. Where I am posted I can get beans, veggies, rice, soja, fruit, and most other things year round. I also have easy access to “European Supermarkets” but they are very small and very over priced. In the north some volunteers have whole seasons where they can't even get beans. Volunteers in these villages would not be able to survive as a vegetarian. Peace Corps will not post strict vegetarians in these areas. Most volunteers do not have the access to variety that I have, and I have to be honest I am pretty sick of the food.

Lastly, and most importantly, am I glad I came to Benin for Peace Corps. Yes. I am. 

Peace Corps is hard, and there are really rough times. That being said Benin is a great country with great people. The people are friendly, and generally open to foreigners. Compared to some of our neighboring countries, Benin is a safe place to live. There is not war, and it is very rare that you will hear of rioting. People here want you to be comfortable, and they want you to sit with them and keep them company, even if you can not communicate with each other. People want to be your friend, and in a place where you know no one and nothing, a friendly host-country culture is incredibly important. Peace Corps is hard, but in my opinon, at this point in my service, it is completely worth the struggle. You will meet amazing people and learn more than you can imagine. Your service will change you, in a good way.

If you came across my blog because you are considering Peace Corps or PC Benin here are some of my posts that you might find helful. –

Things to do before you leave... or Thoughts on what to pack and Here.
Vegetarian in the Peace Corps
A wonderful place called Cotonou
What is transportation like?
The Peer Support Network
Long Distance Relationships

And don't forget to check out the blogs that I have linked on the right, most of them are blogs of volunteers that I am serving with here in Benin.


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