arriving and the devaluing dollar

I have often been asked why I have not toured Paris given the number of times that I have transitted through Paris. Thus far, it has simply not worked out. But, my experiences in their airport have not moved me to make any great efforts either. Points of interest different from previous trips this time include having the equivalent of the TSA people being on strike making me spend 30+ minutes waiting in the secruity line even though I was just transiting and waiting to bord the plane to Benin because a student almost did not make the connection. We figured that it would be bad to leave an undergrad who did not speak French in France on her own for a couple of days… I guess the upside would have been two unexpected days in Paris with LS.

But, we are all here. Our luggage should all be here tomorrow night, so this only puts us a little behind schedule. (For the record, my luggage made it, so I have not broken my record of all luggage arrivinj for business trips. Too bad this luck does not roll over to personal travel.)

The devaluing dollar. Yeah. How much do I not appreciate my government every time I travel and get less money when I make the exchange to local currency than I did the previous trip? I will refrain from pages of thought on this given that I am typing away on a French keyboard right now. I guess the upside is that the wad of cash I get when I exchange money is little bit smaller so makes me look less pregnant in my hidden wallets.

on my way

I am sitting in the Atlanta airport, an hour before we will start the flight to Paris. SR, RC, and LS should be at their respective airports getting ready to fly too, so in a few hours I will be meeting up with the ladies that I affectionately call ‘my girls’. If you read this blog last year, you heard some about them, though I created random names for them with each post…. this year you will get to know them by initial as per their request–I believe some of their loved ones are reading the blog this year, and so they will get to know a few stories before the girls have internet again. (One of the joys of my job is that I have the emegency email, so get to check it on the satellite system.)

So…for my first update of my girls, SR gets the prize for not having called me yesterday with any random questions about packing or traveling. She also gets the prize for being the last to register with the Embassy 🙂

In othe rnews, I think I remembered everything originally forgetten in the packing, but time will tell on that one. A shorter trip that requires less equipment, and my bags had so much space in them relative to past trips. Here is a list of the new stuff traveling with me that you might find of interest:
-Orange i-pod shuffle (music–a beautiful escape)
-Lime green fleece (I am tired of being cold on planes)
-Blue (w/disgn) ‘buff’ …. look up ‘ buff’ on REI if you are curious

I think that is all worthy of mention. In case you were curious, the colors are important 😉

chinese food and laughter pre-6am

This morning I was up at 5am after nearly 9 hours of sleep. By the time I got to the hotel last night I was not overly coherent and was thankful to make it to 8pm before I gave up and crawled under the fluffy down comforter of the king size bed in my room here in D.C. So at 5 am when I was awake, hungry, and finishing getting caught up on emails and people’s blogs, I grabbed my left over General Tsao’s chicken and stir fry veggies from the window sill (figured they would stay at least a little cold there), and figured I would work on the last blog entry for this trip. That is when I found out that my blog has been updated to ‘new blogger’ and that I do not have access right now. So, this will, like all the other blog entries, be sent to my lovely brother so that he can update it for me… 

What all happened when I was up north and there was silence on the blog? In a nutshell: we took water samples using old technique and a technique that has never been used the way we (successfully) used it, had meetings with the village and the local branch of the water organization I work with to let people know that my trip to Benin in May will be my last and that the project will then be handed over to Steve & Moussa, and I tried to greet as many people as possible. In the capital we managed have more meetings, lots of work with the anthropologist working with the project this year, and do a little bit of shopping. I even managed to get my toes and fingernails painted ‘with designs’ during the day before I flew out.

What does this all mean? For the research and the project, it was a good trip. For me, it was a whirlwind and hard trip. I only got to spend one night in village. I am so thankful for my one moonlit shower and dinner under the stars, but not enough time to just ‘be’ with my friends. It is the beginning of the end for me in Benin. It is hard to hand over a project that so much has been poured into, the schedule exhausting, and sad to think of saying farewell to trusted friends. But it was good to return. It was bittersweet.

My next and final trip is planned for around May 16 or so. I will be in Benin for about three weeks of work followed by one or two weeks of pleasure travel. One or both of my parents (depending on work schedules) will be joining me for that time to meet the people and explore the place that has stolen part of my heart. I hope to see parts of Benin during that time that I have not yet explored and also hope to say a good and proper goodbye to my friends. So, until I return to Benin in a few months, I am signing off.

feeling like a villager….

The trip up north was a whirlwind, which I will write about later as I am only several hours from heading to the airport.

So, for now, a story from last night.We were at a dinner with the NGO we work with to celebrate what was accoplished this trip and the foundation it laid for new work. As much as is possible with the little I have with me, the hair and make-up were done, a skirt and jewlerry on. Before our dinner comes I am straining to hear people as the open night air swollows their voices and one man speaks Belgian French. A different accent that I struggle to understand in any circumstance. Then dinner arrives and I am faced with a half a barbequed chicken and fried bananas. I look at the chicken and attack with my knife and fork. It takes about two seconds before I am stealing glances around hoping, wishing that someone will pick up their chicken with their hands. It seems like a century of attempting to attack my chicken when someone finally puts down their fork and I sigh as it has suddenly become acceptable to dive in with my hands. Oh how I wanted to be in village where I can understand the French and silverware is optional if available.

More from Washington in a day….

geology and electricity

Yesterday we visited a village to see if it was a good sight for drilling. Friends used to laugh at classes that I took classes that ended with ‘ology’ like geomorphology, but I was smiling at them as I looked at the land with Steve and talked with the locals looking for clues as to what we might find below the surface. Unfortunately things did not look good for drilling with our small rig. This was confirmed by the geologic map last night and at a meeting today where we looked for data of other wells drilled in the region. Hopefully we will have better luck at the village we visit tomorrow.

Electricity. This trip has had the most sporadic electricity of any thus far. Apparently Benin is not being so good about paying the electric bill to Ghana (we get a lot of electricity from them thanks to their hydroelectric dam). Last night the electricity cut out at about 2330 and did not come back on until 730. A breeze and I can sleep, but warm, humid air, and I dream of a cross breeze or a fan. As there is no chance of a cross breeze in my room here, I am dreaming of electricity tonight…

In other news, we head north tomorrow and the papya I had today was fantastic.

le pili pili

Day two and we are still on track, and I am feeling spoiled with the internet acess.

Last night I made a request to go to Le Pili Pili, a nice local restaurant that has fantastic grilled fish with the special ‘pili pili’ marinade. The type of fish you ask? The type that tasted good and had more than enough for three people. Topped off with fried plantains and Fizzi Pomplemouse (grapefruit soda), I could not ask for much more.

Wish there was something more to report or some great stories, but it is really ‘life as normal in Cotonou.’ Maybe there will be something good after a visit to a new village this afternoon…

fast track in africa

The trip was uneventful with the only let down being flying Delta trans antlantic. It is the first time in a long while that I have not had my own personal tv, and then they did not bother to even show a movie on the projector–just crappy tv shows. But seeing as that is all I have to complain about, I should stay quiet.

We have had the most efficient arrival as far as getting started on work. The car situation was already worked out, we had a short meeting last night, and one today so far. We should have a mixture of meetings and checking out villages for drilling Tues thru Thurs, and will end up in Dassa Thurs night. Friday will be the first day in village (while Steve will stay at a hotel in Dassa, I am hoping to get a night or two in village), and we should return to Cotonou Mon or Tues. In village we will be taking samles (we get to pound through the soil to do these ones)have meetings with the various people we work with, and I hope to swing by the other four villages that I work in as well. Then we fly on Wed. AKKKK…..does anything happen this fast in Africa?

As for Cotonou and the expected weather–I was told it was going to be dry. Funny. Although I was still able to sleep fine, I definitely beg to differ about the humidity. Maybe it will be different as we go north to Dassa. Until then, my hair is large and frizzy, my skin recovering from the cold dry Indiana winter, and I am happy to say that the 90+ degree (F) temperature difference from Indiana is a good one.

thunderous roar — 14 july

As I write this all conversation is drowned out by the thunderous roar of the rain on the metal roof above my head. It is the type of rain where windshield wipers cannot keep up, where much rain is harvested off of roof tops, and where stepping outside for a moment means being drenched to the bone. It is the type of rainstorm that you hear coming not necessarily by the thunder, but by the sound of the rain falling on the trees in the distance. It is a beautiful sound.

A cool breeze blows in one of the few windows still open.

This afternoon we had a good rain (though not as glorious as this one), and I got a treat. If it rains hard enough for long enough, my front porch (smooth cement) becomes like a slip and slide. Last year there was much laughter and cheering when I joined the kids in this endeavor, and I feared that I would not get to enjoy it this year. I am glad that I can say that I remembered the technique from last year and my hip bones remain unbruised.

So I sit contentedly listening to the rain as I prepare for the last day of training number three (which is going very well).

red dirt road — 12 july

Most of the ‘non-major’ roads here are dirt roads, many of them red. When you turn off the North-South highway to head to village, you are on just such a road. Approximately six kilometers later you stumble upon my village after passing three other villages, the last one 2-3 kilometers away. The house I live in is on the back edge of the village, so when I get up in the mornings I can slip out of the house, greet a minimal number of people, and head for a nice walk down the red dirt road. This allows me time to stretch my legs, see the land and the fields, think, and be refreshed. It took a long time for people to understand what I was doing, but it is an expected and known thing now, and it seems to make people smile.

With the recent trips and training further away, I have not been out on my road nearly as much in the past two weeks—it is precious time I have missed. There are always people headed to farm that I greet along the way, and sometimes there are kids that fall in line along beside and behind me. Today I saw three little friends that have taken to a new, fun practice when we happen upon each other in the mornings.

When they see me they start running to be the first one there and open there arms wide. They then get a hug as they are twirled in the air. Whether they are the first one, the last one, or the middle one to arrive, they all get this treat—a treat on our red dirt road that I believe we will all miss during the coming year.

[editor’s (a friend) note: i do not believe this posting contains any allusions (other than the title) to the catchy country song “red dirt road.” this belief, however, has not stopped the song from playing repeatedly through my brain as i read the blog. i wonder if other readers will endure the same mental radio…]

2 unpleasantries in 1 day – 10 july

Yesterday at the end of the church service, every one stayed around for a little reception afterwards as a child had died a week ago, and we had bri (porridge) of acasa and some people had drinks (I have still managed to decline local alcohol). You have to understand—I really am not a fan of acasa to start out with. Acasa is made from yams (white root – not American sweet potatoes) that have been dried in the sun, then pounded to powder, then rehydrated to form a starch that is eaten with the various sauces at lunch or dinner. It is kind of like Jell-O jigglers that is white with no good fruity flavor. With sauce, I now have no issues with it, though do not choose to eat acasa when at restaurants. Now….bri of acasa. Ouch. All the lack of (or questionable) flavor with (maybe?) a hit of sugar with NO sauce. And, an extra large serving of it because well, I am a guest. Why didn’t they make bri of maize? Bri of maize is similar to cream of wheat, and I make it regularly for breakfast here. Needless to say, I was quick to decline the extra serving I was offered when I got to the bottom of my bowl.

The second unpleasantry was for one of my students. We’ll call her ‘fizzi-less’ (FL) for this entry. She hates anything fizzi: soda, champagne, and probably beer. It makes her tongue hurt and it is hilarious to watch her face when she has a sip of something fizzi. I thought we were going to make through our time here without her getting a soda as a gift from a village that she would have to drink, but last night killed that track record. We were all promptly given warm Cokes after the meeting with the new village. She was coaxed through it, but managed to drink the whole bottle without a look of pain on her face. FL is keeping the bottle cap as a remembrance of her first and (she hopes) last Coke ever.

it has been a while… 10 july

Since I last updated you on life in Benin. As per usual, nothing goes exactly as planned. The most interesting change of plans that affects a lot of things is the loss of one of the villages I had planned to work with on the first day of the last training. The training itself went quite well, and I was once again blessed by a wonderful meal at the end of the training. Since the finish of training Sat afternoon, I have had two meetings with a new village, and will be doing a third training there this Thurs–Sat I will only be training four people, so I should be able to do shortened days there, which will free up some time for other things.

The new village is near my village, and has inquired about the training before to one of the water committee members from my village, asking for the project. They were incredibly well organized at the last visit, and I am excited to work there. My chauffeur commented that he did not think that we were going to be able to find a new village to work and actually get work done with how little time I have left, so God is gracious. He also commented on the unity he saw in the village. As he actually understands Datcha, all I can say is that God is gracious.

cotonou again

Hi all.

I am in Cotonou again, though am about to leave, so looks like I will be able to keep this trip to about 24 hrs. Had to get a few medical things sorted out for the ‘ulcer girl’ (UG), which I believe are presently sorted out. Hopefully new meds will do the trick and she will be full of energy even after eating in a couple of days.

Besides that, things are going well. The first training went well, and we were treated to a fantastic meal cooked by people in the training the last day. A feast: rice and red sauce, black beans, boiled egg, some fish, and a piece of bread. I practically had to be rolled out of there, especially after helping UG finish some of here meal too!

If all works out, I will have a story about popcorn for you in a couple of day…

upcoming trainings

The first training will happen this Thursday thru Saturday, the second training is the following Thursday thru Saturday. Each training is hosted by one village, and another village sends four individuals to the hosting village for the training. As the villages are within a 30 minute drive, we travel to and from the villages. During the lunch breaks the first I will also be doing some sampling that needs to happen, and surveys will occur this Sunday afternoon at two villages as well. My time will be full, but before it all I get the glories of market day on Wednesday.