My parentals, friends of the parentals with two little kids, an old friend (pww), and I met on the fabled spice island of Zanzibar for a fun weekend in the sun.

The weekend began with espresso.

We had our own house on the hill above the beach, but it is the streets of Stone Town that we wandered. Narrow streets. Old stone buildings. Carved doors. Hanging lanterns.

Cane juice. Add a little lime and fresh ginger and you have a drink that is so good it is addictive.

Kikois that are still made by hand. We were told that a good weaver could weave up to 20 yards of fabric a day.

Good food. What else is there to say?

Photos that I don’t have: SCUBA diving on the northeast coast. Swimming in the ocean. Hammock between two trees. Playing Candyland with the kids.

parents: a top 5 list

A week with my parents and we were able to explore Benin from the south to the north, from the east to the west. Much could be said about this week, so I have reduced it to a top 5 list. Thanks Mom & Dad for coming!

1 – Meeting the Team
My parent’s first night in Benin was spent relaxing in Cotonou meeting this year’s team (minus CR who had stayed in village). When we entered the section of the hotel where our rooms were I heard several squeals as the girls busted out of their rooms. Even though it made her uncomfortable, RC managed to use my parents first names. Later in the trip mom made the following comment, “I knew it would be wonderful to get to know your village, but I had no idea how wonderful it would be to meet your girls.” Yeah, I love them too. (Picture: the village team.)

2 – Village Life
The morning after they arrived we tackled the visa situation and then headed north to village. During our 45 hrs in village we got to go to market, greet a ton of people, eat my favorite village foods, listen to a big rainstorm early one morning, work with a couple people from another village to finish training on one of the water quality monitoring instruments, go for a walk, deliver gifts, take outdoor showers, get bit by mosquitoes in the latrine, sleep under mosquito nets, and say goodbye. It was packed, but it was perfect. I do not think I could have asked for anything more. (Picture: Me and Dad in front of some of the beautiful rocks & trees near my house in village. Our clothes were made locally with fabric bought at market during previous trips.)

3 – Beautiful Land
Benin is beautiful. As the country is not large, we were able to drive most of the way north and almost east to west as well. I think the most beautiful regions are where I live…the beautiful hills that give the Colline Department its name are fantastic, and at the north (north of Natitingou) where there is a stunning mountain pass. This was my first trip north, so it was exciting to see how the land, villages, and people changed. (Picture 1: Me & mom in front of the lower waterfalls in Tenengou, on the border of one of the national parks in the north. Picture 2: Mom & Dad relaxing.)

4 – Rich History
We stopped in Abomey, the ‘capital’ of the Fon people, which was the largest Kingdom in old Benin, where we toured the palace. Benin’s original name was Dahomey, after this kingdom. In the south we spent some time in Ouidah where we saw a Portugese slave trader’s home and did a tour of the slave route. In the US of A the history books seem to start on the slave boats, but the story began long before that with a rather dehumanizing process that occurred along the slave route. For me, these pieces of history are important as it creates a framework for both history and the modern culture. (Picture: Monument at the ‘Point of No Return” where the slaves boarded the ships for the Americas.)

5 – Cassa del Papa

The second to last night was spent at a nice, European / American style hotel. Only 7km from Ouidah, the hotel was located on the beach, had several pools, various other forms of entertainment, hot water, big towels, and great food. It was perfect after nearly a month in Benin for me and a week for my parents. We were able to be lazy around the pools (there is dangerous undertow along the beaches in Benin, so we enjoyed the pools while listening & watching the surf crash), play some speed scrabble, and just relax. Oh…and my first big breakfast in a month was eaten in the morning. It was luxurious. (Picture: View from our balcony of the storm rolling in just before sunset.)

back to cotonou

A week later and the trip is just about done. I have a few more hours with mom and dad before they leave tonight and then I leave tomorrow night. Since last writing we had several days in village, I said a tearful goodbye to my dear friends there, we travelled most of the way north, then back down again, did a few tours of historical areas, and had a fantastic 24 hrs at a nice beach resort. Over the next day I hope to write a few blogs with pictures to give you a snapshot into all that has transpired during this trip, and will post them as soon as I land myself in the US of A. Thanks all for following me with this last journey through Benin. Much more to come on Friday…

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 😉

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.


This afternoon I was sitting on my bed sporting my zip-off pants minus the pants legs and my newly shaved legs (running water and a private bathroom and room at the hotel allow such luxuries). My elbow is rested on my knee when the sickie / recovering individual (hereafter refered to as SRI) points at my knee and says, “look!” I start looking for a spider, a bug, a rash–something that should not be there. Moments later SRI begins to laugh. While I am still trying to figure out what is going on, SRI says something to the effect of, “Your legs really are white.”

I try and explain to people what coming out of an Indiana winter and then wearing pants and short sleeves almost all the time in the African sun does to a body–a truely impressive farmer’s tan. The laughter lasted several minutes, and I am sure the laughter will be revisted the next time my legs are in public view.

footrests — 28 may

Most people complain about airplane seats being closer and closer together. Not that I am a fan of this trend—particularly as it kills one’s ability to recline the seats very far, but I do not find this to be a problem for my short legs. The problem that most seem to completely overlook is how far the seats are from the ground. While this is not an issue for all of you with longer legs, it is amazingly uncomfortable and not good on the legs for us short ones. So my question is this: which airlines have footrests in economy class? I have just started creating a list of good and bad airlines based on whether or not they have footrests from my recent travels. My bad list includes Delta, Northwest, and American Airlines. The good list currently includes Air France and Emirates. A frivolous list to many, it will be appreciated by some.