Friday, June 29, 2012

My first week in Benin

Bonjour tout le monde! 

I’ve experienced so many changes and new things since my departure this past Saturday that I don’t even know where to begin.

Last weekend was spent in Philly and packed full with Peace Corps orientation stuff, though I did get to do some sight-seeing (saw the liberty bell and where the constitution was signed!).  I arrived late Saturday evening and upon arriving to my hotel was immediately greeted by a group of other excited PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) who I spent the evening eating Philly cheese steaks and having a couple beers with.  There are a total of 67 of us PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees; I know all the acronyms are confusing so I’ll try to just stick with PCV.  Technically I am not a volunteer though until I successfully complete 3 months of training and swear in on Sept. 14th). 

After about 30 hours of traveling, I finally arrived in Cotonou, Benin around 8p Tuesday evening, one iPod short of what I came in with as I somehow lost mine in transit.  Sorry dad, I can already hear you yelling through the computer screen at me for this one.  I was initially on an adrenaline rush of excitement the first night which quickly turned into hardcore jetlag which I’m still trying to get over.  The PC allowed little time for us to rest as we’ve been expected to be up and moving at 6a every day this week.  Though I’ll try to keep my complaining/gross health details to a minimum throughout my blog, I will say that I can tell I’m in for a real treat throughout the next 27 months as my digestive system is already showing signs of sensitivity and feeling completely out of whack.  I’m hoping this is just an adjustment period :/ 

On a positive note, being back in Africa has been everything and more than I expected it to be.  As cliché as it may sound, all of my doubts about PC completely vanished immediately stepping foot on African soil and I know that this is exactly where I am supposed to be at this point in my life, everything just feels right.  Though there is such a large group of us in training, everyone’s been super friendly and we all have a lot of the same interests and motivations in life and have bonded a lot over that.  All of the staff have been very friendly, supportive, and understanding as well which has been great.   I feel very taken care of and guided here so far which in some ways has been annoying, though also makes me feel very safe now and in the instance of an kind of emergency.  Benin is a relatively stable and secure country compared with the majority of African countries and they have good relations with the U.S. government, much of which was explained to us after meeting several higher ups at the U.S. embassy in Benin including the U.S. ambassador.  Very cool stuff!!  The main safety issue we have to fear here is transportation as in many developing countries it is CHAOTIC with little structure.  The main mode of transportation is on motorcyles, or “zemis”, and we happen to be the only country which PC allows its volunteers to use as they are considered so dangerous, though are really necessary to use in order to get around Benin.  We were also outfitted with our own (required) helmets and mountain bikes which I am so excited about!  The mountain bikes aren’t very practical in the city but will be great when I’m at post and have to travel to various sites and villages.

We’ve arrived during the middle of the rainy season in Benin and we’ve definitely been experiencing the brunt of that.  Yesterday morning it rained heavily and constantly for several hours which delayed all scheduled events for the entire day as the roads are virtually impassable and everything just kind of shuts down for the duration of the rain. 

Today I will be meeting my host family and will stay with them until I swear in on Sept 14th and am then assigned to what is called a “post” where I will then live for the remaining 24 months of service.  Though most of the PVCs are going to be living in the capital city of Porto Novo during training, there are roughly 15 of us Rural Community Health Volunteers which will be living in a town about 15km outside of Porto Novo called Dangbo.  The PC says that this is to get us used to living conditions which will be more similar to those that we are likely to experience at our assigned posts.  I’m dying to know where exactly I’ll be posted and what work I’ll be doing, but I won’t find that out for another month.  Until the end of training my days will be filled with language, cross-cultural, safety, and technical training. 

I’ll leave it at that for now and will try to post more updates after meeting my host family this weekend!  My access to internet right now is very limited right now, but I’m hoping that there are some internet cafes near my host family’s house. 

 I’m missing everyone back home, but rest assured that I’m having the experience of a lifetime.  I feel so blessed to have this opportunity at this point in my life.  PLEASE feel free to write me if you’d like!!  Here’s my address:
                                           Teresa Tufte
                                           s/c Corps de la Paix
                                           01 B.P. 971 Recette Principale
                                           Cotonou, Benin (Afrique de l’Ouest)

Also, if sending packages, we’ve been told NOT to have people send items through DHL or Fed EX as we are charged a VERY hefty fee on our end (between $200-300!!).  The best route is to just use USPS.  I’ve also been told that if you write various messages praising Jesus/Christianity on the package like Bible verses or “I love Jesus”, that can prevent the package from being broken into and stolen (which I find pretty hilarious but definitely ingenious). 

Au revoir du Benin J