April Rains

Published by Brian on

It’s Easter break now and things are pretty quiet. School is off for a week, partly to give everyone a break, and partly because the rainy season is just starting so many families are sending their kids to the fields for planting. We’ve had a couple of more rainstorms, but nothing too strong. The biggest change is that there is a lot more cloud cover in the sky now, which is helping to keep things a little cooler.

The next couple of months will mostly be wrapping up projects for me, although I’ll be doing a lot more travelling than usual. Sometime this month my neighbor wants to take me on a short day trip to Savé, which is a city maybe 40 kilometers south of me.

Savé is known for two things. Well it’s known for one thing and then I know a random fact about it that I find interesting. The main thing Savé is known for are its hills. It has a whole series of rocky outcroppings that jut up hundreds of feet. They are these massive imposing things that seem like they should be from Lord of the Rings.

The other thing that Savé should be known for is that it’s the furthest town to the north that the Kingdom of Dahomey conquered. Before colonization Dahomey was the major forest kingdom in southern Benin, and had a rather explicit policy of expansion based on their founding legend.

When they got to Savé, the northern Borgu Kingdom (site of the infamous “race to Nikki” between the French and English), swooped down to force them out. The reason northerners were successful was simple, they had cavalry and Dahomey didn’t. Sleeping sickness and the Tsetse fly made it impossible for coastal kingdoms to support any sort of cavalry.

We Have a Winner

A couple of weeks ago we had our local spelling bee to see who is going to the national competition in June. I was pretty happy with how things turned out. The kids did pretty well, the boys’ side went I think 5 or 6 rounds before I had to break out the killer words (ie sweater). The girls’ side only lasted a few rounds.

Our boy winner was actually one of the younger students in the competition, so he was a little bit of an underdog I guess. But he is a good student, and I know his parents and they actually do a good job encouraging their kids in school (which is not so common here). Being younger he can be a little timid, so I’ll have to build up his confidence some.

Our girl winner is my smartest student, so her winning really wasn’t much of a surprise or anything. She is one of the girls I took to camp last year, and is all around very smart, very hard working, and very motivated.

The next month or so will be spent with final preparations. I’m going to do some drill and kill as far as spelling goes, but my focus is going to be more on helping them learn pronunciation, and try to teach them some of the general rules of spelling. We still haven’t fully funded the competition, so if you are interested in helping support it, here is the link again.

After our local competition was over, I was walking back to my house and one of the older boys who lost was walking along with me. Like kids all over the world, Beninese kids can be sore losers, so I was ready for complaints of “you gave me harder words,” or whatever, but he was good sport.

What was interesting, though, were a couple of comments he made. First, I had mentioned that at the national competition there are going to be kids from all over the country, city kids, town kids, rural kids, everything. This student remarked that basically we don’t have a chance going up against city kids.

There is an idea here that the cities are so glamorous, and more importantly, modern (ie European), and that people from cities are just so much smarter/wealthier/better. In my experience there are some very smart city kids, but that’s probably just because there are more of them. The overall distribution is the same if you move between city and rural kids. Still, it was another example of how people look to the city as Shangri-La, and shows some of the mentality that leads to brain drain in the Beninese countryside.

The Road to Dassa

Another big event that I have coming up before the end of my service is the girl’s soccer tournament. Last year I helped ref the tournament some, but this year my team of girls will be competing. Practices have been going pretty well, and I have a lot of confidence in our team right now.

We’re still doing twice a week practices, but we’ve had a lot of interruptions the last month or so with school breaks and testing. Another problem has been the school’s annual interclass soccer tournament, which is happening right now. The school’s right sized field is always being used for the tournament, so we have to practice on the small field.

Our biggest challenges right now are conditioning, which I have little hope of improving given how much they fight us on any attempt at conditioning, and goaltending. Our goalie needs to have some more one on one time; we haven’t really done a good job of working with her specifically. She is no longer afraid of the ball though, so that’s good. We just found out one of the girls can really boot the ball, so I think we’ve found a sweeper.

The tournament is in the end of May, so we have some time still to work on getting the team ready. We have twenty something girls showing up to practices still, so at the end of the month we’re going to decide on which girls we want to send. Also, we’re still looking for some funding for the tournament, so if you’re interested in helping out, here’s the link. Your donation will go towards feeding and housing the girls for the tournament.

End in Sight

Our classroom building doesn’t have much more to go. The carpenter put the roof on a couple of weeks ago, and our foreman has started putting up the doors and windows. He claims that he only needs a week to put in all the finishes and painting and whatnot, but I think that is fairly optimistic, best case timeline. Still, progress is clearly being made. I forgot to take any pictures, but next time I put up an update I’ll throw some pictures up too so you can see how the building is coming.


Susan Enlow · April 9, 2015 at 3:14 pm

Congratulations Brian on all you’ve accomplished in Benin. You should be incredibly proud of yourself and your students. Best of luck in spelling and on the soccer field.

Diana Michlitsch · April 11, 2015 at 8:39 pm

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, BRIAN IN BENIN!!! WowI can’t believe its getting close for you to come home. Take care of yourself. Love, Aunt Diana

    Brian · April 12, 2015 at 10:33 am

    Thanks Aunt Diana, see you and the family in a few months!

Douglas Williams · May 3, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Singing in the rain is a fine pastime Brian. Looking forward to seeing you at home. Just toured your next home … the jungle kingdom of La Jolla. It will also be an adjustment but I know you are up to it.

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