Published by Brian on

They call this time of year vacance, and since I don’t own any farm land it’s basically dead time. It’s the heart of the rainy season (more on that) so people are out in the fields all days planting. This means that the village itself is dead pretty much all the time, no one is around, nothing is happening.

And even though it’s the rainy season, we haven’t been getting a lot of rain the last couple of weeks. It has been noticeably colder though. Like need to sleep with a blanket cold. Haven’t felt that in a long time. It’s overcast pretty much all day though, which is making it a little cooler.

They’ve just finished harvesting the first crops of the rainy season, lots and lots of corn and peanuts are available. People just randomly hand me plates full of freshly roasted peanuts.


Summer Break


So school is now officially done for the summer, and with that I have hardly seen any kids. Before there were always 4-5 kids hanging around the concession where I live, but now it is just my landlord’s two daughters who are both a little older.

Long story short, this is fantastic. For the most part the kids go into the fields with their parents to work during the summer, but sometimes they’ll go to live with family members in the city (also to work). Either way, it is a lot quieter now that kids are gone, and I for one like it.

There also isn’t a whole lot to do during the summer though. Obviously there isn’t any teaching, the school is shut down, most other teachers have left to spend the summer in the city, and the administration is occupied with other things. This means I have a lot of time on my hands now, which I’ve mostly been filling with reading and working on my language skills.




Two weeks ago was Camp GLOW (Girls Leading our World), a girl’s empowerment camp that the Peace Corps runs in Parakou. I brought along three girls from my village. I later learned that the rumor going around village was that I was taking the girls to America, which I find amusing and alarming.

We met up with another volunteer in our market town who was also bringing three girls, and piled into the taxi to go on our way. My girls were pretty excited because for two of them this was their first time going to a city. Unfortunately the ride up to Parakou was a bad start to the week. We saw a motorcycle accident maybe twenty feet in front of us that resulted in the guy on the motorcycle dying pretty much immediately. Never pass on the shoulder, and wear your helmet (although the helmet wouldn’t have made a difference in this case).

So that sort of put a damper on things to start, but once we got to Parakou things started to pick up. In all there were 15 volunteers and 55 girls. Everyday the girls had three different session covering a variety of topics, off the top of my head they had sessions on leadership, study skills, entrepreneurialism, nutrition, sexual harassment, women’s health, goal setting, so on and so forth.

I helped lead the sessions on leadership and study skills. Fun fact, in French there is no word for leadership, but at least conceptually people know what it is. In addition to those sessions they also fun activities, so a lot of team building games, and elective sessions on sports and arts and whatnot. So I also lead sessions on handball and volleyball everyday, which totally makes sense since I’ve played those sports and am totally athletic.

All in all it was a good week, the girls definitely learned a lot and had a fun time. A lot of girls (not mine) were crying when the week was over. After the camp we had some time to kill before going back to village so I took the girls to market in Parakou (which is large and sort of a tourist attraction since it is regularly featured on Beninese television).

After we got back there was a school wide assembly where the administration sent off the kids for the summer (basically they told them what work needed to be done to get the school ready for the summer i.e. where they should move desks and stuff). During this assembly the surveillant called up the girls and had them give a short speech (which they didn’t know about ahead of time) to the school. Speaking in front of all your classmates, especially when you aren’t expecting it, is always kind of tough, but they did a good job.


World Cup


Like everyone else in the world, Beninese people love them some World Cup action. I’ve tried to follow the games as much as I can, but TV’s aren’t exactly widespread in village. Basically I only now one person within a reasonable distance with a television, that is my landlord, and if he isn’t home, which he never is during the week, then they never watch TV.

I was able to watch a couple of games in Parakou, though, which was a cool experience. In Parakou they have a lot of large traffic circles, and in them middle there are these grassy areas where people put out tables and chairs, and then go buy street food and get a drink. It’s basically an outdoor seating area. Anyways, during the World Cup another thing they’ve been doing is putting out a huge projector and screen and showing all the games.

It seems like public viewings are the main way that people watch the World Cup here. Whether it is in an outdoor venue like up in Parakou, or twenty-people huddled around their neighbor’s TV, nobody watches by themselves or with a small group of friends.

I kind of like this public aspect of the games, and I do think it helps contribute to a greater sense of community. Although, I would also say that the only real reason they do it is because most people can’t afford their own TVs, if they could then I doubt they would still watch in large groups like this, but I digress.

An elderly man from my village came up to me the other day to say that he had been cheering for the US because of me, and then he switched to cheering for Brazil. He also told me that Africans are better at soccer than white people because look at the French team.

The other thing with the World Cup, though, is just a reminder of how sparse people’s geography knowledge is here. I drew a map for a bunch of the kids a couple of weeks ago to show them where all the country’s are located, I’m pretty sure they still don’t believe me with Uruguay.

There’s one kid who lives around me who constantly asks geography questions. Where’s the Netherlands? Do you have to go through America to get to Europe? What’s the capital of Germany? Yadda yadda yadda. I don’t mind answering them, but I’ve started to get annoyed when he asks the same questions more than once, so I told him to just go to the market and buy a world map. He hasn’t done it yet but I’m hopeful.


One Thousand and One Flights or Operation Fronds of God


Last weekend I had my first run-in with locusts. They’re terrible, I hate them, and they’ve forced me to rethink my entire bug strategy. So far the major drawback of the rainy season has been the runaway proliferation of bugs and insects. I don’t care for them, but they’re typically easy enough to avoid and manage. Locusts, however, are governed by no sense of reason.

Last Friday night, after a seven-hour meeting at the school (that’s right, not seven hours of meetings, but one single meeting that lasted seven hours straight. I could go on another rant here about how Beninese people approach meetings but I’ll save that for another day), I decided to make some dinner. It was right around sunset. I decided to make mac and cheese so I started up the burner to get some water boiling. Now, typically when I make mac and cheese I like to throw in a couple of scrambled eggs to add some more protein, so while I’m getting the water boiling I crack a couple of eggs and scramble them in a pan, waiting for later.

It started. Slowly at first, like water dripping from a faucet, the locusts came. At first there were only a few of them, no real problem since by now I’m used to critters being out while I’m cooking. But they just didn’t stop coming, their numbers rising and rising like retirees at an old country buffet.

Then they started dive-bombing into the boiling water, by this point I had added some pasta, and scrambled eggs. And yet their numbers grew. I feverishly labored to clear their kamikaze pilots from my food, and it took every effort to just keep up with the as a steady stream of curse words flew from my mouth.

I did all I could to minimize their surprise attack; unfortunately I had to remain reactive to their attacks. I covered my food, and attempted to withdraw to the shadows, removing myself from the hot zone and planned a counterattack.

At about this time I noticed the spiders in my kitchen, just sitting there, motionless. For months the spiders and I had nursed an uneasy alliance, I would permit their existence and in exchange they would help me control the insects. For weeks it had become clear the spiders were free-riding on our alliance, and as I watched them gaze upon this locust Pearl Harbor buzzing around us, motionless, uninterested in offering even a pittance of aid, it became clear that the spiders could no longer be trusted, they had lost all credibility.

My food was nearing it completion point, it was time for me to map out a strategy. I could kill the lights and hope they flock to my neighbors, but then could I reasonably add the cheese and scrambled eggs to the pasta in darkness. It was doubtful I thought. I decided to try and brave it out, but I would spare no locusts, give them no safe harbor.

I began walking back to the stove, the crunch of locusts under my feet sounding my arrival. As I look down I can see some of them, now wingless after getting trapped under me feet, attempting to crawl back behind their lines. They would never make it.

I finish up my food just as fast as I can, retreating back into my house, which thankfully has only been minimally compromised by the locusts. I’ve already begun mapping out how I shall equalize the spiders, their betrayal still ripe in my mind.

The next morning I commence Operation Fronds of God, which has the dual purpose of clearing my outdoor space of the locusts’ dead, and removing the current spiders from my house. I go through everywhere and knock down all visible spider webs, and wash out the webs in my kitchen and shower with some water. I also sweep up the dead locusts that litter the ground. I leave them as an offering to the only alliance I have left, my longstanding agreement with the lizard king Alafia.

As I look back on this engagement, I wonder what can be done next time to improve my results. I’m reminded of the lesson from the smash hit motion picture WarGames, sometimes the winning move is not to play. If the locusts come back I will be barricading myself inside my house and surviving off of peanuts and uncooked oatmeal.


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