The Day-to-Day Adventures of a PCV in Benin

Okay okay, let me be clear this is a gross generalization of the daily activities of a Peace Corps Volunteer. Every PCV is different and every community is different. You know what scratch that; this is just the daily life of me, as a PCV, in Agoua, Benin!

So I live in a small two-room house in a lovely, homey concession. I have electricity, well you know except for the habitual power outages that occur every few days (and always when whatever electronic device that I actually want to use runs out of battery). But I’m not complaining, kudos to all my fellow PCVs who have to go to neighboring villages to charge things and have a 8pm bedtime because they can’t really see anything after that. I also am very lucky and have a toilet, which once a day I pour dirty water down to flush it. But I do not have running water, which makes life a little interesting. Once every two or so days, I make a short walk across my concession (about 25 meters) to the well. Usually when the kiddos in my concession see me head for the well, they run after me to help. I have yet to master the skill of cranking the lever as blissfully as my neighbors (but it’s getting there!!), thus, they like to help me. From time to time, the rope gets caught on the outside of the wheel, so we have to climb on top of the well and put it back. Luckily the well has doors or it would be quite a dangerous task. Now, most Beninese women and children (I would say men too, but the truth is one hardly ever sees a man fetching water; there are many reasons for this, one being that water is usually used for cooking and other household chores, which are predominately the tasks of the women and children); as I was saying, the most common practice when transporting large amounts of water is to lift the bucket on to one’s head and balance it. It frees up the hands to do or hold other things, one doesn’t look all lopsided when walking, and there is no stopping to switch hands. All in all, it’s a pretty ingenious multi-tasking technique. I have never seen someone do as many things at one time as some of the Beninese women, whom I have encountered.  But this is no easy task to master. Even just helping another person put a water pail on her head can be deceivingly difficult. I’ve had the unfortunate luck of helping a kid put the bucket on her head without anticipating the speed at which she lifted, thus pouring a large majority of it on me (mind you these are not small buckets, this bucket in particular had the radius of 12 inches and the depth of 6). So after I’ve cranked the well bucket (full of water) back up to the top, I awkwardly hold the lever in position (not wanting to drop the well bucket back down the well) and grab for the well bucket. It also takes a small amount of depth perception abilities to try and actually pour the water into the bucket instead of all over the ground and one’s feet. Then for a minute, I contemplate how I should carry the bucket: the awkward lopsided American style or the graceful Beninese style. Taking in to consideration that the women, in my concession, might sympathetically chuckle at me because they know it would be loads easier if I just put the bucket of water on my head. What they don’t understand is I have not had years of practice mastering that skill and so I fear if I attempt to put an uncovered bucket of water on my head it will spill all over me. And so after toying with my options, the decision to look foolish and lopsided is made. When I get back to my porch, I bring out my bucket of dirty dishes from the day before and proceed to do them with as little water as possible (interestingly enough it really doesn’t take as much water as I thought it did before having to go through the above steps to get water). After doing the dishes, to keep my front yard looking as nice as all my neighbors’, I sweep my dirt. It’s kind of like mowing the lawn. I take my Beninese style broom (which is a bundle of dried grass that stands about knee high and is tied together) and in a curve like motion I sweep the dirt as I walk backward making sure to cover the steps I’ve made. Once I have finished my bucket bath, I decide what to wear for the day. This can depend on if I’m making the 15-minute walk to town or riding my bike. Also, will I be taking a zemi (moto-taxis) that day? I love wearing a paigne, which is a traditional Beninese style wrap-around skirt that is tightened around the waist and tucked under. There are no zippers or buttons, and only little girls have them made with cords. The tuck can be difficult to master at first (so I had cords on my paignes), but once one gets the tuck she’s good to go and can graduate from having the childlike cords. But there is one problem, it’s pretty impossible to bike in one and, again, takes a sort of ability that I have yet to attain to wear one on a zemi. But if I’m just going to the Health Center to help with infant immunizations or prenatal consultations, I like to make the short stroll into village. If I walked like a New Yorker (for some reason I have this stereotypical idea that they walk faster than us Texas folk… not sure why?), I could get to the center of town in about 10 minutes. But as I pass each house, I am stopped with salutations, which I always return. This makes the journey much longer and much more enjoyable. I am, also, stopped by clusters of little kids standing across the street yelling the name of the volunteer who I replaced. If I am feeling courageous, I cross the street hoping the whole time that they won’t run away in fear (just because they can say hi from across the street does not mean a Yovo striding toward ‘em won’t scare the living crap out of ‘em). If I’m lucky they won’t be scared and I can tell them my name and that the other volunteer has left. Although, there is no guarantee they will understand, seeing as kids don’t usually learn French until they start school. But with a pleasant surprise each time, I usually hear my name before I get to the Health Center, at which point, my day is made J! Normally, I arrive to the Health Center at about 9:30 am and the culturally awkward and personally amusing events don’t stop there… but this blog is already long and hopefully I’ve made someone laugh a little, so I’m gonna laisse ca.  But life is different here than it was in the states. It’s not worse, it’s not better. But it does always seem to keep me amused and smiling (even if it is at myself).

2 thoughts on “The Day-to-Day Adventures of a PCV in Benin

  1. It sounds like you are doing amazing in agoua! Reading ur post made me smile – that village, for better or worse, will always have a special place in my heart. Soak it up and live it up as much as you can bc believe it or not ur gonna miss it sooo much one day! So happy you replaced me and so proud of you. Call me or text me if u need anything (724 584 2715) or email/fb me. Love ya!

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