1. 600 days in Benin

    This is going to be a weird blog post to write. It’s about to get real.

    I was medically evacuated to America in December. I was sent home to get treatment for anxiety and depression that I had been suffering from for many months. I have previously eluded to how difficult things have been since I returned to Benin after my vacation to America in August. I was not in a good place in September and October and I would often feel anxious, sad, lonely and depressed when I thought about how much time left I had in country versus how much work I had (which was not much because my grants were not being approved for bureaucratic reasons).  I doubted Peace Corps as an organization, the whole development mechanism as a whole, and my role in the two.

    Thankfully I had my aunt’s visit to look forward to in November and it was wonderful having her see my life in Benin, but I was still feeling terrible and it reached a point that I didn’t even want to be around people. On December 19th I left Benin not knowing if I would return. Taking that med. evac. was the best decision I ever made. I felt instantly better once I was home, surrounded by loved ones. Of course it was wonderful to be home for Christmas and New Year’s, but most importantly I was really comforting and reassuring to know the depression I was experiencing was situational and not some internal issue. I was offered medication, but instead I sought the help of a counselor. On February 4th I returned to Benin after 6 weeks in America.

    Maybe this information is too personal to share on a blog post, but I know there are a lot of volunteers out there who are in worse situations than I was in and they are not handling it well. I want everyone, especially volunteers, to know it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. I should have done something about how I was feeling much earlier.

    From here on out, I am taking things a day at a time. There still things I want to do with my remaining time in West Africa. I checked one of those things off last week: I completed a 200 km bike ride from my village to our regional workstation. I realize that I will not achieve a lot of the projects I wanted to do, like the beekeeping and latrine projects, but I am going to do more personal projects, like traveling. I am also giving myself permission to leave early if I ever go back to feeling the way I did before.

    Finally, I should say that I would never have even made it this far in my service if it wasn’t for my fellow volunteers. I am always amazed by their resilience, positivity and kindness. And also, thanks to my supportive and loving family. You are all way too good to me. And Mr. Geoffrey Tomas, I could never thank you for enough for your love, friendship and partnership.

     

  2. 17 months in Benin

    I’m going to save you all from reading about my frustrations with Peace Corps and just briefly say that work has been virtually nonexistent for the past 3 months due to grant issues and the government shutdown. Without further ado, here are some fun things I’ve been up to. 

    I’ve been traveling around Benin and other West African countries recently for work and play. In October I attended mid-service conference in Grand Popo (gorgeous beach resort with all my volunteer friends = awesome) and then continued on to Togo and Ghana with a friend to take the GRE and be a tourist. Then in November my aunt came to visit! We stayed at another fancy beach resort, visited Biguina, attended Kandi Thanksgiving, went on a Niger river boat trip with a good group of people, headed over and up to Park Pendjari to see all the animals, spent Thanksgiving in Nati and ate a delicious dinner of… french fries. Today we’ll head back to Biguina for a few days and then on to Cotonou to catch her flight out.

    In December I am planning on visiting a friend down south for a couple days before heading to Parakou for a training on the new mosquito net distribution project. For Christmas and New Years I am planning on joining a group of volunteers heading up to Burkina Faso. January will bring Voodoo Day and Gaani Fete, both very important traditional celebrations in Benin and rest assured, I will be celebrating.

     

  3. 15 months in Benin, 1 year in Biguina

    I’m been struggling with writing this blog post because these past 6 six weeks back in Benin have been harder than I’d like to admit. I’ve tried to get projects and activities lined up for the next few months to keep me occupied and I’ve been met with some success and some failure. 

    The latrine grant that I came back and busted out has had me on an emotional roller coaster because I really am invested in the success of this project. There’s too much to tell at this point, but let me just say this has aged me and embittered me. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel and I think this thing is going to happen, even if it means I’ll have grey hair by the end of it.

    Beekeeping grant is on the back burner for the time being and I’m not thrilled about it. The problem is that I already have a food security grant at the moment (chickens) and I can’t have another one until I submit the completion report, which I can’t do until they hens start laying eggs. I guess this means that I won’t be able to make the hives until early next year, but by that point I won’t be here for the first harvest.

    I have decided to use all my free time (since I don’t have any projects to work on right now) to study for the GRE. I and a friend will be traveling to Accra, Ghana for a few days for the test and some beach time and spending a few days in Togo as well. 

    My aunt will be visiting from Nov. 13th to Dec. 2nd and I am outrageously excited about it. We’ll be doing the standard tour: Cotonou, Ouidah, Biguina for a few days, Nati, the park, Kandi for Thanksgiving with the RCH crew, and then back to Cotonou for a few days and a quick trip to Dangbo to see the host family. I should also mention that she will be turning 70 here. She’s the coolest lady ever!

    Still don’t have plans for Christmas or New Year’s Eve. I would LOVE to be home for the holidays, but I can’t afford to fly home again. Despite everything, I am looking forward to these next few months and I hope 2014 brings some projects to work on.

     

  4. Back in Benin

    Three weeks ago I flew home to surprise my parents. After a 13 month absence, I nearly cried when the airplane landed in Boise. The only people that knew I was coming were my boyfriend, brother and sister. Surprising my parents couldn’t have gone any better! My mother cried and asked me what I was doing there (thanks, Janet). My Dad’s jaw just dropped and he was speechless. I’m so happy the surprise went off without a hitch.

    Now I’m back in Benin and I’m going to be honest — it’s hard to be back. Of course the running water showers, driving my own car, eating great food and drinking my weight in beer and coffee was great, but just spending time with my friends, family and boyfriend was wonderful beyond words. I’m going to be pretty lonely for a while, but I’m going to HTFU and power through the next few weeks. I really am excited for my second year, all the projects I have planned and meeting all the new volunteers.

     

  5. "¿Qué es lo que se pierde al cruzar una frontera? Cada momento parece partido en dos: melancolía por lo que quedó atrás y por el otro lado, todo el entusiasmo por entrar en tierras nuevas."
    — Ernesto “Che” Guevara
     

  6. Chickens chickens chickens

    I’m happy to report that the chicken project has been going really well! Construction started about a month ago and it has been progressing nicely. All five frames are up and the mud walls are in varying degrees of completion. We’ve held 9 training sessions, including one field trip to visit a successful chicken raising operation near Biguina. We’ll have 2 more trainings next month and on July 10th (inshallah) the chicks will be arriving in Biguina!

    I’ve been reading less, which i guess means I’ve been busier, but I’ve also been doing more crossword puzzles (I am my father’s daughter). 

    Next week I’ll be participating in a summer camp for girls. We’re going to teach them about nutrition, hand washing, setting goals, journaling, sexual health, self-confidence, etc. The first week of July I’ll be doing a similar camp for boys. Also in July we’ll have another training for our Amour et Vie groups.

    Once the chicks arrive in Biguina in July, the bulk of the project will be done and I’ll be free to start new projects! I’m thinking a lot about doing a latrine project as a continuation of Henry’s project. As a personal project, I would like to start doing beekeeping in Biguina. I’ve had a few meetings with some interested men and some volunteers that could help me out with setup, trainings and the first harvest. Looks like I have some grant applications in my future.

    Thanks again to all the donors! You’ll be receiving thank yous from me soon. As always, I love getting letters and packages! The address is:

    Marjorie Wilson, PCV
    Corps de la Paix
    B.P. 168
    Natitingou, BENIN
    West Africa

     

  7. Peace Corps Announces New Service Opportunity for Same-Sex Couples

    WOOHOO!

    peacecorps:

    We’re proud to announce that we will begin accepting applications from same-sex domestic partners who want to serve together as Volunteers overseas!

    Same-sex couples may begin the application process starting Monday, June 3. 

     
  8. My fellow health volunteers. Love them!

     

  9. May, June, July…

    The next few months are going to be very busy for Henry and I. The grant we received from USAID to start the chicken project has finally been deposited into my bank account and the remaining $2300 was fully funded from friends and family! That means that construction of the coops can start next week! We’ve spent the last month selecting the five participating families, meeting with carpenters and mud-construction workers to finalize the house design, and preparing the training schedule for the participants. It’s crazy to think that we started planning this project back in January and things are finally coming together in May. There will be at least eleven training sessions with the families in June and July. We are hoping to be done with construction by the end of June so we can purchase chicks in July. Henry will be finishing his service at the end of July and we will be traveling to Togo for a short vacation before he leaves. 

    Other than the chicken project (though that is going to be the main activity for the next few months) I’ll be participating in two summer camps, one for girls and one for boys. After both camps I’ll be doing a bike tour around the region and then I’ll be doing a personal bike trip from the workstation in Natitingou to my village of Biguina.

    Can I have a minute to talk about my happiness level in Benin? I’m really, really, really, really happy. I love living here and I am excited about the next few months. After coming back from In-Service Training, I was contemplating extending my service for 6 months or a year. It’s obviously too soon to really make any firm plans about it, but it is on my radar. 

    Thank you to everyone who contributed to my chicken project! I don’t know who you are yet, but I am very thankful and I will send you an email you as soon as your identity is divulged. And, as always, thank you to everyone who has sent letters, packages, etc. You are loved and appreciated. 

     

  10. 6 months at post, 9 months in Benin

    I can’t believe I’ve already been here that long. That means I’m about 1/3 of the way done with my service! A few months away from the one year mark! And everyone tells me the second year flys by! In reality, I still have a long time to go, but I need to stop and remember to absorb all the Africa I can while I’m here. I really love living here (most days) and I feel really comfortable in this country and in my village.

    Actually, I haven’t been spending a lot of time in village lately. In March, my friend Chandler came to visit for 10 days. We spent a few days in Cotonou, then took a bus up to Biguina where we spent two nights. After that we went up and over to Kandi to go to Parc “W” and finally to GAD fete in Parakou. Chandler is a very talented film photographer. Take a look at the pictures he took of Benin here. Chandler’s visit and his pictures made me fall in love all over again with this country. It’s easy to get used to all these crazy things that happen around me (ie riding in cars with cows, eating bush rat, etc.) and it’s nice to look at Benin with fresh eyes.

    After Chandler left, I was in village for a week before heading to a training on live fencing and beekeeping in the northeast of Benin. It was an awesome experience; we learned a lot and it was really fun to hang out in a small group of awesome volunteers. The first day we learned about different types of trees that can be used as natural barriers for gardens and then we helped plant a few rows of seeds to enclose a community garden. Day two was devoted to beekeeping. First we learned about different kinds of hives, the composition of a colony, harvesting and processing the honey, and then we looked at an empty hive. In the afternoon we suited up and harvested honey from a active hive! It was so cool! I got to use the smoker for a large portion of the time and then I got to cut off the honeycomb from the slats. The whole training was really awesome, but the beekeeping was my favorite! I would really like to implement a beekeeping project in Biguina if I can find some interested villagers.

    image

    Here we are preparing to shoot off into space harvest honey.

    In other news, the chicken project grant has been submitted and hopefully funds will be in my account by the end of April so we can get started with construction in May!

    Also, the bike tour we did in February was a great success. Biked 80 miles in 4 days and talked to over 1,000 people about the importance of mosquito nets and saving money. Can’t wait to do another bike tour!

    Our girls’ clubs are going well. Henry and I have both been out of post recently and the girls have had some vacation time as well so we haven’t had very many meetings recently (although I did do a sex ed/delaying pregnancy/condom demonstration with them and they seemed to enjoy it). Hopefully we’ll be able to have a few productive meetings before the school year ends.

    April means another In-Service Training. This will be in Porto Novo, near where I spent the first 3 months in country. IST is most valuable as a reunion for volunteers who haven’t seen each other is a long time.

    That’s all folks. Thanks again for the packages and letters. And special thanks to Chandler for visiting me.