Sunday, October 3, 2010

One Down, One, Maybe Two Years To Go

::raises hands above his head as he looks over the crest::

I think this is the beginning of the decent on this two-year Beninese rollercoaster. AHHHHHHHH!!!!!! Ok. That was lame. But, I think you get the picture.

Firstly, I want to thank all of those who sent me love over the past year. In all its forms. And secondly, I want to thank all of those who sent me tangible love in the form of packages, most expecially. The toothpaste they have here has more BPA than fluoride in it and the razors are sure to give me tetanus. I ate bacon bits for dinner one night and another night I just had croutons. I hope this exemplifies just how much I appreciate and NEED your love. :-D

So, a lot has happened over the past year. I moved to Africa. I made new friends. I sharfed. I started learning a new language. I was a teacher. I, theoretically, taught someone something. I wore funny outfits to work. I saw a scorpion. I killed a scorpion. I jumped in a waterfall. I petted a lion. I met people from Uruguay. I ate wildebeest. I went to the World Cup. I learned to kill a chicken, eat with my hand, cook with a Dutch oven (hee hee), and poop in a little hole in the dark with a flashlight. It’s hard to imagine that just over a year ago I wore suits to work and worked out at a gym. Now I wear absurdly patterned clothes to teach in a grain silo and pull water from a well. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it this far. But, with your support, and a lot of reading and yoga-ing, I have made it this far.

After the World Cup ended I had to come back and do all my grades. Thankfully one of my coworkers returned a favor and helped me grade some of those exams. I have almost 300 students. I keep all my grades on my computer in a spreadsheet, so they didn’t need to be calculated. The work wasn’t too onerous, just tedious. I spent a few weeks here in Kerou eating yam pile and pulling water, then went down to Porto Novo to welcome in the new group of volunteers, a bittersweet experience. Welcoming in a new group of volunteers inherently means you’re saying goodbye to those who were here before you. To me, most importantly, it was saying goodbye to my postie and girlfriend, Karina. Not easy.

I did my thing during training and taught the new PCVs how to teach in the Beninese system, what it’s like in Benin, what food to eat, where to buy great cheese (Dassa), what I thought I did right, what I know I did wrong, what is “sharfing,” and hopefully imbued the right tools and attitudes onto them so they’ll become great volunteers.

Seeing all these new faces undoubtedly conjured memories of my training. Thinking about how I would be after one year in. How many lives I will have changed. How many times I’ll have had diarrhea. I remember just being in the initial planning stages for the World Cup and how excited I was; oh how the experience lived up to and exceeded all my expectations. I remember being excited for my new postmate and how amazing she turned out to be. It’s such an exhilarating time in your life: the training for a new adventure.

Well, I had no idea my training would equip me with the tools to grow comfortable with a lot of weird things: having small farm animals not five feet from me when I eat, people picking their noses and not being totally grossed out by it, pooping in a hole. I can now choose which piece of goat I would like sliced off for dinner. And, I have been prepared to manage many a bathroom incidents including but not limited to: “bucket” disposal, fecal matter examination, stool sampling, and malarial slide preparation.

This email is coming off kind of douchy, but I just want those out there to know what life is like for a Peace Corps volunteer. One has many successes throughout his or her service, starting a soccer league, teaching boys the importance of girls, having a student use the simple present correctly, but it’s the little successes, like making it to the toilet when you really didn’t think you would, having a friend at the bus station waiting for you when you arrive, and/or eating an omelet sandwich with lots of piment, that keep one alive.

I have learned a lot of things while being here. But, I think I’ve not-learned/un-learned some things that I would like to know. Like, how do you post a song to your facebook? I want to use facebook places. I want to shake my phone and have it tell me where to eat. I want to get fashion advice from “The Situation” daily. I want to see TV shows as they happen. I want to remember how to play racquetball. I want sushi and seaweed salad. I may be experiencing something over here. But, I often long for things from home.

That being said, I’m sure America will still be there in the next few years. And, to be quite honest, this place may never be the same again. So, I’m trying to extend my service for one year. I want to go to Madagascar. I was originally assigned to Madagascar but some crazy radio DJ ran for mayor of Antananarivo (the capital) and then staged a coup. So, yeah. But, things are apparently more stable now and something is calling me there. The lemurs. The scenery. The food. The culture. The unknown. Plus this will give me time to apply to graduate schools. And I surely need all the time I can get.

Friends. Family. You’re the safe harbor upon which I rely as I sail the S.S. Tartanic through unfamiliar waters. I want you all to know I love you and miss your terribly.