Thursday, February 19, 2009

Drama...with a kind ending

Once upon a time, I was flat broke and in the need of some cash. But I had to go to Cotonou to complete my grant for my project. It was Tuesday and I was done with my proposal. The administrative assistant told me to say in Cotonou because a reimbursement was going to hit my account the next morning if I really need the cash. So of course I stayed. I didn't have cash for a hotel so I chilled over a friend's house. The next morning I was at the bank to find out that not only did I not have my Peace Corps ID on me, but I also didn't have any checks in my wallet. The bank wouldn't except my Xerox copy of my passport. Don't wanna carry that around just in case it gets stolen, you know. And I don't carry my whole checkbook on me just in case it gets stolen, you know. Crap. So I needed to get back to my post to get a check. Like a normal day, I took a bush taxi back to my post. Couldn't find my PC ID so I grabbed my personal passport because I didn't want to carry the government issued passport with my Benin visa in it, grabbed two checks (one to keep in my wallet unsigned), took a midday shower, changed, and headed back to Cotonou before the bank closed at 5pm.

I get to Cotonou, hopped out the bush taxi, put on my helmet, then jumped on a Zemijan taxi moto (get me there fast in Fon) to head to the bank. It's 4:52pm approximately. About a block from the bank, as the Zemijan slowed down to turn onto the street of the bank, BAAM!!!! Me and the taxi guy were knocked off the bike, I hit the ground on my left side, messed up my foot, my elbow, but my head was okay (I wore my helmet). It all happened so fast. A man in a gray shirt snatches my purse off my arm while I was under the bike and ran off quickly. I scramble up screaming voleur (thief in French) not even looking at how messed up my foot is yet, and run towards the crowd of people running in the direction of the thief. A man hands me back my purse, I say thank you, I check on the Zemijan, he's alright and does not want payment. I think the thief was getting beat up by the people. There was an awful lot of shouting. But I didn't have time to see what happened. I hear it's normal. Felt a little sorry for the guy. Then, I glanced at my watch in panic. It's 4:57!!!!! I BOOK IT to the bank, limping at the same time praying that the bank isn't closed yet. I get there just at the guard shuts the door in my face. I frown, gave a look of pain, showed him my bloody foot through the glass and he let me in. All I had on me was enough money to get to the bank and a cheap meal. I had about 800 CFA in my pocket $1.75 USD.

I stand in line, sit my helmet down happy that I made it regardless of the accident because I would've been screwed for yet another night in expensive Cotonou. I just wanted to get back to my village with money to get by. I look in my purse to pull out my check so I can start filling it out....but my wallet wasn't there. Wait...neither was my passport. NOOOOOO!!!!! I got outta line and immediately started freaking out. I didn't cry because that's a weak thing to do here in public. But I really needed to. I had no money, no identification, no way home, nothing, but luckily my cellphone was in the small pocket of my purse. Glad he didn't see that. I think the person who gave me my bag might have went through my things because although I got my purse back, things were missing. Who was I to call? I only had enough phone credit to make one call. I would've put more credit on it after I got my money. But sh*t happens. I wanted to call Peace Corps but the building was closed, and my foot wasn't so bad that it needed urgent attention to call in the doctor. It could wait till tomorrow. And it wasn't like the thief could write a check and get it cashed tonight with the banks closed. I tried calling my fiance, but he was in Porto Novo because of work and I knew he couldn't get to the phone or to me at that very moment. He didn't answer the phone. That's another drama....So I called my friend T. He's dating one of my fellow volunteers here. I knew he would help me out. He picked me up three minutes later on his moto and took me to a restaurant where I was to meet up with three of our other friends. I guess they were all hanging out before I called. Thank God they spoke English. I REALLY needed to vent. They were Nigerian and could understand me. My dear 6'5 big-footed friend K. greeted me at the restaurant door and hugged me without noticing that he was STEPPING ON MY FOOT!! He apologized in shock probably 20 times and helped me to the table. A COLD beer was waiting for me. Along with a cigarette. Yeah, a cigarette. I needed one. I drank the beer and smoked while spilling out what happened to me. They were shocked and very sympathetic.

Once we finished our drinks, I was escorted to the car and taken to a supermarket. I was told to pick out whatever I needed to help me feel comfortable. I picked out a towel, soap, razor, and a bottle of South African red wine and they picked out ice cream, snacks, champagne and hard liquor. Those guys can drink. They payed for everything then took me to the pharmacy and bought me pain killers, antibiotic ointment, and gauze and bandaids. I have no idea how many times I said thank you. Then we went over C's house and relaxed and listened to some tunes. The pain killers really helped.  The next morning (today), they cooked me breakfast and I was handed money since they knew I couldn't access any from the bank. It was way more than enough. They took me to Peace Corps so I could sort out all my information about my stolen items. I went to the police station to file a loss of ID form so I can get my account number changed at the bank. Then, I saw the doctor, got my foot and elbow treated, and she had me stay in the medical unit tonight. It is now 12:42am and I'm finished telling you about my story because I am tired and I'm now on my limping way to bed.

I was so happy and thankful that I had friends to look out for me. Of all my time here, on that particular day, I've had one of my worst experiences and also one of the best ones here in Benin. Moral of the story...It's good to have real friends.

The End

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I'm disappointed but I'm okay

Okay. I feel like putting my folks on blast. So I get to the Peace Corps office after two weeks thinking that I MIGHT have a package. Then of course reality sets in that my folks STILL haven't sent me jack S.uger H.oney I.ced T.ea the whole 7 months I've been here in Benin! I wanted to be pissed off then I thought about it and figured I shouldn't even waste anymore energy on hoping they'd send me something. I mean, can I at least get a freakin letter??? "Hey, just writing to see if you're alive and well." SOMETHING! This is getting ridiculous. How about anybody that enjoys reading my blog send me a letter/package/sympathy note because my folks apparently don't care about my needs over here. I know who sends stuff over here. Because I have become a vulture standing around when they're opened from time to time. Thankfully, some of the volunteers like to share. Sorry to complain but this is the only place where my depression comes from. I'm not very homesick, I haven't been ill here, and things are generally okay. But when you do not get correspondance from home, it really puts a shadow over my days. Of course this blog is not for the people that DO check up on me in the form of letters, emails, calls, and packages. I really do appreciate them. These are the things that keep me going.

On another note, I am planning an HIV/AIDS Awareness Kickoff in my village on March 25th. Former President Bush allocated money set aside for programs in Africa relating to the epidemic. Say what you want about the man, but the money will be put to good use. All the funds through this program needs to be used by March 30th. So of course, I wrote a grant to get some of that money for my village. The program will first consist of a two day crash training course about the virus to the nurses at the health center I work at. The nurses there told me they have not received training about the virus. They do not use gloves during injections. Only during births. They told me that blood is not touched during the injections. Yet I have seen blood touched a few times. I asked them what would they do if a women or a man comes in the health center WITH the virus and they KNOW they have the virus. They said they would wear gloves. Then I asked them, how would they know WHO has the virus if there is not testing in our village. They were silent.

After the two day crash course training the nurses will help me run the program, a film about the virus in the Fon language will be shown to the village, a person who lives with the virus will come to speak to people. Then there will be lunch. Afterwards with the help of the nurses, there will be two seperate health sessions, one for people 15 and older (how to put on a condom, fidelity ect.) and another for the children under 15 (don't touch blood, seperate razors for scarification, basic modes of transmission) so the messages will be understood according to age and experience. At the end of the program will be a game of soccer played by the children of the village.

I also will be doing a four day bike tour riding to different villages talking about HIV/AIDS with 10 other volunteers at the end of this month. All together we will be biking around 30 miles. I'm very excited about it. Also the first week in March I will be traveling to Burkina Faso for the African International film festival. I'm VERY excited about that too. I hear there are strawberries grown there. Like I said before, it's the little things that make me happy. Also in March I will be in a two day training up north to learn about moringa. Google it!! It is a MIRACLE plant for malnutrition. It's grown in the poorest conditions in the parts of the world most affected by malnutrition yet few know about the plant. Can't wait to start a moringa field in my village. Then following that, I'll be going to a Gender and Development fundraiser dinner. A married couple is coming to Benin in July for service and the wife went to my small 2500 student populated college!!! It's really a small world! I'm very excited about it.

So in conclusion, my folks suck, work is going well, and I'm doing pretty good.