Thursday, October 3, 2013

Jessica Banda is one of the Masters International Peace Corps students who has just recently started her assignment in Benin, Africa, as a Development Volunteer. Jess has put together a Blog and Vlog that allows us to follow her on her outstanding journey, and that provides interested Masters Peace Corps students with an outline of the Peace Corps/Masters Program application process. You can follow her blog here:
Plus, you can check out the Vlog she leads on Youtube:

Posted on Monday September 16

Feels Like Home I just finished a ride on the back of a moto, my new stove-top in tote, with a messenger bag full of goodies, at dusk, just in time to see the sunset and the street lights simultaneously. I looked down the road, lined with trees, and thought, "this is home."
The Parakou Market

It's funny how, 3 months ago, I felt scared on the back of a moto and now motos feel like home. That's what life in Benin will do to you, it will take those things so foreign that they scare you and make them commonplace and comforting. I like that about this country.

Freedom feels so so good. I can walk out the door without telling anyone, although I've adopted the habit of recounting my every move in French... right in the middle of doing so I catch myself and I remember I no longer have to be accountable to anyone, that I no longer have to spell out my itinerary to the minute, with time I think I will stop the habit.

I'm currently eating the dinner of my choosing, roasted maize, an apple (from the fridge), white beans, and soy cheese. I am in utter shock that I can eat balanced vegan meals for THE NEXT TWO YEARS! I can't even believe it as I type it. I am going to be so healthy; I bought as many vegetables as I could carry at the market today, I almost broke two reusable bags.

Last night I sat, in an easy chair, in the Parakou workstation library, sipping coffee and writing, until 3:30am. I haven't felt that much like myself in months, since well before I started my Peace Corps Service

Tomorrow I move to Sirarou. The car will come at 8:00am ( in 11 hours) to pick me up. I read 11 Peace Corps memoirs before I came here. Each memoir devoted a chapter to the experience I will have tomorrow, to the moment of being dropped off, with a car of belongings, to a strange village, where you will live, alone, for 2 years.

The memoirs make the moment sound so exotic, but nothing feels exotic about Sirarou to me. It is just my home...just like Laramie is my home, and I'm not alone, I have Kelly (my post mate, who is here now), and Erika (the volunteer who is from Spain). And then there are the people of Sirarou of course, who speak a different language (Bariba), and who probably think I am quite strange, but who seem to me, like any other people on the planet, with the same struggles and triumphs that define the human experience. Exotic is the last thing I expect to face tomorrow...Serenity is a better word to describe Sirarou.

I can't wait to go home (home to Sirarou, that is). :)


I just spent the day shopping for my new house. Tomorrow I will move into my house in Sirarou, where I will spend 3 months (until December 9) completing "On-The-Job Training II," a 3-month integration period in which I will undertake a tremendous community study (there is a 50 page book just to describe the report that follows). During the 3 month period I am not supposed to work, just observe. Also during the 3-months, we are not supposed to leave village, short of visits to our market town. Luckily, my market town in Parakou (where I am now).

Posted on Thursday September 26

Adventures in Teaching!

Guess what? Yesterday I taught marketing, to 15 women who are about to open businesses, for 5 hours! I'd be lying if I said that anything about the experience was easy.

And here are three main reasons why:

1) Many of the women were not literate, so I had to pull an all-night-er last week to draw pictures of everything I was saying. And, trust me, I'm not an artist.

2) My french is no where near advanced enough to talk for 5 hours, so I had to spend about 25 hours preparing, and translating lecture notes, plus practicing!

3) I had to use a (male) translator, to reach the women who only spoke local language, and he used a demeaning and angry tone with them, which made me progressively more angry as the lesson went on!

4) The women who did speak french had a difficult time understanding me, because of my accent!

With this said, I constantly adapted throughout the day, and, by the end of the day, I all but ditched the translator (and let the women explain to each other), and there was laughing all around!

The women divided into 2 groups for a competition in which they created marketing products: sketched signs for their botiques, prepared radio ads, etc.

And last night, under the light of my headlamp, I prepared the prizes for the winning team (see photo on the right) An orange, a bracelet, and 200 francs, enough to buy food for 1-2days.

It feels great to have my first big Peace Corps project under my belt!

Warning: Don't try this at home, unless you have sufficient supplies of coffee and are highly sensitive to caffeine.
Stay tuned for Jessica's new posts!