Sunday, December 16, 2012

December 16 - Month Three Work Post

The month that it all began!   This is an exciting blog post, because a lot of the things I was thinking about and hoping to do in months one and two finally started to happen.
Mud Stoves
I built my first mud stove with Azara, a young mother who’s my neighbor.  I had told several people that I would build stoves for them once they collected the clay and dried grass we need, and she was the first to get the materials together.  The “clay” we use is actually the sand from termite mounds.  There are a lot of termite mounds in this area, and the sand is very strong.  I built the stove in the evening, with Azara and a young boy from her concession who I think is named Gbaguidi.  We first mixed water with the mud and broke up most of the hardened chunks, and then mixed in little bits of dried grass.  Then we found three tall rocks to place under the pot we were going to use.  The pot has to rest on three rocks, and the stove is most efficient if the height of the space under the pot equals its radius.  It took a while to find rocks of the right size.  Next, we built the stove around the pot, and smoothed it with water.  It felt sort of like playing or making a sandcastle at the beach, especially since I was doing it with people younger than me.  We carved our names in the top of the stove, and took pictures. 
The best part was about a week later.  I’d traveled to Parakou, and dropped by Azara’s to see if the stove had dried well and been used while I was away.  It was already blackened with soot from use, and she had made a second smaller stove to use with a little pot for sauce on her own!  Her stove was a little different from mine, but it was great to see that she’d really learned what I’d taught her.  She’s said that she uses the new stove a lot, and it uses less wood than cooking in the open on three stones. 
Earlier this month, a team from an NGO called ICRISAT came to do a 4-day training in our garden.  Most of the women from the gardening group attended, and we cleared the garden site of weeds, learned to build compost, created a plant “nursery” to prepare transplants, and built the garden beds with the help of some young men from the village.  The pump and irrigation were being set up this past week.  We should be planting in the next few weeks, I believe.  There were some differences of opinions between the ICRISAT trainers and the Beninese staff supporting the garden as to whether it’s best to use only organic gardening methods, or a mix of organic and chemical fertilizers.  So we’ve decided to use some extra garden beds for an experiment, trying out different gardening techniques.  I’ll maintain the experiment.  I’ll also use one of the beds to demonstrate new vegetables that they don’t often grow, like cucumbers. 
I had my first English club meeting about two weeks ago.  It was crazy – I led it with the help of two English teachers, and we guess that around 200 students attended!  There are only 240 students in the school, and one class wasn’t able to come since they had class at the time we chose.  So I think pretty much every student who was free came.  We were in a small classroom, and students were sitting at desks, standing on desks, standing on the floor – the different levels making it feel sort of like a crowded stadium setup.  The other two teachers did their best to keep everyone under control, while I taught them to sing “head, shoulders, knees, and toes.”  I think we’ll do Christmas carols at our next meeting.  We’re going to hold two sessions, one at 8 and one at 10 on Wednesdays, because the school director thinks absolutely every child should have the opportunity to attend English club.  I hope at least some of them get bored, so I can get down to a more manageable 50 or less.  But many of the kids have begun to greet me in English when they see me in village, so even if club is a bit crazy it’s inspiring them to practice!
I’m going to start doing Environmental Education and gardening with the elementary school soon.  I met with all the teachers a week ago, and they all sounded interested.  We’ve decided to do a school garden and tree nursery.  Lots of details left to work out, but the school director will tell the students to gather the materials needed to build a fence over their Christmas vacation so we can start the garden in January or February.  My hope is to have a big educational component to the garden, using it to teach about how plants grow, environmental issues, and other topics.  Feel free to share ideas.
I've also begun to brainstorm ideas for how to encourage girl's education.  Both the director of the primary school and of the secondary school have told me this is a priority for them.  In our schools, as throughout Benin, girls often drop out of school.  This is often because they get pregnant, even in primary school.  (Primary school students are a bit older here than in the United States).  The idea I'm considering now is to organize a monthly speaker series at the schools.  I would like to invite professional women from the community who finished high school to tell the girls about their experiences.  The director of the primary school thinks this is a great idea, and I'll pursue it further when I get back to village this week. 
I’ve met a few times with the head of environmental programs for the mayor’s office.  He is interested in me and other volunteers in the area participating in a latrine building and trash collection initiative they will be doing in 2013.  More details to come as work gets started.
And other…
This past week, I’ve been in Parakou for our first “In-Service Training.”  It was a great chance to see all the other Environment volunteers and hear what projects they’re working on.  Everyone’s experiences have been really different, but we’re all trying to do good work.  My counterpart from village attended the training as well, and we got the chance to develop project ideas together. 
And the marathon – I’ve kept training, longest run 2 hours 45 minutes so far!  And I’ve officially registered.  It will be the first week in February. 


  1. Hi Bethany,
    I love your posts! I'm an employee at the MBE Library who's in the Peace Corps application process...Library/Church staff suggested I check out your blog and I'm so glad I did!! Your posts are fun and inspiring, and your thought process in an earlier post when you struggled with the idea of international development struck such a chord with's so comforting to see someone confronting these difficult thoughts but working through them. Congrats on all the amazing progress you're making...I can't wait to read more!

  2. Merry Christmas Bethany!!

    I happened to see your family when I went to Christmas dinner at A/U the other day, they told me about your blog. I'm so glad to be able to read about your experiences now! You are a great writer, and it's so interesting to learn about a different place and people. Even though I spent a couple of months in West Africa, I never made it to Benin, I can tell it has its own unique 'flavor' and look forward to reading more. I especially loved what you wrote about water and how precious it is, that is what I realized to when I was over there. I promised myself that I would only take 'bucket baths' upon returning to the states, but I never kept my promise. Maybe you'll inspire me to take it up again :) Love you! I'm so glad you are there and I send you a big hug. Maybe if I can get my act together you'll even get a package :)

    much love,
    Bonnie T

  3. Hi - My name is Chris and I work for Other Places Travel Guides, a book publisher with a series of travel guides written and researched by RPCVs. We're currently looking for a writer to update our guide for Benin ( We're hoping to connect with current PCVs in country and identify someone who will COS in the coming months and is looking for an opportunity to build upon their knowledge and connections in Benin. For more information on the project, please feel free to email me at Also, please share this opportunity with fellow PCVs or anyone else who may be interested. Thank you for your time. Chris

  4. Glad to read that your projects are going so well- community interest and support is so vital, and unfortunately is sometimes hard to tap...but sometimes it's a spring that just needs a bit of help before it bursts.
    Best of luck on your marathon!!