Saturday, December 8, 2012

November 15 - Month 2 Work Post

Two months done!  I realize I wasn’t able to post the last one until now – didn’t have internet access – so you’ll reading both at the same time.  But I’m glad I’ve started doing these 1-month “taking stock” posts.  At first I thought nothing new had been accomplished in this past month, but looking back through my journal I realize I have made a lot of progress in many ways.

The Garden

We still haven’t done much actual gardening work yet.  Part of it is because we’re waiting for a team from Niger to come give training to the women on how to grow plants using drip irrigation, and other topics.  Because of budget, logistics, and other issues, the team hasn’t made it down yet.  They should come any week now.  The second reason we haven’t been gardening is the season – the rainy season just ended and harvest is in full swing.  Almost every day, the women are in the fields, harvesting corn, peanuts, soy, cotton… My major victory, and really the defining factor of this month, has been going to the fields with the women to work with them.  It took about a month of asking, but I finally convinced the one French-speaking woman in the women’s group to let me come harvest corn with her.  After that breakthrough, I got to go thresh dried soy with some other women – hard work that involves whacking the dried soy plants over and over with a stick.  Now, I go to the fields on any day that I don’t have something else important to do.  Usually I go with the women from my concession.  I’ve harvested a lot of corn, and recently we moved on to peanuts.  Cotton will be next.  Going to the fields makes such a big difference – now I never have long, empty unscheduled days to fill.  Every time I go I learn something new about farming here, and it impresses people in village as well.  I’ll write a longer post about the fields later. 

The Schools

Not environment related, but I’ve moved forward on starting an English club at the middle school.  I sat in on several English classes the other week to see what is taught, and talked with the school’s two English teachers about doing a club.  One teacher in particular was really enthusiastic, and will be a co-facilitator with me.  Earlier this week he and I visited every class to announce the club and take down names of interested students.  He is working to find a time for meetings when all the students will be free; we are thinking Saturday mornings. 

The director of the elementary school has said I’m welcome to sit in on classes there too, which I plan to do soon.

Fulani Language Learning

My Fulani has progressed a lot this month.  I’ve continued to meet with my tutor/informant in village at least once a week, to learn more vocabulary and phrases.  I’m able to do greetings, tell people where I’m going and what kind of work I’m doing in the fields, what I bought at the market, etc.  Every day, the conversations I have get a little more complex.  The last time I went to the fields, I had a wonderful casual conversation with Bana, the woman from my concession, as we separated peanuts from their roots.  She asked me the name of my country, whether I came in an airplane, how long it took to get here…I told her that we don’t have yams in America, that we do have rice and beans and corn, and that my parents will come to visit in about a year.  My father likes spicy food, but Mom doesn’t at all.  This was all in broken “tarzan” Fulani – to tell her how long it takes to fly to America, I said “Cotonou – evening – morning – afternoon – France.  France – evening – morning – afternoon – America.”  But the point got across. 

The most amazing thing about my Fulani learning is that I’ve met a priest at the catholic mission in Kalale, the commune (like county) seat, who has been studying Fulani for 40 years and is widely considered an expert.  People in my village know about him, and have told me he’s better at Fulani than they are. He teaches Fulani classes to the other priests and nuns at the catholic mission, and is letting me attend his class once a week for free!  I went today for the first time, and it was wonderful.  Three hours of grammar and cultural insights a week from him, immersion in Peonga, and vocab work with my tutor here once a week – I’ve fallen into the perfect language learning situation. 

Mud Stoves

I haven’t built any mud stoves yet, but my counterpart and I have told several interested women what materials are required (mud and dried grasses) and they are working to collect them.  Work in the fields is slowing this down, as well, but I should get some built next month!


I’ve been taking lots of notes for my Etude de Milieu/Community Study that I need to turn in to Peace Corps in about one month.  Related to this are Food Security surveys that Peace Corps gave us to administer in our community.  Basically, the survey asks questions about what people grow and what problems they face with agriculture and food security.  I gave the survey to one community member who speaks French – it’s long, but I learned so much from that conversation.  My counterpart has pulled together a list of people he thinks we can give the survey to, and I made extra photocopies today in Kalale so we can get started next week.     

I’ve also met with several good resource people – in particular the man in charge of the Environment office at the mayor’s office, a man who works for an NGO working on trash collection. There may be opportunities to do projects with them in the future.  

On a personal level, I’ve kept training for the Parakou marathon (longest run was 1 hour 30 min so far) and read lots of books.  It’s been a mixed month, full of true “highest highs and lowest lows.”  I’ve been brought to tears by it all, several times, and just as often been amazed at how wonderful everything is.  One big lesson I’ve learned is that going through life’s “highest highs and lowest lows” isn’t that bad.  When I heard that phrase before leaving for Peace Corps, I thought it sounded terrible, like a lot of suffering.  But at least in my experience, it isn’t like a roller coaster, going up and down, up and down, without any change.  Each truly low time, this month and in Benin as a whole, has led to a real lesson and growth, real change in me.  Really, does anything feel better than having grown in a way you can see, than being on the victorious side of a challenge?   My “victories” have been in a large part due to the great support I’ve gotten from Mom and Dad and everyone else at home, encouraging words and solid prayerful support when I’ve needed it.  I may be far away, but I don’t feel alone.  Thank you.   


  1. Bethany, you are such an inspiration. I love reading your updates and am so deeply proud of you. I hope to meet you in person someday. For now, the equanimity and grace with which you fulfill your PC duties and envelop yourself in your new community are, from a distance, intensely human and compassionate, and nothing short of phenomenal.

  2. Thanks so much - I to hope we meet and am sure we will at some point. I've really, really appreciated your support!