The last two months flew by. Honestly the first 5 days of May feel like they’ve lasted longer than March and April together. All of the moving parts of the past two months have made it hard to force enough perspective to write about anything. So I finally sat down, drank a beer, and got this out. In 2 parts!
In most Beninese towns people live in “concessions” which are walled in areas that will have houses for several families. My concession is unusually small: it’s just my house and my neighbor’s house, one building split down the middle into two. I only have one direct neighbor, a lovely woman named Laurette but I call her Tata (a way of saying “sister” and/or avoiding not remembering someone’s name). Her husband lives in another town about 30 minutes away so we’re pretty much a dynamic duo fighting flooded kitchens, dead mice, and power outages (as you can imagine, she does most of the fighting). She’s saved my sanity so many times over the last 5 months and I promptly repay her with hugs and pancakes, which are now everyone in the neighborhood’s favorite American food.
I should probably note that in the partnership between Peace Corps and each volunteer’s host organization, the host organization is in charge of finding and paying the rent for the volunteer’s house. It’s a way of showing the host organization’s commitment to hosting a volunteer. Every Peace Corps Volunteer is placed with a host organization: education volunteers are with schools, health volunteers are with health centers, and agriculture volunteers are usually with NGOs (non-governmental organizations).
My house, appropriately named Casa Carly, is gold when it comes to Peace Corps Benin. It’s brand new, I’m the first person living in it, and pretty spacious. My house is a very standard Beninese set up for one person, a couple or a small family: a living room that leads into a bedroom, and a kitchen and shower in the back; the latrine is on the other side of the concession. I have electricity which has given me the most luxurious thing I could have only dreamed of when I slept in a bed of sweat during the first 3 months in country: a stand-up fan. My bedroom traps heat, especially during the hot season we’re currently in, and my mosquito net then traps even more of that heat. This saving grace of a $14 fan saves me every night and allows me to have sweet dreams of central air conditioning. I don’t have running water, thus the latrine, and my shower is just a tiled area with two big buckets of water and a bar of soap. This was surprisingly easy to get used to and especially on hot days, I don’t mind just pouring a bucket of water on myself.
The last few months have been spent slowly turning this house into a home. My kitchen has become more functional since I arrived. I have a gas burner stove and a nice shelf/table combo, as opposed to when my stove was just on the ground for the first 2 months (not my greatest moment). My shower also doubles as my dishwasher and laundry room where I can scrub my clothes clean and hang a few things so that my neighbors don’t notice my scandalous 10 for $35 lacey underwear. Lastly, my living room is my favorite place in my house, potentially in all of Dogbo. It’s a spacious yellow room with a daybed, table, and bookshelf, decorated with all of my pictures, a Van Gogh tapestry (thank you Kitty!), and a map of Benin (feel free to send more decorations!). It’s where I spend most of my time when I’m home reading, preparing for projects or English club, and taking afternoon naps. Anyone who knows me knows I love to decorate my room and once my living room felt like a place where I could just exist, my mental stability increased significantly.
The Quartier (The Neighborhood)
While Dogbo is a big town, my neighborhood feels like its own little village even though it’s only about a 6-7 minute walk to the main road. Another neighbor, Tata Felicité, is a crazy but caring lady who doubles as my unofficial Adja tutor. She lives across from me and has a boutique that sells everything you’d need in a hurry: soap, pasta, gin, eggs, and toilet paper. Most importantly she sells the cold stuff. “Purewater sachets” are the most convenient way to drink cold water here. They’re loosely-regulated, factory sealed plastic bags of water that are sold freezing cold for about 5 cents. They can be a lifesaver when you’re at the market for longer than expected, or just at the height of the afternoon heat. Bissap is one of my favorite things about Benin. It’s a juice made from hibiscus flowers and lemongrass and normally sold frozen. I have been called out multiple times by neighbors for liking bissap a bit too much. Often you can buy it frozen too, which is a big deal.
Because we’re so close to the main road, there isn’t a lot in my neighborhood. But there is a bar where I got to do some work in the afternoon and where I bring people when they come to visit. Both my host organization and the high school where I have my English club are about a 7-8 minute walk from my house as well. In some of the smaller sites I described, most of a village knows their volunteer. But for me it would be impossible for all of Dogbo to know who I am. So for right now I’m just happy that most of the neighborhood knows who I am and knows that I speak a little bit of Adja. There are a lot of kids in the neighborhood and when I first arrived they would scream “yovo!” whenever they saw me. Eventually I insisted on them calling me Carly instead of yovo and that’s caught on, so much so that kids will hit other kids that call me yovo. Any volunteer will tell you that getting kids (or anyone for that matter) to stop calling you yovo can be a big deal.
So that’s what my life looks like in my little corner of Dogbo. As I force myself to take more pictures I’ll write more about the actual town and what life is like outside of Casa Carly. And now that projects are in motion, I’ll be able to write about the work I’m doing (as I again, remember to take pictures).