After the previous day's excitement I slept hard and was a little confused when I awoke at 5 am. Apparently, one of the roosters on the premises forgot he was supposed to wait for the sun. His call, along with the clamour of another downpour, had woken me. As I peered through the shadows of my mosquito net and listened to the rain (and another earnest "cockle-doodle-doo!") I thought to myself: I'm really here. I'm in Africa!
They started the morning session by telling us that in Benin, having it rain upon your arrival is a sign of good luck. This only confirmed what I was feeling... lucky!
What followed was a series of sessions about the program in general, about security, and finally about health for which we received our personal, fully equipped health kit and manual. And I do mean FULLY equipped... with the amount of medicine and information they provide I feel like I could easily treat a small village for all sorts of ailments. There are two full-time doctors at our disposal here. They are both really amazing and personable. Current volunteers bragged about how this is probably the best healthcare we'll ever have since even the smallest problems are given full attention. Having just seen "Sicko" before I came, I think they might be right.
Dr. Rufin who was giving the presentation made sure to include an in-depth discussion of the most "popular" Peace Corps disease - "Diarrhea 101" he called it. He made sure we clearly understood what it entailed, strategies for avoiding it, and the best ways to treat it. He also made it clear that it is not a matter of IF you get sick, but when. "Everyone has to go through it several times as part of the body's adjustment to a new environment." Awesome. I feel better already.
After lunch and a short break, we piled into vans to drive to le bureau ie. PC headquarters in downtown Cotonou. The ride afforded us our first look at Benin in the daylight. Upon arrival, we were systematically ushered through several station: one to pick out a bike and helmet, one to get our first of many vaccinations, one to get our initial allowance (25,000 CFA about 50 dollars), and finally a language interview. Although I would find out later that I placed in the highest group, I felt at the time that I let my enthusiasm overtake my vocabulary. Example: I was all gung-ho on telling him about working with refugees but when he came back with a question about what I would do if I were in charge of ending world poverty (yes, he really did ask this question!) I was at a total loss. Zut!
The first day ended with dinner and then some semi-awkward mingling. The social interaction was aided greatly by the arrival of the evening's beverage of choice: Le Beninois (aka Benin's Budlight) Santé!
The next day we explored some outside the compound before heading to our country director's house for the official welcome ceremony and some brunch. After winding past the shacks of several poor neighborhoods I was surprised when we pulled up to what looked like a PALACE in comparison. Despite being warned beforehand, I was still pretty shocked. It was a beautiful 2 or 3 story, white-washed house with tiled floors and a large marble staircase. There was a small yard within the gated exterior and even a pool that had been filled in to make a sandbox for the children. Incroyable.
Since Benin's ambassador was out of town we had some diplomat or another from Togo spoke before passing it off to the security advisor for the American embassy. We determined this guy's sole purpose was to scare/intimidate us into not doing anything stupid. A worthy objective I suppose but I found the jet-black sunglasses (à la Will Smith in "Men in Black") was a little overkill.
By far the best part of the whole event was having the chance to play with dogs and children, as well as tasting Beninese pineapple for the first time.... soooooooo good! Watching one of the assistant program directors interact with her husband from Niger and their two adorable sons made me think how cool it would be to have a multi-cultural family. They met when she was a PCV (peace corps volunteer) in Niger and he was her local language tutor. As she put it, they ended up speaking the international language of LOVE :). Hmmm.... wonder if that has a subjunctive tense......