My Peace Corps experience started right away. Not 5 minutes after I boarded the plane in Atlanta to head to my staging in Philadelphia a girl walked by and greeted me with a "No way!" when she saw my PC folder. Turns out she was going to Mali so I only saw her once during the next few days. Regardless, it was interesting to feel that first surge of belonging to something.
Once at the Philly airport, I met a few more PC people (ALL GIRLS!) who were going to South Africa. We ended up in the same shuttle (but not the same hotel). Slowly, the numbers in the van dwindled until it was just me and another guy. Voilà, my first Benin counterpart! He said his name was Colin and he was from Iowa. I told him all I knew of Iowa was the Dar Williams song. He laughed and said that was a good start.
Once there, I saw that we were at the tail-end of the group and that registration was just finishing up. I filed through the line with all my paperwork and was relieved to see my personal passport after being separated for several months (sidenote: fed-exing off one's passport is a scary, scary thing). I was even more delighted by the next gift: a brand spankin' new Peace Corps passport (has a micro-chip and everything) with its shiny Beninese VISA!
As far as the actual staging goes, suffice to say I felt I came out okay in light of a fairly awkward, tedious, and very first-few-weeks-of-freshman-year-like experience. The three women running the orientation were nice but didn't seem to know much about Benin specifically, which was a little frustrating. The best I can say is that I met some nice people and got to make final phone calls sitting across from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Oh yah and I ate well!
Philadelphia did well by me as far as offering good last-food-in-America options. I had falafel my first night from my favorite chain on both sides of the Atlantic (I first ate there in Barcelona), then spinach and goat cheese pasta with a bailey's créme brulée dessert the next, and finally good ol' fashioned NY style pizza and gelato for my last lunch. Awesome. Thanks, Peace Corps for such a generous food allowance!
However, by far the most excitement occurred when we got to the airport. Unknowingly, our bus driver dropped us off at the wrong terminal so we had to hike with all our stuff nearly a mile through the blazing heat and several construction detours. For some, this proved to be the ultimate PC test: did you really bring only as much as you could carry?
Thank goodness both of my bags had wheels (thanks, Dad) so I made out ok but let me tell you, some peeps were STRUGGLIN'. Worse, when we finally arrived in a sweaty mess they hadn't even processed the Mali group who had left 2 hours before us to avoid this exact problem. We ended up having to wait several hours in line to get checked in but we made the best of it, cracking jokes about how starting off a 23 hour trip dirty and gross didn't bode well for meeting PC's ridiculous request that we look professional upon arrival.
Eventually, we all made it through and with an hour before our flight ended up, where else?
The closest terminal bar, of course... cheers!