The next day we headed back to le bureau for a long day of sessions. I started with a walking tour down past le marché and local bank, where I got my first glimpse of the ocean here -- the Bight of Benin.
Next came lunch on the roof where we had a good view of downtown Cotonou. It actually reminded me a lot of urban Okinawa - a certain controlled chaos where the lack of urban planning is made up in character and general funkiness. After the rooftop break came the REAL fun... zemidjan training!
Zemidjans are the mopeds here (vespas for you euro-trippers) and they are literally EVERYWHERE. They are the primary method of transportation in Benin and so widespread that PC Benin has the special honor of being the only site world-wide authorized to use them! Don't worry Dad, the catch is that you must always wear your helmet and they are serious about this: any volunteer seen riding a moto without a helmet is instantly sent home, no questions asked.
Although helmet use is not popular here and you end up feeling pretty silly being the only one, it only takes one ride to be glad... those peeps are CRAZY: zip zip over potholes, narrowly missing trucks and pedestrians and all the while your only sense of security comes from a deathgrip hold on a tiny bar across the back. Most people that are accustomed to riding hold on at all! I've decided this must be due to having acquired thighs of steel.
The practice ride was enough for me for the moment. They paid some zemi drivers to come by so we could practice hailing them over, bargaining the price (very important here), mounting the moped properly (always left side if you don't want to get burned on the exhaust pipe) and finally going for a little ride. I think they got a big kick out of all us silly yovos (word for foreigner in local language, literally translates to "whitey") in our space-age helmets - think power rangers but more ridiculous.
Next on the schedule was an interview with Maria Soumounni, the director of the TEFL program. She was intimidating at first but I quickly felt a connection with her and respected her straight-forwardness. She is from Benin but I found out she has a son going to GA Tech and living in Buckhead just outside Atlanta... what a small world!
Back at the compound, we had some time before dinner so I napped a little to the sound of one of the other stageaires playing outside on his saxophone. When I got up nearly an hour later he was still playing but he was now joined by two more, one on flute and the other on guitar. As I came out onto the second floor balcony the sun was setting and I could see other stageaires scattered around the courtyard, hanging out and playing frisbee as the chill music played on. All in all, an awesome vibe and I was truly content in the moment. To top it all off, that night we played possibly the funnest game of Scrabble ever (okay, okay maybe not EVER ever but surely the funnest ever played in West Africa).
The next day we finished up by getting a few more vaccinations, interviewing with the doctors, picking up our malaria meds, and having free time to call home, email, exchange money, etc. I chose to attempt international phone calls again (first time failed) since I hadn't called home yet and, what's more, it was my best bud Lera's 23rd birthday! I also thought this could be my last chance to call for a while since international calling wasn't guaranteed at our training site. Unbelievably, this time the phones worked without a hitch. I was able to talk to my parents and the birthday girl, the only drawback being that since we were leaving at noon I called around 11 am my time which made it 6 am their time... yikes! Luckily, they were good sports :)
In the afternoon, we got pictures of our host family. Mine showed a picture of a maman and three daughters. There would be many more in the family but I would not find that out until our arrival the next day...
Since this was to be our last night together as a big group (each sector has its own training site) we hung out as long as possible before heading back to our rooms to pack up and sleep a little before our early departure.
The next morning all 59 of the stageaires and our many, many bags loaded up into five vans (2 for TEFL since at 19 we're the biggest group) and headed out for a scenic two hour drive to Lokossa, a small town northeast of Cotonou, and our home for the next nine weeks.