Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lokossa - Site Visit - August 2007

Somewhere around the 4th week we had a conference where we met our school directors ie our future bosses. After two days of in-depth cross-cultural communication sessions (overkill, anyone?) we took off with our directors for the biggest adventure yet: our site visit.

The voyage up to Badjoudé consisted of a seven hour taxi ride, three American women with baby-bearing hips plus one Beninese man in the back seat and three large Beninese men in the front. I had the fortunate/unfortunate luck to be sat, nay SQUISHED, up next to my director which made it especially difficult to maintain the necessary professional relationship we kept hearing about. This grew exceedingly more difficult after he started falling asleep, unawares, on my right breast. Luckily, my travel pillow saved the day when I told him I was worried about his "back being uncomfortable" and swiftly inserted the cushy barrier between us.

The further North we got, the more excited we became. It was so interesting to watch the terrain unfold around us. Having only seen the marshland and jungle of the South it was breathtaking passing through the flatlands and then starting into des collines (literally "hills"), each view more beautiful than the next. Even the most avid window looker can gets tired after seven hours so I was not feeling very excited upon arriving at Djougou, the closest big city to Badjoudé and the last stop for me and my director. My attitude was quickly turned around, however, by the 40 minute moto ride to the village limits. On the back of my director's Zem, him wearing my girly sunglasses to ward of the glare from the late afternoon sun and me in my space age helmet, we were quite the zippy pair. Just minutes outside Djougou I started smiling and didn't stop the rest of the way. THIS was the Africa I had come looking for...

I wish you could have seen it. Up and down we went on a dirt road that stretched as far as the eye could see, on either side stretching gorgeous vistas of savanna grasslands... speckled with Fulani herdsman in pointy hats and clutters of thatched mud huts. All that was missing were the lions, giraffes, and gazelles I knew were found in the wildlife parks of the northern border of Benin.

My time in village was brief, just one full day of meeting everyone in the tri-village area, but it was enough to realize there was a good chance I was going to be very, very happy there. The people were friendly and welcoming, the street food cheap and delicious, the market mere feet from my front door, and my house so nice as to induce bouts of guilt. I have RUNNING WATER with a shower that has amazing water pressure. No electricity, but no latrine either. Instead, I have a separate locked little house with a lone toilet (complete with cushy seat... thanks previous volunteer!) that is "flushed" by pouring down water from a nearby faucet. Only true negatives? There is a rodent issue I'm going to have to face down and all the spaciousness will require LOTS of sweeping! On the other hand, I am planning on converting the "study" into a yoga/guest room so if you are able to visit you know where you can stay!

The trip back was not quite as ideallic, but hey nothing is perfect. My director had told me the only problem in my return trip would be if it rained, since the only road to Djougou was impassable after flooding. As luck would have it, I woke up in the middle of the night to a clap of thunder and torrential downpours and the rain continued until morning. At the appointed hour of 6 am I was ready just in case my director decided to come anyway. At 6:30 I heard his moto. He thought the rain had let up enough that it was worth a shot, so off we took into the drizzly early morning.

I was finding the ride back significanly less spectacular until we crested one of the many hills and I saw across the vista that the sun was rising. Unfortunately, I was unable to appreciate this opening-scene-of-LION-KING moment because I felt if I didn't focus all my attention on bracing for the next bump I'd fall off into the mud. All in all, it was becoming a rather painful experience. Apparently, my director's moto wasn't pleased either because it chose that next moment to make a horrible grinding noise and then screeeeeeech to a halt. Once we got off the zem it was immediately apparent the chain had come off. As Monsieur le Censeur (no idea his real name) began to fiddle with it, I looked at the vast stretch of vegetation and rolling hills around us, and the empty stretch of road spanning as far as the eye could see in any direction. I have no idea why but it was at that moment I had a brief fantasy of half-naked tribal men coming soundlessly out of the bushes, placing me onto a chair tied to two planks, and racing me on their fast African legs directly to the bus station. I am not proud of this fantasy, nor its lack of political correctness, so I will have to chalk it up to the crazy malaria meds which are known for inducing hallucinations. Back to the moto...

After several minutes of working and fiddling he succeeded in getting the chain back on and we triumphantly mounted the moto and took off once more. Our success was short-lived -- not two minutes later an all-too-familiar clank-clunk-screeeech came from beneath my very uncomfortable ass and we quickly dismounted yet again. This time he seemed a little more concerned, shaking his head and repeating over and over: "Ma chaine est trop longue." (My chain is too long). I was too distracted to giggle at the time but I would later find this phrase very amusing.

After another failed attempt, I was starting to get worried about making my bus but I figured as long as there was no french cursing we were fine. Then I heard it, soft but clear: "Merde."

Shit is right.

We ended up waving down a random passer-by (correction: the ONLY passer-by) and he graciously sped me to the station where I barely made it onto the misspelled CONFORT LINE bus.

As I sank down into my seat next to a woman eating plantains with her baby in lap, I sighed and thought how grateful I was to have a good site-visit story that didn't end with me having to hitch-hike down half of Benin!


Theresa said...

We have been wondering what has ben happening to our favorite Mud Hut Princess. Your story is definitely worth the wait! I am so very proud of you! You have come a very long way from the comforts of home and yet you are amazingly comfortable there as well. You take your Lion King moment. Soak it all in! Treasure these moments. You are making history. I love you honey!

dinda said...

HEEEEY, my katie poooooo~!!

So I am SO GLAD you finally updated your blog!! I've only read two of the latest entries so far.

I've heard those malaria meds do crazy things to your mind. A friend of mine actually stopped taking them and took instead this natural stuff that apparently most Africans take, but i think it only works after you have malaria?

Oh, i dunno, what am i saying! Ok, ok, I am just gonna keep reading.

dinda doo