November, unlike March, came in like a lion…. and went right out roaring as well. It began with the sudden, unexpected departure of a dear friend of mine. Erin was an amazing girl I was lucky enough to call post-mate for one month. The closest TEFL volunteer, her post was Djougou and a perfect resting spot for any travels. She had been struggling with pain in her legs for weeks (months, really) and finally went down to Cotonou to see if the doctors could discover the cause and help treat it. When the source of the pain couldn’t be discovered after two weeks of testing, they had no choice but to send her home. I think in the end she was at peace with the decision, but we were all very sad to see her go. So far, our little TEFL family had yet to lose anyone and this loss hit hard. To make matters worse, admin decided last minute to only give her a day at post so the only way for many of us to see her before she left was to travel down south to see her off. It was a sad but really touching weekend. Even with the repercussions that would follow, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
The middle of the month brought a nice respite. I got into the teaching routine, enjoyed my kids, gave quizzes at my house… my terrace packed with eager students always hoping for one more piece of candy when they were done. I added some extra touches to make it feel like home. Hung out with my closest postmate Heidi as she battled a knee injury and needed my house as a recuperating spot (I was happy to oblige!).
As Thanksgiving came closer, I began to see a slight change in the weather. The infamous harmatan wind began gently puffing dust around. All around, fields were set on fire… leaving behind black ash and awkward stalks after their dramatic glow. I was amazed how much closer everything looked without the tall fields blocking the view. Pigs were a new addition to the landscape as well…. dozens of them roaming around freely now that the dry season was here and they could no longer damage crops. It took a couple days for me to get used to the chorus of oinking that would accompany a gang of pigs running through my yard!
As the end of the month approached, I got more and more excited. All the talk of my cousin Emilie and her fiancé Rowan coming to visit was finally going to become a reality. Unfortunately, they did not make it in time for Thanksgiving day… doubly sad since this year it happened to fall on Emilie’s very special 30th birthday! I was lucky enough, however, to have some good friends over to salvage the day for me with a turkey hand cut-outs, spaghetti, and lots of sangria! We even went around and said what we were thankful for… the recurring answer being: friends the feel like family.
True to her promise, Emilie fought hell AND high water to make it to my doorstep. Three cancelled/delayed flights and a 9 hour night taxi ride later, she and Rowan rolled up to my little house in Badjoude. I cannot express how it felt to see real family… THIS family… one of my “sisters.” All the stress of the last few weeks, the uncertainty of the last few months, the joys and travails of living here came crashing together and tumbling down. We hugged and I just felt BETTER. Not to mention the pre-cooked turkey and honey ham that by some miracle (and Rowan’s genius) made it intact to my kitchen. We started cooking right after they arrived at 10 pm and stayed up until 3 am eating and talking.
Since they arrived so much later than was planned, we only had the next afternoon to visit Badjoude before heading off to Parakou for my training which started bright and early the next morning. Though it was a whirlwind, I couldn’t have asked for a better visit. They saw everyone in village who was important to me, got to taste several local dishes and drinks, and Em documented everything on their digital camera. So fun! At 4 pm we piled into a bush taxi and started our 4 hour trip to Parakou… where we arrived happy but exhausted, and covered head to toe by red dirt kicked up by the taxi on the 40 k road before you hit paved highway. The orange tint it gave my skin, matched with my short stature, made me look disturbingly like an oompa-loompa.
The rest of the week was spent going to sessions all day and squeezing in time with Em and Rowan during lunch and dinner. It was tiring but definitely worth it. It was a sad day for me when I watched them jump on motos and ride off to their bus-stop in the early morning. The sadness I felt from that and worrying about my dad was lifted a little when I received the good news that his cancer surgery had gone well. When I finally made it back to Badjoude I was exhausted, physically and emotionally, and looking forward to a few good weeks of nothing to get myself organized and well-rested.