www.flickr.com/photos/sarab_13 ALL MY PHOTOS!! Cool site on Benin to check out: http://benintourisme.com

Friday, September 05, 2008

Final goodbyes - c'est fini

With my good friends Gaston and Saoule


OK, so yesterday was officially my last day of being a Peace Corps volunteer! I have just finished an exhausting, stressful and emotional 3 days in Cotonou, finishing up medical clearances, final interviews, various paperwork and reports, packing, saying goodbye to friends, and preparing for my upcoming trip. It was of course difficult leaving Avrankou Tuesday, but every minute since, I have been so busy that I haven’t really even processed the departure 100%. Yet it’s inevitable that in the next few days when things start to slow down some, it will finally hit me.

The party for the grand opening of the orphanage went really well. We had a good turnout of Peace Corps staff and volunteers, local authorities and neighbors. It was held on Sunday, August 24, 2008, and lasted most of the day. The morning was the formal part which consisted of speeches and explanations of the project, traditional dances and songs performed by the orphans for our guests, a tour of the center and the serving of drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The rest of the day was dedicated to the kids enjoying themselves. Most of the VIPs left after the morning session, but some of the volunteers and I stayed on to organize the activities. It was a success; the kids had a blast! And they deserve it. We held a dance competition with the kids, volunteers, and local mamas. It was all traditional dancing, so it was hilarious for them to watch us dancing together! We had a crafts session were the kids were able to design their own party hats which turned out to be a lot of fun. They played soccer in the yard and/or various boards games, sang and ate together. We took group photos, gave out candy, gifts, and prizes. All in all, the day went really well. It was a lot of work organizing, and was a very tiring day for me, but it was so worth it and the kids had a truly memorable day.

Since my last posting, I tried to really enjoy my last few weeks at site. I spent quality time with local friends and children. Some of my best last memories will be of sharing a local meal with a little boy- eating with our hands and sharing the same plate, helping my little neighbor attach her wrap shirt in the Beninese fashion, playing soccer with young boys, and taking a two hour walk around town with my 15 month year old neighbor, Merveille, tied on my back, perfectly content. Ahhhh, goodbye dear Avrankou. Goodbye Benin. You have been good to me the past two years!

So, I have posted below over twenty photos of my last few wonderful weeks at post. I now go travel with a friend for three weeks to nearby countries Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo. I’ll be home in the USA by the end of this month. This is the end of over.in.benin! It’s been an unforgettable journey. Have a great day everyone! Love, Sara
With my best friend Tanti and her son Frank, taken on my last day just before our difficult goodbye.
My immediate neighbors with their beautiful children Koffa and Merveille.

A trainee tailoring local clothing
After much practice with Merveille, pictured here, and a few other young kids, I can now do this all by myself. Every step I have mastered! And local mamas are always cheering me on, they just love it! In most of Africa, kids are used to this method, from day one, for sometimes hours on end. For me, it’s a bonding experience and Merveille got really used to me because I carry her around like her mother. It was fun!
Hanging out with Merveille on my terrace
My boys
These are my good friends and nearby neighbors with my direct neighbor Merveille. Anicet, who is a professor nearby, is the only man who carries babies on his back. He doesn't care if other men mock him. The reason for doing it? He and his wife have twins, and when they were smaller, he was a devoted father and husband, always helping out with the kids. I think it's so cool!
This is how you crush peppers, tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic, etc for sauces. This is the strong local red pepper which is used in most Beninese meals.

GANVIE - The Venice of Africa

The following photos are of a recent visit to the touristy lake village of Ganvie, just north of Cotonou. The village has a long history and established itself hundreds of years ago in order to escape conflict. The village population is around 15,000 people today and is just like any other village except is built totally on shallow water! It was very interesting.
With our guide Mathieu

Thursday, September 04, 2008

This is the mainland fish market

Here is Sarah--whom I will be travelling with the next few weeks

The following photos are of the opening ceremony for the orphanage on August 24, 2008

Big thanks to First United Methodist church in my hometown of Newton, Iowa who mailed 50 teddy prayer bears for the kids. They are a hit, and mean a lot to the kids. Thank you so very much!

Our Peace Corps family

In this photo are Peace Corps staff members and volunteers with some of our orphans. I was blown away at the record turnout by the staff in coming to my opening ceremony on a Sunday morning to support myself and the project. It is a wonderful family whom I have grown to love and will miss very much!
My friend Ashley greeting the kids

Dance competition with the volunteers and the children

Here is my counterpart giving our guests a tour of the center. Most of the people in this photo are Peace Corps staff.
Traditional dancing for the guests

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Opening remarks

To the right of me is my Country Director Sheryl
Here with two women from our partner NGO in Cotonou and a gov't representitive from the Ministry of Social Services

Monday, August 25, 2008

Big thanks to our donors!
Dance competition
Kids playing games at the party
Some other volunteers and the kids making crafts
With Peace Corps staff member Francoise and her cute family!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Here are some of our orphans at the NGO

7 girls moved in so far, more to come gradually

Here is our sign we will hang! It has the name on the side and the main text describes the orphanage - that is is a training center offering the kids social support, advice, and recovery. It also shows the partnership between USA (my PCPP donors) and Benin.
We have another metal sign indicating the place along the highway as well.
Here is our lady who is going to be working with the girls at the orphanage, teaching them basic skills to make clothing.

Friday, August 08, 2008


1 month left here

Bonjour! J’espère que tout va bien chez vous!

While trying to wind down projects and get the kids settled in the orphanage, I am also trying to find time to really enjoy my friends here this last month. I’m taking lots of photos and videos and trying to savour all of the light, happy moments in my last month of service. I’m really ready to go though, it’s time. I was just officially diagnosed with an intestinal parasite, although I’m not showing symptoms, and I’m taking a strong medication for it. I’m hoping it disappears soon so I can return to the USA in good health!

Thanks to those who have sent me cards or packages over the last two years. FYI: From now on please don’t send any more to me here. There is a good chance I won’t ever receive it. I leave in less than four weeks and stuff takes usually between three weeks and two months to get here.

So, my last day in village will be September 1. I will spend four days in Cotonou filling out forms, doing medical exams, having interviews, getting letters of recommendations, closing bank accounts, etc. Then the 5th I travel north to Niamey, Niger to meet Sarah, another volunteer, to travel with. We will continue over to Mali, hopefully seeing Timbuktu to do some hiking and take some camel rides. Then we want to take a train down to Abidjan, Ivory Coast where we will enjoy a big, modern city after being in the bush. Then back through Ghana and along the coast to Cotonou where we fly out late September for Paris to spend three days there before coming to Iowa early October. I get tired just thinking about it!

For my birthday last week, I was busy hosting three trainees who recently arrived in country. We had a fun time hanging out for three days while they observed my work and how I live as a volunteer. I gave them lots of advice and we went out a lot with my local friends, which was fun. While they were here, I realized just how many people know me around here, and call me by name, even in different neighbourhoods. At first it was YOVO (white person) and then certain kids understood me to be Tata (aunt), which I said I preferred. It spread like wildfire my second year here, and the cutest thing is when there is a group of kids and one says “yovo!” and before I correct them, I hear another little voice saying, “no, its TATA Sara. Bonjour Tata!”

Orphanage project update: Waiting on electric company to come and install everything, which is proving to be a huge hassle and take a long time. I am fairly confident it will be there before I leave, but not before the kids move in. Not a huge deal I guess though. Meanwhile, I have bought them flashlights and lanterns. We have completed the ceilings in certain rooms, and are planning on moving the first group of kids in early next week. Then we will be having opening ceremonies festivities a few weeks later, just before I leave. We have many fun ideas planned with the guests and kids and other volunteers in the area. I will take lots of photos and post them as soon as I can.

Have a great day! Love, Sara

Electric is almost all installed

Almost ready to move in

Here are some more orphans hanging out
The kids are already starting to clean the rooms and shelter area. Here is Jan pulling water.

Electric installation

My cute twins down the road

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Placing the wood before laying the bamboo ceilings

The bamboo ceilings

Lots and lots of BAMBOO!

The main building

Dorms, dining room, and main office

Their shelter for outdoor gatherings and such