Category Archives: accomodations

Cuba

It is so inconceivable to me that Cuba is this far-away, unattainable, imaginary place.  To me, Cuba is home.  When I went to Benin, I didn’t miss Boston, Mass.  I missed that sunshine balcony in habana, cuba.

Yes, it is crazy and hungry and desperate and backwards and hypocritical.  But it’s also musical and smart and beautiful and politically aware.  It’s hiphop and dancing and cuba light and fresh fruit all the time and the best beaches you have ever seen.

My friend Sarah, who went with me to Egypt, is going for the Dialogue.  And Allyson might apply as well.  It makes me so jealous.  And beyond the obvious bit of I want Cuba to be mine and only mine, I just want to be back there.  I want kisses on the cheek hello, no matter how inefficient I constantly complained they are.  I want stars at night in the city, and stairs forever to get home.  I want walking everywhere you go, and salsa with strangers, and ghetto spanish like you wouldn’t believe.  I want Chango and fidel on tv and no ads and Victoria Hasta Siempre.

The Dominican will be amazing, and so will wherever I go next.  But it won’t be home.  It won’t be Egypt and it won’t be Cuba.  It won’t be that feeling of never knowing what’s legal, of torn out parking meters, of instant friendship with strangers, of total impotence against the lack of facts, of surrendering to serendipity.

I’m putting on my shade to cover up my eyes.  I’m riding solo.  Te extrano, Cubita.  Besitos y mucho ache

Choosing a New Place

When I first heard about the Benin trip, and how it had a one-week France component, I was a little bummed.  I had already been to france, I already had that stamp.  But I think a lot changed when I was in Cuba. As the trip got closer, I thought of paris as a comfort, as a home in so many ways.  As a breath of fresh air, the way a weekend at my parents’ house can be. 

Now, when I think of bangladesh, I don’t think oh! Now I can say I’ve been to asia.  I don’t think about all the great proximate countries and how to cram them in as cheap as possible.  I think about how hard it will be to experience my first truly blind foreign language experience.  I think about how ill probably be alone, and what will I do for housing.  I think about how they treat women, and wonder whether harassment is prevalent. 

When I think about the Dominican Republic, I think of the comforts of Spanish and familiar food.  I think of the proximity to Cuba and Haiti.  I think about how going there three times in a six month period will be such an asset.  Of course, I also hope there will be enough food, and that I wont get sick of spending so much time there.

I think a lot, too, about the choices I don’t make.  Latin america isn’t supposed to be my focus area.  Shouldn’t I be in Africa or the Middle East?  Shouldn’t, as a friend suggested, I be running back to Cairo?

This is where it gets dicey and where I get all Bell Jar.  Each place I choose is a million I don’t.   And of course, money is always a factor, and my career, and the strength of what I intend to do in this new place. 

How do you pick where you live, go on vacation or work?  For me, a co-op abroad will be all of those things, in its own way.

Turning Down Travel

Earlier this week, I made a very difficult decision: I’m not going to Honduras this November. 

I haven’t been anywhere outside of the US (not that I haven’t travelled!)  since I got back from Benin this past June, and my feet itch.  My would-have-been travel companion and I are both working full time on co-op, which makes a looong weekend away seem even more enticing.  It would be warm, they speak Spanish, and there are amazing Mayan ruins and renowned scuba diving.  We’ve traveled together before, and have similar styles (fast-walkin’, mystery meat-eatin’, history-lovin’ sarcastic types.)  It’s notoriously cheap, (once you get there) and we even found bargain basement airfare. 

But alas, we are not going. 

Travel is only really cheap if you have time.  Time for a less direct route or slower method of transport; time to spend in a cheap country for the plane tickets to balance out across your cost per day. 

We have neither of these. 

When it came down to it, we both realized our food wouldn’t be as cheap as we hope, because there’s a learning curve on that one.  And our lodging probably wouldn’t be too bad, but still more per night than I’d like.  But when it all comes down to it, it’s about time.  We wouldn’t be able to stay long enough for the bargain flight to cost little enough per day to make it worthwhile.  And then throw in diving and we’re well about the $100/day mark. 

Sad, travel-less faces for Emily and I. 

On the bright side, we both realized this about the same time, so there is no fighting, crying or betrayal.  I’m choosing to focus instead on saving up for another, longer-term adventure.  Because really, we all know that five days wouldn’t satisfy me.  So maybe I’ll check you later, Honduras. 

But in the mean time: damn you co-op, for giving my just enough money and time off to make this almost possible, but not quite.

Things That I Love About Benin

Here is a list of things I love about Benin–both the program I’m on and the country.  I hate to give you all such a skewed idea of my life over here, and I also don’t want to focus too much on the NU specifics, but I’m a creature crafted for analysis, so that’s usually where my brain wanders.  In the interest of fairness, levity and a more well-rounded picture, here are some things I love.

  • Everyone is so friendly. Even moreso than in the American south, everyone we meet says “bon soir!” and is excited to see us.  Children wave and flash the peace sign, and women in the market are patient with our burgeoning Parisian French.
  • The Beninois students. We did a three day exchange with students form Universite d’Abomey,
  • Vodoun and the Cuba connection. I haven’t learned a ton more about vodoun here that i didn’t already learn in Cuba, but I love seeing how it is woven in to their clture, and talking to the university students about it.  Also, I miss Cuba and my Cuba aseres terribly, so its nice o have a little reminder of home
  • French! I love languages, and speaking French makes me happy.  I like helping other people with it, and getting a better understanding of the people I meet because of my language skills.  It’s also great to see what the francophone world outside of Paris looks like.
  • The weather.  I know it’s hot and sticky and furstrating, but it’s great to be back in a warm, comfy climate.  This coming New England winter may be harder for me than the ever were before…
  • The way of life. I love dirt and messiness and wearing the same gross clothes everyday, with worn-in french braids
  • The group. We spend a lot of time telling each other how smart, kind and adorable we all are, which is just refreshing and enjoyable
  • Our leaders. It’s nice to spend a little time being warm, fuzzy and non-competetive.  For those unaware, this trip is a Human Services excursion, whcih is not my major, but is a related field.  I am one of the few political science people here, but there are many international affairs majors as well as psych, journalism, art, sociology and a few others.  I miss the fiery polisci discussions, and I tease the Human Services kids about drum circles, peace signs and the high number of piercings and tattoos on this trip, but it is acutally kinda nice.  We haven’t met Prof. Luongho yet, but Rebecca is a lawyer in human rights law (!) and Lori has a great cross between sarcasm and being a mom.
  • Julie! Our TA, Julie Miller, is great.  We’ve been doing sunset rooftop yoga led by her, and I really think yoga should never be done anywhere BUT a rooftop in Africa at sunset.  She’s a great help both socially and academically, and I think we’ll all miss her when she goes to UC Berkeley for grad school in the fall.
  • The geography.  Palm trees, red earth, lizards running around everywhere, and adorable goats that act like puppies.  This place is great.  Did I mention we went to the beach?  And Obama Beach at that.  More to come!
  • The Songhai Center. More about this later, but it’s up there with the Grameen Bank and bacon on the list of things that rock my socks.

de l’Eau

You come in hot and sweaty from a run or yard work.  But there’s no ac.  So you go to grab water, but it’s not safe from

Our sink and the buckets that become our shower.

the tap, filters are  expensive and it takes a lot of time and gas to boil the water.  You go to the store, but you don’t have a lot of money and the water’s hot anyway.  There is no frige to put it in, because the opower ciosts too much, nevermind the cost of the frudge.

So you take a shoer, being careful not to open your mouth.  Then the water runs out, so you use ta cup and a buckey, if you thought to fill it earlier when there was still water.  Of course it’s been stagnant, so there may be mosquitos gathering at it, but it’s what you’ve got.

After you pour the water on yourself, you feel no relief because the water’s hot as the air.  You didn’t use soap because there isn’t any, and that would watse too much water to wash off anyway.  You towel off with a small, harsh rag, which only takes a second because you’re already dry from evaporation.

Our toilet, sans seat. Also, it doesn't really flush...

Being hot sucks.  Summer is hot.  But in Benin there is little relief.  Everyone walks or takes motorbikes everywhere, there are no elevators, and clothing norms necessitate that you be covered in more than just shorts and a tube top.

Therese are just our conditions, in an over-priced hotel run by nuns (awkward..)  The Beninous have no handiwipes or leave-in conditionar, and often no toilet paper to go with their lack of toilet seat.  they can’t afforc to buy all the bottled water we do, or to own enough clothing to switch midday.

And most of all, in three weeks they won’t be in the United States like us.

“This is Why People Believe in God…”

Early morning traffic jam in Cotonou, Benin

“…they think, ‘Please God, make the rain stop!'”

My roommate may be on to something, there…

We woke up our first morning in Benin to a glorious monsoon-like splash for a few hours.  The call to prayer pleasantly lulled me awake, but I wish i had heard it four more times that day.

The rain helped break the heat, but created massive traffic jams and many puddles throughout the Chant d’Oiseau hotel.

The group of 22 of us (plus our TA Julie and profs Lori and Rebeca) are all staying on one floor without strangers, so we wander around the balconies and each other’s rooms, debating brushing our teeth with tap water, or the use of the weird orange tarp on our beds.  (Word on the street is that it’s to protect the bed from rats, but that has been neither confirmed nor denied, and probably never will be.)

Bug net, in the fully upright position

At night my roommate Erin and I tuck ourselves into our forts, AKA beds with bug nets.  We’ve learned to keep chapstick, the alarm clocks and a bottle of water on the INSIDE and have even perfected the art of shutting our lights off from inside our “forts”.

Amid the fairly quiet night, exposing the screeching of bats and scuttling o creatures, we drift off around midnight and get up around  eight or our breakfast of baguette du pain and cafe or du the.

We’ll be going to Porto-Novo on Thusday, bu we’ll be back at the end of our trip again, as the airport is here in Coptonou.  We’ve spent the last few days with students of Abomey University, which was enlightening and fun.  Stay tuned for more updates this week!

Benin in Brief

Sory all, but the intenret cafe i’m in has some serious issues, so this is going to be a quick and dirty bullet post; sans photos.

  • sidewalks are treqcherous in Benin, including gaping three foot deep holes into the sewage system which is just stqgnant water
  • due to a linguistic mistake, we have no ac.  This is why it’s important to know the local language!
  • All the Benois students we’ve met have been enthusiastic and so friendly!
  • We bathe often but not thoroughly, and it makes little difference in the fqce of such heat
  • we have bug nets, zhich thankfully protect us fro, the bats as well
  • it is most definiely the rainy season n Benin
  • some of the letters and all of the sy,bols are ,oved aroung on the French keyboard which they use in Benin.  Desolée!
  • there qre very few streetlights and no trqffic lights
  • there qe no taxis; everyone rides motorbikes without helmets

I hope to find a better internet cafe soon, or perhaps somewhere with wifi!