Monday, May 5, 2014

Au revoir!

My Beninese adventure is almost over, so this will be my last post. Thank you to all of you who followed my blog over the last two years. I hope to see many of you shortly in the US. Au revoir!


Sunday, May 4, 2014


When I was visiting a farm a few weeks ago, I got to learn how they prepare tobacco. Essentially, the leaves are woven into braids, hung up to dry, then pounded into powder. In northern Benin, tobacco is consumed by being snorted up the nose.

As for cigarettes, there are packs of commercially packaged cigarettes for sale in village. Curiously enough, it is nearly always Peulh men who smoke cigarettes. Bariba men rarely do, and it is socially unacceptable for any woman to smoke.

The braids of tobacco are hung up to dry
A bundle of tobacco braids
A man pounding the dried tobacco into powder

Loose tobacco

Sam Girls' Camp

A few weeks ago, I led yet another girls' camp, this time in Sam. We covered the same material as the Sonsoro camp, but this time we invited every girl in the Sam Middle School, and nearly every girl came (around 50 girls). Another innovation was that we brought four girls from the Sonsoro camp and had them run many of the sessions. We are hoping that this experience will allow them to take a leading role in subsequent editions of the Sonsoro camp (when I will not be around to coordinate).

The Sam camp was a roaring success, and my co-organizer (the person who originally asked me to do a camp in Sam) is planning to run such a camp twice a year indefinitely. At the request of some parents, he also wants to organize a few days of camp for local middle school boys.

Below are a few pictures from the camp:

Two girls from Sonsoro are teaching the campers how to make a fuel-efficient mud stove

A Sonsoro girl is leading the group in song at our closing ceremony

We celebrated the end of the camp with traditional local dancing, accompanied by drummers

The four girls from Sonsoro and my camp co-organizer

Saturday, May 3, 2014


 A few months ago, I decided to construct a millet stalk structure in front of my house in order to have a shady spot to relax during the hot season. Below are the photos of the construction of my cabane.

My friend is using a special tool to dig holes for the posts.
Using a hatchet to chop the posts down to size
The framework has been set up and a millet stalk roof has been installed.
Chopping the millet stalks to the appropriate length using a machete
A local child tying the millet stalks together
Two people work simultaneously to tie the stalks together
My neighbor boy trying to help
The finished product! All of the walls are attached like curtains, meaning they can be rolled up or pushed aside

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Flora and Fauna of Benin: The Lorax Tree: Part 3

Loyal followers of my blog might remember that I posted photos last year of a tree I dubbed the Lorax Tree because it looked like it belonged in a Dr. Seuss book. Last Friday, I finally had a chance to take a picture of what this tree actually produces, and it turns out that that has a story of its own. Also, I learned the real name of the tree: the nere tree (pronounced nay-ray).

As you may remember from last year, after producing something that looks like orange Koosh balls, the tree produces large green pods. Inside the pod is a bright yellow material (as seen in the picture below) that seems somewhat like cotton or styrofoam.

A girl eating the sweet yellow substance that her family harvested in large quantities from the pods

Within the yellow cotton-like material are small brown things that are prepared for transformation into what the Beninese call 'mustard'.

These small brown things are separated out and collected
The small brown things are cooked and then set out to dry.

Dried and ready for pounding

Then they are pounded with a mortar and pestle and eventually formed into a round disc, which is sold in the market as 'mustard'.

The final product: "mustard"

This 'mustard' can be broken off into small chunks and added to sauces for extra flavor. In reality, it tastes nothing like mustard. You could really just consider it to play a role of a spice because it adds a new flavor to the sauce.

For those of you who never read my earlier posts on this tree or want a refresher, you can view them here:
Part 1:
Part 2:

Saturday, April 19, 2014


A few weeks ago, I went on safari in Pendjari National Park in northwestern Benin. Below are some of the animals we spotted.

A crocodile calling out to a friend

Thirsty baboons come to the watering hole for a drink (note the baby on its mother's back).

While waiting outside the toilets at a hotel, I heard a noise and found this viper at my feet. It is apparently very venomous and dangerous. It was my most dangerous encounter of the trip.

The park is home to many antelope, which did not seem particularly exciting because many varieties look quite like deer.

Buffaloes resting in the shade

A warthog family

A lion getting ready to hunt


Our guide and his car

Monday, April 14, 2014

An Announcement about Mail

Given the speed of transatlantic mail, anything sent to me from now onward is unlikely to reach me before my departure. If you had the intention of sending something, please do not waste your money on postage.

While I am on the subject, I would like to say that there are few things that make a Peace Corps volunteer happier than receiving mail. To those of you have have written to me or even sent packages over the last two years, you cannot imagine how much it meant to me. I always tried to write back after receiving mail, and I hope I expressed my gratitude sufficiently in those letters.

Thank you all very much.