One of the hardest things for me to adjust to while living here has been the consequences of failed technology (NOT an unusual occurrence around here). In the States when a computer fails, for example, you just call up tech support and get someone to fix it. To my ongoing frustration, such is not the case here. Thus, the reason why I haven’t written for a while. My computer continues to resist all efforts to revive it (perhaps a new verb is needed: to lazarise, i.e. to bring back from the dead) so I continue to try to make due without much of the essential information of my life. This includes things like my email address book and my resume(s), but also all of my music (all on iTunes) and all of the data for the 40th anniversary video project I was working on. Needless to say, I haven’t been getting a whole lot done lately.
Now mind you, that’s not the only reason I haven’t been working much. As I recall, the last time I wrote I had just returned from working stage in Porto Novo and I was on my way to Grand Popo for the weekend. My friend Jaren’s parent were visiting and she and Steve had planned a vow renewal ceremony for them, which they had asked me to officiate. What a wonderful weekend! Annie and Greg (Jaren’s parents) are great and basically made me feel like one of the family from the get-go. (I think it’s safe to say at this point I am one of the family. I’ve already been invited to Husky tailgate parties and the family 4th of July at Liberty Lake...oh yeah, they're from Washington.)
We stayed in a beautiful little auberge right on the beach, run by a Frenchman named Guy who has lived in Benin for over 20 years. He is the stereotypical French ex-pat: he hates it here but he can’t imagine leaving; he is always “busy” but never too busy to be welcoming and generous with his guests; he is always working on the next scheme to improve his business (he recently bought and refurbished an old train, which he now runs between the auberge in G Po and the one he owns in Dassa); and, of course, he knows everyone and has stories about all of them – which he prefers to tell over a bottle of wine or a glass of whiskey. Quite a character, to say the least.
We held the ceremony on the beach, next to a lonely palm tree. Jaren and Steve had matching outfits made for Annie and Greg from local tissu in their original wedding colors. Jaren walked her mom down the “aisle” (across the sand) as local drummers played in the background. It was really very lovely. Afterwards we retired to the deck, under the umbrellas, for a celebratory dinner, to the accompaniment of more drumming and the sound of waves crashing on the beach. I’m not sure it gets much better than that. We came back to Cotonou the next day to send Greg off to the States and Annie continued on to visit Tchaourrou, where Jaren and Steve are posted.
I spent most of the next week trying to get my computer fixed. I won’t bore you with a litany of all the things I tried (with the help of an IT volunteer), but suffice it to say none of them worked.
It was the following weekend that I started to feel sick; fever, aches, alternating sweats and chills – all the classic symptoms of malaria. So I began a course of anti-malaria drugs (Coartem for you doctors out there). Only problem is, I had 3 malaria tests come back negative! The only thing worse than being really sick and not knowing what you have is being 8,000 miles from home and not having anyone to take care of you. Now, of course, the doctors took care of me, but only in the barest clinical sense. What I would have given for a bowl of hot chicken soup and some saltines...!
After about five days I started to feel better. But then a rash of little red spots started showing up all over my body and the next day the fever was back (though milder). So the doctors took more blood (and various other samples) and ran a multitude of tests. As of this writing, I still have no idea what was wrong with me. Actually, that's not true. I have a pretty good idea what I had, I just have no clinical confirmation. (Again, for you medical types, I'm pretty sure I had Dengue Fever. The symptoms match pretty well.) That notwithstanding, I seem to have fully recovered; both the fever and the rash are history. I have returned to my “work,” such as it is, and life is more or less back to normal.
***GREAT NEWS ALERT*** Within the last few hours I have finally – FINALLY!!! – managed to rescue the 40th anniversary video data from my hard drive, so I should be able to finish it in time for the big celebration on September 5th. (For you techies in the audience, I was able to boot my laptop using a bootable linux disk – Ubuntu – and get to my hard drive through a Windows-like shell. Then copied the files to an external drive and voila!) The computer is still not operational, strictly speaking, but at least I have access to my data. When my new hard drive gets here, then the real fun begins. I get to try to “lasarize” my laptop! Wish me luck. ***
OK, gotta go. Next big thing is the 40th anniversary celebration. We're having a big ceremony here in Cotonou, with speeches, booths, and the swearing-in of the new volunteers. The PC Regional Director for Africa is coming from Washington. He and President Yayi Boni are supposed to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding. (Our current MOU was signed by the government of Dahomey!) Finally, if everything works out, the president of Benin is going to host a banquet for all PCVs and PC staff that night. I'll believe it when I see it...