Thursday, February 6, 2014

Breaking the Blog Hiatus

I’ve spent the last 6 months on blogging hiatus because, well, truthfully, I’ve was being seduced. Colorado was not an end goal for me.  I first came to the state for a person, then for grad school, and finally, came to terms with what everyone else already knew. It had become my home.  Since leaving Alaska, I’ve been trying to figure out where I belong. My 20’s were filled with fellow rolling stones and not many people batted an eye when I said I lived in a tent or on a fishing boat or gave chickens to my neighbors for the holidays in Peace Corps. Everyone did these things in my circles.  While I’m incredibly fortunate to have lived the life I have already, it delayed the sense of urgency to make a home that was larger than my backpack.

Slowly, things started to shift. Grad school, an apartment lease, adult conversations about life, love, and pursuit of whatever I damn-well-please all became notches on my belt in a blink.  I’m finally happy to attend weddings, and can’t wait to see the new tiny humans my friends are creating. I love the community who embraced me in that beautiful state; but in typical “I’ll show me” fashion, I left as soon as I got comfortable.

So, here I am. In Benin. Again. It’s been awhile since I’ve actually sat down to write so please excuse the inevitable rambling as I blow the cobwebs off my mind.  And let’s not pretend that blogs aren’t self indulgent anyways. Judge as you see fit.

A year ago, 3 other ladies and myself dabbled in a business plan competition that culminated in this moment. I’m sitting in a freshly lacquered, stiff-backed wooden chair, my forearms sticking to the new, smelly varnish of the table, in a concrete room with walls painted a hospital mint green.  It’s 90 degrees out, but a dry heat. I’ve been covered in red dirt road for days and am getting reacquainted with the fact that I will always be sweating and my feet will always be dirty. My gut is already in turmoil even though I’ve been diligent about eating hot food and only drinking bottled water. Ok…diligent is a strong term. At least I’m taking malaria meds and re-upped my shots.  In truth, it’s been so hot (literally 100 degrees difference from where I left the US) that food has no appeal, a blessing after the last 6-weeks of gluttony. Friends and family in Colorado and Ohio showed me a proper farewell. Except it wasn’t really goodbye at all since I have 3G coverage over here. So really, it’s like I just moved to North Dakota, right? 

I served in the Peace Corps in Benin from 2006-2008, in a small village with no running water or electricity. I watched the very beginning of the telecom boom happen. No connection, to climbing a tree for a bar of network to text, to watching people order goods from the city via cell phone on market day. It was a critical 2 years in Benin’s development and while I’m happy to see that it has progressed, I also feel fortunate to have seen it in the days before. While I would never trade my service for any other experience, Peace Corps can be limiting both in terms of access to capital and the empowerment to start things. I left with many more questions than when I began and have spent a chunk of the past 6 years trying to figure out some of those answers.

This time, I’m here for a year, working to create a network of better street food vendors.  I have a Beninese counterpart with whom I partnered with in Peace Corps. It’s exciting, but it’s not home. I’m here to work. The last few years in the US have been filled with the study of “impact”. What does it mean to do something that matters?  Africa is not one huge petri dish, even though the last 50 years of aid would lead one to believe differently. Ultimate goal? Leave things better than we found them and do no harm.  I firmly believe in a hippocratic oath for people working abroad. More to come on that later.

Since arriving last Friday, I’ve been coming to terms with how to exist in this country as a foreigner who isn’t exactly affiliated with Peace Corps.  I can’t bring myself to bust out the camera and snap pictures as I did when I first arrived in Benin in 2006. This time is different. I don’t care to write about the familiar smell of charcoal burning at meal times, or how the kids daringly graze my legs at the market as I buy fly-covered vegetables from their mothers. Not yet. I’ll need to describe those scenes at some point but really, you don’t have to look very far to find a piece of writing that waxes poetic about African markets. Bright colors, overwhelming smells, loud noises, and dirt.  Slap a little Paul Theroux sass on there and it’s a novel.

So. Here I am.  Join the party or stay a ghost in the ethers. And, as always, it took the Mom to tell me to buck the f$%k up.  There's no whining on the equator!