Camp GLOW 2014!!

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What is it?

Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) is a week long camp for exceptional girls, selected by Peace Corps Volunteers, to come together and learn how to be leaders among their peers and receive education about important health and social issues affecting their communities. Camp GLOW is a Peace Corps initiative that started in Romania in 1995 with the purpose of promoting female empowerment. The program came to Benin in 2004 and has been widely successful; current volunteers are encouraging and educating promising young females all across the country.

What do we do?

Throughout the week, girls will attend sessions that target vital public health concerns, emphasize the value of education, focus on developing life skills, and encourage creativity and critical thinking. Topics include: finding safe drinking water, sexual health, study skills, career planning, leadership, entrepreneurship, creative writing, and domestic violence. At the end of the week, girls will collaborate with their volunteer to discuss the ways they can bring what they have learned at camp back to their villages.

Why do we do it?

Most of the girls who attend Camp GLOW will have their first experiences with touching a keyboard, picking up a paintbrush, and being told that it’s not OK for a husband to hit his wife. The girls will be mentored by adult Beninese women who have been selected for the exceptional example they set as professional, progressive women as well as older girls (junior mentors) selected from last year’s camp as outstanding participants. Most importantly, the girls will be surrounded by positive encouragement. They will not be hit, they will not be constantly sent out for chores, and they will be reminded that they are special and valuable.

How can you help?

Camp GLOW is financed through the Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP). The project is posted online where friends and family of participating volunteers can come together to collectively finance the demand. Please follow this link: https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-680-015. You can read project details and contribute with your credit card directly through the site. If you have any additional questions concerning the budget or activities of the camp, please feel free to contact me (heather.pace08[at]gmail.com). If you are interested in sending supplies that we would like to use, but do not have access to in Benin, please contact me as well.

426 Days To Go!

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Recent happenings in my social life at post – sorry folks, this wont be a work update… ;)

Lisa turned 26

Lisa turned 26! We had to celebrate a bit late due to my kidney infection, but better late than never! Happy Birthday Razzle Dazzle!

Kidney Infection

Welp, I got seriously ill for the first time at the end of May/early June with what turned out to be a kidney infection. They thought I had appendicitis and I thought I was for sure going to die. Thankfully, we were all wrong. Phew;)

Flowers from Aunt Nikki

My Aunt Nikki sent me some flowers and they started to grow! Yay!

Bethany hand with bug

While getting my laundry off the line I found this not-so-little guy on one of my dresses! He didn’t want to come off which resulted in me calling another PCV for help. I was SO not going to touch it!

These are taking forever to upload so I’ll add some more later! Love you all!

xoxo

Photo shoot with Maeva!

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During our second in-service training I went to go visit my host family in Porto Novo. My 2 (almost 3) year old niece, Maeva, and I had some fun with the camera on my phone while we waited for dinner:)

PS by the time I left, she could navigate through my phone without a problem – scary/really cool how fast she picked it up!

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Scarification

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Where do I begin?  To keep this long story short, in Benin you can get scarification to protect you from “bad things”.  This protection ranges from a blessing so you’ll never get caught by the police to protection from the common cold and EVERYTHING in between.  Lisa and I decided to ask the Koborbororou medicine man that we befriended a few weeks earlier if he could do it for us (Koborbororou is the small village just outside of Parakou that Lisa and I visit every Sunday). He laughed, and agreed.

First we went into the fetish shrine thing (not as fancy as it sounds) where we were not allowed to take pictures, wear shoes or hats (or hair nets…?). The only people who were allowed inside were Lisa and I, the medicine man, his wife (we think), a younger man who translated for us, the medicine man’s brother and the priestess girl (she had to be like 15…). They performed a short blessing that involved some praying, drinking some blessed water (that I was SURE would make me violently ill later, but I was not taking any chances…) and eating a coco nut after they threw it on the ground to see if the gods had accepted us – which they did, probably because I drank the water.

After that we left the shrine area and sat back down at our normal hangout spot in front of the medicine man’s house. Lisa and I were confused because we had asked about being scarred, and the blessing seemed to be over.  When we asked, he laughed again and explained that since the gods accepted us we didn’t need to get the scars. We tried to explain that we wanted the scars and that we thought that was the protection. He laughed yet again, and we got started.

Scarification

scarification

scarification

 

Step 1: Make cuts with razor (Yes, we brought our own. Come on, people.)

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scarification

scarification

Step 2: Rub in blessed ash.  The most painful part!

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scarification

scarification

Step 3: Enjoy!

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Medicine man’s brother who did the scarification.

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The group with Lisa and I. They are much happier than they appear, I promise.

xoxo – Heather

 

My Life in Pictures!

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My “Welcome to Parakou” kit that was given to me by my awesome post mate, Lisa!

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My house!

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My PC-style couch/bed/futon! Peace Corps Benin gives each PCV a mattress and since I replaced someone who already had a bed, I made my twin matress into a guest bed/couch:)

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One side of my bedroom with the closet and bed.  Sidenote – I won that super awesome Gilligan’s Island hat – that’s hanging on my bed post – in a dance competition! That’s right. This girl won a dance competition in Africa. Whattttuup.

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Other side of my bedroom annnnd another great shot of my prize hat!

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The foot and a half of space in between my house and bathroom… Pointless? Absolutely.

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My kitchen! Yes, my kitchen is basically outside and yes, I have been completely petrified to go out there at night since I’ve discovered a special visitor.

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My bathroom, or as they call them here, my douche:)

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2 of the 4 major marches is Parakou. The one on the right is Marche Depot and on the left is Marche Azeke or, as it’s known in town, the Grand Marche.

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Some findings at Marche Depot. Take a guess at what those are. Hint hint, they go “MOOOO!”

Breakfast!

Typical breakfast: Coffee and rice with sugar and moringa!

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Lisa and I as pregnant zombies [or teen moms gone wrong] for Halloween!

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My place of work! ABM’s logo, my ‘desk’, my view from my ‘desk’ and some moringa!

Bariba Horses 1

While sitting at a bouvette one night Lisa and I spotted some members of the royal Bariba Entourage! The Bariba people are an indigenous tribe in the area and are one of two traditional reigning royal families in Parakou. They dress their horses in fancy shmancy outfits and ride around town doing something that I have not been made aware of just yet… :) They were more than happy to let us hop on for some pictures (if you can’t tell I’m on the second horse from the left), but we were too scared (read: they were too drunk) to actually ride around them.

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This past week we had our first In-Service Training (IST).  We each did a study on our communities and presented our findings to the group. Since I live in one of the biggest cities in the country most of my answers were pretty boring so I figured I’d make my PPT interesting and take some fun pics! So, this is my “driving” a bus from one of the 3 major bus lines and another of me “driving” what people call a “tro tro” aka a van.

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IST presentation pictures with the local Gendarmes on the left.  The one on the right is of me getting taken into one of the 3 major hospitals in Parakou.

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Every Saturday I co-teach an English Club (for 1st year students) and a Business Club (for 2nd and 3rd year students) at Parakou University. These two pictures are of Lisa at one of our first meetings!

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Weave weekend! Lisa and I after we got our weaves! It took us each 4 hours to get it done and it was SO painful! I left mine in for about a week and a half. Fun to have in, not fun to take out, but I would totally do it again (in Benin).

Tchuk 2  Tchuk 3

Tchuk (pronounced chook) is a locally brewed millet beer that you drink out of a dried gourd. Each village/city who brew this tchuk drank have “tchuk marche” days where they empty out the/a local market and replace each stand with a woman selling tchuk! Parakou is home to 2 tchuk marches, one of which is the largest in the country! The pics are of a friend of mine and I out on tchuk marche day with a group of fellow tchuk drankers (must read that with southern accent). Side note: it tastes like sour apple juice.

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I’m not sure if you can see them in this picture, but these are [as I was told] mango spiders and they are GIGANTIC! Really though, one of the big ones is the size of my hand.

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Lisa and I helped out a group of Parakou University students with a World AIDS Day GIVE 1 project on November 29th – December 1st.  We passed out condoms in the community and collected money to throw a Christmas party for local children who have been orphaned by the disease. I learned a lot about my community during the 3 days and it ended up being a lot of fun. Of course, the bottom two pictures are 2 of at least 20 that were taken at the end of day 3 when someone in the group discovered how to use the camera on my phone.

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Coming soon to a radio [not anywhere] near YOU! DJ Paco and La Hizzle will be taking over the Parakou airwaves on Urban FM. Our radio show will highlight all things american pop culture as well as host contests and guest speakers! Stay tuned.

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And to end this obnoxiously long post, I give you Pantene Pro-Vs latest line of “Anti Hair Fall Shampoo” – get yours today.

Happy Holidays! xoxo.

Heather

135 days in Benin – 677 days to go!

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Hello Friends & Family! My apologies for not posting sooner, I will make this one long to make up for it:)

September 14th 2012: Officially swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer! In Benin, when there is a big celebration, families will buy matching fabric called tissu and make outfits to wear to the party. So, for our Swear-In ceremony each sector (Community Economic Development [ME!], Rural Community Health, Environmental Action and Teaching English as a Foreign Language) picked their own and our respective staff matched us as well. My host mama and sister were there to celebrate with me too! Saying goodbye to them was way harder than I thought it was going to be!

September 15th 2012: Move to Parakou! Benin is not that big, actually, it’s about the same size as Pennsylvania, but it takes about 8 hours drive from Porto Novo to Parakou because the roads are so bad. On the bright side, you get your own bush taxi for the day (there are only two times that you get your own bush taxi and that’s when you move in and when you move out). I was fortunate enough to get to share a taxi with another PCV for the ride. Our lovely taxi driver packed all of our things and stopped multiple times to find us food and bathrooms.

October 15th 2012: One month at Post! I’ve got most of my house together (still no couch, but working on it!) and am learning [slowly] how to make myself food that I actually enjoy eating. I have French lessons twice a week with a local university student and I am at my ONG’s office/boutique 5 days a week. I thoroughly enjoy all the PCV company who pass through Parakou and am realizing how fortunate I was to be placed in such an awesome city!

Today – November 7th 2012: 4 MORE YEARS! The Parakou ladies (Lisa, Thuy and I are all PCVs posted in Parakou.) organized an election party at a local hotel since we didn’t want to miss a second of the election and this was the only way to make that happen considering they announced just before 6am (and I haven’t slept yet!). I’m so glad we did it too, there were 6 of us who came and it only cost us each 6,000 cfa (about $12 US dollars) for everything – dinner, breakfast, wifi, pool and cable!

Next up on the calendar – Thanksgiving! During our first 3 months at post we are supposed to be learning about our communities and observing our partner organizations so they do not want anyone leaving their Department for this period, except to go to your respective Workstation (Benin is broken up into 12 Departments – Alibori, Atakora, Atlantique, Borgou [ME!], Collines, Donga, Kouffo, Littoral, Mono, Oueme, Plateau & Zou – kind of like counties, each has multiple villages and cities)! So, for thanksgiving we’re making a big dinner at the Parakou Workstation:)

In other news: I think I am adjusting well! I get sick from time to time, but nothing too serious (one malaria scare, but it turned out to be a bad case of food poisoning). I’m homesick more days not, but having my iPhone here has made that SO much better to deal with! If you have an iPhone turn on your iMessage and add my email and African phone number to my contact info (heather.pace08@gmail.com, +229-65-07-00-70) and send me a text! The send button should turn blue, if not it will cost you! If you have any other smart phone, download the app Viber and I should pop up as a contact if my info is in your phone already! There is an 8 hour time difference from CA, but call/text anytime, I don’t mind at all!

If you’re feeling extra nice and want to send me a package or letter, please do! The address I’ve given everyone still works – the mail goes to the PC Bureau in Cotonou and is brought to me once a month – but it will get to me faster if you send it to the Parakou Workstation:

Heather Pace, PCV
Corps de la Paix
BP 359
Parakou, Benin
Afrique de l’Ouest

I’ll be posting pics on FB – easier than WordPress! I hope to hear from you all soon! Miss you and love you<3

And another…

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Annnnd I wrote this one about a month later… :)

We’ve officially been here over a month and I have survived all of it! Here are a few updates:

Life in Benin: … is awesome. The kids (and some adults) still scream Yovo at me, but I’ve taken to pretending that I’m Jennifer Aniston and that they are my fans – way more fun. The food here is still awesome. The people are still very nice. The weather is always going to be awesome for me – haha!

My Family: IS AMAZEBALLS. They’re so loving and treat me like I’m one of the fam! I get ‘cooking lessons’ from my mama and sister but really it’s me playing in the kitchen with Maeva (my 1 yr old niece) while they cook and then I recite how to make the meal. Win, win? I think so. I am only really allowed to cook 1 thing on my own (AKA with a sister in the kitchen with me) and that is… FRENCH FRIES! My sister watches me very closely… I even accidentally burned her once:( Oops! But, my fries are famous. Zack and Jordan – My friend and I are going to try and make some animal fries next! Haha!

Health: I’ve been sick twice, but like I said I survived. I can’t remember the last time I had a fever so that was kinda weird, but my mama and the PC doctors took great care of me.

French: Loooong days of French classes paid off! After my 1st of 3 (?) language tests before swearing in, I tested into the Intermediate Mid level, which is the requirement to swear in as a Volunteer! YAY! Now I am learning Bariba, but I can only remember how to say I love you (Na nu ki) and my name (there are no Hs in the alphabet so my name is technically Eater… I’m banking on a nickname… lol).

Post: [Post = where I where I will be 'posted' or living for the next two years] We all get 2 interviews with our PCMOs about our posts and everything is kept pretty hush hush until the big reveal. CED (pronounded like “sed” and stands for Community Economic Development) Trainees were asked to put their order of preference for urban, semi-urban and rural communities, their top 3 “wants” and special skills or interests you have and would like to use. Here is what I put down:

I put down urban, semi-urban then rural – I’m in Africa. That’s rural enough for me. We never actually spoke about this question in my interview though, but it was on my questionnaire.
Want 1: To be placed next to other Americans.
Want 2: To have access to electricity for my computer – I made this request so that I would be able to do my job better, not a necessity.
Want 3: To be able to speak French at work – Again, not a necessity, but so that I will be able to do my job more effectively.
Special Skills: I took that opportunity to discuss my degree and experience with Marketing/Advertising and how much I’d love to continue that if possible.

Annnnnd I got PARAKOU! (…Google it now.) Briefly, it is one of the largest cities in Benin, located about mid country where 90% of the pop speaks French (but I will probably still continue with my Bariba lessons). There is just about everything I could possibly need in Parakou – including running water and electricity at my house! Basically everything that we have here in Porto Novo I will have in Parakou (including PIZZA & STEAK!!!!! eff yeah.) OH AND – I will have a post mate (someone who lives in the same city as me – I may or may not have already met her and she may or may not be awesome…) :) Also, there are 4 ‘workstations’ in Benin that are just PC offices that volunteers can stay at for a few days with wifi, AC, printers, scanners, books etc. 1 of those workstations is in Parakou also!

Job: Okay, on top of getting an awesome post, I got an equally, if not better, job! I will be working with an up and coming Moringa (again, Google it now…) Organization. I am not sure how much I am allowed to write about my work partners so I will hold off on any more information about that – but I can tell you that will be using my Marketing/Advertising experience A LOT (Megan & Leah: There was even a request for a brochure redesign too – how crazy!!). I am so excited to get to Parakou and meet my homologue (Beninoise work partner) and explore everything! Every year, each training group goes to visit their posts during training. We are the first group to go for 2 weeks – the others went for only 3 or 4 days. I will leave for that on August 5th with my homologue (our homologues are coming down to Porto Novo for a 2 day orientation with us). So, If you’re paying attention I got an urban city, all of my wants, and will get to use my requested special skill! That was pretty rare among the group…

I think that covers everything! I will try and not leave you all hanging for so long next time!

Oh yeah – SEND ME LETTERS!

Heather Pace, PCT
Corps de la Paix Americain
01 BP 971
Cotonou, Benin
Africa l’Ouest

Miss you all and love you even more!

A bientot!

Time to play catch up!

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It’s been awhile, but I was thinking about you all the whole time and wrote this lovely blog post during my first few days here:

Bonjour tout le monde!

I am currently laying in bed at my homestay house! I will get to details about them later, but first, let me catch y’all up;) Heads up: this post has some Franglais (French and English)!

Saturday, June 23rd: Fly to Philidelphia for staging at 8am. Flight was delayed 3 hours due to the flight staff. I was a bit nervous because I was supposed to meet 2 autre volunteers at my baggage claim, mais neither one of them had a cell phone for me to tell them I was being delayed. Regardless, they were there when I got in and we were also joined by 3 other volunteers. We had awesome philly cheesestakes for dinner. Yum.

Sunday, June 24th: Stage begins at noon. I decided I needed one last pampering before I embarked on Africa, so I got up early and got a pedicure (SO worth it. My feet will never be that clean here!). Stage was great, all the other volunteers and staff were so welcoming and nice.

Monday, June 25th: Drive to JFK from Philly and board the first of 2 flights. Seeing NYC one last time was nice. In a way it was a reassuring few moments like, heres-what-you’ve-conquered-already-so-you-can-do-this moments – and a much needed one at that. The first flight was 8 hours, but we were on the tarmac for about 2, followed by a 3-5 hour (I was delirious at this point so I had no concept of time) layover once we got to Brussels. THEN another 6+ hour (again the delirium thing) flight before finally landing in Cotonou, Benin!

Tuesday, June 26th: We have arrived au Benin! We were welcomed by some awesome current PCVs at the airport, got our luggage then took care of some other logistics before getting on three 20 seater buses to go to our hotel. When we got to the hotel we had dinner and took our bags to our rooms. My room was through something like 500 meters of sand pit in the farthest building on the top floor (3) – So picture me in 80+ humid weather dragging my two 50 lbs bags all the way to my room. Sweating is a severe understatement.

Wednesday, June 27th: Lots of information sessions. We got debriefed on PC/Benin staff and their roles, Safety & Security, IT, Health (My medical record has no immunizations on it so I am so lucky to be getting 1 shot a week for the next 6 weeks.) and two presentations from the current volunteers. One of which included a detailed explanation of how to properly pee on the side of a public road – like when we’re on a long bus and the driver pulls over for a bathroom break in the middle of nowhere.

Thursday, June 28th: More classes, but this time at the PCV workstation in Cotonou. This day was filled with many firsts.
first time being interviewed in French.

  • First time meeting APCD aka my boss for the next two years (who actually has my blog address, so hi Yves!)
  • first time meeting with my doctor to talk about things including what malaria prophylaxis I will be taking everyday for the next two years!
  • First time riding a zemi! I have a video of them, but it wont upload so google “Zemidjan in Benin” and hopefully you see what it’s like!
  • First time eating (well, trying to eat) a fried fish head, eyes and all. I didn’t end up eating it because there were too many bones for me to pick out…

Friday, June 29th: Last day in Cotonou for staging then off to Porto Novo to meet my host family! We got pictures of them and they got pictures of us before so that when we got to dinner we could find each other. I got a family with 5 sisters (15, 18, 20, 23 and 27) and une mama! It’s crazy how I have 5 sisters at home and 1 awesome mom and I got a host family with the same:)

Saturday, June 30th: Start training; Day 1 officially! I was a little late to my first French lesson as I was not quite used to the morning situation (read: taking a bucket bath and actually sitting and eating breakfast*), but it was okay and the lesson went well. We take our French lessons in small groups with people who are at a similar level and for ours we study at each others houses. Apres, mon Francais Lecon ma sour et moi joue scrabble! One of my sisters is learning English so she playes en anglais et I played en Francais! It took a VERY long time and there was a lot of “Is this a word? No. Okay, Is this a word? No. Okay…” haha:)

*In Benin it is not okay to eat and walk anywhere.

Sunday, July 1st: I can’t believe its JULY! It feels like time is flying by. After a long morning of calling the doctors and scaring my mama (I wont go into details, lets just say I was VERY dehydrated.) I was feeling better and my sister and I went to what I think they called the African Championship(?) not quite sure if that’s what it was. It looked like an Olympic trial for Africa in some running distances and javelin. The most interesting part was how the people interacted with the police. It is very different than in the US. I got to see some other volunteers too!

Monday, July 2nd: Happy Birthday Kate! I got to go on my sisters laptop and use the Internet but it was very slow. It’s crazy to think about how attached I was to my cell phone and laptop at home and how I have gone without them here and survived;) It’s nice – you should try it Andrew! :) We had our first full language class at chez moi today 8-5. I didn’t know how a full day was going to go, but it wasn’t that bad. I’m excited about learning though.

I LOVE BENIN! This country is so beautiful and everyone is warm and inviting – and they laugh all the time, you all know how much I love that:) I haven’t even cried yet! WINNING.

OK, I’m exhaused.

Bon nuit mes amis. Je t’aime boucoup!

I’M HERE!!!!

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I am here and I am safe!  I’m at a cyber cafe in Porto Novo so I don’t have a full update but I’ll write as much as I can before my time runs out:)

My first few days here were very overwhelming! It was scary, but everyone was/is very nice.  I am living with my host family in Porto Novo for training (the first 3 months I am here).  They’re awesome! I have une mama and 5 sisters! They’re all so much like my sisters its scary.

I have running water and electricity when I need it, no internet (unless I go to an awesome cyber cafe) and my toilette doesnt flush:) haha!

OK my time is running out – write me letters!!!! I miss you all so so so so so much!

2 WEEKS TO GO!

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Nothing too exciting to report.  My closet has finally been released of its duties to hold all of my Peace Corps things and they’ve been moved here:

           

Yay! Luggage!

Oh! And I’ve started a “Pre-Benin Bucket List” that has me quite entertained these days.  It’s part “Must Do” list and “Want To Do” list.  Here’s a sampling of the awesomeness:

  1. Go to Disneyland – Scheduled! SO. EXCITED.
  2. Go to the batting cages – Done!  Turns out we [one of my bffs has taken on this list with me, thank god] needed a bit of liquid courage to complete this one because there were about 25 little kids there tearing it up.  -_-  Annnd I’m still sore.
  3. Go to a shooting range – Scheduled! We found a place that has a “Lady’s Night!” – how can one say no to that?!
  4. Go to Great America
  5. Go fishing
  6. Eat as much In N Out as humanly possible – In process.  ;)

Jusqu’à la prochaine fois, mes amis!