Fall 2002 – Winter 2003 Vol. 10
The official Friends of Benin Newsletter
Visit the Friends of Benin Website- www.friends-of-benin.org
Friends of Benin Board Members
President – Brian Reublinger –
Vice President & Deadbeat Editor - Jessica Duke – firstname.lastname@example.org
Treasurer/Secretary & Membership Coordinator - Lori Killpatrick- Lkillpat@yahoo.com
Grapic Designer- Chris Robbins- email@example.com
Web Master- Chris Starace- CStarace@yahoo.com
Join Friends of Benin Group!
Friends of Benin is a group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Benin as well as anyone who has an interest in Benin. Our goals are to help members keep in touch with each other through the FOB website, this newsletter, reunions, keep up with what’s going on in Benin, support current Benin PCV’s, support Peace Corps’ third goal of bringing our experiences back home, and to help members keep their Peace Corps experience alive.
IMPORTANT - As of January 1,2003, NPCA membership dues are increasing!
FOB dues, however, will still be $15 a year. To join both NPCA and one affiliate group, such as
FOB, dues will increase to $50 a year, instead of the current $40. For a couple/family membership and one affiliate group, dues will increase to $65. Three year memberships will increase to $135. Three year couple/family membership will increase to $180. Any additional affiliate groups will still be $15 or $22.50 for a couple/family.
So, PAY YOUR DUES NOW to avoid paying more! Current rates will be valid for any membership or renewal postmarked by December 31, 2002.
Friends of Benin National Peace Corps Association
City, State, Zip:____________________________
Peace Corps Job:___________________________
PC Country:________________ Years of service:__________
___Associate members - I am not an RPCV nor RPCS
Select one membership category:
___Newly returned RPCV - 6 months free
___$40 NPCA/FOB dues (this is fixed by NPCA and can't be changed!)
___$55 Family NPCA & FOB
___$22.50 Family FOB
Additional contributions for NPCA:
___$1000 Director's Circle
___$250 Leadership Club
___$20 (member of NPCA)
___$30 (other RPCV)
___$10 Overseas Mail
Make check payable to Friends of Benin and send to: Lori Killpatrick, 3119 Clairemont Drive #2, San Diego, CA 92117 so you can get on the mailing list for the next Deadbeat issue (published 2 – 3 times a year). Membership begins on the date in which payment is received and ends one year later. A reminder will be sent before your membership expires. Don’t forget to renew your membership and please encourage your fellow non-member Benin RPCV’s to join.
Send or E-mail articles, ideas, comments, photos, etc. for the next FOB Deadbeat to or 2207 SE Elliott Ave., Portland, OR 97214
The Friends of Benin T-Shirt supply is low BUT if you need a size medium, we have some for you!. The beautiful khaki shirts with forest green design are only $15. Mail your check made out to Friends of Benin to: Lori Killpatrick, 3119 Clairemont Drive, San Diego, CA 92117.
News from the OVAL OFFICE
Brian Reublinger, took over presidential duties on June 21, 2002. after a free and fair election held in the spring. Brian spent his first quarter in office fighting forest fires. Hopefully, fall will provide him with some time to rest.
Announce Marriages, moves, engagements, new addresses, new children,, new jobs, say hi to old friends, locate a long lost postmate ...send submissions for future Deadbeats to Jessica Duke!
*Andy Jacobson (Education, 1990 – 1992) and Jeanne Bucci became parents to Julia Renee Bucci Jacobson on August2, 2002.
*Mary (Meldahl) Bodvarsson (Education 1990 – 1992), her husband Orn and son Gunnar welcomed Hans Peter Bodvarsson to the world on April 14, 2002.
Welcome New FOB members!
Morgan and Thomas Vance
Marie Chantal Landais
Amy and Kurt Larsen
Revisitng a Tongan Peace Corps Experience through the Life of a Benin PCV
By Tricia Hutchison – RPCV, Tonga (mother of current Benin PCV Sierra H.)
Our visit to Benin was a trip back thirty years to Peace Corps Tonga. In so many ways, third world countries- like people- are very alike. But what did strike me about Benin was the business of people. Everyone bustling here and there selling-buying-trading and bartering. It seems that the industry of West Africa is trade. It didn't matter whether a stand sold six bars of soap or a stack of mattresses- the act of business occurred.
We traveled constantly- bush taxi of course- rides ranging from terror to sheer thrills-all just plain fun. We felt secure in the fact that our taxis had a Christian cross, a cow tail whip and scriptures from the Koran all wrapped together on the visor to guarantee our protection on the road. We sat knee to hip to elbow with women and small children, old men and students. More tightly squeezed into cars than manufacturers ever dreamed. Everyone sat gravely and quietly passive on the long journeys up and down the roads of Benin.
Each section of the country has its own character. From the dirty overcast skies, bumper to bumper zemis, and sewer sandwiches of Cotonou to the deep, deep sand of Malanville which stretches along the Niger River there were things to see. We marveled at the hills and waterfalls that became predominant as you approach Somba land and the Togo border and we bought wonderful black clay pipes shaped like mythical animals and wrapped in hide and indigo peanut fabric.
Malanville introduced the culinary treat of Oagessi. It's good! A meal at a buvette of beans and rice topped with pimante and Oagessi can make you consider yourself well fed.
We saw the python temple in Ouidah, but the pythons were mostly visiting local Mango trees which we avoided. Really touristy on one level until you looked closely at doorsills and saw the remails of sacrifices hanging in small shreds.
Overwhelmingly I felt I blended in. Like my white white skin and short reddish hair didn't stand out. They did- but people treated my like they didn't. That was a nice surprise. I am not sure that is my memory of my first immersion into a non-white culture.
It was nice to know that after 30 years we could still fit back in-travel, eat and live Peace Corps style even as we gray. It was nice to sit in the different PC offices with volunteers and hear the blend of cynicism, hope, boredom and homesickness that still pervades the
volunteer scene. And of course the travel plans for COS.
Every Peace Corps experience is personal and different and thus hard toshare, but we appreciated the brief introduction that was offered in Benin.
Supporting Sustainability in Your Own Back Yard
By Jessica Duke
When we were volunteers in Benin, we likely preached the virtues of “sustainable agriculture” and we likely tried to promote and support the local economy. In general, this was not too difficult to do. If you purchased tomatoes at your village market, chances are they were locally grown and in some small way, your purchase directly supported the person selling the tomatoes. The use of chemicals to fertilize and prevent insect and weed damage was limited. Our marché vegetables were usually not grown in some far off land (save for all those onions from Niger). Now that we are back “home” such is not the case. If you purchase fruits and vegetables from your local supermarket, chances are they were produced with the aid of fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers and genetic engineering. Chances are those vegetables came not from the farmer down the road but from some other country. The practice of buying vegetables that are chemically “enhanced” and globally produced isn’t exactly sustainable. There are many ways of purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers. By purchasing directly from the farmer, you can ask the farmer how the produce was grown and cultivated. You can know the extent to which the fruits and vegetables you purchase are chemically enhanced. One way of purchasing directly from the farmer is through CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture). Community Supported Agriculture is a way for consumers to create a relationship with a farm and to receive a weekly basket of produce. By making a financial commitment to a farm, consumers become "members" (or "shareholders," or "subscribers") of the CSA. Usually, CSA members pay a flat fee early in the farming season and will receive fresh produce throughout the farming season. In general, CSA “shares” provide enough produce to feed a vegetarian family of 2 adults and 1 child. There is a risk involved. If the crop fails or the rain doesn’t come, CSA subscribers receive less produce. However, the odds are much better than the stock market.
Some CSAs also require that members work a small number of hours on the farm during the growing season. Working on the farm brings home the point of the foods’ origins. Despite popular opinion, lettuce does not come from Safeway. The work on the farm is generally easy (you don’t even need Peace Corps garden training in South Carolina to be able to help out) and fun. It gives you a chance to increase your circle of friends and get some physical exercise. Children are almost always welcome at “work parties” on CSA farms. They gain valuable lessons about the labor that is needed to feed us and they usually love playing in the dirt.
CSA’s actually began in Japan in the 1960’s. Housewives, fed up with the poor quality of food that was available in the supermarkets, decided to do something about it. They could no longer find the quality produce that had been available before industrial farming took over. So, they went out to the country side and found farmers to contract with. They wanted to encourage farmers to grow organically and they wanted to rebuild community. The Japanese farmers were more than happy to have an alternative to the wholesale markets and they enjoyed providing their costumers with the same quality food that they themselves ate on their farms. This housewife-to-farmer agreement was called Teikei or “face to face” and continues to this day. It is the origin of the CSA movement in the United States which began in the mid-1980’s.
Mel Higgins (who was a PCV forester in the extreme North of Benin from 1990 – 1992) had a “CSA” arrangement of his own. He gave a local farmer money to plant and harvest a whole field of ignames that Mel would eat when the crop came in. His arrangement made perfect sense, he lived in a very remote post and even the smallest market was a distance to travel. He needed a local supply of food and he had it. I’m not sure if Mel still likes foufou or if he runs from an offer of igname frites, but he was able to eat even if he couldn’t get to market.
Unlike Mel, most of us have the luxury of several markets to shop. We can go to the bargain grocery store where the emphasis is on cheap or we can go to the upscale store where the emphasis is on taste. Either way, we still have to spend some time picking out our produce with no guarantee of the quality of your purchase. With CSA’s, you get a variety of fresh produce every week throughout the season. You know that the produce is fresh, you will know how it was produced and you will know who you are supporting. There are CSAs throughout the United States. A wonderful web resource for finding CSA’s is You can submit your zip code and see if there are any CSA’s in your area. I have been involved with a CSA for a few years now. The seemingly large initial investment (I pay $700 for a May – December season) has always been well worth it. Imagine fresh produce every week for several months that you already paid for. My CSA share is an easy way to stay connected with the origins of my food, as easy as it was in my Peace Corps days.
NPCA 40 + 1 Celebration
By Peter de Groot (Former FoB President)
It is a strange sort of energy that emanates from and envelops a crowd of thousands of returned volunteers all gathered in one place. And this is not just any volunteer crowd, but a highly select cross section of returnees obsessive enough with their two-year sliver of life overseas to
pay travel costs and a substantial entrance fee to the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps. No, this group does not subscribe to the usual list of personal and intellectual agendas. They gather in Washington DC to proudly display their name tags emblazoned with their country of service, jam into overcrowded Ethiopian restaurants in the Adams-Morgan District, dust off their dialects and argue in Hausa for debt relief.
Thousands of veterans of foreign peace. Hailing cabs, spilling over the sidewalks, crowding the zoo, filling the lobby of the Omni Shorham hotel, and sporting their organizational patriotism in the form of T shirts, caps, buttons and bookbags that are not only fashionable and functional,
but support financially the Madison, Wisconsin geographical group.
Resourceful people. The public address system stumbles at the opening ceremony, no more reliable than a bus schedule in Ouagadougou. So the assembled crowd sings acappella through not only the US national anthem but that of Peru, as well. One has the sense that such a reunion cannot fail; these people will always find a way to succeed by calling upon their collective knowledge of how to get by when everything you had planned for didn't happen.
Many young people, recent returnees, but many more older people, 40+ like the Peace Corps, and many from the first groups of volunteers that gathered on the tarmac in the 1960's for group photos prior to shipping out to Ghana, India, Afghanistan and Dahomey. The in-betweens are fewer. They are busy working through the thick part of adult life, raising families, funding the core of their 401K plans, and sorting out what else besides their Peace Corps service will be the focus of their lives. A reunion such as this is perhaps a luxury of the spare time of youth and the relative affluence of middle age. But quite few continue to be engaged at some level with the Peace Corps experience and will be permanently-for them, this is their life. These are the group leaders, the organizers, the advocacy specialists and the current and former PC staff that form the core of the National Peace Corps Association.
Thoughtful people who believe that what they did in the name of global service was and is fundamentally a good thing. Faithful to the cause, they cheer Sergeant Shriver as the father of the movement and pay homage to JFK by marching en masse to ponder his eternal flame at Arlington cemetery. Overfilling ballrooms for writer's workshops, focus groups, and discussion
sessions on understanding Islam in today's world, planning, voting, remembering, and recommitting.
Americans deeply loyal to their host countries. This itself is perhaps the most moving and admirable quality of returned volunteers. These people are in love with places that often, ironically, made them more emotionally and physically miserable than they have ever been in their entire lives. They are in love with cultures and a way of life that they adapted to, that they learned to appreciate, and that they sometimes miss terribly. A place where they succeeded in working, making friends and fond memories in the face of huge and absurd obstacles. A host country that means as much to them as their own, because after a time they felt
accepted, despite the great gaps in language, culture and expectations. This is a great victory worth remembering.
Ordinary people who miss their fellow travelers from an intense time of life and are overjoyed to see them again at a reunion, and meet new friends who lived the same experience and who instantly understand.
So I shared the honor of carrying the flag in our small Friends of Benin delegation for the procession across Memorial Bridge, jumping out of line from time to time to take a picture of the hundreds of marchers and 130 splendidly colorful host-country banners. True, I wrapped myself in the green, yellow and red fabric during the closing ceremonies much of the time simply to shield myself from the intense sunlight of that June morning in Washington. Still, I have pride in the flag of Benin, whether it is flying at the Embassy or on Bill Lommel's rooftop. We owe a great deal to Benin and its people. I figure an Amtrak ticket and the entry fee for a reunion once every 40 years is the least I can do.
Pre-fête delegation shares love of Bénin with Ambassador
By Phillip Assis
“You are an inspiration to us; through the way you gave up all the comforts you have here to live with us in Bénin, in exchange for nothing, you taught us the meaning of service.” So said His Excellency Mr. Cyrille L. Oguin, Ambassador of Bénin to the United States, on the day of the RPCV party at the embassy of Bénin. Since the ambassador is involved in a University of West Virginia – University of Bénin cooperation that precluded him from joining the 25 embassy staff and family members at the “grand fête” in the evening, a smaller delegation met with him earlier in the day.
The RPCV delegates, who ranged in Béninois experience from “Dahomey 1” in 1967 to an RPCV who returned within the year, countered the ambassador’s assertion that our service to Benin was for nothing, taking turns explaining how deeply Benin and the people we knew there impacted our lives. All present agreed that their career and life paths were directed largely from a start in Benin.
The ambassador, along with Minister Counselor Charles Todjinou and Cultrual attaché Robert Zantan, who organized the day’s events from the embassy’s side, also took turns to tell the RPCV delegation how important Peace Corps is to Benin, and how important it has been to them personally. They emphasized the fact that we – all RPCVs from Benin – “are the true ambassadors of the country.” We tell people all across the US about a country that is as much a home to us as to the Beninois, a country most Americans have never heard of.
The Béninois embassy officials also told of the continuing struggle for development in Bénin, along with some optimism for the country’s future. All areas continue to be of extreme importance: health, education, energy are of particular note. But new roads connecting all its neighbors, stable politics, and an improved port bode well for increased investment and economic opportunities in Bénin.
While Bénin now ranks as the second largest Peace Corps country in West Africa (after Mali) with 115 volunteers, the ambassador stressed that we RPCVs are also important to Bénin’s present and future. The delegation, in return, agreed to stay in contact with the embassy, and that most RPCVs from Bénin would be happy to assist in any trade or cultural missions the embassy would be interested in setting up wherever we are located. Further areas of cooperation between the Friends of Bénin and the embassy will be explored.
The visit ended with a tour of the new embassy buildings and gardens, which prompted one of the delegates who knew the old offices to comment that “Bénin has certainly moved up in the world.” After group photos and a final saluer, the delegates left to prepare for the larger party in the evening, confident in knowing that we (all Benin RPCVs) are still welcome as citizens in the home we made in our hearts as Peace Corps volunteers.
Post- fête Soirée leaves everyone happy
By Phillip Assis and William Lommel
In conjunction with the 40+1 year anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps, a party was held at the embassy of Bénin for all Bénin and Dahomey RPCVs. Approximately 75 participants, including 25 embassy staff and family members, enjoyed a feast of Béninois and American food, beer and soft drinks, Angelique Kidjo music (you expected something else?), and the warm camaraderie that come only come from a common bond as profound as what we shared as Peace Corps volunteers in Bénin.
A brief program was led by Mr. Charles Borromee Todjinou, Minister Counselor of the Béninois embassy, who reminded all Benin RPCVs that it is their embassy, too, and that we should feel welcome to visit when in Washington. Speeches were made by Peter de Groot, President of the Friends of Bénin, Robert Zantan, Cultural Attache at the embassy and the party organizer from the embassy side, Phillip Assis, closest Bénin RPCV resident to the embassy (two blocks) and organizer of the party from the FOB side, and Steve Clark, the only RPCV present who served in the very first Peace Corps group, Dahomey 1. “I probably served before most of you were born,” Steve commented, though the crowd truly spanned the full range of years that the Peace Corps has been active in the country.
Special guests included Jeremy Sowadago, ”recently-returned” director of Peace Corps/ Bénin, and M. Akpata, RPCV Heather (Burrell) Akpata’s father-in-law, who just arrived that very day from Bénin for the first time outside of Africa.
The party provided a vehicle for meeting old friends who were in Bénin at the same time, to become acquainted with the Béninois community in Washington, and to meet others from different years who still share a common history, despite changes in the country.
Except for the most recently retuned, most stages had only one or two representatives at the party. One of the more interesting aspects, however, was the ability for volunteers who served the same Béninois communities years apart to compare notes and reminisce about local people and places. A common theme for all who met “post mates” from other years was how much had changed, and yet how nothing had changed.
In true Beninois fashion, the party did not end early. Around 10 P.M. revelers went to the home of RPCV Bill Lommel for more fun. The RPCVs who could still move after eating all the great food at the embassy party made their way to the city's highest open air observation deck for a late-night soiree. There, beer, bananas and boiled peanuts were had by all. Feters passed the mid-summer's night enjoying good company, le beat africain and views of the Washington skyline into the wee hours of the morning. C'etat chaud, quoi!
Thanks from the Embassy
Below is text from a letter sent to Phillip Assis, who helped coordinate the party at the Benin Embassy. Phillip broke his arm shortly after the party and was in poor shape when he delivered the “joli cadeaux” (a plaque commemorating the evening’s activities).
Je veux juste te dire un petit bonjour amical et te remercier au nom de tous mes collegues et de l'Ambassadeur pour votre joli cadeau. Je souhaite que tu partages notre reconnaissance avec tous les Amis du Benin aussi bien pour le present que pour les moments agreables passes ensemble le 21 juin.
On peut en faire une fete annuelle si vous le voulez bien. Nous en discuterons la prochaine fois.
J'espere que ton etat s'ameliore. Cela m'a fait beaucoup de peine la derniere fois de te voir dans cet etat. Remercions Dieu qu'il n'y ait rien eu de plus grave. Une fois encore, je te souhaite un prompt retablissement. Du courage a toi et a bientot.
Robert D Zantan
Ambassade du Benin
Peace Corps Online
By Jessica Duke
Peace Corps Online touts itself as “The Independent News Forum Serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers”. Peace Corps Online releases a monthly newsletter of news and notes relevant to RPCV’s via a listserv. For more information, check out To add your name to the Peace Corps online Directory of over 10,000 RPCVs, go to the following url and click on "Instant Registration":