1/01/02 Vol. 7
Friends of Benin Newsletter
Friends of Benin Website- www.friends-of-benin.org
(Check it Out!)
Updates from the Executive Committee:
Pres. Peter de Groot- firstname.lastname@example.org
Web Master- John Boe -
Join Friends of
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. Some of 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 brining our experiences back home, and to help members keep their Peace Corps experience alive. We are a young group and need your participation!
Attn. Current PCV’s: We will be sending several free copies to PC Cotonou for every edition and we encourage current volunteers to send contributions to the U.S. “Deadbeat” to Chris Starace, 124 Shippan Ave. Stamford, CT 06902. Let us know what you are doing, give updates on what’s going on in Benin, PC Benin (most of us are quite out of touch), and let us know how we can support you. Send us copies of your “Deadbeat” so we can include portions of it in ours. Feel free to include articles from the FOB “Deadbeat” in the PCV Deadbeat.
Friends of Benin
National Peace Corps Association (NPCA)
City, State, Zip:____________________________
___Associate members - I am not an RPCV nor RPCS
Select one membership category:
Send or E-mail articles, ideas, comments, photos, etc. for
the next FOB Deadbeat to Cstarace@yahoo.com.
or 42 Linden Ave. Ossining, NY 10562
There are only a few Friends of Benin t-shirts left! Get yours before we run out. The beautiful khaki shirts with forest green design are only $15. Please include $2.50 for shipping and handling and mail your check made out to Friends of Benin to: Lori Killpatrick, 3119 Clairemont Drive, San Diego, CA 92117. Don't forget to include your size.
News from the
Greetings fellow Friends of Benin!
I had hoped to meet many of you in person September 22, the
date planned for our reunion soirée and Benin embassy visit in Washington DC.
As you know, this event was planned in conjunction with the 40th
Anniversary celebration in Washington D.C., and there was a “between
Deadbeat” mailing to make sure everyone was up to date and had an opportunity
to attend. We all felt this took
priority over mailing a full issue of the Deadbeat.
Many FOB members worked hard on the reunion arrangements and it was sure
to be a successful fête.
Alas, the NPCA elected with good reason to postpone the 40th
Anniversary until next year, when we hope that our attention may be focused once
again on Peace and Friendship.
We are particularly delighted with our new members, and
continue with our objective to build and strengthen our community of Peace Corps
Benin alumni, volunteers, staff and supporters.
With this expanded issue of the Deadbeat we wish to thank
you for your support of FOB, and for your patience as we regroup for the new
reunion plans. In the meantime,
keep in touch! Use the Listserve,
send each other and us mail, and keep the experience alive.
A bientôt - Peter
Activities and Events:
The 40th anniversary Peace Corps conference has been
rescheduled for the weekend of June 20-23. Please join us as we reschedule
our Friends of Benin reunion for the same weekend. Mark your calendars now
for Saturday, June 22, 2002. We hope you will be able to join us.
Members/ Message Board
moves, engagements, new addresses, new children,, new jobs, say hi to old
friends, locate a long lost postmate ...
Chris Starace (Allada SBD 95-97) and Cara Viggiano were married on Oct. 7th in Ridgfield and are living in Ossining NY now.
Welcome New FOB
Overheard submitted by Aurther Wallin:
Does mefloquine destroy brain cells? Of course it destroys brain cells! I'm a billionaire when it comes to brain cells. Right?
feels so good
By Paul Assis
OK, cheesy title, but not one of the 15 out of 20 from our
stage who made it to our ten-year reunion would say that it did not feel good.
In fact, it felt like what we’d all idealize family to feel like.
Most of you reading this, probably, were not blessed
(cursed it felt at the time) to have had five months of training with a
two-month stint at Penn Center, St. Helena Island, South Carolina. The wonder of Penn Center is best reserved for another
article. Suffice to say that this
former school for freed slaves and the cultural heart of the Gullah culture is a
special place that, for our stage, already brought us to Africa before even
leaving the States. We also formed
strong bonds there, isolated as we were, before setting foot in Benin.
Ten years later, Penn Center proved a logical place for a reunion. It was part of our Peace Corps experience, but a more practical location than Benin itself. It is also comfortable. Gone are the days of cockroaches and stepping over holes in the floor of Benezett Hall; Penn Center is now a series of spacious homes with air-conditioned, polished floors and modern kitchens that remain true to their historic heritage. Throw in the reasonably-priced dining service with Gullah cuisine, run of the spacious and lush (remember the Spanish Moss) campus and new on-site Gullah history museum, proximity to historic Beaufort, and peace & quiet, and Penn Center is about the most logical place for a PCV reunion imaginable, even for the stages who didn’t train there.
More bang for the buck
Although a stone’s throw from Hilton Head Island, St.
Helena Island remains a largely residential island of the Gullah people. Penn
Center, in particular, is a non-profit organization that depends heavily on
grants, visitors to its museum, and groups like ours renting its facilities to
maintain its social service programs and cultural heritage research.
Remember that Peace Corps hasn’t used the center for training in years,
taking away a previous form of steady income. Our stage can feel good about
having spent its tourism dollar wisely; it was both a good value, and we helped
out a very worthy cause. We also had a significant chunk of change left over that we
donated to Penn Center, with many sincere thanks from the director.
Thinking of a reunion? Think Penn Center
If you’d like to follow suit and organize YOUR reunion and Penn Center, I urge you to do so. Here’s how I did it:
1) Once you’ve picked the dates, call Penn Center and reserve: 843-838-2432, ask for Carrie in conference services. She will forward you menus, prices, a map, etc.
2) Reserve a van for the Savannah airport (the nearest), to transport your group to and from Penn Center.
3) Determine how much money you’ll need from everyone to cover the house rental, food (depending on length and number of meals at Penn), van and gas. E-mail everyone to send you a check for that amount. [I charged $200 a piece, initially counting on 3 nights. We ended up staying 2 nights, leaving the aforementioned surplus that we donated to Penn Center.]
4) Once you’ve received enough money to ensure that you won’t get burned, mail in a deposit or the full amount of the House rental to Carrie at Penn Center. Food can be paid for then, too, or when you arrive.
5) Determine which menus you will choose from the dining service. This can be determined up to one week before arrival.
As everyone will arrange their own flights, determine when everyone will
arrive for van pick-up. [We ended
up with over half driving, so those flying fit into one van.]
What I learned and would caution a reunion planner
I started planning two years ahead of time, but still had
people who showed up at the last minute without warning.
You must go with the flow, allow plenty of time to track everyone down,
and expect that not everyone will commit when you ask them to.
A related benefit of Penn is that every house can sleep a range of
people, and you pay by the house, not the number of guests.
Even the kitchen seemed flexible about adding people. So you can always
add more at the last minute.
My educated guess is that it would be difficult to motivate
as many to a reunion anywhere that was not meaningful to the stage as a whole.
In other words, the beach may be lovely, but which beach? Everyone has a
different idea of beauty, fun and ease of location.
Some would simply rather be in the mountains or a city.
Penn Center is not easy to get to, but it’s the one place in the US
that has meaning to all of us.
If you are seriously considering hosting a reunion at Penn
Center, please contact me at
I highly recommend it; we remain close because of it.
Transmit news from your in-country contacts and post messages from
current Benin PCV’s: Current
PCV’s: Send us letters and
articles from your Deadbeat!
Dear Friends and Family,
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, I'm in the process of trying to bring a number of
Francophone African films here for volunteers to show in schools and elsewhere, both as a way
of bringing up questions of identity and development and in order to share with Africans art
that was created with them in mind, but that unfortunately has become a cultural export. The
distributor I've contacted, the Library of African Cinema, has a great selection of films that
could serve as materials for a film viewing and discussion club that any volunteer could run
(with little effort) as a secondary project. If I can get enough help, there's no reason why,
with the help of volunteers, these films couldn't be distributed in every country where they
Benin. We'll be collecting the donations stateside for purchasing the films. Please send
your checks to RPCV Kathryn
Tyrrell at our collection point:
445 W. Barry #327
Chicago, IL 60657
Whether or not you're able to contribute, please feel free to send this message on to others
who may be interested. I want to stress that since I was unable to arrange a Partnership for
this activity, the film donations are NOT a Peace Corps activity and are not sanctioned by
Peace Corps in Washington, although we intend to turn this into a SPA project once the films
arrive. The logistics of doing this through the American government were just too daunting
and time-consuming. Please contact me if you have any concerns regarding this point.
The Library describes Clando as "a call to action from one African to his fellow Africans - a
heart-felt conversation we are privileged to overhear". But like all of these films, the
message is only intercepted, and never received by its intended audience. I've never met a
Beninois who had seen a real African film (not counting the gory and pirated Nigerian
operatics, one step above Punch and Judy); most, raised on the worst of French, American and
Indian cinema, are amazed to learn that such a thing exists. And I can't help but feel that
this lack of validation of African vision, in cinema and all the arts, directly relates to the
resignation and passivity, the feeling of
inferiority, that I encounter here. African films are as important in the fact of their
existence as in the ideas that they engender.
Please send your contributions as soon as possible. We're hoping to purchase the films by
October 30th at the very latest, so your promptness would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for your time, and I hope that you can help out. Yours,
Volontaire du Corps de la Paix
BP 971 Cotonou
Republique du Benin
Note from the
editor: Donations were to be
sent no later than OCT. 30 and obviously that date has passed.
Micah said that he had rec'd enough donations for the purchase and
shipment of one film. Any future donations will go towards the purchase of
more films once the project is underway.
WID (Women in
Development) Scholarship Fund:
LES RECETTES CULINAIRES DANS
LES REGIONS DU TOGO
(Recipes from Togo)
cookbook contains over 60 recipes gathered in Sokodé (central Togo), with
samples of Cotocoli, Ewe, Losso, Mina, and other cuisines. Many of these foods are prepared throughout West Africa.
PCVs and others who have lived in this region will find their favorites:
fufu, pâte de maïs, sauce d’arachide, watchi, beignets, kolikos, bouillies,
Grassroots Charity & Peace Corps Legacy
Recettes ... is a collaboration with
Charité-Action-Directe (C.A.D.), a Togolese charity.
C.A.D. provides school fees, school supplies, uniforms, food, and
tutoring for needy children, currently 40 kids in Sokodé, from primary school
to lycée. This charity started 10
years ago when a young Togolese wished to extend the same help to neighborhood
children with their education that he had received from Peace Corps volunteers.
He has been joined by several other residents of Sokodé who have
realized some measure of success in their own lives, due in part to help they
received from PCVs and other foreigners in Togo.
Charité-Action-Directe is a registered non-profit corporation in Togo.
Ordering & Information
complete list of recipes can be found at www.cushings.com/rpcvs/cad_toc.htm.
Contact Mike Cushing, RPCV Togo ‘80-’83, at email@example.com or
at the ordering address below for additional information.
The original edition of the cookbook, with recipes in French and
background material in English, is now available for $12 (postage included).
Pre-paid orders at this price are being accepted for the all-English and
the all-French editions, expected to be published in August and September of
2001, respectively. (Prices are
then expected to rise by $2.) All
proceeds go to C.A.D. This is a project of the Sacramento Valley RPCVs , a
501(c)(3) corporation (www.cushings.com/rpcvs/).
All contributions are tax-deductible in the U.S.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
] Recipient’s name(s) and address(es), different from above, are on the back
of this form.
] I am enclosing a check for (see above for information):
___ copies @ $12 =
___ copies @ $12 =
___ copies @ $12 =
Contribution to C.A.D.:
] Please send an announcement when the all- English/French (circle one or
both) edition is available.
make check payable to Sacramento Valley RPCVs and send order to
Valley RPCVs, c/o Mike Cushing, 2110 Venus Dr., Sacramento, CA
Web Site Reviews:
-Check out the New Official FOB website!
John has done a great job of putting together an interesting website and
he needs our help to ensure it will continue to improve.
E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have past copies of the Deadbeat posted incase you missed some
The Winds of
By Peter de Groot
When I was 23 and Ronald Reagan was elected president the
first time, it was cool and even a little reasonable to be a radical leftist.
After all, Reagan, the very symbol of capitalism, seemed to have very
little grasp of reality and even less understanding of the suffering of the
average world citizen. It was an
act of noble defiance to declare oneself a socialist.
Even better was to be a communist, if you could somehow get
past all the obvious and egregious wrongs committed worldwide in the name of
Marxism Leninism. The trappings of
communism are alluring. Flags,
berets, songs, and raven-haired Latin women in combat uniform.
I read John Reed, Anna Louise Strong, Emma Goldman, and Rosa
Luxemburg--all of the historical icons of the international revolutionary
struggle. I went to meetings for the American Socialist Party and attended an
election rally for the CPUSA featuring Angela Davis. Dabbling with the extreme left lets you into an exclusive
club, surrounded by instant comrades with which you can be self-righteous in
your condemnation of the portly capitalist bosses in pinstriped suits, all
racist enemies of the people. All
of this comes for free, if you are young, have nothing to lose, and are not in a
position to do any real damage by playing the radical.
And so much of my post-Vietnam generation fancied itself
socialist. Many young nations did
as well in the 1970’s and 80’s, often for the same reasons.
Dahomey believed it had little to lose by electing in 1974 to become a
Marxist vassal state. The subsequent anti imperialist ranting was given a big boost
by an abortive (and possibly faked) invasion by mercenaries a few years later,
an event celebrated in Bruce Chatwin’s short story “the Coup”.
The invasion demonstrated to many that communism was the only security
against neo colonialism. The
doctrine of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat also provides a convenient
explanation for the absence of a free political life.
Without communist dogma, the rule of force requires more feet shuffling
The political situation in Benin in the late seventies caused an effective suspension of Peace Corps activities until my group arrived for training in 1980. There were forty of us that year, quite an increase from the one or two remaining volunteers at that time. So we were pioneers, really, starting a new program from almost nothing. Our training was astonishingly poor, which added to our pioneer spirit. We learned by doing. It was as if we were the first Peace Corps group ever anywhere in the world, and it made us a cohesive group, at least at times. We did all this in the People’s Republic of Benin, a land where according to the national radio the winds of revolution were blowing steadily.
“Down with imperialism! Ready for revolution! Forward,
the struggle continues!” This was
how my comrade students greeted me every morning, standing at attention as I
entered the room every morning to teach physics and chemistry.
There were posters and flags in Cotonou proclaiming the dawning of the
socialist age. Every hour, the
radio rang out with children singing the communist international, a song I
learned and still remember. “Rise up, rise up, oppressed peoples, it’s the final
battle!” Then the great comrade
in struggle Mathieu Kerekou would speak, extolling the toiling masses to unite
against colonialism and work together for greater economic production. The
hand-painted portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin over the blackboard were part
of the local color. They added
spice to my Peace Corps experience.
But in fact, the communism in Benin was never more than
skin deep. I remember once visiting
a school in Togo, a land blessed at the time with a free-world style military
dictatorship, and the students asked intensely how things were behind the walls
of neighboring Benin, in the clutches of communism. I remember thinking the question peculiar.
From my perspective, coming from the US, the two countries were
essentially the same. The climates
were hot and humid, the food was tasty but not always clean, the people were
friendly and loved life, but almost everyone was poor and had few prospects.
Both countries had Peace Corp volunteers.
Togo did have one thing that Benin lacked: Casinos.
Apart from the satisfaction of thumbing one’s nose at the
old colonial powers, the benefits of communism in Benin were few.
The Russian advisors who lived in Cotonou were an odd lot, evidently
chosen because they did not speak French and cared little about Africa or its
peoples. A couple of us volunteers
wandered into their closed camp one day to find out who they were and what
exactly they were doing there. They were so surprised that they greeted us warmly, at least
for a while. Through sign language
we had a nice long conversation with a propaganda expert from Sebastopol.
He had lovely picture postcards. Eventually
we were politely escorted away by someone who looked important but who did not
fancy making friends with disheveled American volunteers who asked too many
The Chinese built a nice sports stadium.
The North Koreans built a monument to the fallen heroes of the mercenary
invasion and provided thousands of bound copies of the collected works of Kim Il
Sung. Libya helped chop down all
the trees in Cotonou, in principle to help widen the streets, but mostly so that
it would look more like the desert that Khadafi loves so well.
The revolution hurt many people. Not in any spectacular, media-worthy way, as there were no
gulags nor killing fields, no mass roundups of dissidents nor extermination of
the intelligentsia. Rather,
the revolution simply made it even harder to advance oneself.
Foreign investment was crushed. The
attractive aid and assistance packages available at that time were tossed aside
in favor of an austere self-reliance. Talented professionals left the country to find better
opportunities in Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire or France.
So it was that after more than a decade of decorating Benin
with red flags, one day the politicos gathered together and declared that enough
was enough, the revolution was over. Kérékou
stepped down, only to be reelected several years later as a born-again
non-communist president of a new Benin. This all happened long after I had finished by volunteer
service. To me Benin, a place that
I love, will always be the Peoples Republic.
In my mind’s eye, I still see clearly the gigantic banner over the pothole-encrusted main coastal highway announcing that “Socialism is the only road, Marxism-Leninism is the only guide.” Yet I also remember that underneath this banner was another, equally large, which advertised “The Beninese National Lottery: Your next chance to be a Millionaire”
[ Home] [FOB Bylaws] [ Mission / Strategies] [Membership Form] [Newsletter Archives] [Benin Info] [Maps of Benin] [Benin Links] [Photo Gallery] [ RPCV Contact List] [RPCV Bios] [Guest Book] [Classifieds] [PCV Q &A]