Friends of Benin Deadbeat Winter-Spring 2004

Friends of Benin was established in 1999 by returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in the Republic of Benin. Our mission is to maintain communications between Friends of Benin (FOB)  members, keep the Peace Corps/Benin experience alive, sustain our commitment to international service, encourage members to share their experiences with their own communities,  support the Peace Corps mission in Benin, support recently returned volunteers as well as volunteers who are about to leave for Benin, and distribute news and information about Benin. 



Elections Are Coming!

Our two year election cycle is coming around again.  Friends of Benin will have new officers in May 2004.  To be eligible to run, you need to be a current member of FoB and have an interest in helping out.  The average workload of a FoB officer is 1 -2 hours a month.  This isn’t too much considering FoB helps Benin RPCVs stay connected and assists future PCVs with their questions and concerns about Benin.  See page 3 for  a description of each of the offices.


Benin Education Fund

Through membership dues, Friends of Benin was able to give a $750 donation to the Benin Education Fund (BEF).  The Benin Education Fund is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that works to provide children in rural Benin the opportunity to attend school. They are especially focused on girls’ education and are continually increasing the percentage of girls in the program. In the 2003-2004 school year, the BEF is supporting 100 students through needs-based scholarships.  BEF targets students whose parents are subsistence farmers.

Their goal is for as many students as possible in the program to graduate from high school and to pass the International Baccalaureat exam (commonly known as the BAC). With the BAC credential, students will be able to find work as teachers, bookkeepers, or administrative staff. They may also choose to pursue further studies at the university level.

BEF’s hope is that with a solid education, students will be able to provide for themselves and their families, and will be able to contribute back to their local communities.

The fund is managed by a US-based all-volunteer board, and one full time staff based in Benin. For more information about this organization, visit their website


Win a FoB T-Shirt!


YOU – can win a Friends of Benin T-shirt!  It’s FREE!  It’s also size medium.  All you have to do is find the errors in this Deadbeat (typographical or grammatical).  One winner will be selected at random from all those providing responses.  Send an e-mail to Jessica Duke (admittedly, a slothful editor) with the errors you discovered.  She’ll let you know if you win.  Entries must be received by March 1, 2004.  Electronic entries preferred.  Send your entries to or 2207 SE Elliott Avenue, Portland, OR, 97214.


Welcome New Members

Pamela Joan Hershey, Andreas Hipple, Sierra Hutchinson, Marinin Jackson, Lee Weber,

Sybil B. Michel Chidiac,  Sara Kalmanovitz


Celebrate the NPCA’s 25th anniversary this summer!

Mark your calendars now for the 2004 National Conference to be held in Chicago, IL from August 5 - 8, 2004. Our local hosts will be the Chicago Area Peace Corps Association (CAPCA). The theme for the conference: "Peace Corps 2004: Celebrating a Legacy of Service".  For regularly updated information on the conference, go to

Unfortunately, we have no Benin RPCVs living in Chicago on our radar screen.  If you are planning to attend the 2004 NPCA conference in Chicago and would like to coordinate a FoB gathering, let an officer know.  FoB can help support such an event.


The Sprit of ‘America’ –

For Djimon Hounsou, life and acting have been journeys following the immigrant’s dream.

By: Lynda Gorov, BOSTON GLOBE 11/30/2003          Submitted by: Brian Paul Reublnger

Los Angeles -  Djimon Hounsou is hardly the typical immigrant.  Yes, he’s African by birth, but he came to America as a male model.  Them Steven Spielberg cast him as a lead in a movie, “Amistad.”   Still, Hounsou says, his experiences, if not typical, are at least universal.

            Although he has been a naturalized American citizen since 1994, the immigrant experience has been much on Hounsou’s mind of late.  He’s got a juicy supporting part as a newcomer to America in Irish director Jim Sheridan’s semi-autobiographical story of his family’s own first brush with New York City, “In America,” which opened Wednesday.

            Hounsou plays Mateo, an artistic outsider who is dying of AIDS but who is nonetheless an insider compared to his fresh-from-Ireland upstairs neighbors.  Mateo understands the confusion they feel.  He knows – like Hounsou says he knows – the isolation that often accompanies relocation, even if the trip proves worth it.

            “This story is definitely a universal immigrant story,” Hounsou said.  “It’s a story that speaks to you, that speaks to all Americans, who came here or whose relatives came here at some point, seeking a dream, whatever that dream is.”

            Hounsou’s first dreams weren’t of movies, which, as he points out, would have been pretty farfetched for a boy from Benin, West Africa.  At 13 he moved to Paris to live with his two brothers and get an education.  But those living arrangements didn’t work out.  Hounsou (whose full name is pronounced JI-mun-HOON-soo) found himself homeless for a few years, at times in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.  Finally his charismatic good looks saved him.

            The 6-foot-2-inch Hounsou was, as they say, discovered.  Fashion designer Thierry Mugler immediately put him to work in front of the camera as a model.  Music videos for then-hot stars, among them Madonna, followed.  Then, speaking barely a word of English, he made his big move: to Los Angeles.  Fifteen years ago he became an immigrant again.  Modeling aside, he says he was struggling financially.  So he started watching TV, lots of TV.  He knew he had to learn English.

            “I mostly watched the History Channel and documentaries about nature, where everything is pretty much graphically shown,”  Hounsou said.  “By watching that it gave me an idea of what they were talking about.  Then I began reading and I’d see words that I had encountered before and I started piecing it together.”

            Hounsou, 39, says he dreams in English now.  And he is dreaming big.  The modeling led to movies and then to the movie: Spielberg’s “Amistad.”  Hounsou was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Cinque, the rebal slave leader.  He didn’t win.  But he was on his way.  Since then he’s fought alongside Russel Crowe in “Gladiator” and Angelina Jolie in “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.”  He’ had a semi-recurring TV role on “ER.”

            Now he’s got a story arc on “Alias.”  He’s also working on “Constantine,” based on DC Comic’s “Hellblazer” comic book, and starring Keanu Reeves.  Housou plays Papa Midnite, a witch doctor.  It’s not an unexpected role offer, he says.  But he adds that he wants to be considered for all types of roles and, in multicultural America, he asks, why not?

            “In the script for ‘In America” it didn’t say he was an immigrant from Africa or anything like that,” he said.  “He was just a person living in New York like any other New Yorker who may have some heavy accent from some different place. I thought it could be me.”

            Sheridan, who co-wrote “In America” with his two daughters, and who also wrote and directed “My Left Foot” and “In the Name of the Father” among other Irish-tinged films, said the neighbor on which Hounsou’s character was based was “totally American, a sweet guy.  He was maybe southern American.”  That’s also more or less how he was written in the scripted.  Then Hounsou arrived to audition.  Sheridan said he realized two things: He could use the African heritage to draw out Mateo’s spiritual side and he could use to blur the time frame – the mid-1980s in real time, the more recent past in screen time.  “When Djimon was dying of AIDS in the movie, you think that maybe it’s because he’s from Africa and not because of the plague that over took use in the 1980s.”

In turn, Hounsou gave Sheridan books on voodoo to read, hoping the director would punch up his part.  He did.  Sheridan also encouraged him to improvise.   Watching Hounsou, he was also inspired to create a scene where he literally paints with bloody hands.  Sheridan in fact calls Hounsou his alter ego in some ways, a character who “always has to keep his feet on the ground.”

            “I talked with plenty of American black actors but the minute he walked into the room he brought a spiritual element and a John Wayne element with him, which is a pretty strange combination,” Sheridan continued.  “But it’s a combination that works for the movie.”

            Hounsou says he got a good role in Mateo, one on which he hopes to capitalize.  But his career has never been about speed.  He says that he’s tried to build on each role.  Although he made his name with “Amistad,” it was a hard name to pronounce and directors didn’t come begging.  Hounsou says he soon realized he’d have to do the persuading.

            “It is hard and obviously this is why I have taken some of my baby steps I have taken,” me said.  “Right after ‘Amistad,’ everybody did not understand that I’d been living in this country for many years and that I speak English.  The thing that’s a little bit sad that America is a combination of ethnic groups from all around the world and we quickly tend to forget that.  We are a product of the people like me.

            “But I feel there’s a lack of understanding of letting someone like me just play a decent role, be a normal person,” he added.  “That’s why I really did enjoy doing this story with Jim.  I just got to be.

            Still those stories are rare.  To generate work for myself, Hounsou is trying his hand at producing, optioning a project and planning a few others with his planning partner.  But don’t call him a producer.  He says that’s too big of a word for him right now, at least until he gets a single movie in the can.

            Regardless, it’s a long way from West Africa, Where Hounsou returns every year to visit relatives.  He got to spend some time in East Africa, too, while filming the “Tomb Raider” sequel.  People there hadn’t heard of him, he says.  Then again, they haven’t ever seen a movie, or even a television.

            “At home people are stunned at my life, and I am to,” he said.  “Sometimes I have to pinch myself.  I look back on the journey and think, ‘Wow, I definitely couldn’t duplicate this again, even if it needed to be duplicated again.  I guess part of the magic is you don’t know where you are going or what’s going to happen so you just live and it’s the dream, it’s the dream of the immigrant that you keep alive.”   


Visit               by Chris Starace

If you haven't seen the FOB website lately, come take a look!

            On the home page are announcements about the most recent activities relating to FOB.  There are several other pages that contain a variety of resources of interest to Benin RPCV's.  There is a list of FOB members who submitted their contact information and you can use this resource to find old friends.  Some have also included a short biography so you can see what they've been up to since COS'ing.  Be sure to add your information.  There is also a fairly active question and answer forum for Benin PCV's to be.  As we all remember, we had many questions before we left.  Stop by from time to time and add your opinions to questions asked and answers already given as there is more than one answer to "what are the Beninese like?"  To date there are 91 entries.  I've found that there are more questions in May / June and August / Sept. as this is when the new recruits are getting ready to ship off.  The website also contains a guest book and classified ads.  Use them both to post a message looking for a lost stagemate or make any other announcement you'd like.  The  classifieds are temporary and you can specify how many days you'd like them to appear before they get automatically deleted.  Use the guest book for permanent entries.

            FOB has a Yahoo E-groups list that you can easily subscribe to.  The link is on the FOB homepage.

            Some other features of the site are an archive of all the past Deadbeat issues, a copy of our bylaws, a copy of our mission statement and strategies for obtaining our goals.  Finally, there are maps of Benin, a photo gallery, and some Benin related links. 

            As there are many Benin RPCV's who have their own websites, I have  added a section to the links page especially for them.

            To make the website dynamic it needs your input!  Send links, photos, contact info., bios, and ideas to the FOB webmaster (Chris Starace) at


On Death and Dying              by Jessica Duke


There are times when I long to be back in “my village” in Benin.  Where life is slower and more predictable and where long-standing traditions are still in place.  Early December was one of those times.


In December, I lost my mom.  She died quickly and somewhat unexpectedly.  I was on the way out the door when the phone call came.  I didn’t know what to do.  My mom died and I was lost and bewildered.  What am I suppose to do?  What are the people around me supposed to do?  Do I wear black?  Do they send flowers?  Who do I tell?  How do I tell them?  What about people on the street, how do they know?  They should know but do I tell them?  It seemed that rituals around death should be automatic.  They aren’t.  Not in our country.  We have no universal code around death anymore.  Perhaps because we are a melting pot of so many cultures - for many of us, our cultural identity is lost.  Perhaps because we pride ourselves in individuality, we don’t embrace cultural norms as much as we need.


I fumbled around with making arrangements to get to the funeral.  I fumbled around making phone calls.  I fumbled.  I longed for my village, where rituals around death are firmly in place.  If I had been in my village, everything would have been automatic.  Word would have spread.  Women would have wailed for 24 hours.  Then there would be a celebration of mom’s life for the next 24 hours.  Nobody would be able to buy beer or soft drinks at the buvette because all the drinks in the village would be at the funeral.  Then again, everyone in the village would be at the funeral anyway.


I actually had never been to a burial in the United States before.  I’ve been to a handful of memorial services, but never to a gravesite.  I realized that my only experience with burial here was through the media.  I expected that we would all stand around as the casket was lowered.  Family members would throw the first handfuls of dirt on top of the casket.  What really happened is that we could only watch the burial from afar.  Mom was buried at a National Cemetery (Dad served in the Navy).  The cemetery is a busy place.  We couldn’t go to the place where so many new holes were dug.  So, we watched from afar.  Perhaps the person that tossed in the dirt has a firm cultural understanding of death.


One thing I did learn from this experience was an incredible respect for funeral directors and morticians.  I truly felt that the people at Chapel of Memories were taking care of my mom.  They made her look peaceful.  They transported her gently.  They treated her family with patience and respect.  Maybe funeral directors are our cultural link to death.


My “culture” was lost at this time of death.  I was amazed that I would have “known how to act” in Benin but I didn’t know how to act here. I am amazed in the ways my Peace Corps experiences still affect me today.  My heart is never too far away from my “home” in Houeyogbe.


Benin Makes Weak Showing in African Nations Cup


Well, our first-time-to-the-cup team will hopefully have another chance down the road.  This year, they didn’t fair well at all and headlines such as “Nations-Morocco punish comedic Benin defence”, “Morocco thrash Benin” and “Defensive blunders help Morocco hammer Benin”, makes it seem like the Beninois weren’t quite ready this year.  For more football news, go to and search for Benin soccer.


Below are the descriptions of the Friends of Benin Officer duties. 

If you are interested in filling the ranks of the Friends of Benin Officers, please contact Brian Reublinger no later than March 30.

207 NW 3rd St., Enterprise, OR 97828


An individual may fulfill the duties of two or more Officers.

As our membership is small (under 100), combining the duties of Treasurer/Secretary and Membership Coordinator and Newsletter Editor and Graphic Artist has made sense.  When the day comes that our membership is 1,000 – having these as separate duties will spread the workload more evenly.


A President, responsible for providing direction to the FOB organization, and shall use his/her discretion in determining the activities that will further the purpose of the organization. However, any decision involving the collection or expenditure of funds requires a vote by the Board of Directors. The President must take part in any vote by the Board of Directors; 

A Vice President, who assists the President and in the absence or disability of the president, performs all the duties of the President;

A Treasurer/Secretary, who collects membership dues and other sources of revenue, maintains an account and a balance sheet on behalf of the FOB, and has oversight over fund raising activities. The Treasurer/Secretary will disburse funds as may be ordered by the Board of Directors. The Treasurer/Secretary will also be responsible for keeping a full and complete record of FOB membership; 

A Membership Coordinator, working closely with the Treasurer/Secretary, will maintain a database of PC/Benin alumni and friends. The membership coordinator is responsible for recruiting new members as directed by the board and organizing all Friends of Benin mailings; 

A Newsletter Editor, who oversees the publication of the FOB newsletter (the "Deadbeat"); and

A Newsletter Graphic Artist, who formats the FOB newsletter (the "Deadbeat").

A Webmaster, who is in charge of maintaining, designing, and updating the FOB website. He or she may appoint co-webmasters to aid in this task at his or her discretion.


Friends of Benin - 2003


FINANCIAL STATEMENT 1/1/2003- 12/31/2003





1/1/2003 Opening balance


$ 2264.46




TOTAL Income








Newsletter Printing



Newsletter Postage



Affiliation Fee



Donation – Benin Education Fund



Annual General Meeting



Website Registration



NPCA Joint Dues



Bank Charges



TOTAL Expenses






Closing Balance










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