A Caterpillar Named Laisa

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Africa » Benin » South » Athiémé
December 21st 2007
Published: December 21st 2007
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My youngest host brother, Feujus, is the cutest six-year old monster. His eyebrows even turn up a little, like horns. He beat me twice at UNO; he gave himself all the wild plus-four cards before dealing. I hadn’t been to visit my host family since my return from vacation, so I stayed the weekend. I watched a lot of TV- Papa had bought a small satellite and my host brothers and sister were skimming the eight channels for films and music.

On Monday back at home, the waste-management tractor came through my neighborhood. We had to wait until the river left this neighborhood before beginning the trash collection. All of my neighbors know me and understand French, so I worked door-to-door to sign them up. All homes but two joined. Florent, from As.P.E.L., was visibly encouraged by the increased participation. He tells me that if he had been the person asking, only about half the neighborhood would have agreed. Meaning, because I am a foreigner people are ashamed to refuse me.

I emptied the hole in the backyard I had been using to burn my trash and passed the rusted tin and broken glass to the glove-wearing waste management team. Obviously this hole served no purpose during the flood except to be another source of water contamination. I filled in this hole with my kitchen compost and then raked up cut grass to cover the compost. I felt much cleaner, and rather deserving of my title ‘Environmental Action Volunteer’.

There is a nation-wide competition for the cleanest commune, and the mayor’s office wants to win, with help from As.P.E.L.’s work in waste management. To reinforce our work, we need the mayor’s office to forbid public trash-dumping, and pressure the public to pay at the end of the month. The mayor’s office has a contract with the nearby town’s radio, so Florent, a representative from the mayor’s office, a health worker from the health center, and I will use the radio to talk about the necessity of this new system of waste management. This work may have the most road-blocks, but we aren’t giving up.

The garden has picked up some activity. As I was weeding red flowers that survived the flood with a young, chatty friend named Christophe, a caterpillar stung my right-hand wrist. Oh, it burned. Christophe talked me through it. It was a little green caterpillar locally called ‘laïsa’ tightly attached to the underside of a leaf. I had brushed its hair. Chistophe squashed it. Patrice, another member of As.P.E.L., has a few beds of lettuce and other leafy-greens that will be ready for the holidays. I was helping clean up the remains of the tree nursery and the other garden beds by following Patrice’s machete with a bucket and a hoe. I hauled away the thorny, evil plants Patrice chopped down, and then hoed their roots and broke the packed top layer of dirt. We were both hot. We took extra time rinsing off our hands and feet in the cool pond water the river left behind after the flood. We further restored ourselves by eating rice and beans.

Sadly, not a single onion remains from the 15 healthy beds. At the market, an onion as round as the circle in a hand-made ‘OK’ sign costs 50 francs CFA, usually an onion worth 25 francs. This is because it has traveled from the Niger River floodplain, about a day’s bush-taxi ride from my local market. Patrice and I cool off in the water at the garden, but we tend to curse it before we get hot.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Be sure to avoid typhoid fever by washing your raw veggies in bleach and your hands with soap, avoid cholera by not drinking fishy well-water and by not rinsing off your face with pond water, and sleep under a mosquito net to avoid malaria for goodness’ sake! This year I am supplying two pineapples and two liters of sodabi to the feast. I will travel to a land of no phone reception to eat turkey- sorry Mom and Dad, I will call you on Friday. Bon appétit!


21st December 2007

Thats great Erika! I'm glad the trash pick up is starting to catch on! It sounds like you guys are really doing a lot of good for your town. You might even make a very 'progressive' town its citizens can be proud of! Yea to Mathurin for planting trees and shrubs in his school yard! Go Athieme!!!
31st December 2007

You have made a difference!
See Erika, you have made a difference!! How ever small, we can only hope the other villages near by will catch the spirit and modernize. Great job. Dad.

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