Monday, September 22, 2008

no more blog

After much thought, I have decided not to continue blogging because I find it too creepy. I will however continue to send out massive email updates, so if for some reason you are not getting them and want to (I apologize if you are not getting them, in switching from people's stanford email accounts to their gmail, many email addresses got lost!) please email me and I will add you!
Love Mariana

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

thank you

Thank you to everyone that came to say good bye/ emailed/ called. Your love and support mean so much to me and I feel so lucky to have such wonderful family and friends.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

email to everyone

Hi everyone!

Congratulations and happy graduation! I can't believe we made it!

As most of you already know, I have joined the Peace Corps and I leave on June 30 to spend 27 months in Benin (a tiny country in West Africa next to Nigeria).

I really want to keep in touch with everyone! I plan on making at least one trip home to visit New York/ Stanford during my service, (probably next May/June) and so I hope to see many of you then!

In the meantime,

Email:
I will have very limited email access. For most of you I still only have your school address, which will soon be broken so please send me you new email address,

Snail Mail:
If you are interested in getting letters, please send me a mailing address where I can reach you for the next two years. My address is:

Mariana B......
Corps de la Paix Americain
01 B.P.971
Cotonou, Benin
Afrique de l'Ouest (West Africa)
Par Avion (Airmail)

If you want to send me a package :) be sure to put everything in a ziplock bags, send it in a bubble envelope and write boring things on the customs form so that no one want to steal it.

Blog:
I currently have a blog (marianainafrica.blogspot.com) and I will do my best to update it regularly, but I won't have that much internet access. I probably won't be able to do mass email updates, but I can add email addresses to my blog so that you get emailed the post when I update it, (so it's pretty much the same thing as email updates). Please let me know if you want me to add your email address to update thingie.

Cell phone:
I don't know if I will have cell access in my village ( I might!), but I will have a cell phone for when I go to town, and will put the number up on my blog. Set up your skype accounts now so you can call me!

Visiting:
Everyone is welcome/ encouraged to visit me; if you've ever had the urge to live in a rural village in the middle of the Sahel for a few days, now is your chance! I am not supposed to have visitors until Jan 2009 (because they want to make sure you get settled first) but I will be there until Sep 2010 so you will have plenty of time!

Other:
If you need to reach me for some reason, the best way to get in touch with me is probably through my dad Edward Beardsworth, (edbeards@ufto.com or 650-328-5670)


I love you all very much and I want to thank everyone for how supportive they've been as I have been preparing to go. I will miss you all very much!

Love

Mariana

Friday, June 6, 2008

Info for Family and Friends

So I got another packet in the mail! Yay! I swore I wouldn't open it until after finals (my last one begins in a few hours..) but I caved last night. Lots of exciting stuff.
The best part was the letter from the volunteers that are in Benin now. Lots of reassuring news including that the majority of volunteers get cell phones, you don't have to be isolated if you don't want to be, and that for the first three months of training, all the volunteers will be near Porto-Novo instead of being spread all over the country! hooray

Here's some more official details for friends and family about logistics.


Peace Corps/Benin: For Family and Friends
--------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Prospective Volunteers: Please give this letter to a family member or close friend and ask them to hold on to it for as long as you are in Benin. They can use this information to prepare for a visit, help them understand communication constraints and have a better understanding of who they can contact should they have specific questions while you are in Benin.

Communication

Due to technological developments in the last ten years, i.e. fax and e-mail, Americans have become increasingly accustomed to immediate and convenient communication. Volunteers, Trainees, and especially their families will most certainly experience frustration with communication resources in Benin. Peace Corps Benin would like to emphasize the following points to give you a realistic picture of the means of communication available to Volunteers in Benin before they leave home:

1. Volunteers and their families MUST realize that their primary means of communication will be international mail, which though very slow by U.S. standards is quite reliable. (see "Mail")

2. Telephone, telex, and fax communication are limited to larger cities, are somewhat unreliable and expensive ($3.40 per minute/$4 per page). Volunteers and family should understand that telephone and fax contact will be rare; many volunteers do have cell phones, but access to a network is only available in certain areas. (see "Telephones").

3. In the case of an emergency, immediate communication through official U.S. government channels is assured. Families should contact Peace Corps Washington (see “Emergencies”). This will insure that family inquiries are handled in the most efficient manner.

4. All inquiries concerning Volunteers, political situation in Benin, mail, etc. should be directed to the Benin Country Desk in Peace Corps Washington. This will insure that family inquiries are handled in the most efficient manner.

5. A few cyber caf├ęs have been established in the larger cities and many Volunteers have established e-mail accounts for modest charges. However, due to infrastructure problems and the limited service, e-mail is not totally reliable. While not all the provincial capitals have e-mail, there is the expectation that it will arrive soon.

Emergencies

In the event of an emergency situation in Benin, Peace Corps/Benin will notify the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps in Washington. OSS will in turn telephone the family of the Volunteer(s) involved.

In the event of an emergency (death in the family, serious accident or illness, etc.), family/friends should contact the Office of Special Services (OSS) in Washington at 1-800-424-8580, extension 1470, or (202) 692-1470 - 24 hours a day. OSS will then contact the Peace Corps country director in Benin and ask him/her to notify your family member as soon as possible and assist in making any necessary arrangements.

If you have an important question regarding a news report on Benin, you may contact the Country Desk Unit. However, the Desk will not always be aware of specific information, such as what individual Volunteer's vacation schedules are, how long it takes for mail to arrive at specific Volunteer posts, etc. The number for the Country Desk Unit is 1-800-424-8580 extension 2319/2326, or (202) 692-2319, or (202) 692-2326.

Volunteers often enjoy telling their "war" stories when they write home. Letters might describe recent illnesses, lack of good food, isolation, etc. While the subject matter is good reading material, it is often misinterpreted on the home front. Please do not assume that if your family member had a malaria attack that he/she has been unattended. There are two Peace Corps Medical Officers in Cotonou. In the event of a serious illness, the Volunteer will be treated in Cotonou and cared for by our medical staff. If the Volunteer requires medical care that is not available in Benin, he/she will be medically evacuated to Senegal or to the United States. Fortunately, these are rare circumstances.

Mail

Few countries in the world offer the quality of postal service that we consider normal in the U.S. Volunteers, family and friends who expect U.S. standards for mail service will be disappointed. Mailed letters take about three weeks to arrive in Benin, but packages take three weeks minimum and may take several months. Some mail may not arrive at all (this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Some letters may arrive with clipped edges because postal workers have tried to see if any money was inside (again, this is rare, but it does happen). We do not want to sound discouraging, but when we are thousands of miles from our families and friends, communication becomes a very sensitive issue. We would prefer you be forewarned of the reality of third World mail service.

Despite delays, we strongly encourage Volunteers to write to their families regularly (perhaps weekly or bi-weekly). Family members will typically become worried when they do not hear from their Volunteer, so please advise parents, friends, and relatives that mail is sporadic and that they shouldn't worry if they don't receive their Volunteer's letters regularly.

In the past we have noticed a common Volunteer letter writing pattern that particularly disturbs families and friends. During training and their first three to six months at post, Volunteers write home frequently. They are adapting to a totally new environment (which can be very difficult), and writing helps them process the new sights and sounds. However, once Volunteers feel at home with their surroundings and their work starts to take off, many simply forget to write home for long periods of time. Please don't be overly concerned if there is a break in correspondence three to six months after your Volunteer arrives at post!

However, if a family member or friends does not hear from a PCV for over three months, then that person may contact the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps Washington (1-800-424-8580, extension 1470). OSS will then send a "health and welfare inquiry" cable to the Peace Corps Country Director in Cotonou and ask him/her to check up on the PCV. In such cases, the Country Director is required to respond to OSS within 5-7 working days.

Contacting the Volunteer at his or her site could involve making a series of phone calls, radio contacts, or even sending a staff member to the site (which means several days travel in some cases). The PCV will then be asked to write home and the Country Director will cable OSS with information to pass onto family members. As you can see, this is a time-consuming process that affects quite a few people. Peace Corps asks Volunteers and their families to try to avoid both heartache and headaches by maintaining a regular pattern of writing to loved ones.

Most packages sent to Benin arrive (sometimes a few months late). Nevertheless DO NOT send things that have important sentimental or monetary value. Don't send expensive items, such as the Volunteer's favorite pair of one-carat diamond earrings. Items such as food, and clothing have usually arrived with no problem, but it's expensive for the sender and receiver. If sending packages, "bubble envelopes" work best. If sending any food items, put them inside a ziploc bag. This will reduce chances that bugs or rats will devour them.

All mail should be sent to the following:
Name, Peace Corps Volunteer
Corps de la Paix
B.P.971
Cotonou,Benin

Once Volunteers complete training and are at their posts, the quickest way to send mail is to send letters and packages directly to your Volunteer's address at post. Remind your Volunteer to relay their mailing address at post as soon as they know what it will be. If you do not know your Volunteer's address at post, mail can always be sent to the Cotonou address above. Please realize that mail sent to this address will be held in Cotonou until staff or Volunteers travel to your Volunteer's province (this can take several weeks).

The following suggestions and postal regulations may be useful:


1. Mail should be sent directly to the Cotonou address or your Volunteer's post address beginning three weeks before the end of the training.

2. Both Volunteers and family members should number letters sent so that the receiver can determine whether any letters do not arrive.

3. Packages should be sent via air, not surface mail (surface mail has been known to take longer than two years to arrive.)

4. Sending packages to your Volunteer in Benin is a risky proposition. Theft of packages is not only a problem in the Beninese postal system, it also occurs on the U.S. side. Although occasionally a package arrives quickly and without problems, it may take months or it may get "lost" along the way. Therefore, it is not advisable to send valuables this way.

5. If you do send packages, bubble envelopes seem to work better than large boxes. They are less tempting to would-be thieves. The sender should clearly and honestly mark the contents on the outside of the package, but a general description of the contents is sufficient: "clothing and candy" rather than "Nike high top sneakers and 2 lbs. Godiva chocolate."

6. Express mail is an expensive option that may take just as long to get to Benin. Perhaps a more secure option than regular airmail for documents, checks, etc., it is subject to more scrutiny by Beninese customs than regular mail. For items other than documents, Peace Corps staff has to submit import licenses to customs, and clearance can take up to 10 days. Thus, you may not necessarily save any time by using Express mail. DHL operates in Benin for those important documents. Note that current prices for DHL services run around $100.00 for one pound or less.

7. There is a tax, which Volunteers will have to pay on all packages received before they can retrieve them from the post office. This tax varies according to the size of the package. It might be a nice gesture from friends or family to send a six-pack of Mountain Dew, but it may cost a Volunteer up to $10.00 to get it out of the post office.

8. Packages are kept in the Cotonou office until a PCV or staff member is traveling to the Volunteer and can deliver them.

9. If Volunteers wish to send a package from Cotonou to the States, Benin postal rates are high and insurance is not available. For this reason, many Volunteers wait to send packages with returning PCVs (whom they ask first, in country) or wait until their Completion of Service (COS) date to send home gifts and souvenirs. Letters going to the States through the Benin post have been quite dependable.

10. US postage-stamped letters can be put in the "next traveler" box at the Peace Corps office in Benin, to be hand carried by the next person going Stateside. Note that this is a courtesy, not an obligation, and Volunteers shouldn't expect any traveler to carry more than letter mail, unless special arrangements are made with the individual. Air travelers may be required to open letters and packages and/or submit them to X-rays, especially when they don't belong to the traveler.

11. The Benin Desk in Peace Corps Headquarters, Washington, is available to answer Volunteer & families' questions about mail. Due to staff and budget constraints, they cannot, however, facilitate the sending of personal mail for Trainees and Volunteers.


Telephones

Most major cities and some larger towns in Benin have access to telephone and FAX services. Unfortunately, the communications infrastructure has not kept pace with the number of subscribers, and it is sometimes difficult to get a line through. It is not uncommon to be cut-off while in mid-sentence. In the rural areas where most Volunteers live, telecommunications is sporadic, although every year more and more communities gain access to cell phone coverage.

The cost of calling the U.S. is prohibitively expensive - several times more expensive than calling from the U.S. to Benin. Often a Volunteer will place a short call to a friend or family member and have them return the call. Please explain this to family & friends so that they are not concerned when Volunteers call, relay a number and then hang up or are cut off!

E-mail

This technology is just making a foothold in Benin. Presently it is unreliable and expensive. However, Peace Corps Benin’s headquarters office in Cotonou has 3 computers available to volunteers, and one computer is available at each of the 3 Peace Corps “workstations” in the northern part of the country.

Diplomatic Pouch

The diplomatic pouch is meant for official business of the US Government only. Since Volunteers are not considered employees or agents of the government, they are not entitled to the use of the pouch.


Sending Money to Volunteers

While Peace Corps does not restrict Volunteers from receiving money from their families, please bear in mind that receiving money from abroad may lead to perceptions by Beninese that mitigate against some of the goals that the Volunteer is trying to achieve (i.e., acceptance in the community). Unfortunately, there are no simple methods to transfer money to Benin. Please note that Peace Corps is not able to transfer personal funds from the United States to a Volunteer or Trainee.

Credit Cards - Visa and American Express credit cards can be used in a few hotels and restaurants in major cities (Cotonou, Porto Novo & rarely in provincial capitals). Some can also be used to obtain cash advances at banks in Cotonou and Porto Novo. Some Volunteers bring credit cards and arrange for a family member to make payments from savings or a checking account in the U.S. Volunteers find credit cards particularly useful when traveling after their Peace Corps service. In setting up arrangements such as this, it is best to designate a family member with "Power of Attorney" to act on behalf of the Volunteer. Visa is the most commonly accepted card in Cotonou. There is also an American Express office in Cotonou.

Visiting Volunteers

Peace Corps Benin encourages family and friends to visit Volunteers. However, experience has shown that visits should be carefully timed so as not to interfere with the Volunteer's service or with integration into their community. First, visitors are not permitted during a Volunteer's pre-service training or during the first three months at post. Peace Corps has learned from forty years of experience that Volunteers adapt better to training and to their sites if they are not distracted by visitors during these critical periods.

The best time for visits are after a Volunteer has spent at least six months at post. They have established themselves in their community and have honed their language skills. Thus they are better able to host visitors. They also have a better understanding of Benin and have a clear idea of what sights they would like to show you! Note that Volunteers' supervisors discourage them from receiving visitors during peak periods.

Answers to Some Common Questions

Can Volunteers travel to the United States while on vacation?
Volunteers may travel, at their own expense, to the United States or a third country with the permission of the Peace Corps Country Director. The Country Director will normally authorize travel as long as the Volunteer has accrued the required vacation time and the trip will not take him or her away from the site during peak work periods.

How can family/friends in the United States send plane tickets or documents to Volunteers in Benin?
The best method is to have the items hand carried by a person who is traveling to Benin or by courier like DHL or FedEx. For example, if another Volunteer is home on vacation or is having a family member come to visit them at post, arrange to have the items mailed to the traveler in the States and then have them carry the items to your country of service. (Please be aware that you and your PCV must make all arrangements yourselves and that you should give everyone involved complete phone numbers and addresses or a phone number of the Volunteer or their families).

Another reliable, but expensive method is to have plane tickets or other documents sent by DHL or Federal Express. These types of carriers are able to ship documents from the States to the Peace Corps office in Cotonou. The price will vary but the minimum cost is currently $75.00 to $100.00 for up to one pound of documents.

Will family members or friends be able to send facsimile messages to Volunteer in Benin?
Use of the facsimile machines in the U.S. Embassy or the Peace Corps office is restricted to official purposes only. Volunteers can receive faxes through numerous private Tele-boutiques located all over the country. As the Tele-boutiques rely on telephones and the telephone infrastructure is poor, this service is not always reliable. If you would like to send a FAX to your Volunteer, please ask them for the fax numbers nearest them.

Monday, May 5, 2008

harry potter?

Thank you to Julia for giving me Bradt guide to Benin by Stuart Butler. It's awesome. I've pretty much read through it cover to cover and now I am even more excited to go. Molly and I had read aloud time with the book and now we are both in love with Stuart Butler, who feels free to share his biased opinions without apology throughout the book, such as "africa is hell" but he clearly knows and loves Benin, and I like how he includes NGOs tourists can help during their stay or afterwards,
He tells ghost stories and fairy tales that make me feel as though I will be very afraid to sleep alone in a rural village, but his love for the people (he calls them Benin's main attraction) convinces me Benin is the right choice.
As a teaser for you guys, here's what the back cover says "Congratulations! In your hands is the key to a world of magic and mystery more potent than anything Harry Potter could throw at you. Enter the world of Benin: a place hidden away in the green folds of west Africa, a place that few have heard of, but a place that will leave you enchanted by your spell." As silly as the stories are, the book is actually a legitimate and informative guidebook too.

Also, great news, I finally submitted my aspiration statement and revised resume to the peace corps. I am a little confused as to the purpose of these documents, so I just sort of included everything I could think of in my life that has related to the Peace Corps (a surprisingly large amount of things, actually).

In other news, in efforts to make the most of my last weeks in NorCal, I went wine-tasting to Ridge and Thomas Fogarty this weekend. Both are less than half an hour from school, and yet I've never been. So much fun, we bought wine and then gave us a recipe from a magazine that had been paired with that wine, so then went to grocery and made the dinner. But then we had to sit on the floor of Claire's room to eat it (so much for being classy). Still, wine tasting is a lot of fun, the wine class I am taking is finally enabling me to actually appreciate wine, just in time for Benin. haha.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

birthday!

I've been so wrapped up in school and birthday celebrations, sometimes I feel like I have almost forgotten about Benin. There just isn't anyway to reconcile in my brain the differences between my life now, surrounded by friends and family with all the chaos of school and graduation coming up and the perfect weather we've been having, with where I will be in a little 2 months! I have looked up the other people going on my program, they all seem far more on top of things than I am with researching Benin and practicing French and making packing lists and befriending each other and such. Luckily I can learn it all from reading their blogs: It's strange to think that I don't know any of them yet, but in 2 months they will be my new family for the next 27 months. Good thing they seem so nice and have similar interests (hello to anyone reading this now going to Benin with me :) )
ok back to studying. meh