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January 30, 2013

My electricity was out the majority of last week in a village wide power cut that left me with a dead phone and both laptop batteries (including my backup) almost depleted. My escapist tendency to watch TV shows in the evening as a means to ignore the dark and the encroaching humidity may have quickened the depletion, but it did make me realize how much I 1. love my fan (absence does make the heart grow fonder); 2. take somewhat functioning electricity (i.e. at least a few hours every day) for granted even in Africa; and 3. rely on my phone for a sense of time.

I knew when it was morning and afternoon and had a more focused sense of when it hit 7 in the evening (the sun started setting), but beyond that it became harder to gauge my schedule, which was especially challenging as I’m trying to start clubs up again at the school. I understand a little bit now how Beninese can have such a different, more fluid relationship with time. And it’s interesting to imagine how much the arrival of cell phones changed and will even continue to change those societal norms, not just with the communication aspects but with the unexpected things – like always knowing the time.

Phones here also come equipped with similar perks in the standard of a built in flash light and a radio feature. I find the flashlight one of the best inventions ever and have spent minutes wondering why the states does not pick up on this trend….only to belatedly realize that illumination probably does not pose the same problem in the US.

Beninese phones, like those in Europe, run based on the sim card system where you purchase your phone and a pay as you go plan separately. To recharge, you simply buy more credit (scratch lottery style slips of paper with numeric codes) to enter into your phone. It’s also cool (or more cost effective or a guarantee of more complete coverage) to have multiple sim cards from different networks at the same time – whether in several different phones or in a dual sim version.

I digress. Regardless, the one upside of no electricity came in spending a little more time on my front porch with my neighbors. We shared a story session wherein I learned: 1. Aesop and Mother Goose make for much better gender neutral/empowerment (and easily translatable) stories than Disney; 2.Polygamy adds a whole other level of nuance to the idea of an evil stepmother; and 3. Culture plays quite a large role in shaping those stories. I’m just happy that we had the chance to exchange a few.


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