The Benin Spelling Bee held in Natitingou was an event where volunteers brought two middle school students, one boy and one girl, to compete in an English Spelling Bee. After weekly spelling practices and a local Bee held at my school, Aisatou and Olivier were the winners invited to compete in Natitingou. The morning we left, both students’ parents drove them to Glazoue on their motorcycles with me. It was like seeing two proud papas letting their baby birds spread their wings in the world. I assured the parents that I would take care of their children and we soon met the taxi we had rented with Bevin and her two students. Our driver’s name was Expedite. He’s very cool and timely. Basically our favorite taxi driver of all times. Also, throughout the entire voyage north, he refused to pay the gendarme bribes at the check points, which was fairly entertaining as the gendarmes cried out in surprise and anger over losing another free 500 cfa for a beer.
Ok, focus. The ride north was spent practicing spelling words: skyscraper, cook, learn, forest, enjoy, even diarrhea! It was great to see the kids getting to know each other and giving each other spelling tips. “Ask for a sentence!” It was also exciting because they were travelling on a big ADVENTURE ADVENTURE to a land of low green rolling mountains.
There were around 22 boys and 22 girls who attended the competition. Friday night was spent doing ice breakers, playing football, showering, and setting up the mosquito nets. Boys in one room, girls in the other, each with a chaperone for the evening. By the time I left for the work station it felt like a proper sleepover party was under way. Boys and girls were crowded on mats under mosquito nets practicing spelling bee words and laughing.
Saturday morning we discussed study skills and the nutritional value of moringa. Around 10 AM we transitioned to sports and art. I definitely feel like an old lady. I made the girls tie ropes together to play jump rope with me. I was exhausted after five minutes. BUT, Aisatou was quite impressed with my continuous jumping skills. With Olivier I spent time playing Frisbee, launching the disc further and further away. It felt like being at camp. I also really enjoyed getting to spend time with my students in an informal environment. Both are excellent, but more reserved students, so it felt good to shout, laugh, and be goofy with them. (Well let’s be real, I’m goofy in class too…)
In the afternoon was the competition. Both the boys and girls competition lasted an hour and a half. I was SO nervous, so I can’t even imagine how THEY felt. Both Olivier and Aisatou did wonderfully, but got knocked out in the middle of the competition. Aisatou’s word that she missed was “cathedral”, forgetting the “l” at the end and Olivier’s was “breakfast.” Now, they’ll NEVER forget how to spell those words.
Each and every student won an English-French dictionary! And the winners won soccer balls and a puzzle game. In the evening we watched “Akila and the Bee” about a young girl and a spelling bee! How perfeccctooo!!
We also included a discussion led by a male Beninese teacher about gender equality. This is a HIGHLY important topic in
There’s a traditional mentality where men feel they are superior due to
traditions and justifications from various religious texts. It’s infuriating.
But this conversation was great because although many boys were defending their
male superiority beliefs, sounding like lines learned from fathers, the girls
were sassily and sophisticatedly defending their rights. It was great. Go
Sunday morning we took a gaggle of the students on a tour of Natitingou. First, we hiked up one of the green hills for a beautiful view of the city. Natitingou has such a “tucked away safely into the green hilly blanket” vibe. We visited a re-make of a traditional house structure called “tatasamba” that looks like a castle fortress. The ethnic group of this area created two story castles with the animals sleeping on the bottom floor and the family inhabiting the roof terrace. We also strolled downtown and showed the students various sites. In 5e, the students learn English words such as supermarket, post office, bank, and mayor’s office. It was the first time many of the students had seen these places in real life.
On the journey home, Bevin and I were exhausted. Again, I’m such an old lady. However, the kids were better acquainted and as chatty and energetic as ever. It made me SO happy to see them making friends from different communities and being motivated by each other’s academic drive. It was one of the most exciting and happy moments in my Peace Corps Benin life.