Meet Pete, Songhai, and… my new JOB!

I have mentioned in previous posts that one of the biggest differences between Ghana and Benin (other than the languages) is mode of public transportation. Zemijans, or what the average American would know as a motorcycle, is the Beninese taxi. The zem drivers all wear yellow shirts to signify their profession, though the color of the shirt will change depending on the city you are in. Similar to when I feared for my life every day on the tro-tros of Ghana, I pray for guardian angels when I am on a zem. I have seen several fatal zem accidents, as helmets are rarely worn (though I am shopping around for my own.)

But my luck changed the night I met Pete. Technically he goes by Peter, but I like saying the word  ’Pete’, so that is what I call him. Anyway, one night my friend Logan and I were trying to find me a ride home, when Pete pulls up on his zem. This is no ordinary motorcycle, however. And Pete, no ordinary zem driver. Pete’s zem has THREE wheels, like a giant, awesome, motorized tricycle. This picture below is of Pete driving my friend Andrea and I on her birthday last week.

Pete suffered from severe polio as a child and was left permanently disfigured, hence his amazing 3-wheeled zem. But he is the biggest bucket of sunshine I have ever met. I have hired him as my personal zem driver because a) I feel like a 3-wheeled zem has to be somewhat safer that a two-wheeled one b) he is reliable and has a big heart and c) would do pretty much anything for me. Once I was out with friends and it started to rain crazy Africa rain, and he appeared out of nowhere with a pancho for me so that I wouldn’t get wet.

He also has a wonderful family, who he took me to meet. His wife is just as sweet as he is and his kids  melted my heart.

When I asked if I could take a picture of the family, Pete got so excited, he went and made the children change into their nicest clothes. Pete’s dream is for his daughter to go to school in America, (big surprise) and he keeps hinting to me that I should take her back with me when I return in the fall.

A few weeks ago, I went up to Songhai in Porto Novo with Pete. Songhai is this amazing organization made of several different “green” and self sustainable communities throughout Africa. It was founded by a Nigerian who grew up in California (holla!) and had a vision of teaching Africans to empower their own success through sustainable socio-economic entrepreneurship. With support from USAID and other organizations, they have a site in Porto Novo that trains students  in farming organic products, cooking, services such as customer relations (Lord knows Africa needs more of that), etc. Everyone reading this shoud check out their website to get the full effect of how great Songhai is:


When I went on the campus tour, they let me and Pete feed the fish!

I feel very lucky to have such a trustworthy partner to assist me during my next six months in Benin…

So, saving the best for last, I have some other BIG news.. For the last month, I have been waiting for my U.S. government clearance to be processed because… I have been offered a job at USAID Benin!

So here is the whole story: My first week here, I wanted to give Cotonou my best shot for potential jobs, so I literally just printed several copies of my resume and walked around the district where all the international organizations are: Peace Corps., US Embassy, UNDP, Unicef, you get the idea. I ran into an American aid worker coming out of one of the buildings and struck up a conversation with her. She hinted that USAID might need help, but wasn’t sure if they were hiring. I called USAID, dropped her name, and arranged a meeting with the Mission Director. When I met with him, within the first two minutes, we find out that we are from not only the same state, but the same hometown. (Go me, making the right connections.) We also went to rival high schools… A few weeks later, I get a call from him saying that the team is working to arrange a contract for me. (Guess those years of learning how to “network” in Washington, D.C. have finally paid off!) I waited until after I got the job offer to tell him how much his high school football team sucked (Sorry, Saratoga High, but it is true.) Then he retorted by telling me the only time anyone should wear orange and black (my high school’s colors) is on Halloween… ouch. But back to the job part…

As exciting as this job news was, I did not anticipate the long wait for the U.S. clearance. In the states, a government security clearance can take up to six months, but since I was hired out of Benin, somehow the process was expedited. So… five short weeks later, I am the new Program Specialist for USAID Benin on a six-month contract.  I will be home in time to be with my family for a couple months and start graduate school in New York in January!

Big sigh of relief, I can’t wait to dive head first into this new step in my career. I know I am going to learn so much in the coming months, and hope to share whatever lessons in international development I learn.

Thanks for reading!


















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  1. Linda Covell says:

    Go, Sy!
    I am part of the American people and I want to help. What can I do for USAID?
    You lead a really rewarding life, Girl.
    Stay safe,
    Mrs. C.

    P.S. Tell your boss my granddaughter’s La Crosse team at LGHS just beat Saratoga
    18-8. In the rain. Dressed in Halloween colors! Go, wildcats!

  2. Bertil says:

    Sy, I haven’t read all your posts but I think this one had a lot of good news…….. Congrats on your new Program Officer position for USAID Benin. It seems to fit in nicely to your program/career – timing and all.

    Best to you……
    Bertil and Alicia

  3. melisss says:

    Yay! So excited for you!!

  4. vickie says:

    Sy! Congrats again! You’re rockin’ it.

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