September 26, 2002 - Bemidji Minnesota Pioneer: Benin Volunteer Pacholl teaches in Benin

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 09 September 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: September 26, 2002 - Bemidji Minnesota Pioneer: Benin Volunteer Pacholl teaches in Benin

By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, September 26, 2002 - 12:06 pm: Edit Post

Benin Volunteer Pacholl teaches in Adjohoun

Read and comment on this story from the Bemidji Minnesota Pioneer on how Pacholl, a volunteer to the West African country of Benin, wears her hair in the intricate braids like those shown in the photo above (This is not Pacholl in the photo.) popular with her Beninese friends and students as she teaches the equivalent of sixth and ninth grade at the school in Adjohoun. Read the story at:

Bemidji woman is Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Bemidji woman is Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa

By: Molly Miron September 26, 2002

Natalie Pacholl is lucky to have curly hair.

Besides the usual advantages, it means the Peace Corps volunteer to the West African country of Benin can wear her hair in the intricate braids popular with her Beninese friends and students.

"When I walk down the street and wear African clothes and braid my hair and greet people in their language, they're so welcoming," Pacholl said. "I hear, 'Kaabo, Kaabo,' which means welcome."

Pacholl has been teaching English in the small West African country for a year. She is home in Bemidji on vacation, but will return for another year's work in the town of Adjohoun on the Oueme River.

Benin is situated west of Nigeria and east of Ghana. The people speak many indigenous languages, but as a former French colony, their common language is French.

"It's interesting how the African languages have influenced the French," she said of her neighbors in Benin. "They take phrases they use in their language and put them in French."

Pacholl, 24, majored in French at the College of St. Catherine and minored in biology. She said she had hoped to be assigned to work with forestry or health, but the need for English teachers was greater.

Pacholl teaches the equivalent of sixth and ninth grade at the school in Adjohoun. However, the students in both grades are a wide range of ages.

The 60 students in her sixth grade are 10 to 16 years old, and some of the student in ninth grade are in their 20s.

"Some of the kids are my age. There's one kid who's 30," she said. "I got along really well with my younger students. Everybody was curious about me. My students were very excited to learn English from a person from an Anglophone country."

The older students also have accepted her, but she said they were a challenge at first.

Pacholl said she is the person who seems exotic to the African people she deals with, but she has found their way of life very different from anything she experienced before.

For example, people cut scars on their faces to indicate their ethnic group.

"I am at the point where I can kind of tell where people are from by their scars," Pacholl said.

Tinu, a little girl of about 8 years old Pacholl has tried to help learn French and reading, was given away by her parents because they could not feed her. Tinu was taken in as a servant by a family that runs a bar/ café. Pacholl said Tinu will never go to school or have much of a future.

A custom Pacholl said she has tried to discourage among the people of Benin is the way they label her "Yovo," which mean white person. Because she does not want to be called by the color of her skin, she said she asks people to call her "dada," which means big sister, or "madame."

"The Africans are such wonderful people. They're so warm," Pacholl said. "I'm sure I made so many faux pas when I first got there and they were so forgiving."

She said the people of Benin received independence 42 years ago and they boast that, unlike some countries in Africa, they have never had a coup.

"The Beninese say they like peace and I think that's true," Pacholl said. "People shouldn't be afraid of Africa."

Pacholl said she intends to return to Benin to visit her friends after her tour of Peace Corps duty is finished, but she probably will not sign up for another two years in Benin.

"I really like it there, but it's too hard to always be a stranger, always be a minority," she said.

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