Vice TV produces Voodoo and Vaccines in Benin, Africa

Vice TV got our attention a year or so back because of their work producing the best destination and culture videos out in the community. These were the guys that were making guides to North Korea and covering Mongolian yak racing. These guys were the film makers and the story tellers that we aspired to.

Their work has paid off. Among numerous partnerships and work that they’ve got coming down the pipeline, you can now see many Vice videos over at CNN, and the group has cemented a place in the community as leaders in quality, edgy film making.

Vice’s most recent production in collaboration with looks at the challenges and rewards of working with vaccinations in Benin, Africa. It’s a sobering look into the culture of West Africa, and the documentary is a great piece. Take a look at it below.

Peace Corps volunteer murdered in Benin

“Did you hear that a Peace Corps volunteer was killed last week?” one of my friends asked me when we were at a restaurant with a group of returned Peace Corps volunteers. I hadn’t heard, and she didn’t have any information, only that the incident happened in some country in Africa and that the victim was a woman. The news was startling, particularly since I hadn’t heard or read anything about it.

After a bit of sleuthing, I’ve gathered some details. The information about what happened is sketchy, and the death is under investigation.

The volunteer, Kate Puzey was a 24-year-old living in Benin, West Africa. Last week on Thursday morning, friends found her dead outside of her house in the village of Badjoude where she was posted as an English teacher. It is believed that she was murdered, although, I haven’t found more details than what’s in this article at Finding Dulcinea. The official news is that she died sometime the night before she was found.

This story is one that resonates with me for a few reasons. One is because Puzey was the age I was when I was in the Peace Corps. It’s a time that I can recall as if it happened last week. There are certain sounds, sights and smells in a West African country that one doesn’t forget. There was also a coziness to being in a village with people who welcome you into their families and culture without reservation and an amazing amount of generosity. That the coziness could be dangerous is alarming. It doesn’t make sense.

From what I read, Puzey was one of those vibrant, loving volunteers who dove into her time in Benin with open arms and a giving heart. The fact that someone could have done such harm to her is hard to imagine. In general, a person who is an outsider but is welcomed into a village as a guest–and then brought into the fabric of village life, is given a high amount of respect and regard. The villagers would have seen ensuring Puzey’s happiness and safety as something to take seriously.

I can’t imagine what the 100 volunteers posted in Benin are feeling. This is not a death caused by not wearing a motorcycle helmet and having an accident–or becoming ill. This is maliciousness at work. People who may think their villages are safe may be thinking again. Families of volunteers who have heard the news most probably have the jitters.

For an occurrence that is so rare to have not made more of a news story is a bit stunning to me, particularly since both McCain and Obama praised Peace Corps as an important part of world development and volunteerism. Particularly when someone so engaging as Kate Puzey was killed in a place where such things virtually never happen.

My thoughts are with her family and the volunteers who have lost their friend, and possibly feel that the world is less safe than they thought before.

Here is another post I came across about Kate’s tragic death.

Face to Face with West Africa’s Wildlife

The Penjari Biosphere is a wildlife preserve in a remote corner of the West African nation of Benin. Like many such wildlife areas, it struggles with poachers and environmental problems, but tourism, in the form of photo safaris like the one in the video, is an important source of income for the area.

Even the most jaded tourist, wary of tourist traps and non-authentic experiences, would find a safari like the one in the video exciting. The fact that getting up-close and personal with wild animals is an attractive proposition is nothing new to the African tourism industry, but fully capitalizing on the tourist potential while protecting the wildlife for future tourism is the challenge. But, there are now economic reasons for creating a sustainable tourist model. The more interest in wildlife tourism grows, the more demand there will be for sustainability.

This video was taken in early morning, when the Penjari’s animals all head for the nearest watering hole. Check out the menacing elephant about a minute-and-a-half in.
Video courtesy of Boing Boing