Wednesday, December 31, 2008
I'm actually really glad the holiday season is over and I can just get back to the day to day stuff. It was a good time for a vacation and to see everyone from my training group who I haven't seen in 3 months! at in-service training. Unfortunately and fortunately, I got Dysentery the week before. Most often one gets dysentery from bacteria, aka feces, that contaminates most food that is either not soaked in beach for a half an hour or boiled. Appetizing right? I won't go into details but let me just say I was ready to pack up my bags and leave the country but I couldn't leave my own bathroom for more than an hour for four days. The treatment for this is gatorade but that isn't sold here so instead we make our own by mixing salt, sugar and lime for flavor.
I got better just in time to travel out with a bunch of volunteers to a beach town, kribi for in-service. While we weren't in all day long technical sessions during the day, we had an amazing time at the beach. We had bonfires, dinner on the beach, swam in the warm water with huge waves, went to the waterfalls outside of town... ahhhhhh I'm missing it already. We also had air conditioning in our hotel room that we turned down so low, just because we could and because feeling cold isn't something that happens often. I put up tons of pictures of the beach.
Seeing everyone was really the best part. I organized Secret Santa, and was a bit worried that something was going to go wrong, or I forgot someone. But it turned out so well! We exchanged gifts right before our final dinner together. Everyone got up individually and presented their gift often with a funny story. People were really thoughtful and for a few minutes there in the humid 90 degrees it felt like Christmas.
I was only gone for a week and a half, but getting back to post felt so good. As soon as the bus I was on hit pavement I was like "HOME!!!!!" And then when I got in my house I killed a cockroach with my shoe and then I was really home. lol that is disgusting but that’s what really happened.
For Christmas Eve a few volunteers in the east celebrated with a Cameroonian family just outside my town. Christmas day we cooked a big American Christmas dinner. We had a tree and each of us saved opening a care package from home until Christmas morning. I also drank plenty of wine and palm wine.
There's just nothing that can replace family, but the family that I have here is definitely the next best thing. I hope everyone at home had a wonderful Christmas, know that I missed you all and I hope you have a happy new year.
Friday, December 5, 2008
So I made it safetly back! I might have mentioned it before but its tough being around so many americans and then not. One of those love hate things. I'm really looking forward to christmas. I'll be traveling into the bush for christmas eve celebrating Cameroonian style and then I'm planning Christmas day dinner here in Bertoua. It will be really nice and the other volunteers in the province are the most amazing people to be around during the holidays. However no matter how great the pumpkin pie is, or if there is a swimming pool and a bottle of 15 year scotch in the equation.. you just can't replace family. There's not subsitution that comes even close. Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, Miss you all to timbuktu and back!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
So I thought I would write why we've got it good. Part One: United States. Part Two: Cameroon. Disclaimer: I really like it here, Peace Corps seems like a perfect fit for me, I have a lot of great Cameroonian friends, I'm hardly negative and I feel really acclimated. Other volunteers have backed me up on all that too. However there are times when it sucks. I joke about it, try and make light of the situations. But all you can really say to me is "ashya". In pidgin it's a nice way of saying "that sucks for you" So instead of me being a repeat campaign of How to Save a Child on a Dollar A Day, because no one really wants to watch multiple commercials of wide-eyed hungry babies, I figured I'd just get it all out now. Also, most of these things that I'm pointing out are examples from what I used to do or say. I'm not saying that you should change after reading this either. Last note, when I say "you or your" I'm not referring to anyone directly. Just hear me out.
Americans have no F*!$"#!g idea how great we have it. NO IDEA. Maybe you can say that you understand.. okay, I’ll listen. But for most... trust me, you DON'T. Vacationing or doing a humanitarian trip is great, but it will never give you the full picture. Unless you've lived in a developing country where those extended bellied children on the commercials are your neighbors. Down to the simplest of things available to us in the states, we have NO IDEA how good we have it.
"The line at starbucks was so long" There was a formation of line? Incredible. Probably can't get sick off anything they serve and they'll have change for me when I pay. But I suppose they never get my grande- sugar free vanilla-extra espresso shot-half soy-half skim milk latte right anyway.
A volunteer I know likes to say that America is "shiny and efficient". Those two words say it all. Looking at pictures now, even the outdoors looks clean. Electricity, water, rent and all other bills have to be walked down to the business and paid every month. No line to pay, I push your way up to the cashier just like everyone else. Why did I ever think it was a pain to go online and pay my bills?
"Crazy drivers and ridiculous traffic".. Yeah it’s too bad that we have vehicles ALL TO OURSELVES, certified drivable and some traffic lights that make sure we're safe. What’s ridiculous is how many accidents I've seen. What’s crazy is that every time I take a bus here I pray the entire time that I will arrive alive at my destination. Or worse if I was to get hurt and the nearest hospital is 3 hours away. My praying on those rides makes up for any missed Sundays at church and then some. I can't wait to get home, take a greyhound bus and feel like I'm in a Cadillac.
Two words: washer and dryer. You probably won't get any sympathy from me complaining about having to do laundry when the only thing you actually "do" is put the stuff in the machine and then transfer it to another machine.
"Sexual Harassment" To be a woman here... SUCKS. I get so much shit everyday, not just from being white. Everyday I want to scream "STOP STARING AT ME". Cameroonian women experience this too. And its not just words. Confinement to certain jobs, abuse, assumed unintelligent. I feel like I'm stuck in a 1950's gender role nightmare, but worse and without the cute dresses.
QUALITY HEALTH CARE. I wouldn't have to bring my own gloves, needles and etc when I go to the hospital in the states. Life expectancy is over 45 years old there too! What would a hospital in the states look like if they didn't have running water? Betch ya I can paint a good picture. Malaria, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis, Cholera, Filariasis, more worms and parasites than you can imagine... I could go on.
I will never in my life say that gain: "I have nothing to wear or there is nothing in this house to eat". EVER.
Corruption. There is corruption in the states but not on ever level of society. Transparency International ranked Cameroon 141 out of 180 countries on corruption. (The US is #18 by the way). I was talking to another volunteer and she was telling me how a stack of her student’s papers were missing after she turned them into the schools admin to enter in the grades. Come to find out, admin takes the higher scored exams, refuses to give them the grade unless they pay to get their test back. WTF. I know another way you can get a good grade from your teacher and it rhymes with shmasitution. Meanwhile in schools across the states, school boards convene and discuss the light salad dressing options in the cafeteria.
Credit crisis? So I bought a bunch crap that I thought I needed but couldn't afford in the first place? Ashya? We have the access to credit everywhere.. SO important to development.
Like I said, I used to do all of this, and maybe when I go back to the states I'll fall into my old routine. Thanks for listening to my rant, next blog.. Why Cameroonians have it good P.S. I actually like my latte with the real sugar syrup and 1% milk. Au Bon Pain makes them better too.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
So anyway, we completed out girls and boys camp this weekend. It was originally going to be just girls but it’s a new approach to gender issues, girl empowerment, HIV/AIDS prevention and sex education to have boys and girls together. I think there’s definitely some truth to that. Gender role playing Gender role playing again. This kid was pretending to be a health teacher and he used our penis picture. It was really cute
The French level was way over my head though. A bit discouraging seeing how I was talking to 11 year olds. But when in French class did I learn what the word for sperm is? Or how many ways do you know how to say “to have sex”? What da know, there are just as many ways in french as there are in english. Very confusing. We had sessions on the menstrual cycle, stds, planning their future, gender role playing, reasons to say yes/no to sex etc. We had some very nicely drawn diagrams by Matt and Kate of the penis and vagina. Which they copied down pretty well in their notebooks that we gave them. Some of the kids questions were a little out of the blue, something you can never be prepared for.
We played lots of games which was really fun. My first ice breaker was charades. A game I LOVE. So the kids had to think creatively when acting out animals or professions. This was the first shocker… kids do not use their imagination here. Thinking creatively, working in a group, acting out things… nope. Not at all. It blew me away. Even something like draw pictures that represents you. Likes, dislikes, ambitions etc. Nope. Its just not the style of learning. This is also where I’d like to point out another volunteer’s blog post that I think decribes parts of cameroon better than I could. So if you’ve got time, it’s worth reading and so are his other blog posts.
So anyway, other games that we played were lion and elephants where the lion is HIV the elephants are the immune system that protects the baby elephant representing the human body. We had a condom race with bananas. Hot potato with blown up condoms with true or false questions inside… we played that along to the song of “I kissed a girl and I liked it” I thought it was appropriate.
Most importantly kids here know their ABCs of sex. Hopefully you know this too. Abstinence. Being Faithful. Condoms. Stuff like that they know off the back of their hand. However if you were to ask “What is a good reason to have sex when you are married?” or “Why is it easier for girls to get HIV?” “Why do I have cramps when I get my period?” That stuff is not talked about. WHY and HOW TO are the big ones “How to know what I want in my future to wait to have sex” “How to put on a condom correctly.” It just opened my eyes to the way some sex education is conducted.
Overall I think it went well. It was good having girls and boys mixed for somethings. Hearing the girls talk about how they are pressured into certain situations and how the boys as friends could help was really good. It was extremely exhausting though. And here is my praise for all English/science/computer volunteers here in Cameroon….
I would never last 2 years doing what education volunteers do here. When there should be 60 kids in a classroom (still a lot) there are 160. Maybe a dozen of those kids have books. A new level of patience is needed. The style of teaching that volunteers do here takes a lot of effort and time. And when most of the class fails and has to stay back, which is very common, it takes a lot of determination to keep teaching. Kudos to you, I think that you’re all taking on a big challenge and I’m sure you’re doing amazing.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
I remember this is was an interview question for peace corps. They asked me what I will do if I get bored. I think I said I would go running or take a walk. Now that Im here, thats about the last thing that I want to do. The white girl who lives in town is already a show, the white girl who goes running?? Running where and why? Or the white girl who walks her dog?? Thats premium entertainment right there... for everyone else and I hear about it. No thanks.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Well anyway, we're still really anxious and excited. The polls will close today around 11pm this evening. When the presidential debates were aired at 2am Cameroonian time, we set our alarm clocks to wake up and watch CNN. This time I might just wait till Wednesday or it will be a long night.
Cameroonians are excited about the election too. Or I should say they have been excited for months now. I get asked all the time “Did you vote???" "What do you think of the candidates?" "GO Obama!". I've got to give it to people here, there are Cameroonians that probably follow this better than some Americans. A couple of my friends here are going to pick up some bush meat (porcupine, cane rat, etc) in celebration of today. And if Obama wins my neighbor will make beef stroganoff. Neither is American cuisine, cane rat definitely Cameroonian and stroganoff is Russian, but oh well it’s the thought that counts.
I just wanted to mention how lucky we are as Americans that we can vote in free and fair elections. We are notified when and were the organized polling stations will be. No one is worried that they will be threatened or chaos will erupted at the polls. Violence and voting is not something that Americans see often together. The elections are monitored here by a system that is credible and respected. And in the end the election results will be published. We also have free speech, right to form political parties, free to participate, free press. Sometimes I think we forget how valuable that is. As for Cameroon, I'm not going to go into the political system here, because it's not an appropriate discussion to be having on openly online.
Monday, October 20, 2008
But things picked up. The accountant of the bank is going for a few months of training, which is great for him and the bank, so I’ve been doing a little accounting. Accounting or French grammar? Tough choice.. they're both so thrilling. However my counterpart at the bank and I are working on starting up a new project, a mutuelle health association, outside of the bank.
Brief description of health insurance here. Health care "systems" are another subject. Very few people have insurance, something in the single digit percentage. Its mainly private and very expensive. What happens when you don't have insurance and have to pay the complete hospital fee up front? A. Use up all of your savings B. Take out a loan from a family member or from a bank, like the one I work at, which is difficult to repay since you're not generating any income. C. Go to a traditional healer that may or may not be curative or don't see a doctor at all. Or option D. Die on the doorstep of the hospital. However, like mutual savings banks, mutual health associations are growing significantly in West Africa. In Cameroon they are a big success, particularly everywhere else except the East Province. Heard that one before..
So what we've been doing is building the structural part of the association, searching for qualified people (especially women) to be on the board of directors, on the surveillance committee etc. The large part of the work has been going to village meetings every Saturday and Sunday to present the mutual health association project and to have people sign up for it. Once there are enough members, the general assembly/ all of the members will convene, hopefully in November, and together they will make decisions about the association together with some guidelines and strong recommendations on specific things like monthly premiums. However it will be their decision to decide if premiums are best paid every month, quarterly, or annually. That’s the wonderful thing about associations and meetings here. People have the ability to decide and they'll trust putting they're money where they can see it. Insurance is not easily accepted here either. Simply put, you pay money every month to use incase you get sick. but when you're not sick, you don't get it back. That’s an idea not everyone grasps. Another good part about this being a community project, like the MC2 bank, after overhead costs, the profit goes back to the community. The money will be used to start preventative health programs, a pharmacy and finally it will fund the construction of a clinic.
Yours truly is one of these board advisors for the association. I'll let you sit with that thought for a moment because it certainly took me a while to grasp. (How did I get here and who thinks I really can handle this position!????) After meeting with a couple ngo's in the capital on how these Mutual Health Associations are run, I am now trying to catch up on all the work that needs to be done BEFORE it is formed like feasibility studies and cost analysis. It's good that it's taking off so quickly however there is some serious work that needs to be done to make sure it's going to succeed... and I'm really really nervous about that.
How to promote insurance: I go to village meetings, usually about 5 or 6 of them each weekend with my counterpart, a retired doctor, the president of all of the village meetings all across town and speak about the importance of this health mutual. Thankfully, they do most of the talking about the association. I present myself, explain my role as a peace corps volunteer how I’m available to work on individual projects outside the bank and the mutual health, explain how I oversee the management of this project, etc. These meetings are separated by gender and village. So sometimes I'm speaking in front of a room full of chatty women, probably talking about my choice of pagne (they're always really dressed nicely), but usually very receptive and interested in the idea of health insurance. Other times I’m at a larger village meeting, 50 people or so and I am the ONLY female in the room, and I imagine, as I have heard before, males taking about their opinion on women making decisions and running things. The white American girl standing up and speaking is enough commotion, and then I start speaking French.... Its nerve wrecking. For some reason, having an American overseeing this project installs a lot of confidence in people that no one is going to take they're money and run. A frequent problem here of promising new projects or village banks that turn out to be scams. So since I'm American, this development project is legit? Not sure where that conclusion is from.
You never know what’s going to happen from one meeting to the next. I now know how to share the kola nut, properly, when the chief of the village hands me the largest nut. Last weekend in between meetings I had 2 beers (equivalent of 4 in the states) with the sweetest chief. I've become an expert at mimicking what my other colleges do when cultural custom questions pop up... Power goes out, monkey is served, everyone else is drinking beer, pick up a new hand shake, and that’s how it goes.
From these meetings I know a huge part of this city including several neighborhoods that I would have never known they were there. I've also introduced myself to about 700 plus people. From this I am going to work with a GIC (pronounced jeek) a business association that in turns gives huge benefits to individual members. Kind of like a Coop in the states, and this one specifically is an agricultural GIC. I'm going to see how I can advise a group that assists with elderly care, like hospice, so I’m really excited.
The first project I worked on is with an owner of an ice cream production and sales business, which has only been running for a couple months now. He also happens to be the son of a gentleman I work with on the mutual health project. He's only a couple years older than me and thankfully speaks English. Although sometimes I talk too fast. This is an excellent first project to advise because he was a great contact and was already very well organized, so the basic stuff was out of the way. But I had a huge period of self doubt about this all. Who put me in charge or advising a business???! Who am I to be recommendations in the Cameroonian context? I haven't even been here a half a year! He's lived here his own life and has a master’s degree. Looking over his accounting books, I was thinking how much I hate numbers. When have you ever heard me say "I like math". Umm never. So I freaked out a bit, made some excel sheets and recommendations. And since the business is expanding, it’s going to be a continuous project.
Oh and in November, my postmates are going to do a girl's empowerment camp. More like a long weekend packed full of activities... in French. I don't mean to stress that most things I do are in a foreign language, lol it's more like a reminder to myself followed by a brief panic. TIA: This Is Africa. This is Peace Corps.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
The new puppy, so adorable. Wearing a team east pagne colar and a pink leash, i love it
I mentioned before that I was going to get a kitten, and I was so excited. Kittens are so cute right? Everyone loves kittens right? Wrong. I've had this damn thing for about 4 weeks now, and she's neither. The kitten was born on the 4th of july so it's 3 months old, and growing. When I first got it, she was tiny and then she started eating through a box of cat food a week. Cat food isn't common here, I bet cats as food are more common than finding a box of meowmix. Kitty litter doesn't exist, so a box full of dirt is a cheap substitution.
The cat's name is Benny. She's named after Benson, a dog my family used to have that, like my kitten is completely black except for white paws and a white haired belly. Benson used to pass horrible smelling gas all the time and so does Benny. Our dog was so much better than this thing. Even then I keep thinking how many animals my sister and I had that my parents had to put up with. I had no idea what a pain in the ass it would be.
Benny meows all the time. She's attention deficit, meaning she runs around the house uncontrollably, without direction and she is always wanting attention. ALWAYS. It's so annoying. Meow, meow, meow, meow.. annoying. The other day my neighbor anne marie called me to say that she went over to get Benny because it had been meowing for hours. It also pees. It peed on my bed, on some of my clothes, in my bike helmet... I was pissed the last time it peed and dunked the cat in a bucket of water. It's not like I'm just going to throw those things in the washer, ca va, that's taken care of. No. Don't even get me started about laundry here. I keep telling myself that I hate mice, and cats are so much better than mice. But the other day there was a huge centipede in the living room, so I picked up that cat and put it in front of the bug where it just proceeded to sit there and watch it.
Benny has also inspired my 6 year old neighbor. We'll call him Christian, a little 6 year old boy who is always half dressed, mostly not wearing pants. As far as I've seen, Christians favorite past times include kicking around a water bottle or a plastic bag, rolling around on the porch of his house, and apparently playing with my cat. I came to realize this when the cat saw christian, hissed like crazy and ran off. Hmmm. So we asked Christian if he likes the cat and plays nicely with it, and his answers are mostly a few "oui's" and blank stares. Clearly guilty. I'm surprised the cat hasn't been put down the well yet.
Again, another day, Anne Marie thought something was wrong with my cat, meowing more than usual and scratching or something like that. Turns out it was christian. I walked in through the compound door, and Christian was hiding right behind it, squatting down, half naked, meowing. Kids are weird.
I think I should have got a dog instead. Luckily for me, my other postmate kate just got a puppy today and she's adorable. She doesn't have a name yet, but I want to call it Biya. Also happens to be name of the president of cameroon who has been in office for a few decades. I promised to help take care of it, which I don't think should be a problem since I love dogs and since I'm going to train it to be a good guard dog I now have someone to go running with. I'm pretty happy about it.
Next blog I'll write a little more about what I've been actually doing as a volunteer. I've not been so great about emails and updating this blog. I got my first miserably sick experience here last week. That sucked. I was kind of waiting for it anyway, it's just a matter of time for that to happen here. We've also been without power for several days at a time. Not a fan of living without electricity, because when it gets dark at 6:30 what do you do to pass the time with your canteen lantern and meowing cat?
Trevor was also visiting for a weekend, always a good time when other volunteers come through the capital. I think it's hard to escape the life here because very few things are familiar. But it's possible to find comfort in something familiar like people, movies, a good dream, a box of macaroni and cheese. Times like that its amazing how easy it is to forget where you are, it's disorientating. Like watching a great movie set in the states, it's great at that moment, but when the movie ends or volunteers travel back to their posts, reality hits. Not as fun. And not the reason I'm here, I know.
Besides that, I've been busy working, helping someone open their own business and launching a new health project. Nope not a health volunteer but that's how peace corps works. Just got to go with it... "I'm not an expert in french but I am an expert in _______" Fill in the blank, and sometimes that'll change with the day.
P.S. I totally mastered riding side saddle on a moto! The other day I was about to hop on a moto in a fited skirt that had double side slits a little to long. Too late to run back and change, I braved the side saddle ride all the way from tigaza to my house. Which doesn't mean anything to most of you, but it was a pretty long ride on some back dirt roads.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
The smells started on the flight over here from Paris to Yaounde. Just circulating the same air and same smells of people who probably had been traveling just as much as we had. Put it this way.. my post mates sister came to visit a couple weeks ago, and when she was leaving they confiscated her deoderant at the airport because securitydidn't know what it was. Point made? That probably goes for toothpaste too.
However I think the most dominating smell is of wood fires. Most families do their cooking over a traditional wood fire outside in a 3 walled kitchen. I like the smell of it, I don't actually like smelling of it so thats why I don't use my traditional kitchen in the back of my house. And it's ALOT of work. Along the sides of the street, mommies cook over grills made out of metal barrows or tire rims that they fill with coals. They grill corn, prunes, fish, plantains and other stuff. The fish always smells the most amazing. Men are more likely to be grilling the soya or brochette, strips of meat on sqwere, grilled over a similar homemade barrel grill kept hot by logs of wood sticking out one cut out side of the grill. Cameroon smells of delicious food.
Side note: The selection of meat is a bit different than what I was used to in the West Province. There is beef and if I'm lucky, goat. But the East is famous for it's bush meat. Cane rats- rats larger than cats, porcupine, some armadillo like animal I forget the name of that has scales and climbes trees, viper, and monkey. As you've heard me complain about before, there are pigs and ducks all over the place, but I've never had either since I've been here. I'm determined to find out why.
Pigs smell too, obviously. But they particularly smell because they are behind my house. Chickens kind of have their own smell too, and they walk around all over the place or wait in cages along the side of the road to be sold. If they didn't have a scent of their own, I bet they picked up another smell hanging out in garbage piles or in the fields. It's a new meaning of "free range meat" here.
There are no regulatory systems on pollution, specifically from car exhausts. There are tons of motos around here that add to that smell in the air, but worse are the huge logging trucks and agence busses that go from city to city. Thick black exhaust.
walking outside through the fish market, well that smells, and so does the meat market, also outside perfuming the air. The fruit and veggie stands are not that far away to its a nice balancing smell.When you walk into hannafords or price copper is the first thing is the veggatables and fruit, but can you smell them? Maybe its the pesticide, or the shiny wax coating or the blowing air conditioner that prevents the smell. Same with meat behind the cases or the fish on ice in the back of the store. Thinking about it I bet you can't even smell the lobsters in the tank unless you put your nose close enough. Not the case here.
There are very minimal sewage systems. Example: my well where I get water is right next to my dranage system for my house, hence problems with water contaimination. Anyway, most people use latrines/outdoor bathrooms or just go to the bathroom outside. I have no problem with this, I didn't think one could actually be an expert at squating outside.. I think I'm getting there. I think that private latrines are very clean, like if I was to have my own latrine in the back yard, it would be clean. Otherwise.. if the world is your bathroom, it will probably smell like it too. And sometimes it does.
Laundry.. doesn't smell like lavender snuggle spring breeze fabric softener that's for sure.
Finally, I think that Cameroon smells like earth. Sounds strange, I know. It smells like earth especially when it rains or when its really sunny and all the vegetation is growing. There is a huge lack of pavement here, the provincial city I think it the only one in the province that is paved, other than the road to the capital which is currently under pavement construction. I can also count how many buildings there are above 1 story. Maybe these are some of the reasons that it smells like I actually with nature and earth. Sounds a bit hippy-ish, but it's true and it smells nice. Don't worry i'm not turning into that crunchy granola peace corps volunteer some of you have pictured in your immagination or in my nightmares... I still wear mascara everyday.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Men hold hands here. It's a friendship thing not a romantic gesture. Homosexuality is actually illegal.
Just because there is a price tag on an item, which price tags really aren't the norm, it doesn't mean the price isn't negotiable.
While having a beer... and someone says "Are you well?" In Cameroon you should say back "No man, no well or me chest be well" Otherwise if you say that you're well then the person will ask you to make him well too. As in buy him a beer. A girls night out has a different meaning too. If a girl is alone having a drink, she is most likely a prostitute. Smoking a cigarette.. probably a prositute. If I go out with a group of girls, no guys, we're probably all prostitutes.
There was two people in front of me at the teller desk at the bank the other day. Unconsiously thinking back to the countless times I'd waited in line at a bank in the states, I'm thinking that it's going to be a 2 minute wait. Silly me. It took 30 minutes before I was at the teller counter.
Cameroonians are very friendly. They always say hello and shake everyone's hands when they enter a room, ask how your family is, etc. People always ssay "bon appetit" when you're eating. Very friendly. But there are other things they say that in the states would seem extremely rude. Like when you're eating lunch, and someone says "hey where's my part? where's my lunch?" Or in refering to food, clothes, items around the house, or anything people would say.. "Could I have that?". Why not ask right? If you've put on weight, they'll always say something about that, but it's not an insult.
You can say anyone is your sister or brother. I do it all the time, it's just easier saying that trevor is my brother instead of my friend who comes over and hangs out at my house. Cameroonians call people their brothers or sisters all the time too. I think that's why it took some of us so long to figure out just how many siblings were in our homestay families. So you just have to ask "is this your vraiment sister?" meaning true sister.
Food is another pas le meme chose. Cameroonians eat tapioca, but it's not a desert. It's made out of manioc, I think, but it tastes like a cold grainy soup with sugar and peanuts. Couscous is also very popular here, I think I've talked about it before. It's not middle eastern couscous, but a glooey pasty ball of mashed up manioc. Manioc is a root plant here, with no nutritional value that I know of, and is very filling.
On another note, I'm not sure if this has come across in my blogs or not, but I really really like living in Cameroon. I love the east province, people here are wonderful and i'm starting to crave cameroonian food (the other day I had juice from a hibicus that was sweetended and ice cold, it was amazing). I'm really happy being here and just incase I haven't extended this invitation formally, anyone at anytime is more than welcome to visit. It wouldn't be your typical vacation, but I promise it would be an experience.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
At 4:30am the prayers at the mosque start. It's so dead quiet at that time, that I can hear crystal clear the prayer called from a half a mile away. It's pretty cool. They also pray at night, around 7:30 I think. I can hear it everytime.
The pigs at the pig farm directly outside my bathroom window (yeah it smells), they get fed at 7pm. This is no cute Babe or Wilber from charlette's web having breakfast... no, it's more like a screeching and whinning and it sounds revolting.
Ducks usually come out in the morning, hang out waddling around on my roof throughout the day. These are big ducks, must not be the brightest in the flock because they fly in and crash on my tin roof. It sounds like someone's is up there trying to break in (that's often how people break into houses here)scares the crap out of me. When the little birds walk around up there, it only sounds like mice crawling in my ceiling. Not that much more comforting. But what is comforting is when I think about how I nice roasted and laquered ducks would taste along with a side of cranberry and beet greens. Sounds lovely right?
The sun comes up at 6:30 everyday, so does every cameroonian, way before that even. I always hear kids, they're outside 20 hours a day. The median age here is 19. Pretty young, 40% of the population is uner the age of 14 years old.. lots of kids. They laughplay, scream, cry. I have never been around so many kids. Cameroonians LOVE to laugh too. Often, they like to argue too. Music plays all day here.Celine dion, bryan adams, cameroonian pop, traditional cameroonian music, chris brown you name it. News radio is usually on. If you're neighbor is blaring music or their tv, that means you need to turn yours up louder. Dogs are another loud animal, they're all street dogs. Gangs of dogs that probably have made a bad decision to be involved with another dog at one point that may or maynot have rabies. Not nice dogs.
In between these noises I'm reminded that I live on the African continent. There are so many georgeous birds here, I feel like I'm in a bird santuary. Tons of frogs and crickets or what ever those bugs are, that make it sound like I live in a pond in the country. Yeah well those are here too, but really loud.
When I walk to town/through town I hear "Nassara", "ma blanche" "ma chere" "ma coeur" "watt" and other words and phrases thankfully I don't yet understand in french or in the local language. Translated, it's the white, my white, my darling, my heart, won't you take me to america with you? give me money. i'm going to be your husband yatta yatta yatta. And when I say I hear this in town, I mean I hear it 20 times in 2 hours. It's not all bad though, some people are very polite. And I am white, but if you're going to call me that, don't be rude. Say good evening white. Then I'll say good evening back.
Another noise in town.. when you want to get someone's attention you make a "Ssssss" sound. Kind of like hissing, but without the "H" sound. At first I thought hissing at a waitress, a cab driver, or a vendor is extremely rude. That was before I realized how effective it was. Even the quieteist of hisses will stop a moto driver speeding along to pick you up. I think they can hear it from miles away. The other sound to get someone's attention is a kissing sound. This I definitely hate. I'm not saying everyone yells nassara or hisses, some people say madamn or miss.
This is the golden rule of driving: honk your horn. Driving is mostly moto's here in the east, vehicles are a huge sign saying "important person in the province like the mayor or something, or foreign aid workers, or foreigners in general". There are a few taxi cars but here they're mostly taxi moto's. So anyway, when you pass another moto, honk the horn. Someone's driving too close, honk. Want to pick up a passenger, get some random person's attention walking by, turning a corner, comming up to an interection... honk honk honk. I'm not exagerating when I say my moto driver will honk a dozen times within 2 miles. Sometimes I can't even figure out why. Maybe because if you're happy and you know it you honk otherwise I have no idea.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
It did come back on yesterday though! And then there was a huge storm last night that blew out the electricity. It gets dark here at 6:30, really dark. No electricity, no problem, other volunteers live without it all the time. Only difference is that they're prepared for it. I search around for my flashlights, remembered that I think i've lost half of them already, but find one! Turn it on and a couple seconds the batteries die. Instinctively I search for the tv remote to raid the batteries and I remember I don't own a tv. I've got a canteen though, but no kerosine. So in the dark I found one candle in the bottom of my luggage and then my trusty wind up flashlight. I heard from our neighbor that hopefully it will be back on in a few days because the transmitter broke or something along those lines. Most people don't have generators just because they're so expensive and gas isn't cheap either.
Anyway, the best part of the wind up flashlight, well first of all it was a going away gift. And a wonderful one at that! So I brought this rather large windup operation out into town the other night, and my cameroonian friends LOVED IT. We were sitting there talking, and they were just cranking it up (charging it) which is kind of work. But they were determinded to see the green light come on significating that it's fully charged. They think it's entertaining, I think it's beneficial. Then I said I had the adapters to it to charged phones, and they started winding it up even faster.. until the handle broke off. LOL. Everything here is fixable by superglue, I'm really not worried about it, at all. Rechargable anything is still wonderful.
Final challenge of the week/my life here is trying to act like I belong here. When you're visiting/living in a foreign country it's best too put on that "blank expression of competent invisablitly.. which makes you look like you belong there, anywhere, everwhere" I stole that part from a book I'm reading because I think it summed it up pretty nicely. I have to pretend to look like I'm not lost when I have no idea where I am. I need to take that shocked expression off my face when I ask "what's menu du jour?" and they say "monkey". First of all because it's rude to look like digusted and secondly I'll really look foreign. It's almost unnatural to not look people in the eyes when I'm walking down the street but it only causes more comments or invitations for remarks. It's hard walking with determination and calmness when this city seems so busy and unstructured.
Day by day, little by litte. In swahili, Haba na haba, hujaza kibaba. In french peu a peu. In pidgeon, small small catch monkey... I'll get better.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
I am a Small Enterprise Development Volunteer, SED for short, and enterprise is obviously just another word for business. I'm assigned to work with a Microfinance Bank, MC2 in the East Province of Cameroon. Microfinance in the developing world is very successful. An individual becomes a member, invests in the bank by buying shares, and has the ability to take out loans with little collateral. Access to credit = development. The MC2's here are very new, some only a few years old, and for a bank primarly giving out loans, it's risky and challenging. As a SED volunteer, I'll be looking at their procedures and making recommendations for improvement. Hopefully this will include working on increasing repayment rates, improving accounting systems, and increasing loan outreach especially to farmers and to people in villages. The MC2s are also trying out offering health insurance, something I would really like to work on just because it's not common and the idea of it is difficult to understand.
Through working with the bank I'll hopefully meet entreprenuers that I'll be able to guide the way on business start-up. The same goes with business owners that I'm able to advise with accounting, marketing, and operations of their business. I'll also try and encourange linkages and cross-sector collaboration with the businesses, non-govermental organizations, markets,and community groups to increase a more efficeient business community, increase information sharing etc.
All of this is great, but since I'm not living here forever, it's not sustainable. It's important for me to identify people in my community, that will be able to learn and carry on consulting in business start-up and management. This goal is probably one of the harder ones for volunteers to achieve. It's easier and quicker to do things ourselves, instead of teaching someone else to do it.
I'll also be teaching business classes. Most likely in a small village about an hour away to groups of women. Apparently there's a catholic convent out there were I can stay while I'm teaching the classes. Traveling to a place and back in a day, even if it's only an hour away, well it's just better not to.
Alot of the work mentioned above is really focused on women and youth. Helping with career planning, emphasising savings and credit, business and life skills, are all important. None of these things have to be in a formal setting either. People always, always ask what I'm doing here. I bought paint the other day at this hardware sort of store, the owner asked me what I do, and I gave him a super condensed version of what I just told you. He didn't give me a receipt for the stuff I bought, which led to a converstation about bookkeeping. Viola.
Pretty broad description right? Oh yeah and this is all in french by the way. Piece of cake... ha. Wish me luck, my first day is on Monday!
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Hopefully I'll start this were I left off.. I made it to the east! With all of my things, which is great. No huge problems. Peace Corps rented out a prison type looking bus for us, which they loaded with furniture for a new transit house out here, on top of our luggage and bikes, it was a bit crowded but good.
I have my own house! That's a first. Someone hasn't lived in it for a year so there's some cleaning to be done. I just watched Under the Tuscan Sun, and my situation kind of reminds me of that. Except I don't live in Tuscany, I have to do stuff myself, people don't convienently speak english in this foreign country, and I highly doubt this story is going to end up with a georgous guy living in my villa, in this case, my compound. Wait that's not one of the goals of Peace Corps? Just joking. It's a nice house though, I've got a little screened in front porch, a good size living room, 2 guest bedrooms, a master bedroom that connects to the bathroom and a little kitchen. Lots of spiders, a few cockroaches and a bunch of geicos also live avec moi. I've got pretty constant electricity. Running water is a little less dependable, which is fine, I've got a well & bucket in my front yard. Directions to my house: Mother Hen, Piggy Bar. No joke.
It's strange to think that I live here, not just visiting. Especially because it's so different than the West Province where I've been living since I got here. It sucks sometimes not being around everyone else, but at the same time I really like the independence. I love having my own kitchen.. american food! Kind of. I still grab stuff in town a lot because I've grown to really like Cameroonian cuisine. Did I mention porcupine, viper, monkey and some armadillo like animal is really popular out here. I'll let you know how those are...
I'm really lucky to have 2 great postmates. Anne Marie lives in the house next to mine in our compound, and Kate is a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader who lives in a house around the block. Not really around the block, more like down the dirt road and through the path in someone's field, but anyway. The PCVL is a new position, Kate is a good person to go to with issues or questions because this is her 3rd year living in the East and she kind of acts as a middle person between Peace Corps admin. She also lives in a house large enough to house people traveling through, and will have a frigerator and an oven. That's pretty posh living. Both Kate and Anne Marie helped me buy stuff for my house yesterday. Price tags are extremely rare, so you have to know the price before you want to buy something or you'll get ripped off, which is on top the other reasons why I'm more likely to get a different price. I'm getting better at negotiating, but Kate and Anne Marie are pros.
Plenty more domestic stories to come, but this entry is getting long. All the best to those
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Me at the Boulangerie. Respectfully admiring the cakes
Before that though, I'll briefly tell you what we've been up to for the past week. We traveled last sunday to Yaounde for banking, admin and last medical stuff. We were also forwarded a move-in salary and our salaries for the next 3 months. It was a chunk of change, in USD it doesn't sound like that much, but we're volunteers after all, and in comparison here, pcvs do live nicely. Anyway, in Yaounde there's pizza, milkshakes, Chinese food, burgers, etc. But they all just imitate food back home, it's far from being the same but the resemblance is there and that's good enough. I had white cheddar cheese too, and it was worth every CFA. I left the grocery store, with nothing that I originally set out to get because I was so overwhelmed.
We went to happy hour at the hilton hotel, probably the nicest hotel in the capital. Just walking into the lobby, I felt like I teleported to America. Air condition, sparkling floors, carpet, lobby furniture, I can go all day talking about this. And then we went in a lovely elevator. See picture below of me demonstrating how wonderful the elevator is. The bar/lounge is on the top floor that has a gorgeous view overlooking Yaounde. The cocktails/mocktails, were pretty expensive, weren't perfect, and it took them a half an hour to make, but seriously I'm not complaining, it was so worth it. And of course, the guys also sported they're ridiculous mustaches and sunglasses.
In the elevator
So we had 4 days of this in the Cause and it was awesome. And you'd think after spending 24 hours everyday with each other.. eating, sleeping, and never being alone, we'd be sick of each other. Not the case, at all. I've already told a couple people here, my future wedding party just doubled, and the bar tab tripled because I know some of these people are going to be around for a while. We did Superlatives of the people in our stage, some of them were clearly stolen from a high school year book, like best laugh or nicest smile, others categories had people already in mind. David won "most likely to be broke during the peace corps", he's a baller spender, funny enough he also won "most likely to be rich after service". Jim's blog won "most likely to be shut down by PC". Your's truly won "nicest eyes", "most likely to steal food from the cause" and "most likely to be polygamous". Using food in the cause's kitchen is probably true, I do cook, and about the polygamy.. no comment.
The swearing-in ceremony was great, the SED girls had french toast brunch and mimosas at 9am before, we all looked great in our matching outfits, (i've added new pictures). The adorable Embassy boy scouts club started the ceremony off. There was traditional dancing, speeches in Pidgin, Fulfulde and French. We had a nice dinner, and after we continued celebrating at the SED house, at the marche where we ate grilled street meat and grilled fish. We went dancing at a hotel club where we were the only people making fools of ourselves, it was great.
Unfortunately, today has been the only unhappy day since I've been here. We split up, the people going north and east headed off through Yaounde, where I am now, and the other headed to the West, NW, SW, and Adamoua provinces. Laura and I, left Wendy and Kate, all crying, going in opposite directions of the country. Luckily, I'm hanging out with Laura for one more day before we both head off again, me to the east and Laura travels almost 3 days to the north on the border of Chad. Then in my city, Bertoua, I'll have to say goodbye again to Trevor and Nik and the Ed's going to the east when they separate off to their own posts. We're going to have quite a change. Lately we find ourselves asking the "What am I actually doing here?" question all the time. All of a sudden I don't have a schedule to follow, homework to do, family to go home to. Change here we come again. I'm excited though, ready to be challenged. And on a happier note, I'm getting a kitten! To eat the mice and bugs. I think I'm going to name it Giselle, even though I named Nik's avocado tree Giselle as well. Much love, from Siobhan as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Monday, August 18, 2008
After a Saturday evening of hanging out and having a couple drinks, I say evening because remember my curfew is at 7 which I always respect…, and a couple drinks includes soda because of a limitation on alcohol while in training… right anyway, after an night of that, I still always crave Ihop on Sunday mornings. A bad but delicious habit that was formed this past year. Nothing beats talking about the night before, over a brunch of coffee and chocolate chip pancakes. (I’m kicking myself just for thinking about this again).
Instead, this past Sunday we went to the king of Bagangte’s house in the secret/sacred forest. Once someone visit’s the chiefs house, they can officially say that they visited the village. The chief said it would be like visiting the United States without going to the White House. He also said he had about 20 wives or so, and around 60 children. We were saying how we'd hate to be the "20th or so" wife. We got a history lesson on the kings before him and then ate tons of great food, drank palm wine, beer and wine. (people like to drink here). It's always a strange mix of tradition and modern here. For example, at the palace (not the same in english), we were looking at the old weapons on the walls, the pictures of how they tatoo someone doing initiation, while listening to one of the older King's advisers/right hand guy was telling us about the history of the tribe... there were pink embroidered doilies on the couches and the guy speaking was wearing the sickest pair of Ray Bans I've ever seen. It's a little hard sometimes to make sense of it all.
For a more indepth version of what I've been doing.. I suggest reading Jim's post "How do you spend your sunday morning" about the king's place, he's hilarious and it's true. Also Wendy's "expectations" post describes the past few days and an amazing meal we had perfectly.
Not that I'm counting.. but I am, and I've been here for over 2 months! Holy crap is right. Summer is almost over for you guys in the states, and there is only hot weather to come here because right now is the "cold" season. It's 70 and my host dad says I probably should put on a sweater.
I helped choose the matching pange for the group which was really fun. Four of us were actually able to pick out an african print that everyone would like. So if you liked the last picture of us from the east all matching, in almost a week there will be 36 of us matching for the swearing in ceremony. Which we're all really excited for, at the same time, it's going to be so hard to leave people I've been spending all my time with. It really has been great. I've uploaded lots of movies, 30gb of music, and shared lots of pictures with the other trainees. I've also traded syrup for amazing deodorant from the states, a cushy bike seat and much needed rat poison.
But now we're in Yaounde, the capital staying at the peace corps headquarters finishing up some medical and administrative stuff before they send us out to our middle of nowhere posts, well, some of us. I've posted alot of new pictures seeing how I have free higher speed internet, and I'll definitely post another blog soon about our last week as trainees, just because that should be documented. Lots of love and thank you for all your wonderful comments and support.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Monday, August 4, 2008
I may have mentioned this before, but the largest contributor to missing my old life, is that there is nothing that reminds me of it here besides the things that I brought in two 50lb luggages and the other volunteers. Itís like everything Iíve experienced in my life is suddenly not there. And now Iíve just picked up a new life in another language that Iíve got to get used to it. Although there are some random times, like when I was helping my sisters cook dinner over the traditional fire stove, and we sing Usher and Rihanna. My host brother knows more about whats new in the U.S. elections than I do. My host father thinks that McCain won't win because he doesn't understand the "hip-hop".
There are some things that I would have never thought Iíd miss either. I would love to go to a baseball game right now. The convenience of a grocery store is huge. Even before you walk into the grocery store.. Automatic doors so you can stroll a cart on wheels through it. Before that though: parking lots. I'd look like a crazy person if I started taking pictures of automatic doors and paved roads.
I don't miss everything though and there are creative solutions to everything here. Cooking is a good example. No rolling pin solution: beer bottle. No plates or napkins= random scrap paper and toilet paper(sometimes). Picture for sangria and wine glasses, definitely don't have that but we use a water filter bucket and we cut plastic water bottles to make into stemware. And cooking utensils pretty much comprise a couple forks and spoons. And most of all, thanks to the other amazing trainees and volunteers here, things are not that bad at all.
18 days until I'm officially a volunteer and moving out into the east! Miss you all very much!
Friday, July 25, 2008
I’m glad you all enjoyed my story about our little trip to the east. As we were all debriefing our trips in class, we remembered another funny story that I thought I would share. So work was being done on the road that we were taking from Yaoundé to Bertoua in the East, and it was only one way. (alot of the road is really only one way, but I guess they decided to make it legit this time). So there was a worker at the start of the construction with two large flags with like 5 feet poles. We were flagged down with the red flag to stop, and then the construction worker shoved the large green flag into the front of the van. Were we proceded to drive with it, in the car, until we got to the end of the construction were there was a long line of cars waiting to go towards Yaounde and we passed the flag on to the next car.
Other news we’ve been in Cameroon for 50 days! Not bad, however there have been 2 people from the education group who have decided to head back home. They'll be missed but we wish them the best.
Friday, July 18, 2008
After over 30 hours in traveling, not including the 10 hours we probably spent waiting, we're staying at the Case, in the Peace Corps compound in Yaounde. Its similar to a frat house with volunteers coming and going, lots of dvds to watch, a big kitchen, books to borrow, and most importantly there is a washer and a dryer! I also took a HOT SHOWER. I was so excited I almost burned myself. Anyway, if you're still reading, thanks for listening, promise it won't be this long next time. I'll post some more stuff about my city and the east province in general sometime later. Until then, hope everyone is enjoying summer, who knows maybe even a vacation like my past trip
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Thursday, July 10, 2008
I'm happy to say that there are still 38 of us. Including the trooper who got Malaria and Typhoid fever. Being sick here is not easy. No guarentee of running water, electricity and certainly not a clean bathroom. But relatively speaking, it's not the worst thing that can happen. Getting sick is phyiscally hard. It's the mental and emotional stuff that's the hardest. I'm happy to say that I haven't had to seriously deal with either of those things, not yet at least.
I made banana pancakes for my family last night. Maple syrup is like nothing they've ever had and watching them eating it and trying to describe it was pretty great. Unfortunately, halfway through the batter I decided to double the recipe, using the family's flour this time though because the flour I bought ran out. What I thought was flour was actually finely processed corn. So corn pancakes it was. Anything I do is either strange or funny, so when this happened, Patou and Maggie just laughed and laughed. I told them it was a good excuse to use more syrup.
I'll tell you next week about my adventures in the rainforest.. wish me bon voyage!
Monday, July 7, 2008
The SED volunteers! Starting with me, Kate, wendy, our trainer olivier, courtney, another trainer djennabo, austin is behind me, then michelle, kate fleurange, laura, ehab and david are hugging each other, then left to right in the back is nik, another trainer, ben, joe, and trevor
Thursday, July 3, 2008
The "paved" streets of baffousam, the large provincial capital with cratersize potholes
School has been going great, it's been really busy. We went to a neighboring city to visit a couple Microfinance Banks there. The highlight of the trip being that we went to a supermarket (aka a small size grocery store in the states). There are definitely things that I'm able to purchase here in Bagangte, but there are no "stores" that one actually "goes into". Its more street vendors and 3 walled street shops where I do my shopping. And of course there is the market on wednesdays and saturdays, like a farmer's market only I can get tooth paste, flip flops, plastic flowers and other random things.
We've been given plenty of "homework". I'm working with a Restaurant/bar/catering company here on how to improve their services. Yup. I'm advising a business in French. Insane. At school, we've also started a Village and Savings Loan Association, something that I'll might start up at my post so people who don't have enough money for a bank account can be apart of an association that one can buy shares of, accures interest and are able to take out loans. And then the last assignment we have to work on is a needs analsyt of the town. There is a final cultural assigment that's pretty big, but not until the end of training. Probably an easy guess, but I'm doing my assignment on Cameroonian Cuisine. Oh and did I mention that we are no longer able to speak english at school.. whatsoever, even to each other when class hasn't started. I've already been caught breaking that rule. Manytimes
One more week and we find out where we're going to be posted. Cameroon is as diverse as the United States even though it's about the size of Califonia. There are 10 very different provinces so I'm very excited to be able to tell you exactly where I'm going to be soon. Everyone is still with us, unfortunately though, one girl is really sick with Malaria AND Typhoid. Yes those are both diseases that one in the United States hasn't had to worry about for 100 years, but even with the vaccines and preventive medication.. it's still very possible here. Shes a tough girl though so we're all hoping she gets better soon.
I taught my younger sister and brother (Patou and Maggie) how to play egyptian rat screw.. hilarious. Only in Africa these kids know how to cheat in card games BEFORE they actually learn the game. Oh and we're painting our nails on saturday.. get excited.
Oh and I know that my Aunt posted a comment about sending mail, which is great because I forgot to do that. If you do want to send mail... write religious symbols all over it, crosses, pictures of jesus, and feel free to address it to Sister Siobhan Perkins. Because mail like that has got something like a 50% greater chance of actually reaching me. Send nothing of value though. No guarentee that every customs official loves jesus.
Happy 4th of July!!