Monday, June 30, 2008

God bless the rains down in Africa

My sister Josiane and I

Seriously, thank you rain. Yesterday it rained so hard, that for a half an hour we couldn't hear each other in french class. It was great. The rain was so loud our professor had to assign a reading instead of discussion.

I've been hanging out more and more with my family. Getting to know them better, maybe even comming close to figuring out just how many people are family (it keeps expanding as the weeks go on). My 14 year old sister maggie, now lives our house as well instead of living with her mother in another town. We read Dr. Suess's "Oh the Places You'll Go" together. Dr. Seuss isn't the best english grammar example.. she was like "what's a who-sit? or a mind-maker-uper?" We translated it in french which she understood a bit better, and it was surprisingly hilarious. Maggie, Patuo and I watched Enchanted in french the other day as well. The songs are GREAT in french. And I didn't realize how funny the movie was until I saw those two laughing hysterically. They loved it! It's amazing how something can be so much better once you see someone else enjoying it. So since then, I've been hanging out with maggie more. She actually likes to quiz me with accounting words (in french). She's 14, doesn't know much about accounting but yet still tries to also memorize the words in english. If I was her age on my summer vacation, I wouldn't be looking at finance terms in a foreign language for fun. Education isn't free so they work pretty hard for it here.

On another note, I've got roommates.. yup. Mice. They kept me awake for 3 nights. They literally walk in throught the front door of hour house, and then crawl underneath my door I'm hoping now that they're gone. I put out some poison for them to chew on instead. Thank goodness I haven't woken up to them nibbling at my feet in bed like another trainee. And theyre pretty tiny here too, the same size as the cockroaches actually, which gives you an idea just how big those are. Im going to post more in the next couple of days.. picutres too of my new clothes and hair...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

laundry lesson

Saturday night we had our curfew extented from 7pm to 9pm which was awesome, thank Jim for that. We cooked a bunch of random food like banana pancakes, guacamole, bruchetta, scrambled eggs, popcorn, salsa and tortia chips at the SED training school. I brought the syrup because I packed plenty and it

I recieved a lesson in washing clothes too. At first I told my 14 year old sister that I'd be fine doing it by myself, so while she was doing her laundry, she had a good laugh at watching me attempt to clean my own clothes. Not an easy thing by hand! And to conserve water at the same time. I was making no progress, except getting myself wet, so she came over and helped me. I watched Bad Boys 2 (or Mauvaise Garcon deux) in french with my 19 year old brother Patou, who loved it. He also says to say hello to everyone I know in the states whenever I say I'm going to send an email. Hopefully I'll get some pics of the family up soon.

I love all of your comments and emails that you left too! Alicia- An ABP vanilia latte sounds AMAZING, you're going to have to enjoy them for me, until I get back to DC and go to the one on M and 19th because they're just the best there. Amy- I'm glad you made it safe to work because of things like traffic and safetly laws, legitamit roads, and mostlikely not with a car that's older than 1988 held together with crazy glue. Lol seriously. And to all of my family I'm so glad you are all reading the blog and the other PCVs blogs! I love all of your positive and encouraging comments. Hopefully I'm able to give you an idea of what my life is like here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Peace Corps Health session

If you know me pretty well, some of you might find this surprising, but I'm actually liking the slower pace of life here. The word "to hurry" doesn't exist in cameroon and I'm okay with that. It's nice taking my time, saying hello to people and asking them how they are doing, even though I may have just seen then 2 hours before. I'm not sure I'm liking it because living here is still really new to me, or because I actually like it. But for right now, it's good. I'm surprisingly not bored. (that statement excludes french class). The days go by fast, but it seems like I've been living this life for more than the two weeks that I've been here.

I really have the chance to take everything in here. It's made me wish I'd done the same at home more often, because if you don't know already... americans have it pretty darn good. There are some things that unknowningly we take advantage of. Without steet signs, directions go like this "take a right at the corn field, go past 2 patches of corn, and there should be a trail next to some corn a bit further". Trash removal-- if it wasn't picked up for you..where do you think it would go? probably around some corn fields. Universal education is essential. I've got a extreme version of a brita filter and that's the ONLY water I'm drinking. You can't just eat or drink anything else without excepting the possibility of getting a parasite or getting sick with something else.

Speaking of which, we had a very imformative health lesson yesterday with one of our Medical Officers who is very to the point and doesn't sugar coat anything when talking about what health issues we're going to face. I think I can handle alot but just listening to this session, I wanted to be sick. I especially enjoy that sometimes out self diagnosis results can be something like "a flu or dysentry", "ringworm or just a bacteria fungus rash".. awesome.What's difference again? We're taught how to self diagnosis and often self medicate which sometimes is the best option and is pretty intense. I bet you've never ironed all of your clothes, and underwear! to prevent mango bugs from hatching underneath your skin. Ohhh you bet I have though, right after that health info session.

I was going to end with a funny story about how a chicken walked into the bar the other day. Until another volunteer said that a chicken and it's chicks walked into his morning shower and it was much funnier.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Allen in Africa
The red road to school

My house

my french classroom.. yes its basically outside

My new family

I've officially started training and things are going great. My host brother and sister picked me up when I first arrived in Bagante, they even made me a sign which was really nice. A little awkward at first living with a family who speaks a language I don't know all that well but I got over it pretty fast. One of my host brothers is great because he speaks french slowly and even speaks a little english. The house is really nice, they even have a TV running water too. It takes a few minutes to get used to the cold shower, but I'm not going to be in there for more than a few minutes anyway so it's not that bad. My bedroom is great, it has a large bed, and a desk, and a mosiquito net, which is very important. Oh and they also have a tv. The family is going to help improve my french and teach me about world soccer. I left my host brothers who are in high school use my ipod while they were studying. then over dinner one of them started signing... My humps, my humps, my humps my lovely lady lumps.. it was hilarious. I was a little upset to find out that i didn't have any really younger host siblings, but from my room i can hear the neighbor's babies quite well so I'm okay with it. Same with the roosters, all 30 of them next door.

The roads are very muddy here with red clay mud. It's really important to be clean and most importantly to keep your shoes clean here. It's a sign of respect. Litterally when I meet someone, they smile at me, say bonjour and then look at my shoes. So I've got to work on keeping clean better. Apparently it's their cold season, which is 65 at night and 75 degrees during the day. Besides the short hurriance like downpours that turn the roads to rivers, it's perfect weather.Speaking in french constantly is really exhausting though. It's at least 4 hours a day of french lessons at school and then more at home when I attempt to understand whats going on in the house. One of my host brothers is learning english, so I'm helping him and he helps me out by speaking slower in french. The accent here is much much different than a traditional french accent which is alot of the confusion. I'm starting to think in french which is good sign though. All of my professors are cameroonians as well and there are definitely some communication barriers. I tried to explain deer hunting season (chasing season of an animal that doesn't exist in Cameroon and maple syrup/ maple fest (sugar from a tree festival). I got some weird looks.

The food is definitely different. I eat tons of avocadoes, bananas, rice, bread and potatoes usually along with some kind of meat that I'm not yet able to identify. But my sister is an excellent cook. She does all the cooking, cleaning and shopping.. alot of work! I can always go to the market for a spaghetti omelette, or a meat kabob, or for something more expensive (we're talking $2) I can get a box of cookies or crackers. For about $3, I can go to a nicer restaurant here, but that's expensive.

Well I guess that's all for right now, either I have nothing interesting to say or some foreign things have just become normal already. A bientot!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

i am in africa!

a cozy ride in the peqce corps van through the city

at the airport with almost 150lbs of luggage the busy streets of yaounde

view from the hotel

I made it! After a seriously long trip, almost 24 hours traveling, we all made it to Yaounde. I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by other entertaining and hilarious volunteers, because it made hours of flight go by a little quicker. Things are going great, it’s been such an easy transition. Probably because I’ve been staying in a hotel for the past week which even has AC in most of the building and hot water! Thanks to the guards with large guns in the lobby 24 hours.. It’s also very safe. Yaounde is busy, but the country itself is gorgeous. Very green and tropical with red dirt roads. It’s really beautiful. Traffic and driving is insane. I’ve seen 2 traffic lights in the entire city. Just on Sunday we saw 2 traffic accidents. I have no idea how they decide who has the right away at intersections. I think they don’t and just drive instead, hoping for the best. The people here dress very nicely. Walking on a dirt road it’s not uncommon to see a woman in a dress and heels or a guy wearing a complete dress suit either. The weather is gorgeous. It’s been about 75 to 80 degrees, a little humid and mostly cloudy everyday. It is the beginning of the very heavy rain season so we there’s more rain to come in the next few months.

We’ve been spending our time doing paper work, getting I.D.s, going over safety precautions, learning how to filter our water, and getting lots of shots. The malaria medication gives me insane dreams. My fingers are crossed though, I haven’t gotten sick yet. Unfortunately not the case for 3 other people in our group. So we’re basically going over things that we’ll need to know for the next 10 weeks that we’ll be in training and living with our host families whom we’ll move in with on Thursday! I’m very anxious and a little nervous about it. No guarantee of running water or electricity probably with a large host family members who don’t speak English. Yup. Peace Corps has done a great job of getting us prepared though and I think I’m ready for a challenge so we’ll see. After about 5 weeks or so into the training, I’ll find out where I’ll be placed for my post assignment and more exactly what I’ll be doing as a small business advisor. My French isn’t as bad as I thought so I’m definitely looking forward to study another language either Pidgin or fulfulde.

I did get a cell phone which is exciting. Yeah I think I’ve got a better chance of cell phone service than running water…. I’ll take it! To dial internationally you need to dial 011, then the Cameroon country code which is 237 and then my number 79 49 60 07. It’s pretty expensive for me to call home, but free if you call me. In the states you can get deals on international calling cards but email works great too if you want to contact me.
I’m off for now and probably won’t be able to get online until I settle in Bagante for a few days. Hope all is great back home!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Flying out tonight!

It's finally here! I'm headed to Yaounde, Cameroon with the Peace Corps this evening. It's been quite a process to get this far but I'm happy that I'm here. The past month has flown by, I'm happy that I've gotten to spend time with people I really care about and I know I'll miss so much. To those who I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to, I'm sorry I missed you! I really do hope to keep in touch with everyone as best as Cameroon's internet/cell service will allow.

So for the past 3 days I've been in Philadelphia for a short orientation. I've met the other 37 volunteer's I'll be training with for the next 12 weeks and they are all incredible. It's amazing how soon we've gotten to know each other and how well we all get along. Half of us are in the Small Business Program, including myself as a Small Business Advisor. The other half are teaching english, i. t. or science. Unfortunately, I don't have my official post just yet, but until august 22, 2008 I'll be in the town of Bagante for Pre-Service training. The majority of us are girls, about 60% which is pretty common for the peace corps and we've from all over the U.S. Surprisingly, I'm not the only one who's brought maple syrup either. However, I did bring the most hair product. The days have been packed with training sessions and at night we've been enjoying our last american meals and beverages. The Peace Corps staff have been great resources and have done a great job of providing us with information.

After all this anxiousness, paperwork, vaccinations, etc. I'm finally headed off to the airport for a longggg flight. Please feel free to send mail and emails! I've really appreciated all your support and best wishes and hope to hear from everyone. Take care and au revoir

Visiting Cameroon

1. Planning. Start planning at least six months before departure since several things have to be done sequentially which can add up to several weeks/months. Keep in mind that communication takes a long time, so arranging the logistics through the mail will require a lot of lead-time. Make sure that the timing of your visit is convenient for the Volunteer you are visiting. A Volunteer's primary obligation is to his/her assignment, so be sure that your visit will not disrupt any work plans. We recommend visits at some point during the second year.
2. Passport. If you do not already have a passport, obtain a passport application and application instructions from a post office or your travel agent. To apply for a passport, you will need the completed application with two passport photos (with your signature on the back of each photo) and the application fee.
3. Visa. To apply for a visa to Cameroon, obtain two application forms from the Cameroonian embassy, 2349 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 or over the Net; the phone number at the embassy is (202) 265-8790 . After completing the applications, send them to the embassy with your passport, two passport photos, W.H.O. records showing the required yellow fever shot (see below), the application fee, and a copy of either your tickets or your detailed flight itinerary, and a bank statement. You may also need to submit a letter of invitation from your Volunteer family member. Peace Corps Cameroon will also provide you with a letter supporting your visa application if your volunteer provides the offices with the details of your visit. You will be issued a single entry visa only, unless you specifically request multiple entry. You must have multiple entry if you plan to leave the country and return during the period of the visa's validity. Be sure to call the Embassy and verify with them that procedures have not changed.
It is our understanding that the Embassy will not return your passport to you unless you send a pre-paid express mail envelope. If you are in the D.C. area, you can pick it up at the embassy.
Separate visas are required for almost all African countries you may plan to visit, except for intermediate stops where you will not go outside the terminal while en route to or from Cameroon. Each embassy requires that you send your passport with the visa application, so you can only apply for one visa at a time.
You can consolidate and expedite your passport and visa applications if necessary by going through a private company that handles it for you for an additional fee of approximately $30 per visa or passport. (Ask a travel agent for details).
4. Health. A yellow fever vaccination is required. This immunization must be logged in a World Health Organization (W. H. O.) International Certificate of Vaccination. For more information on what additional vaccines, antimalarials or medications are required or recommended, contact your local health board or the Division of Immunization at the Centers for Disease in Atlanta, Georgia, (404) 639-1870 , or on the Internet at
You should also plan to take anti-malarial prophylactic drugs prior to departure from USA and during your stay in Cameroon. Contact the Malaria Hotline at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, (404)639-1610 for information on what drug(s) to take and where you can get them.
While in Cameroon, precautions must be taken with food preparation and water treatment. Drink only bottled water in sealed bottles or water that has been filtered and chlorinated or boiled. Vegetables must also be soaked in chlorine if they are not being cooked or peeled.
There are health risks, and the medical facilities in Cameroon are not comparable to facilities in the United States. Peace Corps medical Staff cannot provide care for family members or friends who require medical attention while in Cameroon. We strongly suggest that you consider extra insurance with emergency evacuation coverage from a company such as International SOS Assistance, Inc. (P.O. Box 11568, Philadelphia, PA 19116, 1-800-523-8930 or 215-244-1500 in PA).
5. Money. The currency used in Cameroon is called franc CFA. The franc CFA is fixed to the Euro (656 CFA = 1 Euro; 1 USD is about 400 CFA.) Travelers’ checks are safe, but incur exceedingly high commission rates and other charges (up to 25%). Travelers’ checks in dollars have also become increasingly difficult to change. You may want to take at least some travelers checks in Euros, since switching dollars to CFA in Yaoundé is usually more expensive than switching dollars to Euros in U.S. and then Euros to CFA in Yaoundé. Some of the big (and expensive) hotels in Yaoundé will accept an American Express or Visa credit card (caution advised). ATMs on the “Plus” system are increasingly available around the country. The best person to answer questions about money (and how much to take) is the Volunteer whom you are planning to visit.
6. Baggage. Have all your suitcases locked. On most airlines, you are allowed 2 pieces of baggage (not to exceed 50 lbs. each) per passenger for trips from the United States to Europe, but only 20 kg (44 lbs.) total for intra-European or African flights. Therefore, you may be charged an excess baggage fee for anything over 44 lbs. from Europe to Africa unless you check your baggage through to Africa directly from the U.S. (If you check baggage all the way through, be sure the baggage ticket has all appropriate code letters for the trip; the code for the airport in Douala is DLA, the Yaoundé airport is NSI, and the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris is CDG). Consult your airline or travel agent for further information.
7. Flight Check-In. If you fly through Paris, arrive at the check-in counter for the flight to Douala or Yaoundé two hours before take off. They start checking passengers in then and you cannot get a seat assignment until this check-in. The check-in process goes very slowly, so plan to stand in line a long time. They will not allow large carry-on bags.
8. Arrival in Douala / Yaoundé. You must have both your passport and W.H.O. card for immigration when arriving at the airports in Cameroon. French and some English are spoken at the airport, but it would be best to ask the Volunteer you are visiting to have someone meet you at the airport. You will have to open all bags for inspection. Try to keep all your bags in sight once they come into the baggage area. There will be men vying to carry your bags for payment. Carry your bags yourself if you can. If not, negotiate a price with one person before allowing anyone to take your bags (about 1$ per bag.) If no one is going to meet you at the airport, get instructions ahead of time from the Volunteer on how to take a taxi to your next destination.
9. Accommodations. Your best source of information about where to stay is the Volunteer whom you are planning to visit. The Yaoundé Hilton presently has a special rate for families and friends of Peace Corps and is recommended by Peace Corps staff, and the Akwa Palace Hotel in Douala gives a Peace Corps discount as does the Parfait Garden.
10. Photos. Picture taking is fine, in general, but you should always ask permission before taking anyone's photograph. Photos are never allowed at the airport or any military installation, so please keep your camera concealed when near these locations.
11. Identification. During the course of your stay in Cameroon, you will have to show your passport to the police several times, so you must carry it with you in a safe place at all times. It is sometimes convenient to have a certified photocopy of your passport to present to officials. Your volunteer will know how to do this.
12. Departure. Presently, you must pay a departure tax of 10,000 CFA at the Douala or Yaoundé airport before boarding. Check ahead of time, as this tax needs to be paid in local currency, and most likely you would need the exact amount.

Sending mail

The following suggestions and postal regulations may be useful:
1. Mail should be sent directly to:

Siobhan Perkins, Peace Corps Volunteer
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 215
Yaounde, Cameroon

1. Write Sister Siobhan Perkins and or put lots of religious symbols all over the package. More the better, phrases like God Saves, Jesus Loves All etc.. work well too.
2. Both Volunteers and family members should number letters sent so that the receiver can determine whether any letters do not arrive.
3. Packages should be sent via air, not surface mail (surface mail has been known to take longerthan two years to arrive.) FLAT RATE INTERNATIONAL is the best bet and insuring the package is a good idea
4. Sending packages to your Volunteer in Cameroon is a risky proposition. Theft of packages isnot only a problem in the Cameroonian postal system, it also occurs on the U.S. side. Although occasionally a package arrives quickly and without problems, it may take months or it may get"lost" along the way. Therefore, it is not advisable to send valuables this way.
5. If you do send packages, bubble envelopes seem to work better than large boxes. They areless tempting to would-be thieves. The sender should clearly and honestly mark the contentson the outside of the package, but a general description of the contents is sufficient: "clothingand candy" rather than "Nike high top sneakers and 2 lbs. Godiva chocolate."
6. Express mail is an expensive option that may take just as long to get to Cameroon. Perhapsa more secure option than regular airmail for documents, checks, etc., it is subject to morescrutiny by Cameroonian customs than regular mail. For items other than documents, PeaceCorps staff has to submit import licenses to customs, and clearance can take up to 10 days.Thus, you may not necessarily save any time by using Express mail. DHL and UPS operate in Cameroon for those important documents. Note that current prices for these services runaround $100.00 for one pound or less.
7. There is a tax which Volunteers will have to pay on all packages received before they canretrieve them from the post office. This tax varies according to the size of the package. It mightbe a nice gesture from friends or family to send a six-pack of Mountain Dew, but it may cost a Volunteer up to $10.00 to get it out of the post office.
8. Packages sent to the Yaoundé office are sent regularly to Volunteer posts. This may delaydelivery to the Volunteer by up to several weeks.
9. If Volunteers wish to send a package from Yaoundé to the States, Cameroon postal ratesare high and insurance is not available. For this reason, many Volunteers wait to sendpackages with returning PCVs (whom they ask first, in country) or wait until their Completion of Service (COS) date to send home gifts and souvenirs. Letters going to the States through the Cameroonpost have been quite dependable.
10. US postage-stamped letters can be put in the "next traveler" box at the Peace Corps officein Yaoundé, to be hand carried by the next person going Stateside. Note that this is a courtesy,not an obligation, and Volunteers shouldn't expect any traveler to carry more than letter mail, unless special arrangements are made with the individual. Air travelers may be required toopen letters and packages and/or submit them to X-rays, especially when they don't belong tothe traveler.
11. The Cameroon Desk in Peace Corps Headquarters, Washington, is available to answerVolunteer & families' questions about mail. Due to staff and budget constraints, they cannot, however, facilitate the sending of personal mail for Trainees and Volunteers.