Saturday, August 30, 2008

New Job, New Description

I was thinking that some of you might be wondering what I'm actually doing here. Besides providing semi-entertaining stories of living in Cameroon, I actually have a job description that I thought I would share. The description itself is very very broad, I have alot of flexiblitly to choose who I want to work with, what I feel is nessesary to work on, etc. And the final note about all of this.. I've just started, this is just the general idea/goal.

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

I moved to the East!

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

Day 1 as an official peace corps volunteer: holy shit

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

Ihop? Nope, dinner at the King's house...close enough

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

Almost at the end of training

I can't remember if I've mentioned this before or not, but my host family's host is like a transit house during the summer. It's great because I get to live with 8 or 9 or whatever number of host siblings for a few weeks at a time. This isn't counting all my cousins. It's good practice for my french, because the first week, there is no comprehension of each other at all so it results in many long awkward silences. I'm not just talking about the language barrier here. There are things american's do that are strange, and there for, until my new host siblings get to know me, I am strange. Understandable. I boil and then filter my water in my bedroom. I'll grab my bread for breakfast and run out the door with wet and messy hair for school. I wear bug spray and sunscreen. Not exactly typical.

Anyway, one of my brother's patou who has been gone for the past few weeks returned today and I was estatic. My host father also came back from a week long vacation with a stereo system. Back to the movements in the transit house... my cousin Papi who was staying with me for the past week, left and gave me a cameroonian bracelet that everyone around here wears. I gave him a burned mix cd. In cameroonian context it could mean that we're going to have to get married, I mean.. mixed tape and a bracelet? Hopefully not, and it just means what I think it signifies, that he think's I'm not completely strange. So last night we listened to Hank Williams on the new stereo over dinner. And afterwards I immitated John Cena, a WWF wrestler, and my family actually knew who I was talking about. Oh and my sister Cristal had a baby girl. The family jokes that they're going to name it "Shivance". My dad here calls me shivance, the rest of the family including him I'm sure know's it's not even close to the correct pronounciation, but says it anyway.

Someone asked me, what keeps me motivated to be here? I thought it was a great quesiton so decided to share the answer with all of you who make it through reading these long blog entries. The short answer is I get the experience of a life time everyday. When was the last time I listened to Hank williams and talked about wrestling, and babies being named after an incorrect pronounciation of my name all at the same time?? This weekend I learned how to repair my own bike, tires, brakes, chain and all. The other day I saw a chicken's head cut off (it was dinner). Nik, trevor and I, the only SED volunteers going to the east are all matching today. I had cheese for the first time in 2 months. I taught a simulation business class in french today and sunday we're going to visit the chief's house in the sacred forest. Alot of those things are little, not really significant, but when's the last time any of that's happened?

I also love all of your comments, emails, phone calls, cards and packages from home. Recieving anyone of those things is just like christmas. And christmas is my favorite. Hopefully this blog ends on a more upbeat note than the last one. Best wishes home, and Happy Birthday Analesa! And Happy Late 21st to David!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Oh how the way things used to be

I think I had my first case of homesickness the other day. It started off with a malaria medication induced dream. Itís a side affect of the medication that produces extremely vivid and sometimes stressful dreams. There will be mornings when I wake up and I really thought I went somewhere else in the middle of the night. So when I dream about the states or people I miss back home, it sucks to wake up in a strange place thousands of miles away. We were all talking about this the other day. When you wake up after these dreams and you're lying in bed not wanting to open your eyes to reality but it's too late because you can now feel the boards under your thin foam mattress and those people yelling/crying outside your window are your host siblings. Someone had a dream about how they were in the states, using high speed internet with 15 windows open and were all staring around it in awe of it's speed.

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!