Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Part One: Why Americans have it good

I am SO EXCITED for the holidays here. The first 3 months as a volunteer, admin requires that you don't travel. For some people, they get to travel about once a month to get to the nearest bank. Fortunately and unfortunately my bank is in my town so I don't really go anywhere. Peace Corps Volunteers are always "working" or "on". People notice everything I do and actual work is everything but 9 to 5 so getting out of my own town really makes a difference. Unfortunately Peace Corps makes pcvs take vacation days for holidays administration automatically gets off. I wasn't so happy to hear that but oh well. Thanksgiving marks 3 months at post (YeeaAHH) and headed to the "next town over", Batouri. I can't wait!

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

Semi connected to the world

My bank recently got internet which is really huge. For a business to have internet in Cameroon is rare, and I know that my bank is one of a couple of its kind to have internet. The fact that we have several computers which is also rare. However first electricity is nessesary. Days at a time the strength of the electricity is only strong enough to have one or two computers on, we keep the lights of and don't make coffee (because the coffee machine uses alot of power? I have no idea). Then the internet has to be working. We've had hookup for a month now and gone through 3 modems. If the modem is working, the connection isn’t. This is due to the really crappy internet service providers here. Paying monthy for internet here is about the same price as buying a decent cellphone, or renting my 3 bedroom house with a night guard for a month. Its not cheap at all and yet it is really unreliable. If my french was better I'd be complaining to the internet service providers a lot more. However, since my french isn't that great, I march down to their office to complain but just stumble over my words and I look like an idiot.

The bank got internet for the reason of making international money transfers. So far the internet has increased my email time and project research. The employees like to see their horoscopes everyday. The other day, one read " You should be careful when making financial decisions and transactions in the next couple of days" which the loan officer took serious thought to and vowed to try and keep away from money issues. Hmm we work in a bank... They also love to keep up on football statistics so thank goodness we now have internet for that. I helped them create email accounts (A bigger process than I expected) and afterwards i was like "Okay, you're all set to send an email" and they said "Who do we have to email? I don't know anyone with an email account, maybe you have friends??" And finally everyone and their uncle wants an American visa and all of the applicaitons are online.

When the days with electricty and a good connection shows up on the same day.. its wonderful. And I don't mind being at the bank little longer than usual. The internet is a huge resource for me and its also really nice to keep in touch with people. But if you haven’t heard from me… no news is good news. One of many peace corps mottos

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.

Blown up condom game
Condom race with bananas

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

What to do in Cameroon when you get bored/ A tribute to all my former hairdressers

Tita, Ann Maire and Carles
Birthday present!!!!!

What my living room looks like after i get a package, everything spread out

I cut my own hair!

Eeeeeek! I'm 24!!!! Which is almost 25 if you didn't know. I had a really good birthday, we went out to a nice restaurant and I had chicken which was amazing. I Ann Marie and Carles gave me macaroni and cheese! I had some the other night and basically teleported back to america, it was so amazing. I also got lots of love and messages from friends in Cameroon and friends and family back home and I really appreciate them. I am so loved on 2 continents.

So anyway, The other day I was bored. Really bored. No not like the bored in the states, there are several things Ill never complain about ever again when I get home, being bored is one of them. I feel like half of my old life in the states was centered around entertainment. There are things everywhere to be entertained by. Kids have Toys R Us, a store just for kids who are not yet old enough to even get an allowance let alone make their own purchases. From the day a baby is born, they're given toys and crib hanging things to entertain them. You know what kid toys are here? Machetes, a stick and a tire, a plastic bottle with a string attached to it so it can be dragged around, or a car made out of a sardine can. Animals in the states even have toys, battery opperated mice/balls that move around, carpet houses and dogs have doggy sweaters, booties and ensembles. They even make organic toys for pets now. What does that even mean?

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.

This bordom was the kind where I can't possibly read another page or watch another movie because I've seen all of mine dozens of times, including the extras.. the deleted scenes, making of the movie, with commentary and without commentary. Oh yeahhhh, its a new level of bored. Also the last thing I want to look at is french or do work.

So I decided to cut my hair. This is the first time in my life that I can't afford a hairdresser. In the past I've paid some serious money to get my hair done (anywhere from 25 to 225 - the last figure was a one time thing). Secondly, there are not very many people here who would know how to cut my hair. Maybe at the spa at the hilton in yaounde, where renting a room would cost me my monthy salary. A haircut there might be my rent money.
So I cut it myself, a cute little bob, which I'm sure is not that even in the back. Cutting your hair in the back of your head is alot harder than it looks. But over all I'm pretty pleased with it. During inservice training I might have one of the girls fix it up a bit. I missed my usual routine that normally comes with getting a haircut though. Incredible talent and patience that all of my wonderful hairdressers had. Amazing smelling shampoo and products, head and neck massage, talking and catching up, freshly brewed tea or a cold beer. Yup I had it pretty nice.

When I get back, no I'm not going to spend 200 dollars on a haircut or get it colored every month like I would want to, because thats ridiculous. But I will take a day or two at the spa. Or three. The longer I'm here, the longer the spa appointment in my head gets...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

I know that today is an extremely exciting day in America today, and I just thought I'd let you know that across the Atlantic Ocean, we're pretty excited about the election too. Voting for most peace corps volunteers happened a month ago with oversees ballots, even though oversees and absentee ballots are rarely counted. Electricity and running water here is more reliable than the mail system, and that’s not saying much. But that’s here, other problems that face potentially 6 million absentee ballots from coming in are things like unknown additional paperwork, ballots never received by the overseas individual or unrecognizable addresses.

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.