Thursday, March 26, 2009

A blessing? In disguise? Prob not.

I made it out of the jungle! And I'm finally done traveling for a few weeks. I love how I was able to see both sides of the country and both were completely opposite from each other.. cold vs. humid, more developed vs. extreme poverty, english vs. sometimes very little french, etc. After being away from my post for so long, I decided that I am really happy in Bertoua, kind of in the middle.

I had the experience of a life time camping out in the central Africa rainforest, and I can't wait to tell you all about it. However there's a more important issue that I need to get off my mind first.

As a lot of you know, Pope Benedict came to visit Cameroon last week. I already mentioned in preparation for his visit the Cameroonian government decided to clean up the capital city- aka bulldoze hundreds businesses and homes in the middle of the night. After I witnessed it in Yaoundé, I was furious. Unfortunately Pope Benedict said NOTHING about this during his visit. Nothing.

From the Herald Tribune: "Pope Benedict XVI will not know when he visits Yaoundé that beyond the thousands of smiling faces welcoming him are millions of destitute Cameroonians who wish he did not come," said Michael Kimbi Tchenga, a resident of the capital Yaoundé.

THEN he denounced the use of condoms and further said that condom just aggravates the problem of HIV/AIDS. WRONG. I've been hearing a lot of international organizations saying that they hope some Cameroonians overlooked that part of the Pope's speech. But deep in the jungle, an 8 hour ride to the next town to get phone service... people we were working with knew about the condom comment a few days later...

The World Health Organisation responded: "These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million." (Times)

Too often words or pictures don't cut it. I'm not much of a writer anyway but they can't possibly show my feelings about this. I will post pictures later and the next blog will be a little more cheerful. Till then!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I'm back!

I'm back from the other side of the country actually. This past week I did another collaboration project in a town called Kumbo in the Northwest Province. Two out of ten provinces in Cameroon are anglophone- colonized by the British. I was there to get some info from a really successful group of mutual health associations and use it for my project that I'm working on right now - MHO's are community based insurance savings groups. The visits to the hospitals and offices really helped, so I'm excited and have more confidence that my HMO is going to be sucessful.

The trip reinforced a couple ideas that I had: there are tons of ngos and governments working in the Northwest compared to other provinces and does not correspond with poverty level. I'll admit it though, English is easier and so is working in areas with better infrastructure. And thats one of the reasons why the poorest populations are not being reached... thats another discussion. The other thing I noticed that there are more religious based hospitals and organizations. There are some benefits to this, but I still have yet to form a solid opinion.

As a related side note since I witnessed it myself: The pope is coming to visit in a week so to prepare for this visit the government "cleaned up the streets" aka bulldozing. I'm without blog-appropriate words to tell you what I think of this but here's a little article about it if you want to read more:

Back to the visit, overall it was great. People were so friendly and welcoming. As I was walking around, even in the provincial capital Bamenda, I kept waiting for someone to give me shit or start harassing... but nothing. Really it was shocking. It's also gorgeous there, huge rolling hills and deep valleys. I got to see Tess and David from my stage which was great. I stopped by my friend Catie's in Bamenda and it was nice to see a familiar face from home for a bit (we went to GW together). It made me realize how incredibly diverse Cameroon is and equally how different own individual experiences are.

Speaking English proved to be a bit of a challenge. Even though my French still isn't that great, its still my default language. So now I suck in both languages. Awesome. No it wasn't that bad, it just made me realize how I melange the two and don't realize that I do it. Its interesting how the anglophone regions and french regions are distinctively separate from each other. I don't know if this is the case for francophone's but the English speaking part of Cameroon doesn't like being associated with the french Cameroonians, even though most anglophones speak french.. only if they absolutely have to. Some anglophones don't even speak english, they only speak pigdin which nicely put is a type of creole language. Some people like to say its just bad english.

While we were having a juice one afternoon with some friends in the center of Kumbo, I was lucky enough to see my first Juju. Jujus are kind of spirits, that posses power and are assigned to different objects such as death, jokers, weddings. They belong to chiefdom's so in Kumbo where there are 2 fons (chiefs) there are about 30 something different juju's in each clan. Don't quote me on some of this, but this is how I understood it. I found it really interesting that believing in jujus is completely separate from the worship of God and many people who do believe in jujus are also catholics, protestants, baptists, etc. Secondly its not just people of the village who follow jujus, many African leaders have been known to use them as well.

I saw one of the more common ones, the dealth juju. (i have pics but can't put them up now so you'll have to imagine with my description). He out in the town because one member of the fon's clan died. The juju was wearing a huge type of hat made out of straw dyed black. The straw hid his entire top half of his body and he held out sticks that looked like bamboo and he hit them together. A few other people dressed very traditionally ran after the dealth juju trying to constrain him as he ran down the street. So we had to duck down and hide behind the banister of the bar just in case the juju was to try and throw one of the sticks at us. While all this was happening, I had no idea what was going on, didn't know what a juju was or why we were hiding. But it was a great experience anyway.

This week I spent 33 hours crammed into a bus or a bush taxi - not including the wait time before those cars leave... and I am SO happy to get home. For one night only though, I'll be heading out to another corner of the country... THE DEEP EAST. I am pumped! You'll hear all about it too.... next week!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

March Madness

Sorry its been a while since i've made a post. I'm still here!!!! And doing really well. March has been a crazy month already. I'm currently in an anglophone province on the opposite side of the country doing some research. Next week I'll trek back to the East and go deep deep into the bush where we will be working on a provincial collaboration project amoungt all of the volunteers in the East. We're hoping to have a really sucessful project and explore some parts of the forest reserves at the same time.

There are tons of pictures to come, and I'll soon fill you in on the travel adventures as well.

with love! siobhan