Friday, October 8, 2010

Yup... Still here

It seems that when I moved to a new city, I left the blog behind in Bertoua along with my dog and the humidity. So to assure you that I haven’t been taken as a chief’s wife or turned into a cow by a sorcerer, I will update you on the past 5 months or so- yikes it might be a long one.

I decided to stay longer than the standard 27 months because I wanted to get more experience in international development work, particularly in public health. Even though saying goodbye to almost all of the volunteers in my training group was really difficult, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with Plan International. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t done with Peace Corps- out of 33 in our group 8 of us are continuing our volunteer service either in Cameroon, China or Guinea. Reason #214 why I love my group.

I did the two day move across the country to my new city of Bamenda in May and expected things to fall into place pretty smoothly. I had assumed that it was going to be an easy transition after all I’d lived here for 2 years already, the North West region was English speaking, the city is relatively developed, and a favorite among Cameroonians and volunteers. Well I was wrong about the easy part.

Before I dive in I just want to say it’s not all bad! Bamenda is a wonderful city. Its surrounded mountains and waterfalls which I love even more after living in the flat forest. No more sticky heat and humidity- its 10am and I’m wearing a fleece. Although everyday for the past 3 months it downpours for a good 4 hours because its, yeah you guessed- rainy season. I mean every single day. It’s gotten old, but at least I know I can get water. And finally, the people are the nicest, motivated, hard working Cameroonians I have ever met.

On to the bad part. Lets just say, when I moved in May I hit a streak of bad luck. Life in general is bit harder due to the fact that it takes longer to do everything, communication is exhausting, always figuring out how things work- and then to add on top of that a series of unlucky events…. It wasn’t fun. I won’t go into it, but I will share some other things about my new life.

The official language of the Northwest and Southwest is English, but not American English. You’ve probably heard the differences between British and American English. Multiply that by ten. Here the differences a much bigger. Learning how to adjust my accent and speak slowly was painful. Here are some examples that I always forget:

What I call a… Is actually called….

Prune = Plum

Avocado = Pear

Moto Bike = Okada

Taxi Car= Moto

Plastic bag = Paper

This is one of my favorite examples….another volunteer speaking to her work colleagues

What she said: “It’s too hot to wear pants today”

Translation: “I’m too sexually aroused to wear underwear today”

Should have said: “I’m feeling heat so I will not wear trousers today”

Then there is Pidgin. I was thrown right into it on my first day of work. My best attempt to explain this language is it’s a really thick slang English with influences from other local dialects. I was already pretty good at “franglais”- (mixing French and English words together) and now I’m melanging pidgin words into my vocabulary. My English is suffering. Some of a few favorites:

Pidgin = Translation

You get chop for chop? = Do you have food to eat?

Wahala = Trouble

Nahow = How are you?

Ma belly don flop =I’m full

Runny stomach =Diarrhea

The most prominent word I hear about 20 times a day (even I say it a lot) is “Ashia” definition: sorry for you. Then you always have to say thank you back. I wouldn’t call Cameroon the most polite culture I’ve ever experienced, by far, but they never fail to say thank you after an ashia. You can use it at anytime, for anything. Someone died – Ashia. You are walking – Ashia. You have to go to your job – Ashia.

Speaking of jobs, I work on a child survival project that focuses on malaria, malnutrition, immunization, pneumonia and diarrhea in pikins (pidgin for kids) under 5 years old and mothers. Its one of USAID’s largest project child survival projects that has directly affected 200,000 children and 450,000 women of reproductive age here in Cameroon. Plan worked with local ngos to train women’s groups in the community on how to prevent and treat childhood illnesses. Then each member of the group is responsible for a group of houses in the community to make sure each family has a mosquito net hanging properly in the bedroom, to advise the mother on food for the children, to keep track of immunization records, weigh babies, etc. Then at the meeting at the end of the month the women combine their information on a simple chart they make to see what needs improving.

Plan also worked in health centers to train staff on identifying, properly treating, giving quality care, etc for those same illnesses that I mentioned in the beginning. When you go to the hospital, a nurse or doctor does a routine pre-consultation that includes checking your weight, checking your temperature, then they ask you a series of questions. Well it’s not routine everywhere and that is just one example of what Plan was trying to improve. The method of managing childhood illnesses Plan and the Ministry of Health in Cameroon recently adopted also focused on prescribing the right medications, communicating to mothers how to care for the sick child at home and enforcing supervision of health staff.

I came at towards the end of this 5 year project most of my work was assisting in the final evaluations. Going into the bush and training people to collecting information from household to household. In a month I’d already been all over the North West region. In one district I literally went to the end of the road, and then we kept driving. I’m promised another delicious porcupine meal if I ever make it back there.

A 12 month operations research was added to the project last November in one of the health districts were we work. Each community nominated a couple of people to become Community Health Workers (CHW). The only qualifications needed were to be able to read and write. Then Plan trained them on how to diagnose and treat pneumonia cases with oral amoxicillin. In Cameroon, and in many countries, CHW for Malaria already exist and the system works really well. People in the community, especially those who can’t afford the 50 cent consultation at the health center can go to the CHW who maintains a supply of malaria drugs.

So that is kind of a glimpse at what I’ve been doing. There’s a lot more to the project and I could go on and on about the success but I’ll stop. The project finished last week and the work load has lessened a lot. I’m going into the office only in the mornings now which has made be a much happier and better person. Wish I could post pictures but my camera was stolen literally the second day I moved here. I’ll try to grab some from other volunteers. Alright, thanks for reading. I’m off to the market to get a chicken.


Luann said...


So good to hear you being part of such a wonderful program. I am looking forward to hearing stories and seeing you in December. Thanks for the post, it's always a fun read.
See ya real soon
Love Aunt Lu

Luann said...

Winner Winner Chichen Dinner! Matante Lorraine says Holy Shit! Lorraine, Tony and Linda are here visiting for the weekend.

All the best to you.

Love and Miss ya! said...

glad to see that you are having some good time in my home town. Only after traveling did i notice alot of things take i always took for granted.

I look forward to your updates and some exciting stories from your Cameroon experience.

for more on cameroon

Kate Fleurange said...

Shiv! So good to see your updates! :) Ouaaaaaaais! Send me some porcupine!