Wednesday, September 1, 2010

No Excuses

Wow, I've gotten really bad at this. Everyone told me it'd happen. I'd stop writing, updating. Life would become familiar here and suddenly writing about every little thing wouldn't seem so appealing. I guess in a way that's true. I do feel very familiar with life here these days. Things are normal now which I never even knew existed a year ago. I eat entire meals made of things that would've been thrown out at home. I feel awkward riding alone in the back of a cab. I deal with life and death almost everyday.

Speaking of which, a few days ago I woke to the sound of a dozen old women outside my window wailing, really wailing, and moaning and singing (sort of). Turns out one of the family's (the people who own my compound) daughters, a wife and mother, died over the night in Douala. The whole village was slowly turning out to pay their respects and my house has been ground zero. Since then the whole place has been a buzz with activity; mamas preparing obscene amounts of food, children offering to do chores, and plenty of grieving. It's been a bit trying, but immensely interesting to see the different way people handle this sort of thing here. I know that if my daughter had just died I wouldn't necessarily want to be surrounded by the whole village chanting and wailing about my loss. But it just seems to have been so automatic. People react here, to everything, in such an instinctual, deliberate manner. They are still working on getting the corpse up from Douala, but when they do, there are sure to be some serious festivities.

It's been so long since I posted, so many things have happened. I guess life just kind of sneaks up on you here. You think things move at this lethargic pace, but then you turn around and find that months have gone by and everything has changed. Work is going about as well as I could hope by now. I'm mainly focusing on two big development projects and finding funding for them. One is dedicated to developing income generating activities for my farmer's union to give them some level of self-sustainability. The other has me seriously expanding the medicinal plant garden project at the village hospital which the previous volunteer began.

I finally got a taste of that vacation I've been needing so badly. After the latest steering committee meeting in Yaounde, a few of us decided to join the group of volunteers who were celebrating their eminent departure in Dec at the beach in Kribi. I was excited to go, but had no idea how cathartic it'd be to swim in the ocean, eat amazing seafood, and just get out of my head for a bit. I was skeptical that the place would live up to the hype it gets from volunteers, but Kribi proved to exceed even this beach-snob's lofty expectations. It wasn't amazing or anything, but still, a really nice beach, in Cameroon. The same Cameroon where people burn trash in the middle of town and only a handful of roads are paved. It was as good as paradise for two days.

You know, it felt good to write again. Maybe this thing isn't dead yet. Still, doubt anyone's still checking it. If you are, be sure to check out new pictures under the links on the right. Until next time...?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Yesterday I welcomed a new addition into the household, internet! So I guess I have no excuse anymore for slacking off on this blog. It's pretty slow, and expensive, but I think it'll be worth it. It may even mean I can Skype from home, which'd be nice.

The new volunteers were up here just last week visiting their newly assigned posts. I got to meet everyone coming to the Northwest and I can't complain. Everyone seems great and I am even getting a postmate, Jacqueline, an older woman who will be teaching at the local university. The dynamic is sure to change a lot with all the new personalities, but I wouldn't mind a little change. It's funny, I feel like a senior (well sophomore I guess) anticipating the new fish.

On Monday, the US Ambassador was actually honored at the palace in my village. It's sort of born out of strange circumstances, but basically she is an honorary "Mother of the Fon (Chief)" in Bambui. Essentially her driver is from my village and over her years here she ended up visiting and Cameroonians being what they are went nuts and handed her the key to the village. She plays a long pretty well though, and since her service is closing soon they decided to throw a big party. Suddenly I was a celebrity too and was invited to join the Ambassador's party. I was even honored with a new country bag, which took the place of the tattered one I'm known to wear around town, much to the delight of the crowd.

Work is still crawling along, though I can't say it's not my fault. It's been difficult to get motivated after all the bumps I've hit recently. I have so many projects just up in the air right now and I'm not really sure where to focus. I've told myself I just need a vacation, but that probably means a vacation within Cameroon, when what I really need is a walk down the lakefront and a slice of deep dish. Guess I'll just have to settle for a scuzy beach and some grilled fish.

Oh and new pictures should be up soon, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I can't seem to catch a break. I found myself in Yaounde this week because over the weekend I managed, thanks to a muddy ditch, the dark, and my ever-encouraging counterpart, to reinjure my shoulder, dislocating it again. Though it hurt just as bad that night as it had the first two times, I don't think it was a full dislocation because it's already feeling better. The last time this happened it took me at least a month to get back the range of motion I have now. So there's some hope in that. The biggest thing I wanted to gain from coming to the capital to get checked out was the reassurance that there is some sort of long-term solution. The more often it happens, the more likely it is to occur again, and when it means losing the use of my arm for at least 2 months, it's nice to hear that there are options. The orthopedic I saw assured me that there are surgical options, in the US. So I have a decision to make. Live with the problem for the next year and a half and then get the procedure done once I get home, or get medically evacuated home or to South Africa and get it taken care of now. The latter option however would likely mean a lengthy rehabilitation period which would put me in serious risk of exceeding the Peace Corps's policy that volunteers who are outside of country for more than 45 days are separated from the program. The benefits to waiting really outweigh the appeal of instant gratification especially considering that because the injury happened during my service, I'll be completely covered for all costs even after I'm out of here.

The World Cup ended up being a major source of disappointment for me and of course the whole of Cameroon as well. When Cameroon was mathematically eliminated you could feel the shift from anxious exuberation to apathetic disinterest across the whole country. It was really unfortunate because I was enjoying being part of the whole celebration. That's really what it was. EVERYONE was watching the matches and things just shut down when Cameroon played. It was an experience you wouldn't have found anywhere in the US, probably despite how far we may have gone. Even the venues were something to remember; like watching the US-England match out in the bush, in a broken down shack of a bar, huddled around a 15" screen powered by a gas generator. And I can't remember ever being so affected by a game as when we went out to Ghana. It was a heartbreaking, but unforgettable night. There is still some support for Ghana as the typical 'Africa United' mentality holds strong, but I was really hoping to see one of my homes playing through to the end.

All has not been sob stories though. A few weeks ago I hosted 11 other Agro volunteers for a few days for a meeting and mushroom workshop. I think it was a big success and of course we all relished the chance to hangout. But with 12 people in the house for 4 days it wasn't too hard to say goodbye. My program director, Tiki, also made his way to Bambui last week as part of a site tour of all the Agros to visit and assess our work. It went really well even if I didn't feel I had a lot of tangible progress to show off. I've also learned that I'm getting a post-mate from this new batch of volunteers as they are putting an education volunteer in Bambili, my sister village, only about 8 minutes from my house. Supposedly she's an older woman who's tremendously qualified and who reportedly loves to cook, so everybody wins. Then in December, they are putting a health volunteer in another neighboring village, about 15 minutes away, so I'm going to be up to my neck in Americans.

Finally, a big thanks to Mom and Dad, and dear friend Kelly who all were responsible in getting me a brand new computer, camera, and raincoat! I'm especially in love with the camera. Expect pics to make a big come back soon.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Since we last spoke...

This time I think I have a pretty good excuse for falling off the face of the earth. On Monday night, 12 friends and I were mugged just outside the PC house in Bamenda. I don't want to get into too many details here, but if you're interested in what happened, drop me a line. I'm fine, as is everyone else, but I lost A LOT of stuff. Laptop, camera, cellphone (again), flash drive, TNF rain jacket, backpack, lots of other clothes, and I was unfortunate to be bringing my stereo back from another volunteer's house so I lost that too. It's all stuff that can be replaced, but it really hurts that I lost all my work since it was only backed up on the flash drive, not to mention all my music. Luckily I still have my Zune so I can listen to most of what I had.

This has been the definition of bad timing too. I have so much work coming up in the next few weeks. It's already been a frustrating few days trying to get back to normal, but I've had some spells of good luck, like getting an old phone for free from a leaving volunteer. There were so many things I would have rather been writing about right now. Hopefully I can get all of this taken care of and get back to focusing on work.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The other day Austin and I were in a cab in Bamenda. I was sharing the front seat with a Cameroonian (the breakdown for a full cab is 4 in the back and 3 or 4 in the front, the 4th having the driver sit on their lap) and the driver decides he can't shift easily so he moves our seat back. As he does that a guy in the back starts complaining about his leg being squashed. So there's all sorts of confusion as we're hurtling down the street trying to shift the seat back up but it won't latch. I'm pretty distracted at this point so I never even noticed that either the guy sitting next to me or the on in the back somehow slid my phone out of my pocket. There's still so much fuss about the seat that the driver just pulls over and tells Austin and I to get another taxi. The cab leaves us on the curb and drives away and Austin mentions that the whole situation reminded him of the time he had his wallet stolen. So I check my pocket and what do you know, no phone. Looking back it's like all 3 guys had to be working together or something. It was like some minor problem erupted into mass-confusion just to create a distraction and give the driver reason to drop us off before I'd have time to realize I was robbed. I wasn't too upset, this is Cameroon after all, but losing my phone meant losing all my numbers, which has been particularly frustrating because I'm in the middle of putting together about a dozen meetings/sessions. I went to the cell company's shop in town and was able to get them to reassign my old number to a new SIM card and luckily the phone I brought from the States, the one they told me in Yaounde wouldn't work here, does in fact work. So I didn't have to spend anything to get the problem fixed, but now I've got the task of recollecting all my numbers to look forward to. Still it could have been worse.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Labor Day

May 1st was the Cameroonian Labor Day and yours truly was invited by NOWEFOR to march, along with the other volunteers Austin and Carl, in the Bamenda parade. Only with typical Pidgin/Special English creative license, they call it a 'march pass'. Carl was in Yaounde, but Austin and I were there. And we were there at 8:30 when we were told to arrive. You'd think we'd have figured it out by now. People didn't even show up at NOWEFOR's office until about 9:30. Finally we were all shuffled into the back of a farm-to-market truck and made our way to Commercial Avenue (the main drag in downtown Bamenda). Countless groups, NGOs, churches, and the like were amassing in the street. I didn't see one person who looked like they were coordinating the thing so I guess I should be thankful that it only took another 2 hours standing in the sun before we started to march. Apparently we were waiting on the governor and other officials to arrive, which is a pretty typical display of power here. Remind everyone that they are on your time. It wasn't so bad though. My friend Kelly's group was right behind ours and a VSO that Austin knew hung out as well and we all vented together. Still, all that waiting for about 5 minutes of marching and a flyby of all the officials sitting under their cool canopy. I also got to meet Dave, a Canadian VSO who's working with NOWEFOR now. He and his wife are here together, I'd say they are in their early 60s, and Dave seems like he will be a really good contact to have. Especially since I've been wanted to improve the relationship between us and NOWEFOR (i.e. have one).

That's the most interesting thing that's happened this week. I've been getting busier and busier which is good. Seems like some projects might actually start taking shape soon, provided it starts raining...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ok, I'm getting pretty bad at this aren't I? Everyone told me this would happen too. Eventually I'd update less often, take less pictures, and just generally become more removed from the States. Well they were right. I guess it's the result of becoming integrated into life here; moving further from the role of a visitor and closer to that of a resident. Well, I think I'm pretty much there. Bambui now feels like home and it's getting harder to relate to things happening back in the US. I mean, my sister is graduating very soon (congrats Sara!), and I really wish I was there, but to me, it's like that's happening in some other universe. I certainly don't like that feeling, but it's made me appreciate the things I once took for granted that much more.

I've been away from Bambui for 2 weeks. IST was pretty uneventful, a lot of sessions, some good, some bad, and a lot of socializing. It was good to see everyone again, though I realized that week that I'm not 21 anymore and eating bad, drinking too much, and hardly sleeping just isn't the health regimen it used to be. Foumban was an interesting place, sort of a tourist town with an impressive palace and museum, and lots of artisan shops. Our hotel was really nice as well, though we were all feeling pretty mutinous when the "piscine" they advertised on the sign and the hotel cars turned out to be a pipe dream.

After that first week, I made my way with a few others to Yaounde. I was headed there as a new member of the Agro Steering Committee which essentially serves to represent the volunteers in the decision making and directing of the program. The meetings went well and there were a lot of people coming through the capital so the week was a lot of fun, but good god, I spent a lot of money. It's hard to wrap your head around how much the cost of living is inflated in the city here. Consider I usually spend about 35 cents on a meal in my village. The same plate in Yaounde is going to cost you 4 dollars! And that's for villageois food. If you want to appreciate the exotic options Yaounde offers, you're going to do like we did one night and drop $40, each! That was probably a mistake, but when's the next time I'm going to get to have osso bucco and a nice Côtes du Rhône?

So yeah, went a little indulgent in the capital, but now I'm back in Bambui and I can make up the damage with some frugal village living. One thing I did take away from IST was inspiration for projects and collaborations. I think there's been to much playtime as it is; the honeymoon is over and it's time to get down to business. So now I'm excited about some of the work I want to undertake and seeing what other volunteers are accomplishing at their posts, makes things that seemed impossible a few weeks ago look very attainable.

Though all this "happy to be back" business was nearly stifled when, within minutes of arriving home, I was hit with this list of misfortunes:

-Walked up on my porch to find shards of wood strewn about and see that 'something' had gone nuts and chewed off one of the arms of my bench and shredded my clotheline

-The olive oil I had bought and put in my backpack had come open and marinated my laptop for the whole 8 hour ride from Yaounde to Bamenda (somehow it still works)

-Went to charge my phone and realized another volunteer had taken my charger

-Found that someone, probably a porter at the travel agency, stole my binoculars out of my bag

-The souvenir I bought in Foumban was broken

-Put on my brand new replacement sandals only to have them break

-Went to make some pasta and the pot, a metal pot, split down the side when I put it on the heat

-And then to top it all off, by the time I needed to use the restroom, I discovered I was out of tp, well after all the shops had closed

Really though I was so tired from the traveling, hardly any of this phased me. In the end I'm looking forward to the next few months when I can stay put for a bit and get some real work done. And I'll try to be better about writing, though no promises. :)