Friday, September 2, 2011

Swearing In, Yaoundé, and First Weeks at Post

This is a really long post so sorry in advance!
A lot has changed and sorry for the lack of updates but there is no Internet at my post, Dimako, a small village on the road from Yaoundé to Bertoua. The road is also a major junction for Gabon and the Central African Republic, needless to say my village may be small but it is happening! Dimako is also home to the First Woman of Cameroon, Chantal Biya. I originally thought I was going to work at the College Technique de Dimako, but when I arrived I was informed that it has turned into a Lycee, although they have only added one extra class level, but maybe next year they will add another. I was also informed that I will be teaching Informatique or Computers. This was news to me but I guess that is life here in Dimako.
To start off I probably should go back in time and talk a little about Swearing – In. For swearing – in all of the volunteers wore the same pagne, traditional clothe. It is a tradition in Cameroon that groups wear the same pagne so that they can be identified. We had voted to wear the 50th anniversary pagne by the Peace Corps; it came in blue and red. I chose red =) The ceremony was the 17th of August and it actually started on time! A rare feat in Cameroon. It was really nice, filled with a lot of speeches and finally the Charge for the ambassador gave us an oath, the same oath that government workers take. It was actually pretty cool, even though the sun was blazing hot. It was a great ceremony and it was nice that all of the host families showed up, especially since none of our real families were there.
After the ceremony, we all had lunch with our host families, eating traditional Cameroonian foods. And after lunch, all the families were given a certificate of appreciation. Unfortunately I had to run home in order to put all my stuff outside so that the Peace Corps could pick it up and take it to the base to help with moving to post. Saying goodbye to my family was a lot harder than I expected especially since my host mom had two dresses made for me, out of pagne. They are traditional kabas, or as I like to call them moo-moos. Although not especially flattering, there are remarkably comfortable, especially in the heat and humidity =)
When we said good-bye, I went to the Hotel New Place, where the swearing-in party was. The swearing-in party that Melissa and I had planned. (What was funny about this was that on Tuesday, Justine and I had to go to the Prefect, Police, and National Police, in order to let them know that there was a party. The funny part of this was that when we told the moto driver to take us to the prefect, he took us to his house and not his office, it was a little bizarre. Fortunately we found him at his office 15 minutes later. It was nice because there was AC!! At the police we were told many different things, but finally we tracked down the right person (Surprisingly the first man we talked to.)) The party was a lot of fun, complete with “superlatives,” such as “Most likely to succeed” or the more Cameroonian “most likely to get bitten by a mango fly.” I did receive a superlative, although it was less than flattering. I got “most likely to hit a student with a goat rubber.” I think I got this just because I am the strictest and discipline oriented teacher. I don’t let my students get away with anything! I once didn’t let 2/3s of the students into class because they were all late and I told them to come to class but they chose to disregard and not respect me. However, none of the students were late the next day. So I guess it works…
All in all the party was great, it was a nice way just to say goodbye to everyone before going to post. Since I am not geographically close to most of the volunteers, the party was the last time I got to see some of my stage-mates, before IST in December. Since we are not allowed to leave post before IST. I have to stay in Dimako, but I can go to Bertoua (in fact I have to in order to get money and food!).
On Thursday the 18th, everyone going to the East (3), the Northern provinces (12), and some others who had to go to Yaoundé, left Bafia at 8 AM for Yaoundé. Luckily they took most of our stuff and put them on the bus, so I didn’t have to. In Yaoundé, they drove us directly to the Peace Corps Office. It was actually the most comfortable bus ride in Cameroon yet and I am betting ever. Because it was normal American sized people and not Cameroonian sized people. It’s funny that they disregard the size of people and make 5 people sit in the row even if the people are 2 people sized (No wonder the cars are so rundown here, their suspension must be shot) We actually had to stay the night in Yaoundé, because there wasn’t enough time to make it to Bertoua before it got dark. Justine and I saw our time in Yaoundé as a way to live it up before going to our tiny villages. Therefore we went to Casino, a French supermarket, which actually looks like France, in the middle of Yaoundé. After Casino, we went to the Hilton for happy hour. Its 5,000 CFA or 10 dollars for 2 drinks. (I told you we were splurging, especially considering our “salaries”. After the Hilton we went to a pizza place, which had real CHEESE! This is amazing considering there is no cheese in this country. Then we went back to the CASE (like a hostel just for PCVs) where I took the last hot shower I probably will in the next couple of months =)
The next morning was a little crazy because Justine woke up with a swollen ankle and couldn’t walk, so I had to pack the car to take us to the agency, while Justine saw the doctor. It turns out she just had a bad reaction to a bug bite, so on the way to the agency, we picked up some antibiotics. At the agency we bought our tickets to Bertoua 4,000 CFA. Unfortunately they wanted to charge us 20,000 CFA to put our bags on the bus. That is an exorbitant price so we just said we would get a refund and go to a different agency, because that is too expensive. Finally we got them down to 4000 CFA, a more reasonable price. Unfortunately they refused to put our bikes on and kept saying that they would put them on “later.” Finally I just stayed by the bikes until they put them on the bus. At first they tried to put the bikes in the stairwells of the bus and wanted us to pay more. But I was adamant that they put them under the bus and they do it now, and they did (Finally 90 minutes later).
The bus ride took longer than it did on site visit; it took 6.5 hours, when normally it should only be 4 hours. That was because at EVERY single check point, they pulled the same guys off the bus and we had to wait for them to bribe the officers. And also we had to stop for prayers because it was Ramadan. So it was a very long ride, on the upside I got to see grubs on a stick for sale, only 100 CFA (20 cents)!  I wasn’t up to trying it, but maybe another time!
Normally I could just get off at Dimako and not go all the way to Bertoua, but because of all my stuff; two large suitcase, two small bags, a giant footlocker, and a bike. They wouldn’t let me off so I had to go to Bertoua. Anyway I needed to go there because I didn’t have a bed, so sleeping would have been a bit difficult.  When we finally arrived in Bertoua, I thought it would be difficult to take all of our stuff of the bus and take it to the CASE. Luckily this is Africa, and there were children who took our things to a designated taxi. We thought it would take 2 taxis at least for us and our things, but again this being Africa, the rules of physics don’t apply, that and there are no laws. So all of my stuff and Justine’s things (She had the same amount as me) fit in a compact car (Dad you should take notes for the next time I move =) ). Therefore, we got to the CASE with no problems. Even better there was another PCV, Janelle, from Batouri who was there to help us buy all of our things and get situated.
On Saturday we bought the essentials, a bed, sheets, stove, and gas bottles. It was a little taxing having to haggle over the prices for all of our things. So we gave up after that. And also we had no idea how to get all of our things to post, especially since the road to my post is a gravel road with lots of bumps. Luckily on Monday I made it to post in one piece, although my mattress was a little worse for the wear since its foam and it rained on the drive. When I got there, my community host, the principal of the lycee sent some of the teachers to help me settle in and they moved everything from the car into my house. And set up my mosquito net and gas stove. I know how to cook but have no idea how to set up a stove to the gas bottle. Unfortunately since my mattress was wet, I couldn’t sleep on it, therefore I slept on the couches, which are really just wooden slats because there are no cushions yet. Oh and there is no electricity in my house yet… Hopefully it will come soon!
I’ll try to put pictures up of my house soon so you all can see it. I have a large living room/dining room, although there is nothing dining roomy about it (yet). I have two empty smaller rooms, a “kitchen,” a small room where I put my stove. I should mention, that I have no refrigerator in my kitchen, my mom was a little surprised about that. But I just go to the market everyday to buy fresh vegetables. Although the variety isn’t that good. I can buy 4 tomatoes for 100 CFA (20 cents). But there are no avocados, even though a market mama has said that if she sees them in the morning, she will buy some for me to buy later. Which was really nice! I hope she’ll see some soon! I would really like an avocado sandwich or make some guacamole.
After my first night at my house, I went back to Bertoua, a 35 minute moto ride, 2,000 CFA to ride by myself. There I met up with Justine so we could buy pots, plates, silverware, buckets, and other house hold items. Then on Wednesday Justine and I went to Diang, her village, so that I could help her settle in and also there was no electricity at my house. There is not a whole lot to do in her village, but it was nice to get to see her post. Then on Friday we went to my village so that she could help me and also there was a giant festival this weekend, I’m not sure what for because unfortunately I couldn’t go because Justine was sick. Friday night see got really sick so we spent Saturday at the hospital. And then Saturday night I had to stay at the hospital because apparently sick people can’t be left alone (literally!). So when we first got there at night, Justine and the nurse went to the latrine and the nurse came back and said, “She’s in the bathroom.” I say, “I know.” “She’s alone.” “I know.” “She’s alone.” “I know…. Oh she can’t be alone.” “No she can’t be alone.” So then I have to go to the bathroom with her. I also have to tuck her mosquito net too. The nurse also got mad at me because apparently I didn’t watch Justine close enough and her IV got blocked. Justine just thought this was funny, but the nurse would give me dirty looks each time she came into the room. Luckily, Justine feels a lot better, so that is all that really matters.
Monday was supposedly when the teachers have to go back to school so I dutifully show up at 8 AM when I was told to show up and no one showed up until 11 AM. And then I finally found out that it is only for the administration. But then the principle told me that I have to show up at 9AM the next day and therefore I waited until 12, but again when no one was there, I decided to leave, because I wasted enough of my day waiting. Especially since they have my number and know where I live, so if they needed me, they know where to find me. Luckily one of my professors is a furniture maker (it is a technical high school), so he came over and took some measurements. I got a large bookcase and an armoire. If all goes well then I want to make a dining room table with 4 chairs, another bed for a guest room, and a bedside table. The great thing is that he said it would only take a week! I can’t wait to finally have some where to put my clothes.
I am really lucky to be in Dimako because I am the 8th volunteer here so they are used to Americans walking around, therefore the “La Blanche” calls aren’t too bad. I have decided to tell everyone that calls me that that that is not my name, my name is Michelle. It’s just annoying that and “Ma Cherie” because really I am NOT your Cherie! On the downside of not being the first volunteer, everyone and their mother tells me that they were Renee’s (the previous PCV) friend and can I buy them a drink. I just want to say that is great that you and Renee were friends, but I am not Renee and it doesn’t mean that WE will be friends. There is a possibility, but that diminishes especially when all you want is for me to buy you things. But like in most of the countries I have visited (Morocco, Turkey, even Portugal) money is everything so I guess I’ll get used to it, but it is a little frustrating to be only seen as a dollar sign.
I am looking forward to school on Monday (hopefully it’ll actually start on time =) )!! If for nothing else than to have something to do, I’ve already read 4 books since I have gotten to post and have made a dent in Les Miserables (I hope to finish in a week or so). Although I am glad we had a little break so that I can get used to living on my own again, doing dishes and laundry (the African way!). So far everything is going well, no MAJOR complaints (other than the mouse that WILL NOT STOP eating my food!). It is getting really only, if anyone has any advice on how to deter mice from living in my kitchen, I am all ears!
I hope everything is going well back home! If you have time and 98 cents, I would LOVE a letter with an update because I will not be able to get the Internet very often.

Michelle Hood, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 215, Yaoundé

Thanks in advance!

Sorry this was so long, but I had a lot to update!

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