Monday, June 10, 2013

The Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love

I am currently sitting on the bus going from Yaounde to Dimako, my post, for the very last time (of course for the first time my bus also broke down, only an hour into the 5 hour trip). After an unexpected medical issue, a burn on my leg from a motorcycle, dragged me to Yaounde to see the Peace Corps Medical Officer. I contemplate my service here and what it means to me. I have come to understand that the Peace Corps truly is the hardest job I’ll ever love.

I have loved my time here, I wouldn’t change my experience, nor do I regret coming here, but as my time is coming to an end I have been reflecting more and more. My time here has been plagued with doubts, fights, setbacks and if I am being honest I sometimes I have thought about throwing in the towel. Life here was harder than I thought it would be, not because it is not America, with all of its conveniences. I have learned to live without running water and electricity, no indoor plumbing, but that is the easy part. Adapting to the culture here was difficult, the instant celebrity status I receive because I am white, the million marriage proposals and constant “give me” demands. I realized that joining the Peace Corps was not going to be easy, but somehow I didn’t understand the demands it would have on me, physically, mentally, and emotionally. There were definitely many times where I thought that I wouldn't be able to fulfill my service, even from the beginning, but here I am with two and a half weeks left in my service. I know that this experience has made me a stronger person, more resilient to obstacles, for that I am grateful.

I realize that many of my doubts here came from my job, as an education volunteer I don’t get to see the outcome of my work. I have been teaching my students here for two years now and I won’t see how they grow up or how they will use (if they do) what I taught them. While agricultural volunteers will be able to see the trees they plant mature, while they are still here or a business volunteer will be able to see a business improve their practices. Sometimes, not being able to see my impact on people makes me doubt my efforts here.

As I am getting ready to leave, I realize that the hardest part is yet to come; saying goodbye to the people here who have become my family and friends. When I said goodbye in America, I knew that in two years I would see them again. But now I don’t know when I will see the friends that I have made here, or if I will ever see them again, which makes this more difficult. I’m not sure I am quite ready to leave, but I don’t think I will ever leave completely. There will always be a part of Cameroon in me. 

A community garden that I helped plant in a friends' village 2.5 months ago

Look at how tall the trees are already!

Eddie came to my goodbye party in village (If you look close enough you can see my band for my moto burn)

Me with my favorite colleagues

The computer teacher and the sports teacher

Everyone all together!

Hanging out with ostriches in my village, no big deal

Where I have gotten my water for the past two years

That is where I do my laundry

Hanging out in Bertoua

A normal breakfast of beans and beignets, with some coffee of course

Allez Les Lions

In March, I went to see the World Cup Qualifier match between Cameroon and Togo. A bunch of volunteers and I went to the match and support Cameroon. Most of us had on Lions jerseys, some of us even got the Cameroonian flag painted on our face. We were all excited and so were the Cameroonians, since Eto’o Fils, the major Cameroonian football star was invited back to play for the national team after a couple of squabbles with the head coach and other teammates.

The atmosphere at the stadium was insane to witness; everyone was cheering, playing music, and basically just supporting the lions. The ambiance was contagious and soon some of the volunteers I was with starting joining in, borrowing drums and beating along with everyone else, myself included. At one point I borrowed a Cameroonian flag from someone and ran, I was trying to start the wave, although I was unsuccessful, the people were just happy to see une blanche fully supporting their team as well.

In the end, Cameroon won, I could not tell you the score, I do know that Eto’o scored at least one goal. But I will always remember the feeling of being amid the chaos, yet feeling a part of it all. 

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Tree that fell down in the middle of the national highway

Volunteers waiting for the game to start

Playing some drums

Got to borrow a flag

Kid selling peanuts in Limbe

At a bar in Douala

Tracy, my friend from America visiting my village

Sunday, February 24, 2013

When I first thought about joining the Peace Corps I always thought of the number 27, since that is how long our contracts are supposed to be, 3 months of training and 24 months of service. Since I am primarily a teacher and the school year ends in May, I will be finished with my job and my secondary projects in June, which means that I will likely be able to leave earlier than originally thought.

It’s interesting that all the other Peace Corps Volunteers were right in saying that once you get settled, your contract is over. I am finally coming into my own in Dimako, everyone in the village knows me or at least knows of me and my work. They are comfortable with me and I am comfortable with them, unfortunately it seems like I will be leaving tomorrow. Time is flying, I can’t believe that it’s almost March , soon will be our COS conference, where my stage will meet together for the last time and we will talk about what happens to us after our service. Which is causing some of us stress, myself included. The future is very uncertain for me since I don’t have a job or even know where I’ll end up living, although the current plan is that I will move to DC.

But currently I am the happiest I have ever been at post, work is going better and my relationships with my colleagues is going well. This week was one of the busiest, but also most productive and rewarding weeks I’ve had since I’ve been here. I gave tests to my students for the 4th sequence, which means I am 2/3s done with the school year. Also I worked at the health clinic all week along with the doctor. On Tuesday I was in Dimako for the vaccinations, but Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we went to surrounding villages, which are smaller, and therefore do not have access to a clinic except for these monthly visits from the doctor.

I was surprised to see these villages, although I pass by them every time I go to Yaoundé I have never stopped in them before. I know that I live in a village, but it was interesting to see that Dimako is the big town for people in these villages. I saw just a fraction of how hard their daily life can be. Most of the women who came with their infants were happy to see me and welcomed my presence which was nice. The doctor invited me to talk about health issues with the women. Although at first I was a little nervous, since it’s not at all my area of expertise, I fell into it just like teaching. Some of the women asked great questions about their health such as how to better space out their pregnancies and the proper nutrition for their children. At first some of the women were shy but they opened up when I told them that I didn’t know everything and we all learn something every day.

In one of the villages there was an interesting debate between the women and the local relais, who is trained to help people in the village with small health problems. Many of the women were complaining about having too many children, that their husbands don’t help them and if they refuse to have any more kids then they will go get a new wife, which is apparently a common thing. I am not sure if this debate would have taken place if I wasn’t there, but I was glad to witness it all the same. All in all the baby weighing and the vaccine giving is going well.  I decided to not give shots, I was a little too scared, but I give the polio vaccine which is just orally administered therefore is not as frightening for me.

In other good news the computers that were lovingly donated by friends and family arrived and are set up in the school’s computer lab. The 5 computers were all installed and are running well. I even installed typing games for the students to help improve their typing skills. The computer teacher at my school was very helpful in making sure that all the computers are running well and the principal even put in an AC unit to help ensure that they won’t overheat. The students are all really happy and whenever they have free time they hang out in there working on the computers.  

Computer lab at my school

The new Peace Corps office in Yaounde. We should me moving here in April.

Waiting for the Prefet to come to Dimako

Therese, my friend, and I

Ostriches in my village

Women's meetings in Dimako waiting for the Prefet

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mile 24 of a Marathon

It seems that I start all my blogs apologizing for not updating in a while, but this time has just been hard. I’ve been busy working, travelling, getting sick and more working. So there hasn’t been a lot of time to sit down and write a new post. Also the electricity at my post has not been too great as of late. Well enough with the excuses on to the blog.

I went on vacation for Christmas break to the Extreme North again. It was nice to see that area again and see the differences between the regions of Cameroon, which really is “Africa in miniature.” I started my vacation going to visit my friend Christine to see her post in the West Adamaoua. Volunteers there are often over looked since it takes 12 hours in either direction for them to do their banking. It is a lot different than the East Adamaoua even though they are in the same region technically. What makes it different is that it is near the Northwest region which is Anglophone so there is some Anglophone influence as well as the Northern influence. Her village, Mayo Darle, has to be one of my favorite villages I have seen so far in Cameroon. It was scenic, the people were very nice and polite and welcoming.

We went on a hike to visit a waterfall near her village which we have come to see as cursed. This was Christine’s second time going to the waterfall and the first time her dog fell off the waterfall, luckily he is ok. And the second time I got stung my hornets, which hurt a lot. Luckily we were carrying an ice pack, which is a miracle, considering there is no electricity in her village. So the ice pack helped a lot. Unfortunately my arm still swelled up and turned a frightening purple color, but in the end everything was fine, my arm is still there and returned to normal size.

After Mayo Darle, we went on a 12 hour bus ride on an unpaved road. It was an experience involving 3 flat tires and stops for prayer. But luckily we made in one piece although we were turned an interesting shade of orange from all the dust.

I went to visit my friend Melissa and stayed with her at her post in the regional capital of the North, Garoua, for Christmas Eve. She made homemade lasagna and we had a real bottle of wine, which is a luxury here, especially on our salary. It was a nice calm evening and even though we are in Africa and away from our families it still nice. On Christmas Day I traveled to a village in the Extreme North where a volunteer was hosting a party for volunteers. There were about 10 volunteers together and we cooked dinner and celebrated. A Christmas tree was even involved!

After the New Year I went back down south to go to my post. Unfortunately right when I got back to post I fell sick. Which was unfortunate because I had to travel again to do a “collaboration” project with another volunteer. He has just installed a well at his school and wanted to teach his students proper sanitation practices. So I travelled to Dschang, again, but unfortunately he had to cancel it since his project had run out of money. Even more unfortunately is on my way back to post I got stuck in Yaoundé on medical hold since I had gotten malaria… January was definitely a month of illness for me.

Luckily I made it back in time for Bilingualism Week. Which turned out well considering I set the whole thing up. This year my principal wanted to have our own celebration for Bilingualism week and not celebrate with the other high school, which meant that as the sole English teacher at my school I had to set up the whole thing. I think that it went pretty well. A lot of students wanted to participate and they were all rewarded at the end with notebooks and pens, just a small token to show that  I appreciated all of their hard work.
I had to go back to Yaoundé for the VAC meeting, which was perfect timing since  I was invited to a colleagues wedding in Yaoundé. The wedding took place in a village just outside of Yaoundé. It was weird, there were no paved roads at all in the village and even though it was only a 40 cent moto ride away from Yaoundé it felt like I was en brousse. The actual wedding ceremony was interesting since two couples got married at the same time. I asked my colleague why that was but he explained that it was cheaper. Which is great since weddings here are expensive compared to their salaries. Apparently the trend is to make them more like “Western” weddings which is unfortunate since they are costly and people here don’t really have the ability to pay for such luxuries.

During the ceremony the priest spoke mostly in the local dialect which was interesting to hear even though I could only understand one word of it! Normally I don’t hear a lot of people speaking in their local dialect, or at least not for long extended periods of time, mainly only greetings. A lot of Cameroonians are complaining about the loss of the local dialect. After the wedding we went to the house where the reception was being held and waited and waited. Here in Cameroon the couples like to go take pictures out and about in town while the guests wait for them to come. I think we waited about 4 hours. I don’t know if I liked that custom. After they finally arrived the wife’s family welcomed the couple in the middle of the street with singing and throwing chickens into the air (don’t worry I videotaped the whole thing). Once they finally arrived we started eating and unfortunately I had to leave soon after since it was getting late and I had a curfew. But I will say that the reception is very much like an American wedding reception, lots of eating, drinking, and dancing.

Another difference is that everyone invited to the wedding generally buys the “wedding fabric” that the couple chooses and then gets an outfit made. This made a lot of sense especially considering that there were two couples at the wedding, it made it easier to tell which couple you were there for!

And since I am too lazy to write anymore, here are some pictures to hopefully tied you over until my flu is over =)

Monkey that a student caught at my school. A putty nose mona, don't worry they are not endangered.

Kids dancing at the reception

The couple walking towards the reception

The wife's family waiting to receive the couple

Myself and 2 colleagues at the reception

My main moto driver to Bertoua, Aime, wearing his new vest for the Association

My colleagues and I at the Parade for Youth Day

Justine and I

This was at the club, yes that is the Peace Corps symbol. =) Goal 2!