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!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Babies and Things

It’s funny how one day here everything goes along swimmingly, but then the next day it can be terrible. But luckily even on the terrible days there will always be something that turns the day around. School was great the other day. I talked with one of my classes about homosexuality, since one student mentioned that he wouldn’t want to go to America because that is where homosexuality came from. In Cameroon homosexuality is illegal and severely frowned upon, however I could not let that comment slide, especially since that student also said that AIDS came from America. Which leads me to believe that he thinks that everything bad comes from America and as an American teacher I can’t leave the classroom with them believing that. Therefore we talked and discussed homosexuality, I got at least some of the my students to believe that homosexuality is not a choice that people make. I think that that was a win! (Although it was only 5 students, change happens little by little here). But like I say one day you have a great day teaching and the next day it’s just awful. But fortunately even though something bad can happen, there will always be something that can turn my day around.

With my little time left in Cameroon, only 6 months or ¼ of my time, I am thinking about what I about to do in Cameroon before I leave, which is why  I am helping out at the local hospital with their vaccination campaigns. I started today filling out paperwork for all the little babies, writing down what shots they got and when they have to come next. The exciting thing is that I get to go en brousse to help in villages there. It was really interesting to see how the whole situation worked. The nurse said that next time I will actually be able to give vaccinations. (I know I am not qualified at all, so hopefully I can just stick with the paperwork!) But either way I am excited to be able to go en brousse with the nurses, it seems like the stereotypical aide work that one does, which I think will be interesting.

The other day I was working at the hospital for the prenatal visits and subscribing women and taking their weight and blood pressure. One of the women when I asked her for her name to write down her name. African names are very different than American names and I asked her if she could spell it for me, unfortunately she was illiterate. It was shocking to see an 18 year old girl who is pregnant who couldn’t even spell her own name. It really saddened me. I know illiteracy exists here, even some of the younger students in 6th grade that can barely read or write, but at least they can write their own name. It just goes to show how much work really needs to be done here in Cameroon. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Time Keeps Marching On

November came and went already. It is amazing how fast time has been going. I know this is partly due to the fact that I have been so busy with projects, which is my choice but it is better than the alternative of being a lazy bum. I am most happy about my computer classes. I know it seems laughable that I am teaching computers, but it is only the basic skills such as clicking a mouse or typing. We have recently begun EXCEL which is going swimmingly. Luckily it’s just in time because my school has switched to computerized report cards!!! This means that I know longer have to hand fill out the grades for 300 plus students.

In the beginning of November I went to Dschang or “the Paris of Cameroon”, in the West Region of Cameroon, known for its university, lake (with paddle boats!), being cold, and having no mosquitoes. Unfortunately the few mosquitoes that are there found me but paddling in a boat on a lake definitely made up for it. It is always interesting for me to see just how different parts of Cameroon are, especially living in the East, one of the least developed regions. It is always a stark contrast when I go to the Northwest or the West, the two most developed regions of Cameroon. I’m wondering what makes it that way? The dominate tribe in the West is the Bamileke. Theyare known to be hard workers and very successful, they generally own businesses and every single piece of land either has a house or is being farmed. Unlike the East where there are farms, but definitely not as prominent as in the West. I wonder if the NW and W are so developed because it is so much cooler, which makes it less hard to work. I can only speculate but it’s funny that a country of only 20 million people is so vastly different. Tangent aside, my time in Dschang was great, its always nice to get a feel for something different.

After Dschang I had to head back to Yaounde for my VAC (Volunteer Advisory Committee) Meeting, where representatives from each region meet with Administration to exchange information and problems in their regions. After my meeting I took another trip to Bamenda, in the NW region, to make my own down to Ossing, Sean’s village. It was a relaxing time involving, homemade cheese (that I made) raviolis and a lot of studying for the GREs. Not a bad time in my opinion, other than the studying. I took the GREs the 17th of November in Yaounde, and before I took that I went to visit a crater lake in the West region in a town called Fombot. It was definitely an adventure because the motos took us to a lake that was definitely a resort, with a golf course! Not exactly the lake that we originally wanted, but it was interesting to see nonetheless. After some more negotiating we made it the intended lake, which was stunning and well worth the effort.

After seeing the lake I made my way back to Yaounde so that I could take the GRE. Let me just say that I don’t think I will be taking the GRE in a developing country again. We started 1.5 hours late, nothing unusual here, but I did fall asleep waiting to take the test. But we did eventually start the test. Well I might not have had as much time as I would have wanted to to study for the test, but at least I didn’t have to raise my hand when we first opened the test book to tell the proctor that I didn’t understand, like someone did in my classroom.

When I no longer had to worry about the GRE, the Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary in Cameroon was the 21st of November. There was a lot of preparation that needed to be done, but I think that it was highly successful. I worked with another volunteer to create a movie of clips and pictures of all of the volunteers in the East for our regional table. It turned out to be a really great event, even the first lady of Cameroon attended! I really think that this is an exciting time to be a Peace Corps volunteer. Last year we celebrated 50 years of the agency and this year was 50 years in Cameroon.

As of right now, my school year 1/3 done. It is amazing to me that I have been in Cameroon since June 2011. Even more so, I only have 6 months left. This has been a stunning and eye opening experience, it’s just interesting how fast time is flying.

Eric, Kim, and I at the 50th Anniversay celebration

Chantal Biya! The First Woman of Cameroon

Crate Lake in Fombot

Rachel, Eric, and I at the Crate Lake

Saturday, September 29, 2012

School Has Started Back Up

Well I have officially lived at my house in Dimako for 13 months, my longest time at one house since I graduated from high school. School has already started, we are already in the 3rd week, and it is going infinitely better than last year. It also helps that I only have 3 classes, and 2 of them are smaller than 30. One of my classes is amazing! Really smart and motivated which also makes me motivated so that’s awesome.
With my new schedule it allows me to do more outside of school since my hours are more condensed.  

Hopefully soon I will start giving classes to some girls at the primary school, so equivalent to the 5th grade. I am looking forward to that and so is the director of the school. And in October I should be teaching basic computer skills to my colleagues in the hopes that we will computerize the students grades making life easier for everyone. Also one of my fellow PCVs has asked me to help give a cross-cultural class encompassing everything from colonization to the EU to some students at the after school center she works at, as well as Adult English classes. So my year is filling up fast, which makes me excited.
In addition to all of that, I have started working at the boutique in my house’s concession and I LOVE it. I get to talk with all the clients and everyone who walks by. It’s kind of fun just sitting in there, reading a book until someone comes who wants to buy soap or some bread. It also means that if I need something I don’t have to go all the way to the market because it’s right there! Very convenient.

In other news, I celebrated my birthday with some fellow volunteers. In fact there were twice as many people this year as last year. I made pizza and a carrot cake, while another volunteer made chocolate chip cookies and a salad. It turned out really well and fun =)

I have also been trying to studying for the GRE since I am taking it in November and in the past 2 weeks my score has already improved some, so that is good news. I have narrowed my schools down to George Washington, Georgetown, American, and Yale. All with a focus in International Affairs and US Foreign Policy.

Finally it looks like I will have a roommate for 6 months, when a volunteer from another sector, Youth Development, will come and live with me until my time is up. A bit unorthodox but since there aren’t a lot of houses in Dimako it is hard to find a place for a PCV to live. Luckily I have just bought another bed so they wont have to buy anything when they come, which should be nice for them!