Monday, February 28, 2011

50 Years of Peace Corps

Tomorrow on March 1st, Peace Corps will celebrate its 50th anniversary. What a milestone! There have been a flurry of activities to share experiences. It's really incredible when you hear stories of the men and women that served in the early 1960's.

Peace Corps Cameroon has had its own share of activities. One of the RPCVs created an email list to reconnect volunteers who may not be as up with the technology. In just a few days, there are over 200 volunteers who share their PC experience in Cameroon, and that number is still growing. I love being a part of the Peace Corps family!

I've been back for 7 months now. The more I try to move on to the new phase of my life, the more I find myself wanting to hold on to my service and share the experience with others. I think it takes being back to really cherish those two years. Everyday, I appreciate that time of my life a little more. So, in honor of this big milestone, I have created a short 5-minute video to sum up my experience. It's much shorter than the previous one that I posted. That one was much more personal, but this one highlights on the experience.

I hope you enjoy the video, and for those who aren't aware, I've continued to chronicle bits of my post-PC life at my new site, Asian Polyglot. Feel free to stop by!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

780 Days of Service

 I've been home only just a little over a week, and already, that life in Cameroon seems like a very long dream. It's surreal. The reverse culture shock has been interesting, but I am adapting quickly into the American way of life, albeit for a short period before I jet off to London for graduate school.

During my last week in village, I created a photo slide show in an attempt to capture various aspects of my life in Cameroon. 780 days of wonderful memories condensed into a short video. I put photos into chronological order and outfitted with music that remind me of various periods. I haven't watched the video since I made it several weeks ago, and last night, I watched it again for the first time, and couldn't be happier that I had spent the time to create this small piece of memento. Perhaps this means more to my friends who were there with me throughout the events, but for what it's worth this is what life was for me as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I didn't create it to be any sort of promotional material, this is for me to remember that moment in time when I lived in Cameroon.

Cameroun, tu me manque trop déjà !

Friday, July 23, 2010

Peace Corps Loves

In less than 3 hours, I'll be on my way to the airport and begin the long journey back to the U.S.A.! This is the moment that I've waited for for two years, and as strange and sureal as it is, I am ready to begin the next chapter of my life!

This last week was wonderful. I spent it in Yaounde with the last group of the 2008-2010 SED/ED volunteers. As it stands, Laura and I are the last two still hanging around in the transit house. Last night, we said a big batch of goodbyes. The end of one's Peace Corps service is one of the strangest moments in life. It's incredibly difficult to describe, but I was glad to have 8 other wonderful loves here to experience the end of this journey.

David described our group as "never has there been a group of individuals assembled who has such insatiable appetite for enjoying themselves" during our final ceremony. And how right he was. We like to think of this group as a "work hard, party hard" group. Our APCD graciously said something nice about each one of us during this ceremony - the work we did in the community, the kind of volunteer we were, etc. All of us managed to do a good amount of work but also had a lot of fun! We later were presented with an amazing pin that we've all been waiting for: a pin that has the U.S. & Cameroonian flags and the Peace Corps logo.

Naturally, this week, we indulged in the finer things and frequented the fancy establishements in Yaounde to celebrate the end of our service. The indulgence included Happy Hour at the Hilton, lovely dinner at a fancy French restaurant, a visit to the artisanat market for last minute souvenirs, many many dance parties at the PC transit house and a big celebration for Ehab's birthday! This week happened to also be mid-service week for the volunteers who came a year after us, and we were able to celebrate this ending with some great people. Time spent with Americans during this last week has helped me get into the correct mindset for returning. Two years since I've been on the American soil. I think I'm in for a shock!

I'm scared, excited, sad, nervous and all sorts of other emotions. For the coming weeks and even months, I will likely have crazy anedotes on my readjusment to the US and the "real world" in general. This experience will quickly fade into a dream, but I'm glad this blog was here to capture moments of this dream. Thank you all for following my service these past two years. I will continue to document future adventures on Asian Polyglot and I welcome you to continue sharing your ideas and provide encouragement!

For now, I say: au revoir Cameroun! Hello U.S.A.!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Last Day au village

I woke up after a restful sleep around 8am, without an alarm, of course, and put on my running shoes for one last jog down my favorite path. The crisp air made for a comfortable jog. I took noticed of each house that I ran by and took in each rolling hill that I passed. I will unlikely to have a regular running path this beautiful for years to come. I waved at villagers along the way that I often see; likely the last time I would see those faces again.

Returned home and heated water in the small marmite for one final bucket bath in my latrine. I remember my very first bucket bath - in the same latrine, during site visit two years ago. Back then, I found it to be a treat but slightly awkward. But now, I am so at ease with this process; it had became a basic routine.

Billy, my neighbor boy, came by the house and hung out with me like he always does. But there was a hint of sadness. He helped me wash floors for the last time and counted the money he had earned and saved in his jar. "if it wasn't for you, this money would've been long gone," he said. He had learn the value of saving; that was my small contribution to his life.

I took down the mosquito net and pictures on the wall in my bedroom. Still felt like any other day, but today is the last day.

Headed into town to drop off some things my friend had bought from me, then stopped by the omelet shack for a sandwich. One littler girl was going on about the different patois that she speaks because her parents are from two different towns. She spoke in an adult manner and it made us laughed. I stopped by the phone credit lady to get some MTN credit for my phone before hopping on a moto to come home.

Billy came by again soon after I got home and we hung out more. He kept asking me what I was doing with different things that I am leaving behind, and I got slightly annoyed. He's still a kid after all. I gave him some cookies and he was happy. Liz came by in the afternoon to pick up my fridge with Emmanuel, my moto guy. We chatted. Eman tied the fridge on the back of his moto the way he used to tie my gas bottle. I told Eman to come back and pick me up after dropping Liz off in Baham.

Around 5pm, we went into town. I waved at kids at the water pump as I do every time I go by. I visited all the usual boutiques that I always visit, but this time, it was to say goodbye. An incredibly strange feeling. People you see everyday, and suddenly, I won't see them for a long long time, or ever. The goodbyes were strange, but weren't particularly sad, until I got to my bar with mama Chantal and my friends were there for one final drink.

I ordered one last poisson braisée with baton de manioc and drank a coke - a typical dinner that I've had numerous times. This was the last. My friends gathered and said great things about me and hope for wonderful things for my future. We made sure to exchange contact information one last time. As people started to leave, I could no longer pull myself together and was a teary mess. Mama Chantal put her arm around me and said to not cry, it's just parting, no one died. But to me, it feels that a part of me is being cut off. Everyone comforted me and said that I go back to school, and in the future, I'll come back. Of course I think that as well, but we all know that life isn't always that straight forward. Despite all my good intention to return, there is no guarantee.

Tomorrow, I will make the trip to Bafoussam as I've done many many times. Except this time, it's for good. Batié has became my home. Each time that I travel,  I am comforted to know that this is the place I can come home to. After each trip, despite of the length of the journey, I am always relieved to be on that moto ride from the carrefour to my house. But tomorrow, this home base will be there no more, and my life as a globetrotter continues.

Passing On the Torch

Tomorrow is my last full day in village. I am nervous and am not sure that I am ready to leave. Though I am realizing that perhaps one is never ready to leave a situation as this. I just simply gotta "pull the band-aid off" so to speak. So many emotions. It has been a wild ride. Try as I may, words are simply insufficient in describing how I feel. Last week, I hosted several volunteers who came through on site visit, one of them was my replacement. Showing them around made me see even more clearly the beauty of my village and life here in general.

I've been waiting to meet my replacement and show her around throughout the better part of my service. So much so that when the idea of canceling site visit for trainees was proposed at our Steering Committee meeting, I fought hard to keep it. I still so vividly remember my own site visit from two years ago and how helpful it was to get into the right mindset for the remaining time in training and have something to look forward to. The biggest problem I see in the work of Peace Corps volunteer is continuity, and I see site visits as an important element for information exchange.

It was exciting to speak in person with the person who will take over my projects, and integrate into a community that I've grown to love so much. Cristina was full of energy and I was excited to introduce her to everyone and show her the ropes. I didn't realize just how many people I know until Cristina was scribbling everything into a notepad, as to not forget. In answering all of her questions, I realized how much I've became an expert with life here in Cameroon. I left her a detailed post book full of tips. Everything from traveling, to shopping, getting water, bathing, using the latrine, finding help, where to buy certain things. All the basic things about life here needs an explanation. Nothing is simple and obvious. There is no one stop shopping and no directory of services. Other volunteers are your directory.

Besides the everyday stuff, I took Cristina to meet many of the work contacts that I've established over these past two years. Who you know always help facilitate things no matter where you are, but here in Cameroon, the difference can be night and day. We met with the mayor and he even took us to lunch. Cristina wanted a social media tutorial from me, so I gave her a quick lesson on blogging and twitter. Hopefully through these different mediums, I'll be able to see the progress of this community.

Even within the past two years, big improvements have already occurred, mostly thanks to the wonderful mayor. I didn't realized this until I was pointing out different things for Cristina. Things that exist now in Batié but didn't exist when I got here: a cyber café, more power lines in farther out neighborhoods, new cobbler at the carrefour, more stable power supply, better MTN réseau - I now can talk on the phone in the  comfort of my own bed and not have to run outside every time the phone rings. All the buildings got a fresh coat of paint this past year. There are now 3 places to make photocopies instead of one. Few more tailors have set up shot and also a new coiffeur at the small carrefour by my house.

Slowly, but surely. As they say in French "petite à petite" or in Pidgin, "small small catch monkey".