Saturday, December 27, 2008

Joyeux Noël!

Merry Belated Christmas to all! Happy Early New Year! After a whirlwind of traveling for the past several weeks, I decided to return to village and host Christmas chez moi. Juliette is the only French left since Jérémy went back to France for the holiday, so I invited her over along with 4 other Americans for the festivity. Christmas here is much different than anywhere I’ve ever experienced.

For starter, it’s the first Christmas where I didn’t have to wear a coat. Even Christmas in Taiwan required layers of clothing. Also, the lack of commercialization diminished the whole “Holiday Spirit” thing. I always found the 24/7 Christmas carols and decorations rolling out after Halloween somewhat annoying, but this year, I missed it, a lot. I started listening to Christmas music a bit after Thanksgiving, but I stopped because it was too depressing. Kirk had left me with a small Christmas tree that lights up! But I didn’t take it out until Christmas Eve because it was too depressing. I just couldn’t bare getting all decked out in Christmas stuff when there are no signs of the holiday season anywhere.

However, the day before Christmas Eve, I was back in village, hand-sewing stockings for my guests, and was filled with the Christmas spirit. People began saying “bonne fête” and “joyeux noël” to one another. I ssw a few random people in Santa hats. Then Christmas Even came around and the whole town transformed in matter of hours, starting in the afternoon. In the morning, I took the hand-sewn stockings to the tailor to sew up the sock part (sewing the names was plenty), and there wasn’t much change. I met up with my friends in Bafoussam and came back to my house. We spent all afternoon cooking and opening the packages that Antoine had delivered from Yaoundé! They came right on time. My house was filled with a chaotic American goodness with packages everywhere. It really was like Christmas!

We had a big dinner completed with green bean casserole, cheesy potatoes, stove-top stuffing, guac, salsa, devil eggs and stuffed peppers. Later, we did gift exchange. I asked everyone to bring a small gift for everyone. Nothing fancy, but just so we would have something to open. The small gifts turned out quite funny. Everyone gave Juliette the most “American” thing they could think of, including Pringles and Gobstoppers. She’s never had Gobstoppers and was marveled at the fact it changes colors. Later when the kids came by, she was showing the kids the candy. I took a hilarious video of the kids and Juliette, all amazed at this Willy Wonka candy! Culture exchange, I tell ya. Juliette randomly has a shirt that says “Michigan, the Great Lake State” which Kate had freaked out about when she first saw it months ago. (Kate is from Michigan, obviously.) Juliette gave that as a gift and there was a good round of happy scream. For me, Juliette gave me a precious jar of foie gras knowing how much I love food and how French I’ve become.

Later in the night, Juliette, Kate and I went into town to experience some Cameroonian Christmas. This is when I was amazed at how quickly the village was transformed. While it was no where near Oxford Street style Christmas decoration, the villagers had managed to put up lights and bamboo fences to spice things up. We went dancing with the villagers for a while, and it was just a hilarious good time. My favorite moto driver, Eric, came in with his blinding jumpsuit and gave Kate inspiration for next year’s Halloween costume!

I was in a splendid good mood all day. People are so simple here and Christmas was equally warm and happy without piles of expensive gifts, which can lead to expectation and sometimes disappointment. After we got back from some dancing fun, Jim started a bonfire in my backyard. We roasted marshmallows and introduced to Juliette her first smores. The air was cold, and it felt quite a bit like Christmas.

On Christmas Day, Juliette went back to her house for some Cameroonian fêtes and Jim went back to his village. The four of us girls hung out all day in our PJs and did completely girly things. We watched girly movies, talked about boys, painted our nails, ate an insane amount of food (Connie’s pumpkin pie is to die for!) and being completely lazy. I didn’t expect spending Christmas so far away from home could turned out so nicely, but I must say it was one of the best Christmas holidays I’ve had. Simply because it was so unexpected, and so, well, simple.

"Training" in Kribi

The reunion with fellow stagemates in the beach town of Kribi was everything expected and much more. This In-Service Training, or IST, marks the end of our first three months at post, which supposedly are the most difficult time due to all the newness and adjustments. But as you know, my first three months were filled with splendid goodness, so ça va aller. It was really great to see everyone again and hear about everyone’s experiences. Cameroon’s diversity shines through the stories of each post. Those up North, those out East, and those of us in the West, aka Beverly Hills, all have massively different past three months. The sharing made me that much more glad to be where I am, and a true validation that everything happens for a reason. In all honesty, I don’t know if I can hack it up North or out East, and that may be precisely why I am in the Beverly Hills!

The week long of training is supposed to provide us with information that would better help our projects. But like the first three months of training, I really didn’t learn all that much. I did, however, brushed up on my conjugation of all the irregular French verbs. Also, all the time sitting in session allowed me to make numerous lists and brainstorm ideas for projects. So I suppose I did benefit from the time. I got more out of talking to my peers and my boss. The SED volunteers have the best APCD (I don’t actually know what that stands for… too many acronyms...) in all of PC Cameroon. James, our boss, was a volunteer here out in the jungle of the East Province back in the day. He knows exactly how to relate to the volunteers and makes our lives as easy as possible beneath all that PC bureaucracy.

The “trainings” aside, we spent all of our time on the beach. We had bonfires a couple of the nights and even made smores! It was really nice to get away and be with a bunch of Americans. I think it served two purposes – to fill with all the American-ness I need for the next foreseeable future, and also makes me miss my village and new friends so I’d be ready to get back. It’s a funny dynamic because I had spent the exact same amount of time with my friends from training and my new friends at post. Three months each yet so vastly different. While I was glad to be with my old friends, I did kind of miss my new friends. The Peace Corps experience, among all else, tests your ability to make friends. Intense relationships are formed quickly, and then separate quickly. It takes a toll on your emotions while you are in a completely new and strange place. On the surface, Peace Corps is about helping people and exchanging culture, but in reality, it is so much more. If I helped on one and exchanged no culture during two years of stay, I will at least become stronger of a person simply by living through these two years. I came into this experience knowing it would be life changing, and it already has changed me immensely in three months. Excited and scared to see what the next 20ish months will bring. Not sure if this applies to every volunteer; some have told me they don’t feel like they’ve changed that much in three months. But then again, each PC experience is completely and utterly different. 

Posh Corps

Sincere apologies to all my devout readers out there! Life somehow caught up with me, and for the first time in so long, I was too busy to write. Last month, I talked about how time was slipping through my fingers, but at least I still had time to write about it. The month of December flew by without me even having time to complain about its quick passage. But now I am back and the stories continue!

Kirk, my predecessor, had generously left me lots of essential items for the house for a very discounted price and therefore allow me to spend most of my settling-in allowances on “luxury items” like a fridge, blender, coffee maker, etc. Volunteers around have often referred to my Peace Corps experience as the “posh corps” due to those purchases as well as my connection to the Chinese and French friends that gave me access to delicious meals, relatively fast Internet, road trips in SUV, posh apartments, cheese and wine, etc. But few weeks ago, I took “posh corps” to a whole new level when I got unlimited nighttime Internet at my house. I couldn’t handle the painfully slow Internet in 15 minute increment, connected via my mobile phone (no cyber café in Batié). I finally gave in when I spent an entire day at Chinese friend’s Internet working from 9-5pm and barely made a dent on the amount of work I wanted to get done on the net. Aside from helping me become more effective and productive in my work, the newly installed Internet also forever eliminated the lonely nights. This new addition not only took “posh corps” to a whole new level, it also gives me no reason to ever leave my service early. Life here is grand now.

Other evidence of my “posh corps” state was made obvious on Christmas Even when we were making an American feast and I had ingredients like, “sesame oil, almond sliver, dark chocolate, marshmallow, Tobasco sauce, etc” Kate also made note of my boxes of cereal in the cabinet, as if I am still in college. What can I say, I like my cereal. In college, I had something like 8 boxes, now I only have 4… :P My life is also posh due to the great weather in my village. Located in the mountains of the West province, my village is one of the coldest posts in country. I received a cashmere sweater from my sister and I thought it was crazy, but it came perfectly handy when I was freezing my butt off a few weeks ago! Yes, cashmere sweater en afrique! Who would’ve thought! Anyway, to be fair, I still live without running water, and that is and will always be, a gigantic pain in the rear end. Also, my village is so small that there are often times when I can’t even find stables such as eggs! These minor inconveniences reminds me that I am still living in a village in Africa, despite how “posh” my experience can be sometimes. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Library/Textbook Project

December 5, 2008

Please provide any comments or feedback to the proposal below! Many thanks! 

Library Project Proposal

Introduction

Peace Corps Volunteer (“the PCV”) in Batié, Cameroon proposes the establishment of a library for the public primary school of Famgoum I. The project aims to increase literacy in both English and French, to improve teaching efficiency within the classrooms, to develop general interest in reading and learning, and to utilize the library as a means to create after-school programming.

Background

Literacy has long been a gateway to knowledge. In the rural schools of Cameroon, access to information and even reading material is very limited. Inside the classroom, students often cannot afford the proper required textbooks, making teaching difficult and learning ineffective. Outside of the classroom, students have virtually no access to supplemental learning or leisure reading material. Gaining access to books is thus a primary goal to increase literacy and stimulate interest in knowledge acquisition.

Proposal

The PCV proposes a comprehensive learning project that centers on the creation of a library within the public primary school of Famgoum I. The project seeks reading materials in all subject areas, appropriate for students between the ages of six and twelve. In addition, the project proposes purchasing textbooks as properties of the school. The school will issue textbooks to students at the beginning of the school year, and retrieve them at the end. This will ensure students have proper textbooks during the school year, resulting in effective teaching and learning.  This will also heighten this project’s sustainability, educating students year after year.

The PCV will use the library as an avenue to begin after-school programs in the areas of reading, writing and mathematics. In addition, the PCV will train teachers within the school to administer the programming to ensure sustainability.

Benefits

The textbook portion of the project will ensure the 263 students of Famgoum I have complete access to required textbooks for each class, therefore significantly increasing learning and teaching efficiency. The after-school programs will stimulate interest in the areas of reading, writing and mathematics for approximately 50 to 75 students during each term. The collection of reading materials within the library will provide all students an opportunity to access more information and increase literacy skills. Currently, the school has a pre-designated space for a small library and a strong interest from the faculty and student body to support the project. The sustainable nature of this project will continue to benefit all future students of Famgoum I primary school beyond the current pupils.

Procedure

Phase I

Project will begin with a dialogue between the PCV and the faculties of the school to reach a complete understanding on the concept of the library, textbooks as school property, and facilitation of after-school programs. The PCV will seek funding and book donation for the project through foundations, non-governmental organizations and other philanthropic institutions.

Phase II

The PCV will train designated faculty on basic library management and begin organizing book donations. The concept of library and the after-school programs will be explained to all students and those interested in the after-school programs will be selected. As materials arrive, the library club and mathematics club will begin once a week after school hours. Continual solicitation of book donations will take place during this phase to expand the library. Finally, the PCV will obtain funding to purchase a complete set of textbooks for the next school year (2009-2010).

Phase III

The PCV takes an observatory role in the after-school programs and oversees library management. Library book collection will continue to expand and if necessary, the library will seek a larger space to better accommodate the operation.

Results

The project will result in a fully functioning library, which raises awareness and improves upon literacy, and the after-school programming will supplement in-class learning for the students of the school. In addition, the students will have complete sets of textbooks that belong to the school and families will not bear the burden of purchasing books each school year.

Schedule

November 2008 - Proposal Writing
November 2008 - Discussion with School Faculty
December 2008/ongoing - Book Donation/Funding Solicitation
December 2008 - After-School Programs Planning
January 2009 - Library Management Training
January 2009 - Implementation of Library Club/Mathematics Club
March 2009 - Textbook Purchasing Planning
April 2009 - Begin Textbook Purchasing
June/July 2009 - Finalize Textbook Purchasing/Preparation for New School Year 
September 2009 - Reorganization of After-School Programs
November 2009 - Possible Relocation/Expansion of Library
January 2010 - Full Transition of Library Management and After-School Programming to School Faculties 

Cost and Fees

Textbook
Form I (7bks/pr; 51 students) - $1,785
Form II (7 bks/pr; 45 students) - $1,575
Form III (9bks/pr; 51 students) - $2,295
Form IV (9bks/pr; 37 students) - $1,665
Form V (9bks/pr; 45 students) - $2,025
Form VI (9bks/pr; 34 students) - $1,530

Library
Secured Bookshelf for Textbooks - $100
General Bookshelves for Library - $50
Supply of Books (200 @ $5) - $1,000
Shipping Fee - $400
Total - $1,550

Total: 263 students; 2,175 books; $10,875

Total Costs

Textbook - $10,875
Library - $1,550
Total - $12,425

Closing
The all-encompassing library project will greatly improve the educational quality for the students of Famgoum I and open the door to knowledge by providing access to reading materials. The PCV seeks support in either monetary donation to support the textbook portion of the project, or book donation to expand reading material. All materials will increase the sustainability of the project, as the books will be used repeatedly. The project will continue to benefit students beyond the current 263 pupils.

For further information, please contact PCV Wendy Lee at WendyLee86@gmail.com. All reading materials can be sent to: 

Wendy Lee
Peace Corps Volunteer
B.P. 215 
Yaoundé, Cameroon

October 24, 2008

Library
LibraryThe primary school I am teaching in currently is in need of a library - any kind of library. My thought is to get a small collections of books, both in English and French, then start a reading club with the students. You can either donate money to the book fund or send children's books to my address in Yaoundé, Cameroon. 

Furthermore, I have an idea to begin a small community library in the center of town. The mayor recently built a nice building for community functions but it remains largely empty and unused. Access to information here is very limited since newspaper or any sort of reading material do not exist and only some have the luxury of television and radio. My idea is to begin building a collection of reading material in current events, agriculture, businesses, etc. These material would need to be in French. Currently, I am researching NGOs around the world who will donate these resources.

Textbook
I've been in two systems of public education: that of Taiwan, and that of the USA. In Taiwan, textbooks were issued as long as you paid the small tuition fee. In the US, books were the properties of school, so we naturally got them for free. It was only when I got to university did access to textbooks become a problem. 


Last week when I asked my students to open their English books, madness occurred. People were hurdling into groups. I thought, maybe they aren't used to brining books to class, so I reminded them to bring them this week. Two days ago, I again asked students to open their book. This time though, I asked them to raise their hands if they even have books. As I had found out, someone in the family is responsible to buy these books and many simply don't have them. In one of my classes, only 4 people out of a class of nearly 40 had books. I gave up, and started copying the paragraph I wanted them to read on the blackboard. As you can imagine, the efficiency greatly diminishes when I have to spend precious teaching time writing things on the board, and wait for them to copy. I am 90% sure the students have no idea what they are writing; they are just accustom to copying whatever the teachers write on the board. 


My point is, they need textbooks. If I can get the school to buy the books so that it becomes school property, then the students in the year following will still be able to have books. Let's face it, this is not the US, schools don't change editions every year... 

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Things You Don't Realize...

… when you have everything.

  • Did you ever realize how dirty you get when you don’t have an actual shower? We are in the midst of dry season here and water is a more precious commodity than ever. While I am lucky and have gotten in good with neighbor kids who come to fetch water for me daily, the supply is still limited. As a result, bucket-bathing daily has become a luxury. That, and it’s really just a huge pain in the rear end. No worries, I have plentiful stock of deodorant to prevent me from ever smelling like some of the Cameroonians around. But seriously, when you don’t have streams of water hitting your body, you don’t really get that clean…
  • Do you realize how nice it is to do dishes with running/hot water? Nowadays, I often laugh at how my mother used to yell at me for doing dishes with water that isn’t hot enough. “It’s not killing the germs,” she’d say. Only if she can see how I do dishes now. I have two buckets – one for washing, another for rinsing. With shortage of water supply these days, the water have to last for longer than before. I think 1/3 of my “dish-cleaning” actually depend on the towels when I dry my dishes… And now, no one wants to come visit me…
  • Do you realize what luxury it is to go to a supermarket and can find virtually anything you need in your house? But not just any supermarket, but one that is well lit, organized, has a healthy variety of each product that aren’t expired. Do you realize the frustration when you are at the “white man’s store” and you think you can find something, but when you get there, there is one kind and not the kind you want. Or when you think you are going on this great “splurge” of a trip to the supermarket, and then you realize the store isn’t as exciting as you had remembered. (when I confuse Target with the supermarché in Bafoussam… That’s quite the disappointment.)
  • Do you realize how precious your personal space is? “you are in my bubble” doesn’t apply here. You get on a bus here, a big bus where one seat actually means one person, not two. You are happy to have your space, and then the medicine man begins to bug the entire busy selling his magic drug that’s going to cure this that or the other. He goes on for hours. Loud and obnoxious. You think, “I want my space. Leave me the hell alone.” But you can’t. When he stops talking, the driver starts to blare some music. You get no choice of whether you want to listen to it or not.
  • Do you realize how just how wonderful indirect lightening is? Can you imagine when the only lightening that exists in your life is white fluorescent tubes? You know those lamps you put next to your bed for reading? Do you realize how those change your mood? If you have no idea what I am talking about, then you seriously need a visit to a hardware store and imagine that as your house.
  • Do you realize how much time you waste sitting in front of a TV surfing the channel? I am not talking about watching TV. It doesn’t count when you are actually watching a programming. I am talking about the amount of time you literally sit in front of your TV and pressing the up and down keys on your remote control. You should tally – it’s absurd.
  • Do you realize the amount of things you can get done on the high speed Internet in one hour? Most of you have unlimited access to the net and you have no idea how much time you are actually spending on it. I, on the other hand, am often restricted with different time increments during my Internet usage. I am amazed sometimes how much I get done on a good connection day in an hour and then I think about how much I could get done if I had cable Internet! Do you ever think about your Internet productivity? Or you are so used to having everything at your fingertip that you take time for granted? You check facebook 5 times for no reason, then watch 3 YouTube videos for the hell of it, open 5 webpages just because, and before you know it, you’ve done absolutely nothing productive.

I can go on forever. I am thankful to be living in the middle of nowhere so I can be a more productive and appreciative human being when I return to living in the centre of everything. 

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Goodbyes. The Thanks. And The Giving.

Happy Turkey Day to all! While I don’t have the fortune to be eating turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallow, etc., I enjoyed a feast of my own last night as I sent off yet another dear friend. The Chinese couple I’ve grown close to has very recently decided to return to China and begin a family. The wife left today and the husband will follow in the near months. The decision came very suddenly and I was not at all prepared since my head was wrapped around of my French friends’ departures. True to Chinese form, we had a feast last night, and today they parted. And that, marks the end of another section of my life story.

Earlier in the week, I sent off Gregoire, the French guy in my village. Among other festivities, I threw a fête chez moi. The people present were all the usual and we had one final evening of good food, good drinks, and good music. The next morning, we enjoyed delicious crêpes and Starbucks coffee on my front porch. This is the end of the beginning. People part ways. Gregoire will go back to France, return to a life of modern conveniences, but the memory of all of us enjoying that windy Sunday eating Nutella crêpes is shared only by those hanging out at my front porch that morning.

Tomorrow begins the next round of goodbye as I spend the last weekend with Gary before he parts for France. Lots of goodbyes in a week; one that marks the beginning of the holiday season. My feelings are mixed. While I am obviously sad about parting with the people who just came into my life, I am also thankful for the opportunity to have met them. My first three months at post, the supposedly longest three months of a PCV’s service, would not have been the wonderful bliss it was without them. People come in and out of my life, and it’s always interesting to see who remain in my life despite the distance and who fades.

On this particular Thursday, I am missing home, wherever that may be. This year marks the second time in three years that I’ve missed Thanksgiving. This trend is becoming more frequent as I continue to jet set around the world. It would be nice if I wasn’t in shorts and t-shirt hoping for a drop of rain from the sky. It would be nice if I were having a food coma in front of the TV from overdosing on the ridiculous amount of food that exists on this particular day. It would be nice if I was cozy up in a sweater, and there is a light layer of snow outside my window. It would be nice to go to a movie on Thanksgiving night with my family.

It would be nice, but an exciting, worldly life full of exotic experiences does not come without a cost. These are the sacrifices I am making, and that’s really okay. Later today, I have made a Skype appointment to speak to the fam at 8am Central Time, 3pm Cameroon time. I will talk to them and get a big nasty wave of homesickness, and then I will be thankful that they are there for me, despite oceans away.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for the people in my life, both past and present. I am eternally thankful for the opportunities and experience I’ve been able to partake thus far, and I am thankful for each new day that I am able to continue this journey.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dry Season? Sick Season?

So with all that health sessions during stage, no one once told me that dry season = sick season. I’ve been in Cameroon for roughly six months now and have been perfectly healthy until about a month ago when the dry season hit. I thought of that common cold as a one-off incident, until these past few days.

First I find these cold sores looking things on the corner of my mouth. I didn’t think much of it until it got worse by the day. Then a mosquito bite on my leg got infected?! I didn’t even know that was possible. But apparently it is. I didn’t even know it was an infection until my entire bottom part of left leg hurts from that tiny circle, and Juliete saw it and said, “yeah, that’s infected.” And proceed to tell me horror stories of the kids at her host family that has nasty infections. Then she came to the rescue with some multi-purpose antibiotic pills. Why we don’t have antibiotic pills in that med kit of ours if beyond me.

Just as I was starting to get better, I woke up in the middle of the night yesterday freezing. Somehow I had decided to kick my blanket away. This morning, I woke up and could barely breathe. Et voilà, I caught another cold. For some reason my body is prone to catching illness right now. I hope this is just a phase. Meanwhile, I am popping vitamins, cold-meds and antibiotics like they are candy.

Mom, if you are reading this – I am fine. Still alive and kicking, just a few minor setbacks. No worries!  

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Yup, Not in the USA Anymore!

I don’t know how time is going by so quickly. It seems I transitioned from endless amount of free time to hoping time would slow down a bit all within matter of days. The month of November is spiraling away out of control. I need it to slow down, just a slight bit. I no longer have nights where I sit at my big house and wonder how I will pass the next 5 hours until I go to sleep. My To-Do list is now legit; no more “take a bath”, “do dishes”, and other daily tasks as such. Rest assured, I am by no means complaining. I welcome the fuller daily schedule and actually cherish my alone time once again. The sole reason I want time to slow down a bit is that I am not quite ready to let go of those new French friends!

Comparing to other fellow PCVs whom I’ve kept a close contact, my life here does not sound like how a typical Peace Corps experience ought to be. I send out email updates that titles “The Real World Batié” due to the amount of pure ridiculous drama-esque events that occur in my life here. I must say, I haven’t had such interesting life in a really long time, perhaps ever. As the world economy continues to tumble, and news headlines are worse by the day, there is nowhere else I would rather be now. Sure I would love a weeklong vacation to Paris or London, or anywhere with broadband Internet, hot shower, BBC, CNN and sushi, but all in all, I am happy here.

This week, I had several “yup, this is not the US any longer” moments. Life here has become fairly comfortable. I don’t take many pictures anymore, or even blog as often because things don’t strike me as unusual the way they did before. Yet when I do take the time to think, I am marveled at how differently my life has become over the past six months.

Tuesday morning, I woke up at 6:15 to meet Juliete to do some work in the fishponds. The fish apparently need to be measured monthly and this month they are short of help, so I was recruited to record data. I was out of my house by 6:30am, the earliest I’ve been out in the village. It was quite amazing. On my walk into town, I could smell the fresh morning air and feel the fog just starting to spread. Kids are getting water before heading to school at the pump by my house. Mamas are walking around, going about their businesses. I got a ride half way through my walk by a car that was taking a group of students to school. Once I met Juliete, we hopped on a moto and went to Chez Bernard. So there I was, 7am on a Tuesday morning, I sat amongst the fishponds, the fields, and beneath the great mountains. While I waited for the guys to get the sample fish for measuring, I ate a few sugar beignets (they are like donuts, but less fattening). It was then, in the midst of the great view, the sound of pigs, frogs and the faint smell of fish that I thought, “this is so not my life in the US”.

So then I thought about what I would’ve been doing on a Tuesday morning at 7am just six months ago. I would probably be just struggling to get up after going to bed at 2:30am due to an exhausting night at the library. I would take 2 minutes to check my morning email, take a hot shower, make an espresso, and hurry out the door for an 8am class. Or, if I didn’t have class, I would’ve been waking up, standing in front of my closet and struggle to pick out an outfit for work because I wasn’t sure what “mood” I was in yet. I would’ve then hopped out of the house in my high-heels, and stopped at the Starbucks around the corner of my house, ordered my grande, non-fat, toffee-nut latte before making the drive down Forest Park Pkway into Clayton. Once I get to the office, I would walk into that fancy elevator, get to my cubicle, switch on my computer, and spend my day running reports and crunching numbers for millionaires in St. Louis.

That was then, this is now.

Another moment this week happened when I was visiting a guy’s house that raises livestock. He’s a client of mine that lives in the neighbor village of Bapa. Even though he is a “notable” in the village, and has something like 19 kids, he still struggles with basic management of his farm and livestock. We had met twice and I decided I needed to pay a visit. Every time I go to Bapa, I am amazed at the view there; it also makes me realize I am not really living in the middle of nowhere. It could be so much worse.

I visited the concession that is full of fields, small bit of pigs, chickens, rabbits, goats, etc. The guy seem to had the concept of diversification down, although I don’t know how useful that is in raising livestock. We discussed some basic accounting and the need to start keeping track of expenses and have separate accounts for his business. After the visit and discussion, I was being fed lunch – true to Cameroonian form. I was fed foufou and gumbo sauce. Not gumbo like your New Orleans style Cajun goodness, but well… brown gooey sauce that you are supposed to eat with your hands. I welcomed the hospitality but at that moment, I remembered that this is no longer life in the USA. And I also remembered how much I don’t miss having homestay family or just stage in general.

Work in the non-English teaching area is picking up. I hope by the New Year or soon after, I can begin to transition some teaching work into more SED related projects. While teaching continues to be interesting, the days that I am frustrated becomes more frequently now. However, the rewarding moments are still amazing. Today in my Women’s class, I was so entertained by the few mamas in my class who can’t even speak French. They only speak the local patois, thus making it near impossible to learn English since I am teaching the material base on French. Then, I realized that by giving this class, I am giving them an empowering opportunity. Maybe they won’t retain a single thing after I walk out of the classroom. Maybe they will never speak a word of English, but I am providing them 2 hours a week of opportunity to do something different. They have a desire to learn something, and I am providing an opportunity to fulfill that desire. Whether or not they actually learn, that’s a different point.

I am in the process of writing a proposal for the library project I had in mind for the school. It’s been a learning experience writing this proposal. I pulled a lot of research off the net last week and they provided a great deal of guidance. The similar concept also applies when I worked with Victor to draft a project proposal to finish building the community center in our cartier. Through all the work though, I wonder what three months of technical training actually did for me. I am still teaching myself everything I need to know. I like these result-oriented projects much more than teaching. Teaching can be difficult to foresee the result of the effort put forth. Props to the education volunteers! I only started teaching because I was bored; not sure how I would fair if that were my primary job here.

Turkey Day is around the corner. Not sure my plans yet. I may actually spend it with the French since it’s the last weekend that some of them are around. I feel a bit guilty for my lack of presence among my American and Chinese friends, but I figured they are around for a while. Gotta allocate my time accordingly among friends. Starting to make some local friends in village. But it’s not the same. The day I have a Cameroonian friend whom I can talk to the way I talk to my American, Chinese, or French friends is the day I have succeed in culture integration. We’ll see how long that takes.

I miss the cold a bit. As we speak, I am writing in t-shirt and shorts. Few weeks ago, I began listening to Christmas music, but have since stopped. I also have had the urge to take out that tiny Christmas tree Kirk had left for me. But there is something wrong about doing Christmas stuff when it’s 80 degrees out. Even the holiday season in Taiwan was cold! This is weird. I miss the fresh smell of winter, of the first snowfall. I miss cuddling up in a sweater and drinking coffee, reading a good book. I had to explain to Gary the concept of Thanksgiving – it’s Christmas without all the present fuss. I then talked about the rounds of eating that take place during T-Day. I talked about my first Thanksgiving in the US where there were 10 different kinds of pie outside of the house, and ridiculous amount of food inside of the house. Oh my, I could really use a plate of turkey, stuffing, green been casserole all drenched in delicious gravy. Mmmmm!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't Stop Me Now!

I am having such a good time, la la la la la…

Yes indeed. I am having such a good time that time is slipping right through my fingertips. It’s already middle of November; just a month until I reunite with fellow stagiaires at Kribi (the beach town)! I can’t wait! The girls and I are going to drink so much wine and have so much girl talk! However, the quick passage of time also marks the end of the stay for many of those fabulous French I’ve met recently. After all, life is about give and take; can’t have everything, n’est-ce pas?

The election back home happened exactly one week ago. This was the first presidential election that I could’ve voted since I didn’t become a US citizen until 2005. I fulfilled my citizen duty and voted absentee from the lost continent of Africa, but I don’t think my vote was lost. I spent election night with a few Americans, sitting in front of a 13-inch TV broadcasting CNN in fuzzy, black and white, sad state of reception. We couldn’t see very well, but we heard perfectly well. Due to the time differences, we stayed up all night watching the results rolled in and finally the victory of Barack Obama at 5am. I felt the excitement beamed around the globe despite being thousands of miles away from the US. This was verified the next day when I was in the market. Every person that saw me would yell “OBAMA!” I think the Cameroonians were just as excited, if not more so, than me. I’ve spent a good deal of time abroad since the last election, and I actually felt extremely proud to be an American that day. The result of all that American-ness made me extremely homesick. For the first time, I miss the USA. Before, I just miss “the real life”, but the few days after the election, I craved all things “American”.

So, what do I do to get rid of the homesickness? I spent the entire weekend with a bunch of French. Oh those French, how I love them so. Gary told me he’s sorry I have to hang out with so many French and in a language I don’t fully understand. But honestly, I love it. It really reminds me of the time when I first moved to the states where I was always the only Chinese, and didn’t fully comprehend English. There is something interesting about personalities that shine through, even when I don’t fully understand the conversations. Also, being constantly surrounded by French speaking people helps me improve the language immensely, even if I am only listening most of the time. This factor makes me feel less guilty hanging out with white people; at least I am learning something, and culture exchanges still exist. Did you know there is such thing as “Hollywood Chewing Gum?” The Frenchies thought it’s American, but I’ve never heard of it in my life…

The extended amount of time I’ve spent with this group of French has made me realized just how sheltered Americans are. My group of French friends is here for different period amount of time ranging from 6 months to 2 years. When I tell them about all the restriction and rules that the Peace Corps has imposed on us, they all couldn’t believe it. It made me felt like an overprotected child whose parents just won’t let go. Sure the rules and regulations are supposedly for my own good, for my own safety and security, blah blah blah. But when I am with a group of people my age, who are surviving just fine without all the restrictions. I begin to wonder, are these rules really for my own good? Or are they just pure bureaucracy - people with too much time at their cushy government jobs that need to write rules about nothing? Just a thought.

In other work-related news, I am actually rather busy now. Busy in the sense I don’t have endless hours of free time and I actually have work that I am putting off. Procrastination hasn’t been something I could’ve even done since May. It’s a nice feeling to know I have enough work to fill my time that I want to procrastinate. Old habits die hard.

I continue to teach at the primary school. Last week I delivered a water-filter for the school, using the donation I had received prior to getting the slash from up above (not God, just PC admin). My work is suppose to be sustainable, so I discussed with the principle her plan to raise money in the future to purchase yearly replacement filters. Et voilà, the kids now have drinking water at the school! Other projects I have in mind will now take much longer since I have to find funding the time-consuming way. Apparently it’s not okay to give me straight up cash, but if you want to send me books or supplies for the school, it’s okay? I don’t understand the logic, but that’s how it is. Talk to me if you are still interested in helping me out with projects! I will keep updating progress under the project tab of this blog!

Today, I went off on the teachers at the school. There are no more than 5 teachers that teach at this school, and most of the time when I arrived at the school at 12:30, I am the only one teaching until 2pm, when school is out. Last week, I requested to drop the youngest class that is in a poorly constructed classroom. Instead, I extended the time for the other two classes. Better quality than quantity. The reasons I dropped that class are a.) there is not a complete wall between the classrooms, much less sound-proofing and b.) the teacher for the class next door is NEVER there when I am teaching and the kids are rowdy and my throat hurts everyday after that class. Today, the same thing happened when I was teaching my last class in a nicely constructed classroom. The problem today is that it’s 5 minutes to 2pm and I am trying to finish my lesson. Kids from ALL the other classes are running loose and most are congregating outside my classroom being obnoxious. I attempted to tell the kids to leave, but I don’t have enough authoritative power. Finally, I went over to the office to find a teacher, and all the teachers were chilling there. I said, “What is going on? It’s not 2pm and there are students everywhere. I am trying to teach and I can’t!” I yelled this in their faces and left. Not two minutes later, the kids are gone and I was able to finish my lesson for the day.

The moral of the story: students aren’t the problem; teachers are.

In other business related projects, I started my consulting business in village weeks ago and today I had my first two clients after many told me they would come talk to me. This morning, I talked to a guy who raises livestock and would like to improve and expand its business. This afternoon, I talked to two guys who are in the business of growing Chinese mushrooms and would like me to work with their GIC. I know nothing about raising livestock and growing mushrooms, but I still somehow helped them both start a project plan and will be visiting their farms next week. Also, I now get free Chinese mushrooms. Quelle chance! 

I tutored a neighbor girl English today. She’s in high school, so her level is much more advance than my students. In an hour, I think I learned more French than the English I taught her. I did, however, taught her the trick of changing a sentence into passive voice: find verb, take the direct object after the verb and put it in the front of the sentence, add the Be-verb, change original verb to its pass participle, add extra words/modifiers, add by, add subject.

The girl eats rice everyday. Becomes: Rice is eaten everyday by the girl. 

I love learning language with logic. Juliete says I need to become a researcher with my love for such exact science. Now, only if I can teach logical thinking to all Cameroonians. One person at a time, I suppose. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ooops!

So just got an email from my boss informing me that I am apparently not suppose to be soliciting funds directly for my projects, but apparently going through the long drawn-out process of getting funding is okay? You would've think they would have informed me of this significant detail over three months of training. I am not sure how I feel about this, but just wanted to put a note out there explaining why the donation link has been removed. 

However, for the "damages" already done, I've carried out the drinking water project. Will provide updates on that soon! Thanks for the support, and too bad for bureaucracy... 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

5 Months?!

Next week marks 5 months in country. This is the longest I’ve been away from friends and family since round I, where I left Taiwan for 13 months before returning. I don’t feel as though 5 months have been a long time, and really, it’s just the beginning.

I caught a nasty cold a few days ago but am getting over it now. (so mom, don’t freak out.) I do have to say, getting sick in Africa, no matter the level of sickness, is terrible. I’ve never wanted so much my down comforter, a can of chicken noodle soup and a carton of fresh orange juice. 

The upside about being sick when you are a volunteer is that you can more or less drop everything and hang out. After all, I am a volunteer. I parked myself in my bed for the entire day of Sunday, and the entire morning of Monday. When I did finally get myself out of bed to go teach on Monday afternoon, the kids were being used to do manual labor around the school because the delegates of the province were visiting the next day. Lucky for me, I got two hours off. But was annoyed that I got out of bed for that. Though it wasn’t a complete waste since I did teach the first class to the women’s group later. They are hilarious. 

In other news, I’ve gotten surprisingly quick support on funding for projects. Many thanks! Updates to come soon. Also, wanted to thank all the readers out there who are following my adventure. I just found that someone had made a tribune to my “Real Deal” post on his blog and asking people to give me support. It’s those little things that brighten my day. So readers, keep the comments coming!  

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Beauty

It was a beautiful Saturday here in the West Province of Cameroon. One friend of the French came to visit from Douala. Unlike the rest of us, he enjoys the luxury of an expat life and therefore rolling in town with an Isuzu SUV and a driver. Four French, one American and the Cameroonian driver comfortably piled into this luxurious vehicle and set off for a daytrip to Foumban. 

Unlike in the US where SUVs are purely for decorative and gas-wasting purpose, a SUV in Cameroon is quite useful. With wind blowing through my hair, and smell of fresh countryside air rather than the usual smell of exhaust and body odor, I remembered how wonderful a car ride is. Oh, the things we take for granted.

The town of Foumban is vibrant, yet not chaotic like Bafoussam. We had lunch at Café Royal, which had a terrific view and then visited the local market and saw the famous mosque. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the sultan, but it looked grand from the outside. This trip made me realize why people love exotic travel. Because when you have money, you can just stop in and enjoy the exotic culture, and then return to your sweet SUV and luxurious resort hotel for the evening. All without dealing with the grueling daily life.

Anyway, what blew my mind about this trip was the drive back. It was near dusk, and the gorgeous views became infinitely more beautiful with the changing colors of the sky and ever moving clouds. I did my best to capture the scenery, but the views are simply so beautiful that pictures do not do them justice. At that moment, only those around me and myself will ever be able to share that memory to its exact beauty.

I felt free. The kind of freedom I haven’t felt in months. Then I said a meditation, “Breathing in, I calm my mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment. This is a wonderful moment.” I repeat that in my mind as I see the views pass before me; I felt calm, in love with the nature, the world, and my life. There I was, in a nice comfortable car with great people whom I just meant not long ago, sharing a moment that we will be able to talk about for years to come. I don’t ever want to stop traveling, because I don’t ever want to stop meeting incredibly interesting and life-loving people.

So it was then I told myself this: always welcome the unexpected, smile away the sadness, and recognize that beauty is all around me. 

Friday, October 24, 2008

Drinking Water Project

I don't know anyone who has running water in my village. Maybe the mansion near my house does, but most do not. During the development meeting last week, the director of the primary school addressed concern with access to drinking water. Currently, there are three great metal barrels in front of the school buildings that collect rain water. To my knowledge, these water aren't treated and students drink from them. Boiling water isn't as easy as it sounds since most people don't have a gas stove. Most families still rely on the wood burning method of cooking. I think even just one of the filters I've been issued by Peace Corps would help the situation immensely. I have emailed the health unit and been told the price ranges from $40-80 depending on size. More research to come. 

Projects! Funding! Help!

Recently, I've came across different projects that require funding. While there are thousands of NGOs and foundations out there waiting to give out money, the process can take forever. Instead, I would like your support. $5 for you is a Starbucks latte, and if 10 people give up one Starbucks latte, I can buy a water filter for the primary school I teach at. That's one simple case, and there are others. You can begin to support my projects by clicking on the Paypal Donation link. Feel free to give your $5 (or more!) and leave me a message if there is a specific project you would like to help, or just for the general fund. 

In addition, if you know of any foundations/NGOs that are seeking projects to fund, please let me know! I will dedicate a part of my blog to my projects, update pictures and status as they roll along! Check back often for progress! Many thanks in advance. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bonjour, Madame!

Time goes by quickly now that I am keeping busy with teaching, spending some time at the bank and continually looking for new work opportunities in the village. Teaching continues to be interesting and challenging. How do I teach these kids to follow the curriculum given to me when they can’t read the alphabet in English and only 4 out of a class of 30-40 have books? I do my best and make up lessons each time, and have asked my mom to send me the English grammar book I had from my time of learning English in Taiwan. I wonder if I ever thought I’d be on the other end of the picture 10 years ago sitting in those English classes in Taiwan… Anyway, one of the greatest things about teaching is that now when I walk down the street, kids greet me with, “Bonjour, Madame.” So freaking cute!

I met with a women’s GIC on Monday and they’d like me to also teach them English. While I have other projects in mind that I’d like to implement with the GICs, teaching English is a good avenue to start. So my days are now filled with healthy dose of work. I fill the rest of the time doing daily things at home: laundry, dishes, fetching water, etc., also reading and coming up with different ideas for projects; oh and of course, cooking and entertaining the Frenchies. Last night, we made pizza and it was o-so-fantastic!

There has been an interesting phenomenon with entertainment at my house. The screensaver of my computer is a slideshow of all of my pictures, and anyone who hangs out at my house is continually entertained by this slideshow. Myself included. Just earlier, I was eating lunch and looking at these pictures; suddenly, I was hit by a wave of missing those o-so-familiar things. I miss coffee dates, happy hours, wearing heels, dishwasher, landscaping, one-stop-shopping, Sunday lunch at my parents, high-speed Internet, 20 kinds of everything at the store, cereal, Thai food, sushi, Vietnamese food, bubble tea, Forest Park, people watching at a café, and more. But these things also remind me of things I don’t miss: rush-hour traffic, the boredom with the mundane daily life, the need to get out (of the US), paying bills, earning money, petty stress, uninteresting conversations, not able to decide what to eat for dinner (too many choices), not able to decide what to do for the evening (what do you want to do? I don’t know, what do YOU want to do? Ugh.), getting mad about stupid things (omg, my broadband Internet is down for 2 hours!), excessive consumerism (agonizing whether to buy this pair of shoes I don’t need), etc. etc. 

This is only month 2 at post. I can’t even begin to imagine how I will be in 22 months!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Progress

Today, I received my first traditional ovation from the villagers. These past two days, I’ve been attending a development meeting in my cartier (neighborhood). My village is made up of 10 separate cartiers and the meeting I participated last Friday was the cartier in the center of town, separate from mine. I was really glad to be at these meetings this week. The people conducting the meeting aren’t from the village. I believe they are sent here by the government, or along the lines of that. It has been immensely helpful for me to be there as the villagers brainstorm and flesh out problems they face. Not only does it help me become acquainted with the people, it also gives me ideas for projects.

Anyhow, I had to leave the meeting early today to go teach at the school. In the morning, I asked the guy conducting the meeting to give me a few minutes to talk before I leave. So, there I was, in front of over 100 villagers, I talked to them about my role as a volunteer in the village, in French. Just four months ago, I dreaded giving presentations in English in front of no more than 20 people. The guy in charge reiterated what I said to ensure full understanding. When I was finished, the villagers gave me their traditional ovation consists of different clapping rhythms and sayings in patois. It’s so cute!

A guy told me he wants to talk to me about a NGO next week. I met with the lady who’s involved with both of the women’s GICs in village, and is the president of one of them. She showed me where the meeting takes place, and I’ll be there Monday morning! At the school today, I talked to the principal and there is a need for drinking water for the kids and a library. Mission this weekend is to research how I can get those two projects going! Hopefully my eternal amount of free time is coming to an end! Thank heavens!

Looking Back. Looking Forward

Before the summer of 2005, I spent 5 years in St. Charles, Missouri. The biggest trips I took were family road trips to Colorado, Chicago and Nashville. Oh, and a week in New York City with the high school choir (we did sing in Carnegie Hall!). The summer of 2005 marked the beginning of my around the world travel and it’s been an addiction ever since, as if I am making up for lost time. Tonight, I watched all of my pictures since 2005 in a slideshow and my life literally flashed before my eyes.

I love my life.

Since 2005, I’ve lived a life without regrets and a life full of incredible experiences. Starting with an around the island tour of Taiwan, seeing old friends and families and eating amazing Taiwanese cuisines. Then, three weeks in Angers, France, soaking up the great French culture for the first time, and becoming a real wino. Roaming through the streets of Angers and danced with the French during its annual Fête de la Musique! Celebrating 4th of July in a French bar with Australian, Chinese, Mexican, Slovenian, French and American friends! Spending Sundays touring the châteaux of the Loire valley, soaking up the sun in Mont-Saint-Michael, St. Malo, and freezing my butt off in Normandy. Week in Brussels hanging with the EU MPs, eating delicious Belgium waffles, and basking in the diverse cultures this EU capital had to offer. Week in Paris – spending quality time alone discovering Picasso, the Louvre, and saw Paris from the top of l’Arc de Triomphe. Amazed at the Bastille Day firework with millions of Parisians, dabbled in the glamour of Champs-Elysées and getting lost in the garden of Versailles. Oh, can’t forget about crowding with tourists from around the world for 8 hours to see Lance Armstrong taking 10 seconds to cross the finish line of the 2005 Tour de France. Finally, accidentally ended up in London after being brought to the wrong airport by Jess, and thus began my love for London.

Returned to London in the fall of 2006 and had the best 4 months of my life. Explored the English countryside each week: Windsor, Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Shakespeare’s house, Cantebury, palace after palace, fun after fun. Weekend trips to Berlin and Dublin with Ashley. 10-day excursion alone to Salzburg, Vienna and Venice. Ballets and operas at the Royal Opera House. Symphonies at the Royal Albert Hall. Birthday spent at the BBC Proms concert in Hyde Park. Daily breakfast in the embassy cafeteria with Jacquelyn. Weekly tea at the Ambassador’s house with Mrs. Ambassador. Endless number of Christmas party hosted by each department in the Embassy. Trade shows in the Docklands. Dinner next to the Thames. Personal late night tour of the City of London during the holiday season by Yuri. Tea with Jacquelyn at the French café in Kensington and roaming through the British Museum. Countless pints of ciders and pies had across bars of Greater London.

I couldn’t get enough of London and visited again during spring break 2007 and returned for the summer. Met Sarah during BUNAC orientation and began our travels through Brighton with the Swedish guy, around London, visiting her village of Aldberry and a rainy day in Oxford. My tiny but wonderful flat in Swiss Cottage with Dave. Our picnics on Primrose Hill and many nights spent after work near Liverpool Street. Charming Sunday roasts in the suburbs of London with Dave’s family. Summer movie at the Somnerset House with Yuri, dinner in Hampstead Heath and Little Venice. The jobs I had at Channel 4, at Euromoney, at Thompson Scientific, etc. Meeting Lisa for dinner near Bond Street and telling her about my constantly changed plan for life. Weekend in Ghent, Belgium with Dave right before returning to the US. That summer, I met great people who are just like me, with a wandering spirit and always ready to share travel stories and be instant best friends.

The travel didn’t stop after returning to the US. Long weekends in D.C. reuniting with Jacquelyn and Steve. Weeklong trip to Boston and New York City with my sister, visiting schools and Laura. Roadtrips to Mizzou to have toffee nut latte and blueberry muffin with Ashley one last time before we both move. Whirlwind trip to Hawaii with the family before heading to Philadelphia and then Cameroon.

Since summer of 2005, I have spent 150 hours on the airplane, and I loved every minute of it. I’ve felt in love, shed tears over the eternal bad timing, made lifelong friends across the globe, and life decisions that led to even crazier life decisions. My mother would say that 150 hours of airplane all came from money, and I would say that 150 hours gave me a lifetime of experience that money simply cannot buy. I look forward to another 150 hours on the airplane that’ll bring me to corners of the world yet visited and people yet met.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Intellectual Stimulation

The past few entries have indeed been a crazy mood swing. Thank you for your kind words and thoughts from around the globe. Sometimes, when things get rough, the loneliness is so severe that it prevents me from feeling and remembering the love and thoughts from far away. 

Things are a lot better today, as I knew they would be. I began teaching this week in the primary school just near my house. Although just the second day, the experience has already been immensely rewarding. I’ve worked alone and in small group setting with kids starting back in my piano-teaching days, then later tutoring and working with inner-city students in St. Louis. This is, however, my first time teaching in a classroom setting. I didn’t think I would like it, but I really quite enjoy the experience. I teach three classes, Form 4 through 6. Each class ranges from 30-40 kids. It reminds me of my primary school days in Taiwan; though the learning condition was much better, the open classroom, wooden furniture and the amazing obedience coming from the children remind me of those strict days of elementary school in Taiwan.

One thing much different from my education in Taiwan is the quality. I am not all that surprised by the students’ level here. The more appalling element is the quality of the teachers. The first day I arrived, I walked around and I am 95% sure I saw a teacher sitting at her desk with her head down, probably sleeping. Today, one of the teachers wasn’t there, so her students just sat there all day. Substitute teachers? What?

I had quite the conversation with the only male teacher there. He repeatedly tells me how difficult it is to teach these students, because it’s a village school. He speaks as though if this were a city school, it would be significantly better. Today, I told him it’s a mentality issue and that if he keeps saying the students here are poor (performance), they’ll never get better. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, the same problem that exists in inner-city schools across the US. He asked me about schools in the US and I told him that poor education quality also exists. I thought of the kids I worked with in St. Louis; the 8th graders that didn’t know their timetable and 6th grader who couldn’t read a storybook with pictures. I only get 30 minutes for each class a day and I will be teaching 3 days a week. The time is so short and really feels like baby steps. I am glad I am getting to know the kids in the neighborhood; they inspire me to come up with new projects, and they are also making me reconsider a PhD – teaching may not be so bad after all.

Aside from teaching, I still have a lot of free time in my hands. This morning, I thought I was suppose to be going to a development meeting in town, but there were some major miscommunication. I never really know what’s going on. Before, I thought it’s the language, but now, I am beginning to think the people here themselves don’t know what’s going on half the time. So with all my free time, I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts. Today I listened to an econ one about externality and subsidies. I never felt like a bigger nerd when Coase and Pigovian theory drew my attention and I laughed out loud at the following joke, “When you walk through the revolving door, are you one who never pushes and instead waiting for the others to push, because you are reaping the positive externality? I know all the economists do.”

In addition, I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts in French just to practice listening. Often, I put them on as background noise even though I don’t understand a thing. I think I am hoping by idling listening to it, I’ll suddenly understand it all one day. The Yale World Fellow stories have been a source of inspiration as well. If you know other good ones, let me know! Suggestions for books, podcasts, etc. are always welcomed! 

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Real Deal

Last night marked one of the worst nights of my Peace Corps service yet. The day started with a group of us going to some lake outside of Bafoussam for picnic. It was the Frenchies, me, Kate and a few Cameroonians. Picnic, sounds idyllic, n’est-ce pas? I thought so, too. Let’s just say it wasn’t quite picnic basket with blanket in Forest Park next to the Grand Basin.

The day started with us meeting at the supermarché in Baf. Eric, one of our Cameroonian friends had arranged for one of his friends to drive us. We waited and waited for almost an hour before the car showed up and we hit the road. Once hitting the road, it is no road-trip, Route 66 style trip to the lake. Instead, it’s a bumpy ride, going through the worst road in Bafoussam and then into the countryside where the roads were so bad we had to get out of the car several times, and the boys had to push the car to get it going. Finally, the roads got so bad that we parked the car and walked for 15 minutes to get to this small pavilion someone had built. It’s obvious that someone had taken the time of day to try to organize this scenic site, but didn’t quite complete the job.

To see the lake, we had to walk down this hill, which was nicely paved complete with steps and rails. Once we get down there, there were some people fishing, and the rain started to come, so we went back up to the pavilion for the picnic. The whole thing was slightly awkward with the strong afternoon rain pouring. Shortly after we started eating, the locals who were fishing or around, started to come in waves to avoid the rain. So we ate, and they watched in this small pavilion. Awkward much? Yes.


We walked back down to the lake and took some pictures, watch people fish for a while, and left. I was in somewhat of a funky mood to begin with, and that whole thing didn’t help. But the best is yet to come. We got back up and started walking since the road was much worse after the rain. We walked perhaps a good 30-40 minutes until we got to a better part of the road to get on the car. But, the car didn’t last more than 10-15 minutes before we were broke down on the side of the road in a small village.

We sat on the side of the road and waited for our taxi and help to come. Then the rain started to come again, so people started getting into the car. Gregoire and I sat in trunk , just like in the movies. But there was nothing amusing about it. My bad mood had worsened and everything felt just a bit off.

The car finally came after god knows how long and we all piled into this tiny taxi and got back to Baf. Then, those of us going back to Batié piled into another car and headed home. I was so ready to come home, take a hot bucket bath, listen to music, get online and talk to friends from home in an attempt to temporarily forget I’m in Africa. However, no such luck. I got home and it was getting dark. The power, of course, was out. And this time, it was out for the entire night. I took a bucket bath using a lamp in my latrine. Then I turned on the computer, and it only had 30 min left of battery power. So after 30 min., I was cut off; in the worst mood ever, and completely alone. All of my electronics except for my telephone, which has little credit left, were dead. I’ve yet been so cut off from technology. I had no idea what to do with myself. Finally, I lit a candle, wrote in my paper journal, which I haven’t written in since arriving in country, in an attempt to write away this bad day, and went to sleep by 8pm.

Last night, I got the real deal, and I really don’t think I could’ve survived Peace Corps back in the days. I love solitude, but not that much.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Unexpected

The events that took place today made my existential crisis of yesterday horribly unnecessary. However, those crises are part of this whole experience. The ability to endure those hard times, having faith the better days will come, is what helps one get through these two years.

I met the agro volunteer in the village near me along with a few other Americans. I haven’t hung out with Americans in a big group in quite some time. Kate has been the only American I’ve spent extended amount of time with, but the dynamic is much different in a group. Besides, the people I saw yesterday are all seasoned volunteers who have been here for a year or more. They instilled a lot of confidence in me, and made me realize that having crisis is natural and it takes time, at least a good 6 months before things feel right. I also met two of their Cameroonian friends who are musicians playing in an event in the village today. I had a nice music chat with them, and they made me feel much better by complementing on my good French (good for being here 4 months). Megan, I got your music hookups in Cameroon when you visit!

When I got back to my village, Antoine paid a visit. He’s the chief of my cartier (neighborhood) but works for Peace Corps in Yaoundé. He’s in town for the long weekend and invited me over tomorrow with the other volunteers, and told me he will take me to a few development meetings in town and introduce me to a few groups. That’s exactly the kind of introduction I need! Really looking forward to it.

After the talk, I walked into town for lunch. It was around the time when kids were getting off school. The young kids only have half day on Fridays. I walked and talked with 4 or 5 little kids who are hilarious. They asked me question after question about random things. So cute. Just right before I reached town, two teachers from the school that I visited this week approached me. I had talked to the principal of the school about teaching English classes in the afternoons a few times a week there. The guy whom approached me must be the guy in charge, and he told me I can start on Monday! That should be interesting!

Anyway, back to lunch. I was hoping the Frenchies would be free to meet for lunch, but they were both busy, so I went alone. I sat at the omelet shack and ordered my usual – two-egg spaghetti omelet with demi-pain (half of a baguette). Just as I was waiting for my order, this guy came up and started talking to me. Turns out, he is a part of the development team who is going around the villages in the area, working with locals to carry out development plans. Fabulous! My French kind of stuck when we started talking technical, so he switched to English. We exchanged contact information and then he invited me for the afternoon meeting. I showed up and saw many familiar faces that I run into frequently in town. It was fascinating to see the meeting. This has been the 5th day that they meetings have gone on. I read the charts that are pasted all around the wall, and it looks exactly like the PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action) tool I have learned in training. The more exciting thing is that now I know who are the motivated individuals in town! The meetings will continue next week, and I will partake in part of it!

So things on the work front seem to be turning around. Life is such in the Peace Corps. There are days when I feel like I am purely wasting time here and then there are days where I made many connections in one day. Patience. It takes a lot of it here. Now I need to channel that same energy into dealing with vast amount of free time. Today, I craved calling people up and meet for coffee at Starbucks. The closest thing to that is calling the French and asks them over, but they were busy today. What limited option. And there I was thinking calling my list of people in my phone book for coffee and no one answers was limited option.

Emily, the agro volunteer whom I visited, said to me about her visit home this summer. She said that it wasn’t hard to come back because she realized nothing had changed over a year. People may have changed jobs, but they were more or less doing the exact same things that they were doing before she left. That in and of itself, made me glad to be where I am, regardless how hard things can be and how much I miss a non-fat, extra-foam, toffee-nut latte from Starbucks with a blueberry muffin. That latte and muffin will still be there (hopefully) in two years, but I can't just live in Cameroon when I want.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Globalisation 3.0

What do you do when you are having a bad day? Some go out partying, drink their souls away. Some sits at home with a tub of ice cream and watches sappy movies all day. Me? I came home and watched an hour and 15 minutes of MIT lecture that I had downloaded from ITunes University a while ago, where Thomas Friedman gave a lecture about his book, The World is Flat.

I am ashamed to admit that I have yet read the book, though it is currently sitting on my bookshelf and I hope to get to it within the next few days. I feel where I am right now helped me to relate and understand this lecture much more than I would have just 4 months ago as an undergraduate student in St. Louis. Friedman talked about the three period of globalization and that we are now in Globalization 3.0 where the individuals, not countries or companies, are becoming global. I very much relate to that just by my own experiences; places I’ve visited, people I’ve encountered, etc.

Friedman went on talking about the 10 flatteners that cause the world to be flat; those include outsourcing, insourcing, steroids (wireless technology), offshoring, supply chaining, etc. He talked about the phenomenon during the Dot.com era, when Lucent, Nortel and other companies that pumped in over $1 trillion investment in fiber optic cable, which are “the gift that keeps on giving”. I especially love when he said his parents always told him, “finish your dinner, kids in China and India are starving” but now he tells his kids, “finish your homework, kids in China and India are starving for your jobs.”

All the while, I found how ironic and how little any of this “flatness” related to my life here in Cameroon, West Africa. Just before I got home, I was visiting another GIC in the neighboring village. Visiting GICs essentially consists of going into the fields and make sure the farmers who are requesting credits from the bank have a legit crop-earning farm. Going on these trips always feels like some sort of extreme-sport. Today, I didn’t know we were going on a visit, so I wore a skirt, totally ill prepared. I side-saddled on a moto as we were going up and down these ridiculous bumpy and narrow hills where grass and other plants were hitting my legs. We got to this house that sits on top of the hill after winding through many narrow paths. The house is made of brick and mud and hasn’t been cemented. There were corn on the ground and kids around the age of 3 or 4 running around, along with the chickens. There were faint smells of wood burning coming from the kitchen. I was amazed both at the simplicity of this house/family and the breathtaking view just behind the house.

Coming back from that, listening to a lecture about globalization and fiber optic cables, I wondered, why didn’t those cables made its way here? The question of how Africa plays into this picture of the flatten world was on my mind during the entire lecture. Thankfully, during the Q&A session, one of the MIT students asked just that. While there is no crazy information sharing, wireless technology, etc, globalization does exist here in Africa. All the motos that I ride everyday are Chinese. I’ve yet seen a non-Chinese moto. The fridge I bought last week is Chinese. All the cars that exist here in Cameroon are imported. In fact, most things here are imported because they don’t manufacture anything here. Globalization is happening even in Africa, just not to the extent that it is occurring elsewhere in the world. Friedman talked about an interesting point regarding anti-poverty. He said that governance is the key to any anti-poverty programs, which makes me think about how difficult my job is as a development worker in a country that is so corrupted. I had a discussion with someone once about why Cameroon doesn’t manufacture its own things. The answer given was that the government gives investors so much trouble about opening up factories that it’s just easier to import. It’s hard to carry out bottom-up approach work when the problem is top-down.

The world may be flat in most part of this planet, but it is not quite as flat here in Cameroon and I imagine other African nations as well. The rapid flatness of the world elsewhere, I think, is brining greater disparity between developing nations like Cameroon and the developed world. Take volunteers for example, I grew up in the world of technology. I barely remember life before the Internet, before having all the information in the world at my fingertip. And I have no idea what it’s like to never meet a person of different ethnic or national origin than me. I come here and I am supposed to transfer these so called skills of mine to people here. But my skills really consist of going to Google and look things up when I don’t know something. My SKILLS are the ability to look things up on Google, on Wikipedia, and the World Wide Web. How in the world am I supposed to transfer that when people barely have electricity, much less a computer or even Internet? I would imagine it’s slightly easier for volunteers to relate even just 10 years ago, where Internet and information sharing was not an integral part of life.

For example, I want to start a library club, but I honestly can’t tell you exactly how a library runs before the age of computer. I think it involves cards and stamps? I just remember looking things up on the library intra-web when I need a book or article. The disconnect is much greater and more rapid as the developed world gets more flattened and the rest not. I am pretty sure the family I visited today is still in Globalization 1.0, where the country is trading with other countries, but they as a family is not even slightly affected by the flat world out there.

Existential Crisis

Recently, I went through old journal entries to recall my thoughts and feelings before coming into the Peace Corps. I had repeatedly worried that I would wake up one day in July and ask myself just exactly what the heck I am doing in Africa. That day never came, at least not until today, nearly middle of October.

I’ve been hanging out with the two French volunteers and their Cameroonian friends quite a bit recently. They’ve become my new support network. And then it daunt on me today. In a few months, they will be gone, and I am left alone and will need to start over and build a new network of support. In the past few months, life has been nonstop excitement with meeting new people, experiencing new things, and living each day not knowing what’ll happen. While the unknown is exciting, and I’ve become quite accustom to dealing with rapid changes, I also see all these to be horribly exhausting in a few months’ time.

Thoughts as such tend to have a sort of domino effect. I worry about having to make new friends and build new support, and then I start to worry about what if I can’t make any Cameroonian friends whom can understand me. Let’s face it, the culture difference is so vast that even the Frenchies and I have conversations about the “great mystery of Cameroonians” that we’ll never understand. Then I worry what if my French never improve to the standards that I hope. To be honest, I may be holding my standards a bit too high. It’s probably unrealistic to hope that I will be able to speak French the way I speak English. In relation to language, I worry about if I’ll ever be able to get real projects off the ground. I flip through my toolkit everyday that encloses a great deal of information, but most of them involve being able to speak French rather well.

Time passes quickly. It’s already middle of October. What if I wave through the next two years as I did the past few months? What will I tell people in my next job interview just exactly what I did for two years in Cameroon? These concerns may be premature, but they are very real. No two Peace Corps experiences are the same. That’s marvelous, but also frightening. I am beginning to feel that lost sense of direction. I don’t have a syllabus to follow. I can sit in my house all day and read English novels, eat American food and listen to western music without stepping into reality, and no one would say a thing. It’s liberating, and scary.

I live amidst such dichotomy. On the one hand, I absolutely love the freedom to enjoy life as I please; but on the other, my workaholic nature is driving me up the wall. Yesterday, Juliete said, “you need to learn to do nothing, like me.” That’s when I realize where all the antsy feelings are stemming from. I can’t just “do nothing”. I’ve been running everyday, baking, cooking, cleaning, reading, etc. But I still feel restless. Then I realized that all these things that I do to fill up my time were considered “time fillers” in my life in the US. I did all those things when I wanted to procrastinate from real work. I cooked and went to the gym so I could delay an hour at the library. I did laundry so I could put off figuring out the capital structure of a firm or learning the Pigovian theory. But now, time fillers have become my life; I have no substantial work to speak of. And it is weird.

I am in no means regretting or think this is a colossal mistake. I just need to find balance and well, chill out. Two years is a long time; but it’s not. I only have 22 months left. That’s just a little over 5 times what I’ve done. Again, that contrast between having too much time to do nothing and not having enough to get work done is causing substantial stress. And thus, begins my quarter-life crisis (3 years too early).

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Efficiency? Quoi?

Time flies when you are having fun! Can’t believe it’s already October! I continue to love my village, meeting new people every day, getting wonderful support from my Chinese and French friends, meanwhile learning to tame my temper with quirky Cameroonian behaviors.

The latest of my bad temper towards Cameroonians occurred a few days ago when I was at the bank attempting to withdraw cash. I don’t recall the last time I had put so much energy into getting $80 out of my checking account. Usually, it doesn’t ever phase me to drive-thru the ATM and withdraw the money with a nice little plastic VISA check card. The whole process takes 5 minutes and I do it on my way to things. Here though, taking $80 out took up my entire day.

I got to the bank at 2pm and it closes at 3. I though, an hour is plenty of time even if there is a line – WRONG. I got there and there was a line probably 15 people deep, which, in US standards, would still move relatively fast. However, not only is there only one cashier working, the system of “standing-in-line” apparently works very differently. I was not informed that it is okay to leave the line for 20 minutes or even longer, and then can still come back and reclaim your spot. The line was moving slow as it was, and at 2:45, at least 5 people somehow came in various spots of the line in front of me. At this point, I attempted to argue with guy who came right in front of me to “reclaim his spot”. Then I realize it’s useless to explain logic and try to correct this social norm. Instead, I turned around, outraged, and left the bank.

When there is a roomful of Cameroonians, it’s not too difficult to draw attention when the only white girl (I know I am Asian, but they think I am white) gets mad and leaves. I get a call 5 minutes later from a bank employee whom had opened my account for me (one that took 3 hours). He said to come back in the morning and go see him. I did just that, and this time, I got my money in 15 minutes. The guy filled out a form and then took me down to the vault and I got my money, just like that. I am pretty sure this smooth process occurred because a.) I am white/Asian, b.) I am with Peace Corps and they get plenty of PCVs who bank there and c.) I am American. While it was great for me that I cut through at least 30 people and got my money, it made me realized just how much the phrase “life is unfair” means in this country. It’s a sad reality.

My frustrations with Cameroonian ways of things usually seize to exist when I return to my village. Last night, I held a multi-national fête at my house. My French friends had found someone who will be gardening for me. So we decided to invite them for BBQ. At the party, there were 3 Cameroonians, 2 Americans, and 3 French. Good times. Cameroonians love to dance and will dance to any upbeat music. When you are with Cameroonians, there is no need for a dance club; my living room is a dance club!

Other great things about Cameroonians is that while they love to ask you if you’ve kept something for them from your trip, even if it’s to the provincial capital, they also love to share. Immanuel, the teacher who invited me to the ceremony a few weeks ago, stopped by my house yesterday and gave me a big bag of yam and prunes, just because.

In other news, my house is slowly turning into posh corps. This past week, I made several major purchases, including a HP printer! I am tired of sacrificing the superb designs/fonts of my Mac when printing out flyers or other materials on an old PC computer. This little dandy printer should increase my efficiency as a volunteer! While a printer is somewhat legit, the fridge, blender and coffee maker were definite luxury purchases. I bought a small fridge that’s much similar to the fridge I had in college, maybe slightly larger. When I fridge shopped in college, I simply went to Target, put one in the shopping cart, paid with my credit card, wheeled it to my car, loaded in the trunk, and went home. Here, I walked through a street that sells appliances. Open and check out various fridges, then haggle for the prices. When I finally found one that’s new and decently priced, I then had to plug it in, try it out first in the store. Then, I paid for the fridge, hired a guy who would wheeled the fridge to my Chinese friend’s house, and then had someone drive it to my village. Seriously? Seriously.


Getting used to life here is a process. Just when I feel like this life seems to be very comfortable as though I’ve been living it all along, things happen that are so foreign remind me that I am indeed new to this life. I may go through this next two years and still at the end of it find things that knock the wind out of me with its foreigness. On the other hand, there are definite perks about this life. Today, I sat in my living room and listened to an entire Beethoven sonata, with all of the movements. During this half an hour, I listened without distraction; I listened intently thinking of all the musical qualities I onced learned in music theory classes. The only other thing I was doing besides listening was drinking tea. I don't recall the last time I had the luxury of doing that. If I did, it was probably either high school or freshman year of college when I was listening so I could play better. Life here allows me to indulge such simple life pleasures.