Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sans Electricity? Sans Problem!

I cannot lament enough how wonderful technology is! This past week was long, and there were moments when I thought, "what in the world am I doing here?" "Why did I give up hot shower/microwave/all forms of modern conveniences to learn a 4th language and to live in this outrageous place?" This is a wild place and despite my lovely fellow trainees, I crave bits of familiarity in my life. Thankfully, Bluetooth gave me that. Today, I talked to Mom, Megan and Laura. These conversations filled the cravings and now I have the energy to go on facing another challenging week! While talking to Laura, both the power and water was out at the house. Yet, I was iChatting on my pre-charged MacBook and my mobile phone was charging via a pre-charged solar powered battery. Laura, who's been living in New York, said, "this is wonderful! It's like you never left!"

On Friday, we were given our assigned companies whom we will advise while in training. I met with my counterpart and visited the establishments. My entrepreneur is probably in his mid-30s and owns a dry cleaner and a small shop that sells random items from suitcase to DVD players to fake flowers. We chatted for a while, and tomorrow I will return for a formal meeting. I am amazed at how much French I can come up with. There are times when I can't describe a simple need to my host mom yet other times like conversing to this guy and finding out he studied mathematics in college, came from a town west of Baffousam, lived in lots of places in Cameroon, doesn't like the big cities, but sees potential in Bangangté. Also he doesn't have a formal system in what items he sells at the store and that he spends most of his time at the dry cleaner since there are more work to be done. Sometimes I get anxious thinking about getting my French up to par but then I remember there was a time when my English was worse than my cousin Karen's Chinese. Then I feel better.

Here in the Peace Corps, we certainly are not all work no play. For safety reasons, our curfew is 7pm. Okay, that sounds absurd, but when the roads aren't paved and it's literally pitch black outside, 7pm curfew prevents me from falling into death traps. We've had the curfew extended twice over the past two weekends. I have a feeling someone will find some reason to get it extended at least once per weekend. The first weekend, we partied for party's sake. But this past Friday, we had two birthdays to celebrate. Someone came up with this idea to make Enchiladas for 45 people. To spice things ups, power went out that night. The picture below doesn't justify the scene since my camera has a killer flash, but I think it portraits the creativity that is required to cook semi-familiar food in developing countries.
Using beer bottles as rolling pins

Drinking wine from tupperwear

Siobhan's banana pancakes & syrup from her Vermont hometown!

You got shots in the USA? We got sachés!


I am concluding my 3rd week in-country! I am starting to feel more settled, and started having moments when I thought, "omg, what am I doing? I am suppose to live this for TWO YEARS?" People in this group are really great and I am getting quite comfortable with this solid support group. It's slightly terrifying to think that in 43 days (thanks Siobhan, for the countdown) we will be going separate ways and I am suppose to do another adjustment to yet another new place, new community, new people, and possibly another language. whoa.

I know I am still in training, but I am getting a few project ideas rolling. With StudioSTL, I am hoping to start a pen-pal program and perhaps publish some of these culture exchanges into a book for StudioSTL. My interaction with Babette, my host sister, inspired me. She's really eager to learn English and was very curious about various aspect of the American culture. I showed her the anthology that StudioSTL had published and she asked why the students were mostly African-Americans. That was my first-step in fulfilling Goal 2 of Peace Corps. I am hoping to get a pilot pen-pal program going and then fully develop the idea when I get to post.

Another idea came to mind when I was suffering at the Internet cafés these past few weeks. Technology and the sharing of information is extremely important to me. (Bad) habits die hard, and that explained my obsession with trying to get my computer connected to the Internet via bluetooth. I already feel my knowledge acquisition is greatly limited because of the lack of access to the world wide web. Learning French is that much more difficult without Between me and other PCTs, we must say, "I wish I have the Internet to wiki this." at least 5 times a day.

My Mac is nearly obsolete without high-speed Internet. It's hard for me to fathom that less than 10 years ago, dial-up was the norm in the U.S. It is, unfortunately, the norm here. People don't have land-lines here and the phone company is monopolized by Camtel. There are only two cellular providers here, Orange and MTN. Last year, they were the most profitable companies in Cameroon. You can imagine why. I think it's wildly bizarre that people have really nice mobile phone here (they are no iPhones, but definitely many with bluetooth technology), yet the computers at the cyber café are "Y2K compatible". Seriously?! Y2K?! These dinosaur computers have Windows XP on them. Obviously, people aren't realizing that just because you load a spanking new operating system does not mean the computer speeds up...

Anyway, that was a really long-winded way to say that I want to find a way to get technology here. The desires to learn and the needs certainly exist. I raised the question today in tech training, and was told that there are many organizations that donate obsolete computers from the industrialized world. However, a lot of them are pure junk and don't necessarily work. People here have no idea how to fix it. So then I think, "it's probably easier to raise money and by $300 Dells than getting crappy old junk." But, virus is a big problem here. The wheels in my head then turn and think, "maybe Steve Jobs would make something simple for Africa."

I feel something like this exists already, with that laptop initiative in Asia and elsewhere. Since I am currently stuck with dial-up Internet, I will love whomever that does a little research to let me know what exists out there, in terms of getting technology to developing countries! Merci beaucoup!

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Here are a few pictures that illustrates my life here:

My host sister Babette & moi.

Our French Classroom - It's a legit shack.

We serving as guests of honor at an awards ceremony in Bafoussam.

This is what doing laundry in Cameroon looks like.

You are in Peace Corps Cameroon PST when...

  • 38 people applaud for bite-sized Snickers bars
  • eating burnt cow-corn for snack, loaded in salt
  • fresh milk, cheese, pop-tarts, pizza, hamburger, olive oil, etc. become pure delicacy
  • getting creative with your food, making every combination imaginable of eggs, tomato, avocado, Laughing-Cow-Cheese, and baguettes
  • glad the person waking up with cockroach on the face or mice tickling their feet wasn't you
  • getting curfew extended to 9pm is heaven on earth
  • playing football (soccer) coated in slimy red mud is highlight of the week
  • you spend 95% of your free time at Chez Pierre's

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Thank you, Bluetooth!

Apology is hereby extended for my lack of updates last week. I spent the better part of the week attempting to connect my Macbook to the Internet via the cell phone. With Bluetooth technology, someone else in the group found a way to connect. I had quite the trouble, but at last, I figured it out. As to not bore you to death, I will spare all the tedious, totally geeky detail about what I went through to get the connection. The important thing is, I am connected. The connection is poor – dial-up speed at best. However, it’s been wonderful able to check my email at the leisure of my home and chatting to my dear friends on iChat. I will also be able to talk to people via Skype! Technology is a wonderful thing!

I made a list of things I’d like to write about from the past week, so those will be in the coming entries. Also, I’ve updated the things I now would love to have. I am not in dire need of anything, but I’ve never had such desire for so many simple things in life. Case in point: I never was a fan of Pringles. I would eat them, but I never loved them. Last week, one of the trainers for SED brought two cans for us to share. They were BBQ and sour cream onion flavors. Pringles never tasted so good and I could not get enough of them! The moral of this paragraph: if you love me and is wondering what to stuff in that care package you were about to send me, check the what to send list!

Tonight, I experienced what “eating out” consists of in Banganté. My host parents walked me into town, which I haven’t done since it is ridiculously dark here at night. We had to stop by someone’s house first; it was raining and therefore muddy. My host mom was walking with a flashlight (my hand crank one that everyone here loves) to make sure I don’t slip in the mud. The slow walking improved when we reached the paved roads.

We reached the busy part of the town in search for food. Now, when I say busy, I am not talking New York City Time Square. Busy simply means there are actually cars and (some) people around. I was under the impression that we were going to a restaurant, but was wondering where since I haven’t seen a legit one yet. When we stopped by a stand outside of a bar looking place, I realized what was happening. The lady was grilling fish at the stand, so my host mom ordered 3 plates. We went into the bar and had drinks. For the record, I had ginger ale. The beer here is no joke – they are HUGE. Whilst waiting for food, I realized there would likely be no utensils. My host parents eat with their hand a lot, but always gave me a fork. It was then I realized that I am about to convene my first meal with my fingers. Now, that’s all the violations again what was advised by the PCMO (PC medical officer).

When the food came, the lady brought us a small basket of water to wash hands with. That was more than I expected. So far so good. The grilled fish was delicious, much like the one my host mom had made for me. The fish was served with cassava; that, I am not so sure about. It looks and has the consistency of rubber and doesn’t have much taste. Although it was served with some killing pepper sauce! I dominated the fish in its entirety, even the eyes (Sherry, that one is for you). Never have I been more glad that I lived in Taiwan and ate street food of every kind for the first 12 years of my life. Otherwise, I would probably be sick right now.

Things are getting into a nice routine. No one in our group ETed (Early Terminated) yet, so that’s good. Last year, 3 had left by now. I washed my clothes for the 2nd time yesterday and my host sister even complimented on how well I did. (Thanks mom, for making me wash my shoes, and also washing clothes by hand at grandma’s.) The only thing I have to complain is the lack of balanced diet. We eat so much carbs and starch here. Most of my meals consist of a variation of beans, potatoes, (usually stale) baguettes, and sometimes rice. Oh, and eggs. I’ve been fed more omelets than ever. Spaghetti omelet is one of my favorite meals thus far. I have established myself as a light-eater. My host mom continuously says, “tu ne mange pas beaucoup”. (you don’t eat much) So, mom, don’t worry; eating a lot of carbs and starch is not going to make me fat. I am in Africa. I’ve also started running. I promise to not come back fat. :)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Very Bumpy Road

It’s a Saturday, but since we are on Cameroonian schedule, we have half day of language lessons. The last time I had to go to school on a Saturday was in 10 years ago in Taiwan. Oh, half-day-Saturdays, how I do not miss thee.

After language lessons, the ED people were invited to a ceremony at a school in Bafousmann and the SED people were welcomed. Several of us went and it was oh so very interesting. There were tons and tons of students in their khaki color uniforms. The ceremony was to recognize many (MANY) outstanding students. It went on for hours. The temperature was HOT and we had no idea what was going on most of the time. At some point, we were all invited up to present an award to different students. The entire thing was rather awkward. To top it off, the road getting to the school were – terrible. People often utter the words, “oh, it’s a bumpby ride.” Today, I experienced what that saying literally means.

Imagine sitting in a not so fabulous fan that is making its way through rather narrow, non-paved mud roads, with vendors on both sides of streets and motorbikes and small cars snaking in and out of traffic. Now, imagine holes on the road so big that the term “pot-hole” is simply insufficient. Each of the holes looks more like craters. In fact, there isn’t much smooth surface at all on these roads. The driver, in an attempt to avoid the craters, was snaking left and right. Whichever way you drive that road, people are bound to get motion sickness. The jeep was going less than 5 miles an hour for a good 30 minutes or longer. While this road condition comprises only a portion of the journey, it feels like infinity. I will never again complain about a few potholes and slight few bumps on U.S. roads – at least they are paved.

When we got back to training site, I went over to Courtney’s house and met the kids at her compound. I am in love with them already and that worsen the disappointment that I don’t have any kids at my house. Sophie’s younger brother and sister are here tonight; the sister will be staying a week. They are both my age and speak better English than Sophie, so it’s a lot easier when I stumble over French words. The sister is very eager to learn English. Our level of each other’s perspective language is approximately the same, so that makes this learning exchange very easy. I’ve already picked up a ton of French tonight alone, talking to the two of them. I’m looking forward to her stay this week!

I’ve never in my life felt more like a spoiled brat than I do these days. My conversations with these young people my age make me feel sickly over-privileged, absolutely incompetent, and all around a not-so-productive human being who can’t cook, can’t do laundry by hand (not well, at least), never had cold shower until 2 days ago, never worked on a farm, never understood what it’s like to have water and electricity that cut out randomly. Apart from the language barrier, I can bet these two know more about the world than me, who’s had 4 years of very expensive education. They are both older than me, but are just now completing high school and will enter universities next year. There is a lot to be said to grow up in a developing country. I couldn’t believe the maturity in the two little boys who live with Courtney. They are so tiny for their age, both 13. Yet they were so smart; speaking a lot of English for that young age and really helping us with our French. They also took us to the market, and served as our “protectors” – signaling us to watch for crazy motorbikes and get out of people’s ways. They have such respect for elders and are incredibly well behaved. Obviously not every kid growing up in Cameroon is that way, but I surely am impressed. So many important things about life are being lost in the information age – how sad.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Grilled Fish & Cold Shower

The ridiculous yet absolutely amazing-ness continues.

Right now, I am writing from my bed, underneath my lovely mosquito net (I see why people get addicted and can’t sleep without it). The room is dark and lit only by my hand-cranked lamp and pre-charged mackbook because the electricity keeps cutting out since it’s raining/thundering. It’s raining season here in Banganté and I experienced the mud in all its glory today when walking home after an unforgiving afternoon rain. The rain is actually quite nice, so far. Ask me again in 5 days when I’m coated in red mud and can’t get rid of them no matter what I do. Anyway, I constantly find myself in this strange mix of past and future. All of my surrounding screams past, yet in the midst of electricity cut, I am listening to iPod and typing on a Macbook. It’s too weird.

The past is represented by many things, one of which that occurred today was my dinner. After school, I walked home with Allen since he lives near me and his family person came to pick him up. My (host) mom was supposed to, but she forgot the time while preparing a meal so I missed her. I saw her just as I got near the house. Once we got back, I changed and sat in the kitchen with her. I attempted to learn the ways of Cameroonian cuisine meanwhile passed some of the excessive free time on my hands. Don’t get me wrong; the PC packs our schedule plenty full. I’m up everyday by 6am; however, this is cake compare to my frequent 15-hr-long-day semester. Even if I go to bed at midnight, I am still getting a solid 6 hrs every night. What luxury! This morning, we had a session to discuss everyone’s first night at homestay. There were many complaints about being tired and not getting to bed until 10pm. I can’t say I relate, but not everyone was on a marathon race to the finish line prior to this experience. Many had taken weeks even months off and had a very leisured time preparing. While many are feeling overwhelmed, I am fully enjoying some much desired free time!

Aaack! Totally side-tracked; back to cooking. Our kitchen is attached to the house, but not within. Next to the house is a drive-way-esque place and then the kitchen attached. Sophie (my host mom) had a pot of coal burning, preparing to grill some fish. I sat and watched her as another wave of rain poured. I helped cutting up some plantains for frying. Sophie is very eager to teach me many Cameroonian dishes so I won’t starve at Post. I must note that fresh fried plantains are pretty darn awesome. We conversed about various things and I had my dictionary with me for times of “je ne comprend pas”. I think my French is worse than my English was 10 years ago, but then again I am 10 yrs older and the level of vocabulary and topic of conversation is 10 yrs more difficult. Anyhow, I really enjoyed that time and thought about just again how surreal everything is. I am 21 and sitting in Africa grilling fish over a pot of coal with one of the kindest people I’ve met, talking (poorly) in my 4th language, eating plantains and enjoying the rain. Life is good.

The easygoing life has some downsides. The electricity cut from the rain began at the most untimely point of the evening. I was taking my 2nd cold shower of the stay, feeling proud to have figure out the key to surviving the coldness, even shaving my leg (not going to be a typical PCV), all was going well then suddenly – darkness. The room was so pitch black that I for a second saw what a blind person sees (maybe). I was standing there, completely lathered in soap, razor in hand, thinking, “This is so ridiculous. I love it.” A few minutes went by, the light didn’t come back on. My eyes were adjusting to the darkness; so I started pouring some water from the bucket to my leg meanwhile begin to strategize the next move. I stood in complete silence and utter darkness for what felt like half an hour (probably only 5 minutes), and then the light came back on. Phew! Lesson learned: bring hand-crank lamp to shower if it’s raining outside.

(trick to cold shower: tilt head down to shampoo/rinse without water touching body, then wet arms and legs without touching the part of body between shoulder and thigh. Use a loofa – yes a loofa. Sherry: good thing I didn’t listen to your advice of “who uses a loofa in Africa?”Anyway, lather up the loofa and then soap the entire body. The mid-part of the body that hasn’t been wet can adjust to the temp of the soap, which is much less harsh than the cold water. All done? Rinse, et c’est fini!)

The electricity cut again later that evening while I was in the living room with my host parents. Sophie lit a candle and we chatted by the candlelight for a while. That was so nice. I am back in the simpler times, finding many precious joys in life. Maybe instead of spending $250 an hour on psychiatrist, busy Americans can take a vacation to somewhere sans electricity/Internet. Just an idea.

Anyway, so tired now. Talked to my mama for ½ hr on the phone; hopefully her phone bill next month won’t be $300. I do miss people from home. Send me emails! :)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Real Cameroonian Life

Phew! I survived my first day at the homestay. I’m currently writing from my new room, sitting on a full size bed, under a mosquito net. The last time I slept under a mosquito net was when I slept in my grandmother’s room circa 1995 or perhaps earlier. This is a strange experience. My entire day reminded me an awful lot of my time spent at Grandma Lee’s.

Let me back up the story to when the journey began. This morning, all 38 of us plus various trainers piled into two vans and headed to our training community. Along the way, we experienced people attempting to sell us items of all kinds when the van is stopped for one reason or another. The list of items include but not limited to: bags of peanuts, pineapples, bread, live chicken, dead chicken, dead monkeys, variety of biscuits/cookies, packets of tissue, etc.

When we arrived to our training site, our host families were waiting. The PC homestay coordinator read off pairs of family and volunteer; off we went. While still in Yaoundé, we received a bit of information about our host families. I was a bit disappointed since my family has only one child. Both of the parents are teachers. My host mom, Sophie, is really kind and had hosted 2 other PCTs before. I was really quite confused with the family setup though. Sophie picked me up with two girls around my age. They helped me with my luggage and we walked the awesome red-dirt “roads” (more like paths) to the house. I don’t know how I will ever learn how to get to PC offices by myself since the paths don’t have names. They are just random roads with corns and other plants along the way.

We got to the house and it looks really gigantic from the outside, but later I learned the family only occupies the ground floor. The four of us sat in the living room and chatted. I then learned the two girls are Sophie’s students. I asked her if she has kids, she said no. So I thought maybe PC made a mistake. She also didn’t make mention of her husband, so I thought she must be a teacher that was assigned to this village. That’s the only reason Cameroonian women would live alone. It took me until this evening to find out Sophie has no kids of her own, but her husband had a kid from his previous marriage. His last wife had passed. I still haven’t met the husband; I think he was away at work, or something. I can’t quite figure it out. The kid is also away? But will be back? Also unsure.

Sophie spoke French to me all afternoon when there were others around, since most don’t really know English. We visited the family of one of the girls, who came along to help with luggage, and I saw how “real” Cameroonians live. The family has 5 kids and we walked through a small alley to the back of the house. There was a small “courtyard”, or more like a 6x6ft space. The mom was busily cooking in the kitchen, the kids got a bamboo/wood weaved stool for me & Sophie to sit. I sat there and smelled the wood- burning stove. Behind me was a room where two men were chatting; a veil of mosquito net covered the doorway. On the ground were buckets where the women would do the washing. As I was sitting there and people around me were blabbing away in a language I couldn’t understand, for a moment I felt like I was back in Pin-tong, at Grandma Lee’s house where the similar setting existed and people spoke Hakka.

Later, we went to the front of the house, in a little awning where the mom was making these donut-like things. The kids would come out and visit me in no particular order, as did the neighbors. It seemed to me that the mom was selling those donut-like things. It was a really interesting community experience. I really feel like I’m in a movie. I didn’t really know what’s going on since I mainly judge the interaction base on body language. Every now and again people will direct a question at me; sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t. But I seem to give people a good laugh each time. One particular little kid in that family speaks a bit better English and he was trying to teach me and be my go-between. I hope this kid that is supposed to be in this house comes back; I want kids!! Oh, I also tried some of those donuts things (3 to be exact), some beans, and this creamy drink thing made out of corn paste. I am 98% sure that the preparation of those foods did not follow the health and safety training from PC. We’ll see if I get sick. I am hoping 12 years of eating street food of every kind had given me a somewhat stronger stomach. Many other trainees have already caught sickness, and it’s only been a week!! Yikes.

Alright, sleep time. This next 11 weeks will be o-so-interesting.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

La Japonise!

Today, I had those favorite moments of mine where I felt like I was in a movie, and everything was absolutely surreal. After training, the two hosting PCVs took a few of us to the market. We walked approximately 10 minutes down the busy main street to get there. The market was amazingly exotic yet familiar all at the same time. The stands were located on mud grounds (red mud, by the way) and really closed to each other. The things what were sold are completely random but they reminded me of Taiwan. While we were walking down the main road, we walked by various food stands that were selling for the large number of cab drivers; the variety ranged from grilled corn to baked sweet potatoes (whole potatoes), to peanuts with shells (dad, you would love these). When I smelled that sweet potato, I felt like I was 10 years old again. I will have to buy one of those before too soon. It’s street food, but it can be peeled! Hurray!

The market was huge and it was really amazing. I got a piece of true life of the locals in this capital city. The size of this market was grand and there were stands in narrow alleyways on bumpy grounds. My friend referred to shopping at the market as an “adventure sport”. I was on a hunt for my first Kabba, a traditional dress that Cameroonian women wear. After trying on different ones and then haggling with the guy who sold them, I walked away with an ultra cute dress that cost 2,500 CFA (about $5). This was my first bargaining experience. I did fairly well considering, and especially in English. I think it also helped that my friend had also bought one from him while I was still deciding. Oh, the decision process was also hilarious in that 3 guys and only 1 girl were there to give me advice, making sure the Kabba was not only cute but meet Peace Corps non-risqué standards.

After spending nearly two hours at the market, we walked back to the PC office. The giant grey clouds started spitting some rain as we walked. The time was about 5:30pm and the traffic was even crazier then usual, with exhaust fumes looming the air. Just before we got to the office, the dark clouds couldn’t hold it anymore and began an unkind downpour. Luckily, we were near a small building with a shade, so we ducked under there. It was quite the scene seeing the locals ducking from rain, covering their heads, but all the while going on about their businesses. I stood underneath this awning with a good dozen or two Cameroonians, seeing the bustling traffic on the main road, and the lady next to me was sitting on a stool grilling corn for sale. The entire thing was surreal.

Oh, during our cross-culture training session today, we talked about how Cameroonians often call out to Americans, often by their color. La Blanche for the whites, La Chinoise for the Asians, and apparently the word for coconut for the African-Americans (brown in the outside, white in the inside). I hadn’t really notice the catcalls and remarks since I am not really paying attention or comprehending French that well. But today, my friend pointed out that someone just called me Japanese, so I began perking my ears, and sure enough, a while later, I heard someone calling me, “La Japonise!” It’s pretty hilarious that they didn’t follow the usual stereotype and instead calling me something I am not.

Steep Learning Curve

I wanted to write a bit about the training and how impressed I am with the Peace Corps, so far. This morning we received our language interview result. I was placed in Intermediate Low. The system is based on the ACTFL guidelines, splitting into four major groups: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Superior. Within Novice, Intermediate and Advance, the levels are further broken into low, mid, and high. I was quite pleased with my placement. Trainees must reach the Intermediate Mid level for posts in Anglophone parts of the country and Intermediate High level for francophone posts. I absolutely want to have a francophone posts, and this means I only need to advance two more levels to meet the requirement. I have a feeling this language training will be so intense and amazing. We were issue FIVE French books today. I have never had five books for class of ANY kind. The language classes are broken into groups of 1-4 people. 1-4? There are 38 of us. That’s at least 10 groups; therefore 10 language trainers that Peace Corps had to hire. I am impressed on that measure alone.

After language, we had the first SED tech session. SED stands for Small Enterprise Development, the program that I was assigned as a volunteer. Like all other governmental agencies, there are so many acronyms in the Peace Corps world. I may type up a glossary for you frequent readers when I am really bored in the future. I am excited about all the things I will learn in my technical training sessions (27 in total!). The topic covered is really comprehensive, ranging from basic business principles in finance, marketing, accounting in the context of Cameroonian business culture, to the Peace Corps approach to development, microfinance organizations, etc. During training in Banganté, we will each be assigned to a local counterpart and have hands on experience in consulting a local business. So great!

Other aspects of training are more house-keeping related, covering many issues relating to healthy, safety, etc. Those are less exciting and something really common-sense. Tomorrow we head to our homestay families, and a new stage of adventure begins. My French is going to get SO GOOD. Imagine me 3 years from now in Paris, people will look at me funny because I will be this Asian person from the USA speaking Cameroonian French. Sweetness.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New Ideas!

I feel energized by the conversations that took place this evening among other PCTs. This is one of last free evenings together; starting Thursday, we will be disbursed among host families after training hours. The great conversation began at dinner when the young married couple, Thryn & Gavin discussed a great business idea to me pertaining to non-profits. I told them about my experience with StudioSTL in developing business plan and the social entrepreneurship competition. The conversation went on when the group moved to the porch/balcony area of our hotel. The two are innovative young artists seeking to integrate current social movements with their artworks. The conversation began with their great idea, and then me giving a small revenue-generating tip to keep the idea sustainable, then to a further elaboration of their idea and where they hope the project to grow. Among other things, we talked about social evolution (we noticed the large group was migrating into smaller clusters), post-modernist art, the Obama campaign etc. It’s one of those conversations that gets me excited about life and reaffirms my decision to join the Peace Corps. In one week, I’ve already bonded with wonderful people and made connections that may last a lifetime.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Welcome to Africa!

This morning, I woke up in the middle of the night at 3:30am and could not fall asleep for the life of me. Usually, I am not the type to lose sleep or have insomnia. Perhaps it’s the malaria meds, but I felt horribly uncomfortable and craved a shower. The malaria meds haven’t given me wildly weird dreams or make me hallucinate, yet. Though one of the side effects is difficulty sleeping, hopefully it won’t persist. Anyhow, I rolled out of the bed at 6:30am eager for a shower before first day of training. Of course, as fate would have it, I didn’t have much water. The water that did come out of the faucet contained disgusting orange-brownish looking… things. I noticed that it was coming from the showerhead, which seemed to have rusted and contributed to the grossness. I gave up on the idea of shower, dried my body and off I went. For the first day, I looked fantastically awful and of course dozens of group pictures were taken. Blast!

I was irritated for a total of five minutes, whereas back in the USA, something like that would’ve sufficiently ruined my entire day. There was a distinct moment where I made the choice to laugh it off and made it the welcome gift Africa gave me. That’s not bad; she could’ve given me a big old rat or other worse things.

In other news, yesterday we had a few hours to wander the street of the city. I said street because a group of us literally walked half mile one direction on the road that the hotel is situated and turned around when we hit the stadium. That bit of walk was plenty for one day. It was a lot to take in, even though it was a Sunday and the city was relatively dead. We walked by different tiny street vendors selling a variety of things. There were many men that would carry a medium size box on their head, full of random items for sell. Beyond that, many others carried different things without using an arm to balance. The whole image reminded me when my mom attempted to teach me “proper posture” and said I will have reached such state only when I can walk a straight line with a book on my head. I am amazed not only at the impeccable posture, but also the great efficiency that comes with using one’s head to carry things rather than arms. That’s fantastic!

Last night, the trainees were invited for dinner at the Peace Corps Country Director’s residence; among others, we met the current U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon. The house was grand, thanks to our U.S. tax dollars. The backyard was set up for dining and we had a garden party styled cocktail hour prior to dining. It was like any garden party that may take place in the U.S.; except there were swamps of bats flying over our heads and well, we were in Cameroon. The food was delicious! I can’t quite accurately identify all the food items, but I know they were GOOD. I so will not starve here. That jar of peanut butter I had to leave behind is not missed.

Jump back to today’s training. We had the typical welcome/introduction speech, received our gigantic medial kit, and had a French interview to determine what level of language group to be placed. I chatted for 20 minutes with one of the Cameroonian language trainers about various things. The conversation ranged from weather, family, area of studies to differences between economics and finance, how they impact development, then which I think is more important to development: economics or politic. It got to a clear point where I could not keep going with my limited vocabulary, then we returned to the more basic conversation of what I did and what I will be doing in the coming days. I think it went pretty well considering. As much as I may have complained about M. Pautrot’s class last semester, I am now grateful that he was so French. :)

Alright, enough updates for now. More to come, I am sure. Thursday, we will be moving to our home-stay families. So far, I’ve had fairly regular Internet access, although the quality is certainly sub par. I’ve been getting so frustrated that I simply had to log off the computer. All you people living in the industrialized countries – cherish your broadband and wireless Internet.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

First Day!

After more than 24 hours of travel, all 38 of us arrived to Cameroon safe and sound, as did ALL of our luggage. Now, that is a miracle in and of itself. The journey was quite long, but I slept through nearly all of it. When we arrived to the airport, PC Cameroon staffs welcomed us and took care of many logistics, then we were loaded on this gigantic bus on our way to the hotel.

The sun had set when we finally left the airport, so I wasn’t able to see a lot on the 45 min. ride to the hotel. Even so, I extracted bits and pieces of pictures among the darkness. The street was narrow with only two lanes; one going each direction. What I saw reminded me of rural Taiwan. The houses were typical for most warm climate cultures. The stands that people set up to sell various things from coffee to handbags reminded me of my aunt who sells food in stands on the side of the road for tourists. I look forward to seeing more of the city tomorrow when the sun is out!

The hotel is quite nice considering. Compare to the US standards, this would probably equate to a Motel 8 or the like. But I am impressed that the establishment has an elevator, water heater, electricity and window air conditioner unit in all rooms. Not bad at all.

We were briefly introduced to all the technical trainers for different sectors, language trainers and other staffs. They were all Cameroonians welcoming us with great enthusiasm! I can’t wait for the training to begin! For now, I will catch up on beauty sleep. Bonne nuit!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Malaria Diet

Our time in Philly is wrapping up! Tomorrow morning, we all go to the clinic to get shots and then off to the airport for a very long journey to Cameroon. We’ll fly 7ish hours to Paris, 8ish hours to Douala, then another 50 min. to the capital. It sounds bad, but not as bad as 14ish hours of direct flight from LA to Taipei. When a 14-hour flight like that is your first flying experience ever, all subsequent flights seem pretty easy. I should be okay. I have a couple of books ready to go and lots of podcasts loaded on my iPod. I love flying, but I don’t want to rub it in when all the others are dreading the long journey.

In less than 36 hours, I’ve bonded with a new set of family. Our group consists of 36 great individuals from across the US; approximately half in education and the other in business. Already, I have discovered different personalities and quirks. These next three months will be very interesting!

Today, our training consisted a lot of safety and health issues. Among the volunteers, many conversations took place about things that we are worried about. I, apparently am very naïve, and hadn’t thought about half of the things people discussed. These issues range from, “I wonder if we have to start a fire” to other things having to do sickness cause from water and food, etc. There were many moments tonight where I thought, “wow, I really didn’t think of that.” But a part of me think that naiveté had saved me because there really wasn’t a darn think I could’ve done to better prepare myself. My mentality was always, “if people with nothing can live through war and crazy things, I’ll be fine.”

Funny side story: Some girl was telling a story of a person who had gotten malaria many years ago and had lost a ton of weight, but has never been able to regain the weight since. So I said, “that sounds fantastic, maybe I should get malaria.” With that comment, I am now the girl who wants the “malaria diet”. My friend said, “we’ll go visit you in the hospital with flowers and say, ‘Wendy, you look so great! Malaria really worked for you.’”

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Here Goes Nothing!

This is what moving to Cameroon for two years looks like:

My bags are packed. I am ready to go. The above luggages weigh less than 100 lbs. Those are both the check-in bags and carry-ons. I still was on the over-packing side, brining more books than necessary. This afternoon, I was all kinds of nervous while tying up many lose ends. But now that everything is completed, I am surprisingly calm. But I was still calmer moving across the globe 10 years ago at 11 than I am now at 21. Either way, this is going to be GOOD. :)

There are many dear friends that I did not get to say a proper goodbye or have a needed phone date. But those dear ones are dear for a reason. They'll be there for me without the last goodbyes, or so I hope.

Now, let's begin round II.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Book List

Madame de Lafayette: La Princesse de Clèves

Le Barbier de Séville - Beaumarchais

Le Cid - Corneille

Phédre - Racine

The Shadow of the Sun - Kapuscinski

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See

Suite Française - Iréne Némirovsky

一行禪師說佛陀故事 - 一行禪師

The Book of Mev - Chmiel

愛別離 - 鍾文英

On Beauty - Zadie Smith

The Opposite of Fate - Amy Tan

Lives of the Laureates: Thirteen Nobel Economists

汪洋中的一條船 - 鄭豐喜

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - Dai Sijie

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason - Helen Fielding

Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

Great Expectation - Charles Dickens

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha - Sarah Erdman

The Secret Life of Dust - Hanna Holmes

Traveling Light -  Max Lucado

The Audacity of Hope - Barack Obama

Maybe Tomorrow - Boori Pryor

Night - Elie Wiesel

Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse

The World is Flat - Thomas Friedman

Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë

Emma - Jane Austen

Guliver's Travels and Other Writings - Jonathan Swift

Bold: books read

Suggestions Welcomed!