Thursday, September 25, 2008
Greg has been in the village for 4 months, and Juliete just arrived recently, comme moi. They both live in the same host family that is much more “primitive” than the one I had in Bangangté. Yesterday, I met them for lunch in the omelet shack in town and then Greg took us to this “bar” that has couches and had a drink while the rain pours. It’s a new place that I have yet ventured to, and each new business I encounter is a new possibility for work. Afterwards, we went to their house for French coffee. Juliete brought this little one person Italian espresso maker that are designed for camping. It makes one cup – one little European cup, not a giant mug of American cup. The device requires to be put over fire, and since the house doesn’t have a stove, we hung out in their kitchen, which is a room with wood burning fire. The house had what seem to be endless amount of kids running around, both kids that live there and the neighbors. There was a girl who’s about 10 years old that saw me and her eyes opened so wide you’d think she saw Santa Clause (if she believes in that). Either way, I am pretty sure it was the very first time she’s ever seen a Chinese person and she was so excited. To her, I was some sort of creature that you only hear about and never see. I think that’s a difficult concept for Americans to grasp, since there is just about every kind of person to see in the US. Anyhow, she sat in a stool across from me and just stared at me with a big goofy smile, and then started asking me a few questions. That was really kind of cute.
Today, after a somewhat frustrating day of visiting a GIC, the three of us had a crêpe party. I’ve been making crêpes from my cookbook, but they were nowhere close to the real French goodness. Luckily, I had two natives here showing me how it’s done. The two of them gave my recipe a twist and then showed me how to make them thin and yummy on a skillet. I can now confidently say that I can replicate some mean, authentic French crêpes! We indulged with Nutella (thanks Tom), Jif’s peanut butter (thanks mom) and bananas. The two of them were so excited to see Nutella just as the first time I ate Snickers bar in this country. Also, in case you don’t know, peanut butter is an American phenomenon. People outside of the US do not eat peanut butter like we do. That was the case when I was in London, when my English friends have never had a PB&J sandwich. Greg also had only tasted PB once a long time ago. He gave it another try today and loved it. He said, “My taste was not developed.”
All in all, I am doing lots of culture exchanges these days, but not always with the Cameroonians. I am, however, bridging cultures! I should throw a big party and invite all of my friends. There would be Americans, French, Chinese, and Cameroonians! Jess, I can continue our tradition of multicultural gatherings!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I have been moving forward as a PCV here over the past several days. The teacher whom I met on the street last Friday, Immanuel, invited me to a ceremony on Sunday. I had thought it was simply a meeting with people, not realizing it was a full-blown, true-to-form Cameroonian ceremony! At the end of the day, although no real work was arranged, I met a lot of people and saw villages near me that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and most of all, a real culture experience! Things take a while here, and I shouldn’t have expected that one meeting would lead to concrete plans for projects.
This interesting Sunday began with Immanuel picking me up at my house on his moto. He was all decked out in a suit. I was glad I at least put on a skirt when I finally realized we were going to a ceremony. After putting on my snowmobile style helmet and side saddling onto the back of moto, off we went! We climbed up many hills on dirt roads. I had thought my village is filled with pretty amazing views until I was more or less in a village on top of a mountain. As we were crossing through these pathways into quaint villages, the phrase, “living in the middle of no where,” took on a whole new meaning.
The ceremony was to celebrate the opening of a new community center funded by a rich man from that town. I must say, that little place on top of the mountain is much more developed than my town, which exists on one of the few pave roads in Cameroon. It all comes down to rich people actually willing to give back to the community, and not pocketing it all or feed into the mass corruption. Side note: Transparency International has consistently ranked Cameroon as one of the most corrupted countries in the world.
The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 10am. We arrived at quarter to 10 and there was not a single person there for the event. Typical. Immanuel and I then went to the market and had breakfast at an omelet shack. Through conversation, I was very impressed by Immanuel’s English considering he isn’t Anglophone and had learned it all from school and simply finding the chance to speak when he can. I also learned a funny coincidence through our chat. He is from a village where a RPCV, whom is a boss of a friend, whom I had emailed prior to arrival, was posted. As it turns out, he remembers this RPCV from 10 years ago very well! What a small world!
After breakfast, we went back to this community center and then waited at the little bar for another two hours. I shook a lot of hands with people whom I don’t really remember. The important folks didn’t arrive until 12:30 and it was 1pm before the ceremony even started. Another thing I didn’t realize was that the benefactor for this community school also built two brand new classrooms for Immanuel’s school. Immanuel is the director of that small school in addition to being a teacher. Since I am a guest of his, I had the honor of sitting in the “important seat”. It’s all fine and well until the ceremony was conducted in patoi (local language). It’s just like hearing a bunch of noises. I had no idea what was going on. I was forever grateful when they would turn the program to French for a short bit. Through that, I realized how much more French I know compare to a complete new language. I also was able to relate to Kate when I fail to translate for her when spending time with the Chinese people.
Aside from the language difficulty, the ceremony was really interesting! I loved the dancing and the singing that occurs in between every speech. Cameroonians have a great voice and are full of energy! There were groups of ladies who dressed in the same pagne signifying their community group. They all held branches of one type of tree and used it to celebrate and decorate. This was the first Cameroonian ceremony I’ve been where the Americans/Peace Corps aren’t involved in the planning, so this is the “real deal” so to speak. I loved it; even though it was somewhat painfully long to sit through, worsen by the language that I don’t understand.
In other community connection, yesterday, I capitalized on the fact neighbor kids like to hang out at my house. School had started, so they stopped by after school. I asked them what they learned to day, they said math. These boys are about 12, so I proceeded to quiz them on the timetable. Before too long, it turned into a math tutoring session. I successfully taught them the trick about multiples of 10 and 11. They were really excited to be quizzed and saw it as a game. Before they left, they asked, “can we come back for another lesson?” What 12 year-old American kids do you know that would voluntarily ask for math lessons? It was one of the more rewarding moments that I’ve had thus far, and I look forward to more. Oh, and explaining timetable rules in my bad French was interesting…
Today, I had an interesting conversation with my counterpart, Gabriel, about the community. He said to me, “people in this town don’t work. They drink and sit around, and only work a little.” I then think to myself, isn’t that a self-fulfilling prophecy if that’s how everyone thinks of his or her town? What improvement can possibly be made with that mentality? I then replied, “That’s a mentality. That can be changed.” He said, “That’s hard though.” No kidding. No one said getting a society out of poverty is easy task. That conversation frustrated but also motivated me. I don’t believe that everyone in this community likes to drink and not work. There may be only a few motivated ones, but that’s a perfectly good starting point. I just have to find those motivated few.
Funny thing of today: I went to buy a basket of potatoes today and after I paid, it began to pour. Here in Cameroon, when it rains, you stop and wait until it’s passes. I even become accustomed to that. Usually, when I forget my umbrella, I wait. But now it’s a habit. Today, I had my umbrella in my bag, but I still waited. The mama that I bought the potatoes from was so cute and she invited me to sit. I tried to talk to her, but turns out she only knows enough French to sell me those potatoes, and the rest is patoi. So we sat there together and wait for the rain pass. I tried to talk with body language, but then gave up soon after. It was cute. I thought of my grandmother who doesn’t speak Chinese. If there were a volunteer in her village, this is exactly what would’ve happen.
Another funny thing of today: The power was out for a good half an hour due to the heavy rain. Then it came back on just as I needed to go use the latrine. Why I trust the power to stay on, I don’t know. I didn’t bring my lantern and before you know it, I’m in squatting position and it is pitch black. You don’t realize how black darkness can be until you are in an African latrine on a rainy night while the power is out. There is not an ounce of light. Thankfully, 10 minutes passed and the light came back on. It would’ve been a very VERY long night if the power never came back. Yikes. Lesson learned: bring light to latrine at night, especially when the power is being fickle.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Instead, my day went like this: I left my house and there was moto guy coming my way and took me to town. As soon as I reached the carrefour, there was a car taking me to Bandjoun, and I was able to ride most of the way with only 3 people in the back seat! I then got a moto guy right as I got off the car to take me to my teacher’s house. I was there for my lesson by 9:25am. During this smooth process, I was thinking that even though transportation can frustrate me to my bones (see previous entry), I still can get around much better without a car here than I could in a driving city like St. Louis. That’s quite the shame.
After my lessons, I got three packages from Anna, who received packaged from HQ for people in the West. Three flat-rate size boxes full of goodies from the US of A (2 actually from Guam!). I didn’t have a way of carrying them back, so I borrowed a duffle back from Gaston (my French tutor) and unpacked the boxes into the bag. I got a box from my parents and two from Michelle. In the package from my family, I got practical things like seeds for my garden, some clothes, Chinese snacks, Starbucks coffee, delicious Tazo teabags, Season I of Sex & the City and other great movies of mine! And then I get to the boxes from Michelle, and I gotta give it to her for the work she put into them. One box was full of yummy snacks and another full of goodies wrapped in colorful tissues and ribbons. When I got home, it took a good half an hour to unwrap all the items I had received and then it took another half an hour to get over the excitement. I think I was more excited with all of my goodies than I’ve been at Christmas. Kate took pictures to document the utter ridiculous/marvelous pile of things sitting in my living room. It was as if I had just gone to Target and raided the store. I am so absolutely loved and forever grateful!
Other great thing of today includes some progress in community connection. I decided to not go to the bank per usual and instead walk around town and talk to people. I found a furniture guy who will make me things I need after I get some pictures, hopefully printed from Pier One or Crate and Barrel! I then took Kate to this fantastic spot on top of a hill that overlooks the village and its surrounding towns. We sat on the great big rock surrounded by unruly natural grass and took in the breathtaking view. The sky was blue and grey decorated with dramatic fast changing fluffy clouds. Beneath the clouds were rolling green hills for as far as the eye can see mix with reddish brown dirt and brown houses scattered throughout. I have come a long way from bustling city life of childhood to quiet, one and the same of suburbia life, and now, rural, quaint, modest village life.
My trek up to the hill also allowed me to show my face to the part of town that I don’t usually frequent. Also, I found a guy at the bottom of the hill who makes those little wooden stools I’ve been looking for. Before heading home, Kate and I raided the street and bought all kinds of groceries for our dinner party tomorrow. We are hosting a yummy spaghetti dinner for our new French friends tomorrow. Hope it goes well. We’ll be giving Siobhan a call in the morning to ensure I got the correct steps for a perfect sauce! While buying my veggies, I met a guy who was quizzing us on the names of the vegetables for sale. As it turns out, he’s a teacher in a neighbor town’s primary school and speaks English quite well. We began chatting and I said I am looking for some work and would be interested in teaching English at his school since they need a teacher. The teaching would be once or twice a week at most, but a great way to get familiar with the community and see what other work I could carry out. Also, a guy who took me home on a moto today was also a teacher in my village. We chatted a bit; he also spoke English quite well. I expressed interest in finding work and he said he will stop by in the future to discuss opportunities with me.
Things are looking up! My spirits are high even though my French is still struggling. There are lots of works to be done; I simply needed to find an alternative way to get started, and not waiting until my French gets better. The language learning is gradual, but my desire to get things done is immediate. Hopefully these opportunities pan out and I will have more fulfilling days in the near future!
Thursday, September 18, 2008
The other day, I was leaving Baf. to come back, and had a broom in my hand. Yes, buying a broom with a handle is a big task here. Finally, I found a broom, but had to carry it around as I walk through the city to find a car home. It’s common to have people “sssss-ing” at me (hissing without the h) as I walk, calling me La Blanche or Chinoise, or better yet, making random sounds “hee-haw” and the like that suppose to resemble Chinese. Most days, I find all that attention amusing and hilarious since I don’t get it everyday at my village, only when I am in bigger towns. However, on this particular day, I was tired, it had been raining, so I was trekking mud and dirt all over my legs, and these people are yelling at Kate and me per usual. As I walk, I got angrier, and I think having a broom in my hand made it that much worse because I had urges to either whack my broom across their faces or shove it up their you-know-where.
When taking cars here, the drivers like to pack it as full of people as humanly (or even inhumanly) possible. The four-people-in-the-back-seat rule applies regardless if it’s 4-120lbs girls or 3-180lbs mamas plus me. Also, cars work kind of like busses here, kind of in a very exaggerated sense. The part where people get off where they need to and the driver picks up people along the way is the resemblance. Naturally, without the pre-designated stops or the button you push for a stop. Some drivers are greedier than others and will stop every time there is one “empty” spot in the car and he (always a he, I’ve yet seen a woman driver) sees a person walking idly on the side of the road. Some drivers won’t stop every time he has an open seat if he started with a full car and will make decent money getting the rest of the people to their destinations.
The other day, we had a particularly annoying driver who stopped constantly to ensure his vehicle is packed full of 8 people at all times. There was a lady who got so fed up and just left the car. Now, you know it’s bad even the Cameroonians won’t put up with it. These annoying drivers are also the kinds that the gendarmes like to give the most trouble, therefore slowing down the journey even more because we get held at every gendarme checkpoint. These drivers are like those rowdy troublemaker kids in middle school, and if you are unlucky and has to sit next to them, your life suffers.
Today continues our streak of bad car rides. We somehow got into this car where the entire trunk was full of stuff already, and we had to squeeze our bags and moto helments in the back seats. I thought, surely he is not going to squeeze two more people back here with us. I also made it darn clear that I am paying one person’s fair only, thinking, “it’s not my fault you have a trunkful of crap.” Of course, my logic fails once again. Using a logical approach to daily lives here is generally a bad idea. The driver proceeds to shove one more guy into the back seat, and so I started yelling at him saying there is no way he can fit another person back here. My French flows when I am pissed. My one-line comeback “Tu es fou!” got quite the laughter from other people in the car. Except it didn’t work, he shoved the fourth person in the backseat regardless.
On the topic of yelling at Cameroonians, I was at the Chinese couple’s store the other day when they had a frustrating Anglophone customer that came in. The couple sells farm equipments and this guy was looking for replacement parts. I was informed that this guy is an old customer, and every time he comes in, he haggles unreasonably for the prices. The total of his items was 51,000 CFA and the couple was willing to sell it for 45,000CFA. But, this guy apparently always likes to go a little further, and he argued forever about paying only 43,000CFA. I was watching the exchange happen and the Chinese couple doesn’t speak English that fluently. Finally, I got frustrated and stepped in. I said, among other things, “You’ve been given a discount. They are helping you out already. Pay 45,000CFA or go somewhere else.” He then replied, “There isn’t anywhere else to go. I can only buy these here.” I said, “Exactly, you need these parts for your machines. You can’t go anywhere else. Pay up or leave. This isn’t buying cabbage on the street.” After a few more exchanges, he paid up.
I realized how important it is for me to teach economics here. This guy obviously didn’t understand supply and demand, or even monopoly power. This incident brought up stories of my superb bargaining skills. I think it’s in the blood, because I used to see my mom haggle in the markets in Taiwan and think she’s ridiculous. Now I am just as good. The trick is: You tell them what price you’ll pay, within reason, of course. Take it or leave it. Literally, they say no, I say oh well, walk away. 30 seconds to 3 minutes later, they come crawling back and budge. I have to be even tougher since when they see me, they jack up the prices to begin with. No such luck. I’m known for scaring many mamas in the markets of Bangangté who tried to rip me off. Don’t even think about it. It’s not the money; it’s the principle.
On a happier and less angry note, I recently received an email from a blog reader who isn’t a member of my friends or family. She wanted to let me know how my blog had successfully painted for her a picture of my ife here in Cameroon and that she would’ve lost her job if she wasn’t working for her husband because she spent all day reading my blog. Emails and comments as such validate the purpose of keeping a blog and what a great tool it serves to achieve goal three of Peace Corps – helping Americans learn about lives of the people abroad.
Monday, September 15, 2008
To prove that I am in the Peace Corps and exchanging cultures, this morning, I made French toast for the Chinese. They've never had it and loved it! Now they want to learn to make more "American food", so next time, I am teaching them spaghetti and pizza (very American, I know). Throughout the day, we had conversations about life in China, life in the U.S. and every now and then I throw the comparison with Taiwan in for kicks. Ah, to top it off, I attempted Chinese calligraphy for the first time in a decade. The first few tries were disasterous, but then it started coming back! Never thought I'd find my Chinese roots in Cameroon! I am learning a ton all the time! In this regard, I am more in Peace Corps China than I am in Peace Corps Cameroon.
Back to Peace Corps Cameroon, I am loving my town more and more with each passing day. This week, Billy, a 12-year old kid who stinks less than the others, has been showing up at my house a lot. His dad is a Peace Corps Driver, and also the chief of our cartier. He's really talkative and loves to fetch water for me! He's a breath of fresh air from the other kids who have been deranging a lot. Other than the kids, my house had a new improvement when I got a guy that came to reroute electricty. It's now twice as bright in my living room and I've officially transformed the house out of a brown dungeon!
The other day, when I was waiting for someone at the carrefour, I chatted with the gendarms. They were all really nice and seem to have a good grasp of the Peace Corps. I should start hanging out at the omelet shack more. Lots happen there! On the topic of people, I discovered two French people who live in my village! The other day when I was walking to walk, I saw a white person. I got really excited and went up to her to see if she spoke English! And she did! She's French and is here with another guy working with the fish farm. They are staying with families, much like my homestay experience. I offered my house for western getaway! I think next week I'll invite them over for some yummy goodness. Hopefully, I can learn some proper Frenchy French from them. Other work related update: I am going to visit members of a GIC this week with my counterpart. He needs to check on their income generating activities before granting loans. I'm quite excited to see some real work in action. Sitting at the bank only gets me so far with limited French.
Kate found an apartment! So I think this week some time, I will have to spend my first night alone. It's about time. We've been at post for nearly a month now! It's time for me to get some real work done and not sit around making food with Kate all day and watching the same episodes of Grey's Anatomy repeatedly. Okay, more updates to come! Stay tuned!
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
The festivity continued with a great feast of food. Pictures worth a thousand words, so I'll let them do the talking.
Kate is becoming quite the chopsticks expert!
Look! how pretty!
My Birthday Feast
everything made from scratch!
My Chinese family in Cameroon
I am really lucky! The first day that I met these great people, Mr. Zhang told us that he admires our work here and while he can't serve Cameroonians like we do, he will be a "volunteer for volunteers". Right now, he wins the "Volunteer of the Year" award for volunteers. What a blessing! These next two years would've been very different! Low expectations yield high satisfaction. That is going to be my motto for life. I had no expectation for my birthday, or even this Peace Corps thing in general, and now, I can't be more satisfied.
Friday, September 5, 2008
I still have yet spent a night alone since Kate is still chez moi! I am enjoying the company though. Throughout college, I've only really lived in a studio-esque space alone. Suddenly, I have this gigantic house all to myself. It can feel a little scary at night. The first few days at my house, I was extremely paranoid and quadruple-locking everything. The paranoia can partly be attributed to the malaria drugs; it's better now. Except, the paranoid feelings have turned into vivid dreams about going to IKEA and the like.
In other exciting news, last week, Kate and I hung out with the Chinese consulates. They were in the West province visiting government officials, and fellow Chinese people. By association, Kate and I were invited to the gathering. I have never been happier to be Chinese than I was last week! I talked Chinese with the consulates and they were impressed that I spoke as well as I did having only elementary level Chinese education. Besides the great food, I also tasted the best Chinese alcohol, one the Chinese government use to treat foreign governmental officials. On the bottle, it stated the alcohol came straight from the manufacture and is used for Chinese foreign diplomatic purposes only. So, diplomatic purpose it was, we talked Cameroon, USA, and Taiwan. First week of my volunteer career, and I was fulfilling goal II & III, exchanging cultures, like nobody's business!
Since getting to my village, life has slowed down a lot. I have a lot more free time than I ever did in my short 21 (almost 22) years of life. The other day, Kate and I were watching episodes of Grey's Anatomy and one of the character said, "I feel like I am on a train going 200 miles and hour, and I wish it would just stop at a platform." I said, "Join the Peace Corps." That is precisely how I feel. 3 months ago, back in May, when I was studying for exams, making financial models for StudioSTL, running reports for rich people in St. Louis, preparing for life in Africa and trying to spend time with family and friends all at once, I felt like I was on that train going far too fast. Suddenly, the train stopped and now I am not quite sure what to do with myself.
The pace of life is slow here, far slower than what I am used to. Getting accustomed to this lifestyle is an adjustment in and of itself. I still can't get away from my list-making habits, so everyday I write things on my list just to feel accomplished. Yesterday, my list consisted of the following, "go for a run, go buy food in town, wash floor, organize my room, nail artworks on wall, make lunch, shower, make dinner and get water." Surprisingly, those things took a while and nearly filled up my day.
My house is a 25 minute scenic walk from the "center of town", which is one road with some shops. If I am lucky, I can find essential food that I need. Yesterday, I wasn't so lucky. All I could find in town were bread, eggs, tomatoes, garlic and onion. I’ve wanted some potatoes to make fries and I couldn't find them for the life of me. Thankfully, Kate brought some back for us from Bafoussam. I cook a lot now. Before May, I was pretty much the worst cook you've ever met. Now, I think I do quite well. Cooking takes up a good chunk of my time; I often joke that I joined the Peace Corps to become a good wife. This past week, I made: pancakes, raisin scones, fried rice, cream of corn soup, crêpes, oatmeal raisin cookies, fries, rice soup, and of course, ramen (old habits die hard). Tonight, Kate and I will have a go at lentil taco!
Not sure if I've mentioned, but my house is without running water. I spend a good hour of my days "organizing" my water source. I have 20 water bottles and a few buckets that store water. Luckily, it's still the rainy season, so I can simply put the bucket out and catch water. Otherwise, the neighborhood kids like to visit me all day long and ask if I want water. These kids are funny and stinky. They like to come to my house and stand at the door just watch me do whatever I am doing. I would let them hang out more if they didn't stink up my house. Maybe next week I will start handing out bars of soap for them to shower before coming in!
People in this town are really kind and I don't get déranged much. People are getting pretty used to me and they are incredibly friendly. The guy in town that sells tools is really nice, after I showed him that he couldn't rip me off. He tried to sell a water jug to me for 2,000CFA, and I bought it for 1,000CFA. I've become pretty darn good at bargaining. It's a way of life here. I've been going to the bank (MC2, the microfinance institution in town) a few hours a day just observing and showing my face to the community. It's pretty interesting. This week, I made my first contribution by redesigning their sign for school loans. Changes start with the little things.
Phew! This entry turned long. I will try to be better about posting shorter entries and more frequently! I miss all of you and modern life in general. But things are well here, and I am very happy!