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...