Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dear Santa, I made you cookies, please come by!

Christmas is upon us, and until few days ago, the holiday season really hasn't phased me. I carried on with my everyday life and didn't think much of it. But these past few days, I've been missing the Christmas spirit.

Here in Cameroon, people do celebrate Christmas, but nothing is really different until Christmas Eve, every other day are just your ordinary days. The holiday exists, but the holiday season does not.

Definitely no Christmas markets here in Cameroon
Market in Bath, England 2006

People often complain about the commercialization of the holidays and the consumer frenzy that accompanies this time of the year. I was always pretty indifferent. I did like the Christmas trees, lights, music, etc. But from time to time, I did find it a bit obnoxious. This is my second year away from all of that, and while the first year was interesting, this year, I really miss it. I suppose it's that old saying of you don't know how good it is until you don't have it anymore.

In an attempt to recreate the holiday spirit, I waited til the nightfall and put on some Christmas music, and baked a batch of white chocolate chip cranberry cookies. I tell you, the Peace Corps has turned me into the perfect housewife! Now I just need some milk and maybe, just maybe, Santa will make a quick stop?

O.M.G. WHAT?!


To you, the above picture is just a normal gas station that you stop in all day long to pick up a soda, a cup of coffee, some snacks. For me, I almost fainted when I walked into this fancy gas station in the town of Mbouda.

Mbouda is a town 30 minutes car ride from Bafoussam - the provincial capital here in the West region. I have never seen a gas station like that in Bafoussam, or even in major cities like Douala or Yaoundé. But of course, I am not usually on a hunt for fancy gas stations.

Anyway, yes Mbouda is a happening place, but nothing like a major city, not even close. By happening, I mean there is a market, a bakery, gas stations, bars, etc. Not New York City. You can imagine my surprise when I walked in. Okay, maybe you can't imagine. Let's just say I was completely caught off guard with this fancy set-up and was freaking out for at least 10 minutes, and then spent the next 15 just wandering around in this well-lit, organized place that has actually cold drinks in the fridges and also air conditioning?!?

The workers were really amused by my reaction. I kept saying, "c'est comme chez nous!" (it's like where I'm from!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

World AIDS Day

All of the Participants - St. Augustine School in Foumbot


As a Peace Corps Volunteer, one of the global, cross-sector initiative is HIV/AIDS awareness and education. In honor of World AIDS Day, Kate organized a day-long seminar at her post and invited volunteers in the surrounding area to participate.

Up until this event, I hadn't done any AIDS or other health related activities. Partly because I am not a health volunteer and I didn't feel I had adequate training to facilitate these sessions. Like anything else in the Peace Corps, talking sensitive subjects like practicing safe sex, peer pressure, etc. takes only step forward. Once I was conducting the seminar, I wondered why I thought it would be difficult.

Students Taking Notes

We had a really successful turned out of nearly 100 students. I was very impressed that all these kids were willing to spend their Saturday with us and most were very engaged and eager to learn. Alec and I had the younger age group and as a part of AIDS education, naturally we had condom demonstration. Yes, there were some natural giggles that came with a room full of teenagers learning how to use a condom, but overall, kids were really respectful, eager to volunteer themselves and I dare say perhaps more mature than if I was doing the same seminar in front of 50 teenagers from suburbia St. Louis.

I think the big difference is that these kids in a way realize that these information is vital. For these kids, the disease is real. HIV/AIDS is not just something that happens to people far far away. For them, it happens right here to people around them.

Peace Corps Volunteers & Staffs of the School

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On va faire comment?

A frustrating day with things that I would rather, and probably should not go into. But I wanted to share this passage from another PCV's blog that spoke to me. She was describing a terrible day with many things going wrong. If you spend even a few weeks actually working in this country, you can relate perfectly with her sentiments. She ended with this wonderful paragraph:

No. Don’t pity Africans their poverty. Pity them the colonialism, the traditions, and resulting clusterfuck of disorganization that many countries on the continent have suffered and which crushes hope of making a difference insidiously, beginning with early childhood, until the people become docile and incapable of getting angry in the face of injustice, chalking everything up to fate.

Working in this country can be extremely frustrating. Your emotions are often heightened and when things go wrong, you can't just meet up with good friends at the end of the day for a drink at happy hour. My bad day didn't have anything to do with Cameroonians, but still. The more time I spend in this country, the more I am used to using the phrase "on va faire comment?" (what are you gonna do? - the answer to every difficult, unpleasant situation in this country) sometimes, circumstances don't allow you do do anything but sit and say, "well, that sucks". Unfortunately, those circumstances occur at a much higher frequency in this country than elsewhere that I've lived.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Turkey Day!


Happy belated Thanksgiving to all!

At the very last minute, a friend coaxed me into attending a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by other PCVs. If you didn't know this about me, I am a very lazy person, socially. People like me in a crowd because I just follow whatever plans someone has made, no real objections, ever. I'm the dream of every social control freak. However, this means when there is no one telling me what the plans are, I am perfectly content to stay home and read a book.

For this Thanksgiving, I was perfectly content to go hang out with my Chinese family until someone more or less said, "you are coming to Thanksgiving, it's at this place, show up."

And, per my compliant self, I did. Boy was it a good time!

Besides the subsitution of chickens for Turkey, I think that Thanksgiving might have been more "American" than ones I would've had back in the U.S. As you know, with my Chinese family, we always had to add some Chinese flavor to our Thanksgiving dinner. Thanks to someone's family's generous care package, at our dinner, we had the works - stove top stuffing, gravy, chicken, mashed potatoes, mac n cheese, green beans, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, brownies, etc. It was legit!

For me, Thanksgiving is one of those rare occasions where it is really nice to be with Americans. In some ways, Thanksgiving is almost like the "American Christmas". Most Western cultures celebrate Christmas, but only Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. And when it comes down to it, the two holidays are similar - it's about being with family, and lots of food! :) I almost prefer Thanksgiving because it doesn't involve the whole present fuss.

I've spent more Thanksgiving abroad in recent years, but there has always been a made-up Thanksgiving upon my return. Next July, there will surely be a Thanksgiving meal at the Lee household! Holidays abroad isn't always easy, and I've had to endure many of them. This is the price you pay for a life of a wandering globetrotter. On the upside, with the right people, these occasions often make memories that last a lifetime.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Progress Report

For the past two weeks, I have been visiting schools and communities that I am responsible for between Batié, Bapa and Bandenkop, and checking up on there progress in library readiness.

École Publique de Famgoum I - Batié
École Publique de Sim Tsela - Bandenkop

Much to my surprise, the schools were mostly very engaged and are making significant progress in getting things off the ground. Granted, there were definitely drama. One of the schools had absolutely nothing done even after I gave them a warning a month ago. The principal and the team of administrative were obviously corrupt. During the 5 minutes that I was in the office, they asked me about the computers 3 times. I yelled at them and said, "computers are secondary. This is a project about building libraries, not getting computers. You are off the project." and left.

They were feeding me ridiculous excuses about parents not cooperating, blah blah blah. Which I know is utter nonsense. Between the 10 schools that I am working with, no one has any problems getting the PTA to construct shelves and pay for the in-country transport. The schools are all in the same community, which means there must be an overlap of parents. To feed me that excuse was just stupid. Instead of arguing with the corrupt people, I saved my energy and accepted a wait-list school at the last minute.

If nothing else, executing projects in the Peace Corps definitely requires you to think VERY fast on your feet! All in all, the project is progressing. We submitted the order form for 19,000 books and 7 computers to Books For Africa last week. If all goes smoothly, we should receive the shipment at the end of January! For more pictures and updates, follow our Facebook Page!

This one is too cute! École Publique de Nso'o-Batié (preschoolers!)

Celebrating Old Age

This past weekend my rich neighbor had a BIG fête! My moto guy is a family member of this rich neighbor and they live in the same concession. He informed me of this rare event that occurs only once every 5 years or so - a fête to celebrate the elders in the family that reached 70 years old.

For weeks, the rich neighbor's house have had workers layering bricks on the cement barriers, and all sorts of other work. The event was a 3-day ordeal. Friday evening was the Bamiléké traditional dance where villagers not only got out their outfits, but also the animal skin, horns, the works! Most of the neighbors all gathered to see the event, especially the kids.


The next day, I was invited to the mass ceremony honoring the elders. When they told me mass, I thought they meant we'd all meet and then go to a church. But oh no, how wrong I was. They meant they'll bring the church to their gigantic courtyard - and they did. It was mighty impressive!

The makeshift church - pretty legit looking!

Church Choir was there - all pretty in... pink?

People like my neighbor makes me realize that people here have A LOT of money. However, the distribution of wealth is all off (kind of the case everywhere in the world, right?). My motor guy, Emmanuel, who is a part of the family, does not enjoy any of the wealth and he works all day on his moto and gain a measly pay.

Anyway, I attended the mass and then the big dinner afterward. It would have been fun to stay and dance with people, but with all the guests (more than 500), I was pretty lost among all the people I didn't know. So instead of sticking around, I retired to my house soon after dinner. This is when I really miss having a buffer. When Juliette was in village, we would go to things like this and hang out with each other while have a blast with villagers. Unfortunately without her, it's not quite the same, and doesn't feel as safe...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rolling Hills of Batié


Last week I visited the schools that I am working with for the Books For Cameroon project to check on their progress. On the way back, my moto guy, Emmanuel, took me on a different path home, and I saw a new side of Batié that I have not seen even after a year here.


The day was gorgeous. The dry season has finally settled, but it's only the beginning, so not too hot. We rode through the rolling hills on his moto and the views are simply breathtaking. Photos absolutely do not do the view justice. I love and hate that because while I am so glad to be able to partake in this incredible nature, I hate not being able to share it in its entirety with others.


This past week, I was getting pretty fed up with life here. After 15 months, I've finally reached a point of "ugh this is enough". The novelty of living without running water and shotty electricity was fun and made good stories to tell - but after 15 months, enough is enough.

I am also tired of not having an active social life, and missing my material possessions, and well, just being with friends and loved ones who get me. Having the holiday season just around the corner certainly does not help. I am not unhappy, but something is certainly missing.

Chances are, this is simply my nomadic personality at work. I have very short attention span with anywhere that I live, so I could be living in London, New York, Paris, or Hong Kong, and I would probably be sick of where ever that I live. This is how I am, and while it's all too easy to blame it on Cameroon and its not-so-comfortable living standards, I must remember that I probably would have the same complaints elsewhere... je suis comme ça...

Being out and about and appreciating the nature certainly helps. I've taken up running in the past few months and I now really enjoy getting out there and take in the nature - likely the last time I will ever find myself living in such rustic beauty.

El Campero


One of my favorite pastime back in the "real world" is to sit at a café alone and people watch. Also the same reason why I love airports. Strangers I do not know are very interesting to watch. Each possesses their own aura and have their individual stories. I can sit for hours watching people and capture their own ordinary life in that moment in time.

Here in Cameroon, I don't have such luxury as Starbucks or other cutesy outdoor cafés. But when I do go into Bafoussam for various errands, I always stop by El Campero - white people's favorite bar in Akwa. When I'm alone, this becomes the closest equivalent to an outdoor café. I usually order some brochettes and friend plantain, then sit with my bottle of coke and watch people pass.

There are always people walking around with items on their heads that they are trying to sell. We call this activity, "bar shopping". You sit at a bar, and when people pass, you browse at their items to see if there are anything interesting to buy. It ranges from food (peanuts, prunes, fruits, etc) to handbags, shoes, pirated DVDs, magazines, electronics - you name it, and there are probably someone who sells it. Sometimes if you are really looking for something specific, you can tell one vendor, and he/she will pass the words on to whomever selling the item you are looking for. Definitely one of the more amusing and rare bar activities.

Ghilain & moi on my Birthday this year

When I'm alone at El Campero, I'm pretty at ease. One of the ladies at the bar, Ghilain, is a good friend to all of us white people. When she's working, we always hang out and have a good chat. Since El Campero is the bar of choice for us, I often run into others while sitting there - Americans, French, etc. We always order food from the vendors around - salad shack, grilled fish, brochettes, friend plantains, etc. and then gather here. El Campero is a fun place and many a fun gathering have occurred at this very bar.

Radio on TV!

Two weekends ago, the Cameroon's national football (soccer) team was playing the final qualifying match against Morocco for the World Cup. The number one national sport in this country is drinking beer, and the second is watching football, while drinking beer. Naturally, this was a big deal.

I headed to Dschang to hand out with Clotilde, a French girl I know. Dschang is a really fun university town about an hour or so from me. Somehow I managed to spend 15 months in the west region of Cameroon and never made it out there, so on this day, I decided to finally pay a visit.

I arrived just in time for the match to begin. We crowded in a typical Cameroonian bar ready to watch the match on TV. I've mentioned before that while I am not a fan of football, I am a fan of watching guys watching football. And Cameroonian football fans are quite entertaining in their own special ways.

The game began, yet all you see on TV was the words: Cameroun # Maroc. And the broadcaster was relating the game in gibberish that supposedly was French. After a bit of confusion, I understood that apparently the Cameroonian national television (CRTV) did not purchase the rights of image broadcasting.

Now, imagine that. I was impressed on how calm people were. While they were disappointed, their reaction was more of a "on va faire comment?" (well what are you gonna do?) Imagine Superbowl Sunday with no image broadcasting? Serious riots would go down. I did thoroughly enjoy the comments from the men, "well, it's like in the 1960's when we had to crowd around the radio and then translate to people who didn't speak French." or "welcome to Cameroon, we have Radio on TV!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Village Justice

Back in March, I eluded to the justice system in village, and the amusing ways that news get around. Last week, I was once again reminded just how things operate here, and how different it is from the justice system that we are so used to in the modern world.

Last Monday, on my way to Market Day, my moto guy pointed at the Gendarme car that was parked outside someone's house as we drove through. He asked if I heard the news, I said no. Apparently, the night before, a 18-year old chopped off the head of his 6 year-old brother with a machete, because someone told him the heads can get him a lot of money.

Friends, this is not a story you read in some African story book. This happened down the street from me.

I was pretty stunned by the news, but then quickly wrote it off as just another misfortune that often occurs in village. Few days later, I was on another moto, and I inquired what happened to the 18-year old. My moto friend Charlie, replied nonchalantly, "oh, we beat him until he died." Just like that. Almost as if how silly of me to even ask such question. What else would they do? Of course this kid was going to live another day after having done something like that.

This gives our death penalty debate in the U.S. a whole other perspective, huh? Yes, granted the crime committed here in Cameroon, especially in villages, are usually not very elaborate and not intricately planned to the point where advanced forensics are required to find out the offender. Yet, even if we know someone committed murder with 100% certainty, there is no way we would just "beat him until he dies" in the U.S., or most places in the modern world.

Few days later, I invited the new volunteers over for some American goodness (onion rings, ranch potatoes, salad) and one told me she heard the village story on BBC or some mainstream news. I was quite surprised. I mean, I suppose a kid getting his head chopped off is a pretty big deal. Julie told me that the news mentioned something about albino's and that there is some sort of sorcery relating to albino body parts. So later, I verified with another moto guy and he said no the kid was just a regular kid, not albino, but he was doing it for money.

Anyway, moral of the story - village justice is crazy business! Don't kill someone in a small village, because the villagers will beat you to death. And if you can't tell, moto guys are my primary source of village gossip! ahh, I will miss this sense of community, albeit crazy!

Special Thank You

After months of incessant money begging via all the desperate measures that I could come up with using my only tool - the Internet, I somehow managed to raised $11,500, with the help of Kate, Siobhan and Laura. This is a special post to thank all of you that have helped me in one way or another throughout this process.

The begging began in July. Since I did not come from money, nor went to a school that had a lot of really rich people as friends, I had to beg strangers - a lot of them. I began by bugging people on Facebook and Twitter via my status updates. Then, I sent out press releases to local papers and journal in the St. Louis area where I spent the last 10 years of my life.

Desperation makes you do really crazy things. I wrote emails - countless number of them - first to personal friends and acquaintances, then to teachers of schools that I went to, organizations from my university, companies in the St. Louis area, etc. When those email didn't seem to yield the result that I was looking for, I began using social media tools, posting individual messages on 300+ members on CameroonVibes, individual messages on 500+ members who had committed to blog for the International Literacy Day, 600+ individual messages on my friends' Facebook wall, and thousands of individual messages on random RPCV's page on Peace Corps Connect, to the point of slight trouble.

All the effort became worthwhile when the project was fully funded on October 28th. Through it all, I came in contact with really supportive individuals that have offered their support in one way or another. Yesterday, I submitted our order form to Books For Africa for a shipment of 19,000 books and 7 computers. In addition, the Cameroon Studens Association is giving us 4,000 books. This leads to a total of 23,000 books that we will distribute to over 30 libraries across Cameroon. In the name of full disclosure, you can see how we will make this happen through a very colorful spreadsheet and flowchart. Okay, I really just wanted to share that!

Anyway, thank you all again for your immense support through the past few months! Please follow us on our Facebook page as the project progresses, and I'll try to be good about uploading pictures!

Past. Present. Future.

Yesterday, I sent off my graduate school applications to my European schools of choice. Today, I feel free for the first time in a while to think about updating this neglected blog. Even though I still have three more applications to sent for American schools, having done those three felt like a major step forward - this is really happening, the next step is not just a cloud of ideas in my head.

Recently, I've been in more frequent contact with those French friends who made my first three months at post such wonderful bliss. I've been thinking back on those times a lot as of late - they were carefree, exciting, and the connections I had with that particular group of friends were so immediate and intense that even a year later, the memories are still fresh in my mind. I thought perhaps I am feeling nostalgic because now a year later, I am still in the same place, but with less magic happening in my daily life. However, in the past few weeks, conversations with Juliette and Gary have proved that I am not the only one reminiscing that period in time.

With just a little over 8 months left of my service, I am at a strange place. Things on the work front are going relatively well. I have plenty of tasks to accomplish during my remaining time in this country. Socially, while I am no longer having fantastic parties or going on wild adventures, memories are still being created via the daily village life. Some days are still lonely, and dull. But I am attempting my best to soak in each present moment, and take it for what it's worth.

The future is fast approaching. I have applied or am applying to six graduate programs, three in the U.S. and three in Europe. If all these fine institutions accept me, I will have the opportunity to spend the next two years in either Paris, London, New York, Bologna/D.C. or New Have, CT. And let's all cross our fingers and pray at least one of these fine schools will grant me acceptance, if for nothing else, that they take pity upon the fact I just spent two years living without running water. I've decided to take the "go big, or go home" route, and in a very literal sense. None of my schools is a "back-up", so either I get into one, or I go home and live with my parents in St. Louis... oh my god...

On this November day, I reminiscent on this past year in Cameroon with nostalgia, appreciate life in the present with gratitude, and look forward to the future with great anticipation.

Monday, November 2, 2009

GRE in Cameroon

October came and went, and as I indicated in the previous posts, I've spent most of the month cramming esoteric vocabulary words into that tiny brain of mine, and also remembering how to do 7th grade math.

This GRE is a re-take for me. Last time I took this painful exam was in the U.S., at Saint Louis University in a testing room with my own computer. The test was computer-adaptive, which means it was half the length, but the question gets harder as you answer them correctly. Also, the computer version of this test gives you the pleasure/horror of finding out the test score right away.

Since I am living in a developing country, I was able to take the paper-version of the test. The experience was so amusing that it deserves its own blog entry.

Rewind to the night before the test - about a dozen other volunteers were also suffering through this experience. We all found ourselves cramming last minute words and math concepts at the Peace Corps transit house in Yaoundé. People had flash cards, and a general sense of exam stress linger the air. At one point of the night, I sat down with Trevor to go over problems from a practice exam. To be very honest, I was glad to face with that healthy level of academic stress again. It felt good, and I felt my brain churning; though it would be better if I was cramming information that actually matters. I suppose if nothing else, this indicates that I am ready, at least mentally, for graduate school studies.

Test day rolled around, we left in groups for the testing center. The rain came in a downpour so most of us were half wet by the time we reached the American Language Center in Bastos. Then, there were all the Cameroonians who were also taking the test. Cameroonians were all dressed nicely in dresses, slacks, some even suits, for this grand event. Where as the dozen of us Americans all came in jeans and other form of comfortable clothing.

I was brought back to high school era of taking the ACT/SAT. We filed into the rooms with number two pencils and ID. The process of getting everyone situated took a while. Although people who had taken it at this testing center had warned us about the horror of people taking 2 hours to complete the bubble scantron with personal information.

The proctor came in and was following direction on the book rigidly - really quite funny because I don't think she really knows what is suppose to go on. Anyhow, the process didn't take as long as the horror stories, but it was still amusing to see people struggling to figure out how to fill in their names/address and the corresponding scantron bubbles. We've all been taking scantron tests since probably second grade, can you imagine if that was the first or second time you've ever done that? I am pretty sure the guy next to me did not complete his scantron the right way...

Finally, the exam began. For the next 3 and a half hour, my brain cells were on overdrive. The first hour or so was the essay section where I had to write them by hand in a booklet. It brought me back to the days of college exams and blue books. It's been over a year since I had written anything by hand; my ability to spell or even construct sentences without spell/grammar-check had declined significantly since being in the Peace Corps. By the end of the essay section, my hands were so tired. We had a break and while I was lining up for the bathroom, some guy said to me, "you wrote a lot!" I thought, "um yeah... that's what you are suppose to do."

I can't imagine taking this test as a Cameroonian. It's tough for us Americans, imagine what it's like for them. When the proctor calls the 5-minute warning on each section, there was always a general gasp/groan coming from test takers. Anyhow, two hours and two math and verbal sections later, the test was over. Now, we wait patiently for the results...

I am just glad 3 of the schools I am applying to are in Europe and do not require the GRE.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day: Cold in Africa

I really didn't plan on writing a blog post for this year's Blog Action Day because I honestly don't have all that much to say about climate change. But I think the weather this week wanted me to. We are now heading toward the end of October, and normally here in Cameroon, that means the beginning of dry season - months without rain, the heat, dust everywhere, dry season sickness - oh the horror. However, this past week, you would have thought we were in June - the midst of rainy season.

Like any culture, talking about the weather is the primary subject of small talk. This past week or so, everyone in village has been commenting on the bizarre weather this year - the constant rain and low temperature. I am not sure if I've just acclimated to the weather or it really is colder, but two days ago, I found myself bundled up in a cashmere sweater, sweat pants, socks and a fleece blanket while sitting with a cup of hot tea because it felt like winter where there is snow on the ground.

The temperature was likely only 60 degree at most, and this means this next winter, when I will actually spend it somewhere with snow, I may just freeze over. Anyway, the point is the abnormality of the weather. Whether or not the globe is warming up and the North Pole is melting away, the climate is absolute not the same. Is this the natural progression and evolution or is this due to our carbon footprint? I don't know. This is why I wasn't going to write a post - I don't have anything intelligent to say regarding the matter.

What I do know is, while this may not effect the everyday lives of people in the industrial world, its effect is immediate in places where agriculture is the main source of livelihood, such as with people in my village. In the rainy season, the rain usually comes in the afternoon, so people plan to go into the farm in the morning to work and return home before the afternoon downpour. But these past two weeks, the rain comes whenever it feels like it. People have no way of planning their days.

Few days ago, I took a moto to visit the lycée regarding my library project. The lycée in Batié is sort of in the mountains and not very easy to get to. Just as I was wrapping up with the meeting, the rain came, and not the typical rainy season rain where it pours for 15 minutes and stops. This was the annoying London kind of rain where it rains continuously and just hard enough where I couldn't take the moto back; I had no other option but to wait. So I waited - for three hours. On this particular day, I made the fatal mistake of forgetting my book at home. Those were three very long hours.

The repeated conversation I've had with villagers this week about the strange weather motivated me to write this not-so-in-depth post on climate change. Whether it's getting cold or getting hot - the weather is changing, and already affecting lives of people in some corners of the world.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

October Happenings

Hello my loyal readers!

I am still around, and the excuse for the lack of update? well, the lack of activities. The month of October so far has been a lot of GRE studying, money-begging to fund Books For Cameroon by the end of October and preparation for graduate school applications.

Concerning the project: we are making very good progress. With just $2k left to go, we hope the project will be funded by the end of the month. Actually, we have to. We don't really have a choice since I received an email from Peace Corps Washington with pressure to get things off the ground. Since this is very much an all-or-nothing project, we really need your help! Don't let the $9k we've raised go to waste! Spread your Christmas cheer early this year. Rumor has it the decorations are already up in some part of the States? Donate today!

This past week I visited the schools in Batié, and aside from one school that doesn't quite have a room ready, the rest all have at least a room, and some even had the shelves built. I was really impressed by the engagement of the school staff. While the challenges are still ahead in successfully implementing the project, I can already envision the rewarding feelings in the end.

Last week was Mid-Autumn Moon Festival for the Chinese, so I went to spend it with my Chinese family. I am quite sure I celebrate more Chinese holidays here in Cameroon than I did in the United States... Just two days before the holiday was China's 60th anniversary of the current government. My Chinese family has no other channel but CCTV - the State-run television- and it broadcasted special programming for both of the holidays.

After watching all weekend worth of CCTV with coverage of the celebration and also holiday programming, I began to think of China as this wonderful, heaven-like place, and why wouldn't all of us want to spend our lives there? Until I got home and was reading articles on the uncensored world-wide-web. And then I realized I was probably being brain-washed.

Yesterday was October 10th - the independence day of Taiwan. A day in my childhood when we didn't have to go to school and can watch fireworks. I was not at the Chineses' this weekend, but I can almost guarantee there was no coverage of the 10-10 holiday in Taiwan on CCTV.

As a Taiwanese/Chinese-American living in Cameroon, I don't have any particular strong feelings regarding the Taiwan/China politic. However, during times like this, I do get slightly lost and not sure which side I'm suppose to be "rooting for". This is precisely why we need global citizenship!

On an unrelated note, I had created a personal online portal for all the virtual contacts that I've been making via social media tools. Asian Polyglot will be the blog where I talk about everything outside of my Cameroon activities. But for the time being, they will overlap somewhat. Feel free to take a look!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You just never know!

Current Mood: Uggghhaaahhh I am SO sick of begging for money.

My goal to fund Phase I of Books For Cameroon by the end of September is unlikely to happen, unless either an amazing, generous philanthropist decides to donate $3.5k in the next 24 hours, OR, if by some bizarre miracle, 700 people decide to donate their next $5 latte/beer in the next 24 hours.

I am somewhat disappointed; however, I suppose raising $5,000 within a month still wasn't too bad of an effort, considering it took 3 months to raise the first $3,000. At least, I have been learning a great deal and showing progress. That's the important thing, right? Or so I tell myself. Ça va aller.

Okay, now I got that out of my system, let's talk village life.

A journalist once asked me to describe my "typical day" as a Peace Corps volunteer. That, I have decided, is simply impossible to define. The constant surprises are both the beauty of life as a volunteer, yet also the source of many frustrations. Last Friday, I went into Bafoussam for banking and other various errands. The car ride from my village to Baf. is only 30 minutes. Yet, we stopped in Baham - a town near my village - to pick up more clients and we waited there for an hour. Unexpected frustration. I was once again reminded that time is not money here and the term "opportunity cost" means nothing for the most part.

Yet when there is bad, there is good. Yesterday, I had a pretty productive Sunday of studying for the GRE and getting work done. Late afternoon, I made my way into town. The weather was gorgeous, so I enjoyed the walk and took in the tranquility that Batié has to offer. While in town, I had a Schweppes Ginger while waiting for my grilled fish. Meanwhile, had some funny conversation with villagers. One guy was trying to give me a hard time about the fact I can't speak Batié even after a year. And everyone else in the bar defended for me saying I had to learn French, and what in the world would I do with Batié after I leave? Funny villagers.

I got home and just as I situated myself for a movie while eating my fish, Billy and Loïc came by. Apparently there was a big dance event at the rich neighbor's house that I had to go see. So I took my camera and off I went with the kids. There I saw the group of villagers dressed in traditional Bamiléké fabric and getting ready for a big dance. Turns out Le Grand had invited white people to come observe this village tradition, and that's why there were all the fuss.


Just about everyone from the quartier were there, and ALL the kids were around. They love getting their pictures taken and I created a bit of a chaos when I asked Billy & Loïc to take pictures of me and the little ones. There were ALL over me. You would've thought I was running a daycare in Africa or something. So funny.


I hung out with the kids for the most part; they are so much fun. The dances were going on with the traditional musick; not much different from the others I've seen, but extra special since it was in my village and people dancing were my friends. Later, I saw the "white people". They apparently were a group of priests from all over the world were in Yaoundé for a week, and they are friends with Le Grand's wife. I met them briefly. It was really weird, even for me, to see all these white people in Batié!

So that was an interesting turn of events to my quiet night with a movie. Today, while I was getting some work done, neighbor came to knock on the door and invited me over for lunch. You don't turn down food when offered here, so off I went! The group of missionaries was also there. Also, my amazing, non-corrupt mayor was also present. It was a mini-UN right there in the living room with English, French, German, Spanish being spoken, and people from France, Spain, Fiji, South Korea, and other exotic places. I chatted briefly with the missionaries about my work and they told me a bit about their stay. It was really cool to find such an international setting right in my village, and I got a real kick out of my mayor speaking German. And just like that, an unexpected Monday afternoon!

Since I've been utilizing the RPCV network to seek funding for my project, I've had the chance to read many profiles of RPCVs. The common theme that I've extracted is that Peace Corps is the best two years of their lives and they have very fond memories for years after. I don't doubt that to hold true for me as well, but I wonder if the experience must stop after these two years, or will I be able to continue create memories that will be just as good as these two years, if not better?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Embracing Solitude

7am. I was still asleep. Phone rings. I turned and saw an unregistered number. Reflex hit the ignored button. 30 seconds later, it rings again. This time, my conscious told me this may actually be about work, so I answered it. Still half asleep, I somehow managed to converse in French with a lady calling to see when in the world I would be visiting her library. Assuring her I didn't forget about her village, I rolled over and thought, "oh goodness".

Recently, I decided I would go back to school after my Peace Corps stint. Suddenly, I went from sufficiently occupied to actually running after time. I had actually forgotten what it was like to prioritize my tasks. At the end of October, I will be resitting for the GRE. So now I'm not only bugging everyone on the cyber space about my nutty project, I am also cramming my brain with obscene number of esoteric GRE vocabularies and brushing up on the Pythagorean theorem, and calculating the probability of coins turning face up when tossed.

With these two activities, I now currently spend more than half of my time in front of the computer. Suddenly, the obscene amount of time it takes to do dishes, laundry, shower, cook, etc becomes extremely bothersome. Before when I didn't have a lot to do, those tasks filled up my time. Now, I remember why I never cooked back in the states, other than the fact I didn't know how. I've been eating a lot of grilled fish & baton de manioc as of late, and that's going to get real old, real fast. Thankfully, the birthday package I recently received is full of nothing but food, so that should last me a while!

We are coming up toward the end of the raining season. There have been more and more gorgeous days. Today was one of them, and all day I thought about going into down and mingle with my people. Finally, around dinner time, I went into town to make the round of hellos, and I think tomorrow I am going to bring my GRE book to the bar and sit with my bar lady. That should be an experience!

It's bizarre to think I only have about 9 months left in Cameroon. I am going to miss this life. Yesterday, the power was out all day, so I spent a better part of my evening reading back issues of The Economist by the candlelight. Sometimes, I actually rather enjoy when the power is out and all my electronics are dead. It forces me to really embrace solitude. Being alone takes on an entirely different meaning here. And it's not always bad. I am alone and mostly content. I don't feel the need to fill preconceived social expectation. Friday night is just another night; I don't feel like a loser spending it alone at home, because I have no other choice. Being free from those kind of social obligations can be quite nice.

Life isn't always easy here. Sometimes I just really wish I have running water and indoor plumbing. Other times I wish I can just call up a friend and meet up for an hour over coffee. I've managed to create friendships and swiftly learning to let them go as people move onto their next adventures while I remain here in Cameroon. These aren't easy things to deal with, but on the other hand, I've had some of the happiest moments of my life here. The rolling heels of West Cameroon; the adorable kids who fetch water; the way I say "bonjour" to at least 20 different people on my way into town; the list goes on. And this list makes those very lonely nights very worthwhile.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Freedom of Speech & Social Media

Today is September 19th, and Phase I of the Books For Cameroon project still needs $4,699. Just a month ago, on August 18th, I began tracking the progress, and on that date, we still needed $8,570. I am quite pleased with the progress and hope we can raise the remaining $4k by the end of September.

It hasn't been easy raising funds, but I am glad to see the hard work paying off. Since I am stuck in a village here in West Africa, the Internet is my only tool to promote the project. My desperation drove me to employ desperate measures that included posting a message for on all 600+ "friends" on Facebook and 1,000 or more people with open comment walls on Peace Corps Connect.

The Peace Corps network was really useful and I received some really positive and supportive responses. However, I did receive an email from the person in charge of PC Connect asking me to limit my posting to appropriate groups as some people thought my message were spams. I was really discouraged by this email since this was an important network of people and I felt I was being accused on unfair ground. Frankly, I saw it as an infringement on my right to free speech.

This brings up an important issue on the ever-growing world of social networks and technology in terms of marketing. On Peace Corps Connect, members have the option to leave their profiles public, and their comment boxes open for all. But they can also choose to moderate their comments, or set their profile page to friends-view only. I utilized this tool and posted a generic comment on all members who left their comment boxes for public access. I saw this as analogous to people putting fliers into one's mailbox advertising for one thing or another. People receiving it has every right to either pay attention to it, or throw it away, which they can do by deleting the comment. Not to mention the message was about a Peace Corps project, not inappropriate content or trying to sell things.

Anyway, rant over.

On a much more positive note, through my rampant posting of messages, I reached a RPCV from Cameroon. John was very glad I had found him through Peace Corps Connect and became very involved in advertising the project through his own social network. Also providing me with a plethora of other Cameroon RPCVs from his era. Through the power of multiplicity, I was able to reached so many supporters through just one person.

Besides provide me with essential network, John also made a hefty contribution through the websites that he created. These educational websites share the same vision as my Books For Cameroon project, and I'd like to take this opportunity and share them with you.

Time4Writing.com
- Online writing courses from elementary through high school
Time4Learning.com - Home-school/after-school/summer learning curriculum
Vocabulary.co.il - Vocabulary Learning for K-12, ESL & Test Prep
SpellingCity.com - Vocabulary & Spelling Games
http://learning-fun.blogspot.com - Blog on learning & fun resources for kids

3-Way Culture Exchange

Tuesday morning, I traveled back to the West with two French tourists, Laure & Fabien. They are friends of a French volunteer in Yaoundé, who didn't have time to travel with them. Laure & Fabien were going to travel alone and asked me if I knew a good hotel. I offered to take them in and play tour guide for a few days.

I must say it is quite refreshing having tourists around; it provides a new perspective. Or rather, it reminds me just how funny/absurd life is here. We get to the bus station at Binam Express and a bus was nearly full, but one of those small buses where they sit 5 to a row when it's meant for 4. We piled on and waited for the bus to depart. Every time another person gets on, Laure says, "there is no way." I tell her, "there is always a way."

We arrived in Bafoussam, stopped off in Akwa for some food before heading back to Batié. Laure & Fabien would point out things that I take for granted - the view, the warm and welcoming nature of the people, etc. They were amazed at my hole in the ground "bathroom", my Cameroonian "oven" and the fact I have Internet in a house without running water. On a day-to-day basis, I don't think about how my life here is still absolutely fascinating to many.

In one day, I took them on many "first-time" experiences - first time on overly crowded bus/taxi, first time on a moto, first time eating poisson braisée & baton de manioc, etc. The fascinating and incredible thing about being a globetrotter is the ease to form friendship with other amazing people. Three days prior, I had no idea they would even be visiting, and just like that, I now have new friends in Lyon, France who will welcome me if I ever visit. I think by the end of two years here, I will have friends all over France!

The next day, we visited the Mifi waterfall near Bafoussam, lunch in Akwa, a tour of the Market and then visited the chefferie in Bafoussam. That evening, I was going off to the joint-birthday celebration at the Chineses'. Coincidentally, it was Fabien's 30th birthday. Per usual, my Chinese family invited them over and housed them for two nights instead of letting them stay at a hotel. Once again, I was conducting a 3-way culture exchange; also acting as a translator between the Chineses' French & the Frenchies' French. I grow more comfortable with the French language everyday, and I hope there will be a chance to continue using it in the future.

Ah, Yaoundé.

Following my birthday, I traveled to Yaoundé with Jerome since he was returning to France. I used this occasion and arranged a few meetings for my projects. I had contacted someone at the US Embassy and was hoping to meet on late Friday afternoon since she wouldn't be available on Monday. Newsflash, the Embassy closes at 12:30pm on Friday?! So not only do they get ALL US & Cameroonian holidays off, they also get half day Fridays?! really? And while we are on the subject of government holidays. I passed through the Peace Corps office on Monday hoping to get my mail, fill some medication and also see my APCD. And what do you know? The office was closed? WHY? I still have no idea.

Besides the bizarre office closure, I witnessed another classic Cameroon happening. A football game took place Sunday afternoon at the Omnisport stadium in Yaoundé. This was the last game for the Cameroon club league. No, I did not go watch the game, but what I did witness was how the entire city was more or less on a standstill for this football game. Reason? The president, Paul Biya, was going to be at the game.

The Peace Corps compound is right next to Omnisport, and the French passage house where I was staying is in Bastos, apparently where Biya lives. What does this mean? All the roads between both places I wanted to be were closed. Not for say, an hour, but ALL DAY. In the afternoon, I had lunch with two friends and after were walking back to the Peace Corps compound. We needed to cross the street, but were yelled at by the angry police. So we waited, and two minutes later a parade of motor bikes, limos, big SUVs drove by - the President has arrived.

A few hours later, I attempted to go back to the French passage house and had to walk the entire way because all the roads were closed. As I walked, I observed the empty streets, and the police/army with machine guns on standby. At a few crossroads, I kid you not, there were military tanks. If you were not warned, you would have had every reason to think a war is about to happen. But no, it was just that the President is out to see a football game. This is the same president that has been ruling the country since 1982 and recently went on a $40,000 per night vacation in France. Meanwhile, I am begging for $11,500 to build 30 libraries for his country. Like many things in this country - it doesn't make any sense. And as most Cameroonians would say: On va faire comment?

Monday afternoon, I had arranged a meeting with someone at the British Council to discuss possible collaboration with the Books For Cameroon project. For some reason, I thought it would follow typical UK standards and the meeting would began on time. I arrived at 16h, and by the time the meeting began, it was 16h30. However, this guy was very apologetic and explained that he was meeting with the Education minister, and was that was running late, then the traffic was terrible. As soon as he said the world minister, I forgave him. We had a good discussion about the project and I am crossing my fingers hoping he will be able to find money in this fiscal year's budget to fund our project! We shall see.

Birthday #2 au Cameroun

On September 9th (09/09/09!), I celebrated my 23rd birthday in Cameroon and it was fantastic. Holidays end up being so much more fun here in Cameroon due to the low expectation. I should continue to adopt this attitude upon leaving here. Expect nothing and enjoy whatever comes my way.

The day began with a trip into Bafoussam. Mom had sent me a package that arrived in time and was waiting for me at the post office. It has been a while since I went to the post office to bug the ladies there and they were thrilled to see me. We chatted while I waited. I don't think I've ever or will ever have such lively conversations at the post office.

Afterward, it was lunch in Akwa, at our favorite bar - El Campero. Kate met me for lunch as well as buying groceries we needed for pizza night! I couldn't wait to open the package, and it was an ENTIRE box of FOOD. My favorite Chinese & American snacks all in one. I was impressed!

Jerome was also in town, so he stopped in for lunch and brought a bottle of wine for the evening. He couldn't join the girls for pizza, but paid a visit the following day. For lunch, we had the usual - brochettes & fried plantain. Ghilain, our favorite bar lady wasn't working that day, but she came anyway with a packet of biscuits!

Kate and I return to Batié after buying the necessary groceries from the market. I am not big on huge fêtes, so I invited a few girls over for a fun evening of food and wine. While the girls were slaving away in the kitchen making food, I went into town to drink with villagers. In most cultures, when it's your birthday, people buy you things. Here, when it's your birthday, you buy. However, it's my last birthday here so I was happy to share the occasion (& beers) with my people. They are so funny and I counted my blessings and noticed how much I had grown from the last birthday to this one. Last year, I didn't know villagers to buy them beers.

When I got home, the girls had cooked up a table of food - pizza, salad, mojito, cake, brownies - the works. Kate got me a bar of really good soap from her vacation in France, and the best part about it? It was wrapped in a yummy picture of Brad Pitt. Nura gave me reading privilege of all her unopened Economists from the last two months! It's the little things that really give you great joy here. I had a great birthday that marks the beginning of another hopefully fulfilling year!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why Libraries?



In honor of International Literacy Day on September 8th, I decided to write about why I began the Books For Cameroon project. I am a business volunteer, but why am I building libraries? Today, I will share the story behind this motivation.

As a kid growing up in Taiwan, I was definitely an introvert. While didn't realize it at the time, I didn't have a ton of friends. Partly culture, partly personality, I passed most of my free time either fighting with my sister or relishing in books. My parents were too busy to read to me, but they bought me lots of books on tapes to listen to before going to sleep.

And then there were times when my mother is too busy with errands or work, but instead of finding a baby-sitter for a few hours, she dropped me off at the children's library near our house. I loved it there. The library was kid friendly and had hard-wood floors. I could lay on the floor and read all day long. The only thing I did not like about the library was their 3-book check out policy. I could only borrow three books at a time and I'd often finish those three books by the next day.

The hours spent at the children's library shaped me in ways I hadn't realized. I became very curious about the world and its people. Years of reading also gave me the skills to learn anything I want through a book. In college, I often said that going to classes can seem like a waste of time since I feel like I teach myself most things from textbooks. With advent of Internet, I don't visit libraries anymore. But just yesterday, while sitting in a small village of West Africa, I was indulging in the collection on international finance and development from Google Books.

My first few months at post, I was bored out of my mind. So to find something to do, anything, I began teaching English at the 4-room primary school by my house. Through my interaction with the children, I realized they can't read, at all. Even at a 5th grade level, many of the kids can't read. And then I realized most of these kids have never even seen a story book in their life. I thought how differently my childhood and life would be if my mom hadn't dropped me off at the library during her errands and busy afternoons.

Most of us take the ability to read for granted. But being here allow me to see the harsh reality that in fact, a lot of people have trouble reading. Even the adults in my business classes. While they can read, they can't read at ease. Hardly anyone in village ever read for leisure. I wanted to change this, and I thought it would be the easiest to begin at the schools. Bring books into the country, and then provide training so people know what a library is and how to utilize it.

I never imagined that I would be building 30 libraries. But since I somehow got myself into this situation, I will somehow find a way to make it happen. In honor of International Literacy Day, I hope all of you reading this will consider making a small contribution to this project (Http://www.booksforcameroon.org). I know I haven't picked the best time to launch a project like this given the state of economy. Yet, $5 isn't much to much people, and with just that, it can change lives.

We are fighting poverty with literacy; one latte at a time. Will you join us?

The Power of Social Media

The realm of social media is one among many things I never thought I would learn during my service in the Peace Corps. I have always enjoyed being connected to the greater world. Even when I didn't have easy access to Internet, I still diligently updated this blog to share my experiences with the world. My blog led to encouraging messages from many readers. At a time before my projects took shape, I was glad to still achieve goal III of the Peace Corps.

Months later, I was convinced to explore the world of Twitter, and became connected with a plethora of interesting people. My interest in social media really took off when Laurent Enzo François emailed me for an interview for his blogs in English & French. I talked about the irony of living without running water yet have Internet access. Through the interview, I began to realize I can use this connection to the world to promote my projects.

I am still new to the fascinating world of social media. After my vacation in June/July, I began exploring ways to utilize this new tool. Through Twitter, I connected with a friend from college. We hadn't talked in a long while, but since she is a PR expert, I turned to her for help with writing press releases. Later, she gave me the great idea to collaborate with classrooms and comes the creation of Classroom For Cameroon, and Campus/Community For Cameroon. Colleen talked about her experience helping Africa from her little home in St. Louis in her blog.

Last week, I read an inspiring article about Beth Kanter and her effort to raised over $3,000 within 90-minutes to send a girl to college in Cambodia. The idea was similar to mine - to motivate many people to make a small contribution. The difference is Beth has been building up her social network over the past 5 years, and I've only been on the scene for the past 5 months. Nonetheless, I was inspired. $3,000 in 90 minutes? There should be no reason why I can't raise $8,000 in 30 days.

Everyday, I am learning the struggle that comes with fund-raising, social media, and the like. Perhaps along the way, I offend a few people when I bombard the world with updates about my project. But the important thing is learning to not take it personally. After all, I am building libraries for African kids, not selling people things they don't need. Some days I have nightmares about not getting the project funded and I will leave Cameroon not building even one single library. Yet other days like today, I face the project with great optimism. With just 30 days to raise $8,000, it's lucky that those optimistic days occur far more frequently than the nightmares.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Not Ready to Leave?

After my delightful day in Bafoussam, I had a dream that very night where I was not ready to leave. In the dream, I was not at all packed and was incredibly sad to leave my village and this part of my life behind. I woke up feeling nostalgic of the present. Is that even possible? Can you miss the life that you are still living in?

Ever since I realized that there remains only 10 precious months, I have been incredibly mindful of each and passing moment. I think it's much easier for one to let life pass by when there is no "end" in sight. For the better part of my service, I was so focused on how much more time I have left that each passing day wasn't all that significant.

Many things are on the agenda for the next 10 months and I am out to make each day count. Recently I've decided to apply for graduate schools for my time after the Peace Corps. To craft those perfect admission essays, I've been thinking a great deal on my past, and my future. In addition to my own experiences, I am relating them to issues that I am passionate about. The process has been an interesting self-reflection. Surprisingly, I am learning a lot about myself just through reflecting. Sometimes, I think we all need to take a minute to think about where we came from and what we have become.

I hope to spend some time in the near future dedicating a few blog posts on my views in the realms of microfinance, international development, social media and the like. Hopefully there will be time between cramming my brain full of GRE vocabularies, writing personal statements and continuously begging money for my library project. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Delightful Monday in Bafoussam

I don't think I would've ever described a day spent in Bafoussam, the provincial capital 30 minutes away from my village, as delightful. Usually I am lucky to spend the day there without wanting to punch someone in the face. But this past Monday, it was surprisingly pleasant.

The sun was shining for the first time in weeks. I hadn't noticed it until a guy from village said this is the first day it hasn't rained in two weeks. Per usual, I was squeezed in the back seat with 3 others, but luckily my favorite fish mama was next to me. We had some nice chats. She was on her way into Bafoussam to purchase coal for her fish grilling endeavor. It never occurred to me until that moment that one can't find coal in my village. 14 months in, yet I still learn something new everyday.

The taxi made it into town without too many stops. I dropped off the copy work at my regular shop. The lady who owns this cyber café is one of the most modern and put together Cameroonian women I've ever met. She runs her business with such efficiency that blows my mind every time. We've became good friends and now she gives me my copies at a special rate. Each week, I look forward to our friendly exchanges when I go in to make copies for my business classes.

After I drop off the work, I walked down Akwa, a street in Bafoussam with bars, and mamas and people selling all kinds of street food. I stopped by my regular brochette guy and picked up a few skewers of bbq meat to fill the stomach. While I waited for my change, I noticed the ease and comfort I possessed in these social situations. Just a year ago, I was at the same place with Kirk, my predecessor, completely intimidated yet excited to face the great unknown. I thought of how far I've came in a year.

Brochettes in hand, I stopped by our regular bar to see Ghilain, our bar lady, but she wasn't there. So I continued the walk toward the bank to withdrawl some money. Nice guard at the bank informed me the ATM machine doesn't work. Luckily, there was hardly anyone inside the bank since it's not the end of the month. (Do not try to do anything at a Cameroonian bank near the end of the month. It is a pure nightmare.) I filled out some paperwork at the counter. While waiting for my money, I had a flashback to a year ago when Kate and I were trying to open our accounts there with atrocious French. How things have changed.

I paid a visit at my Chinese family. Per usual, they asked me to stay for lunch. I continue to marvel at how much they reall are like my parents. I told them I will be sitting for the GRE at the end of October and therefore are a lot busier now. Just before I left, they told me to study hard. I was warmed and thought that's exactly what my mother would say. I will miss them.

Since the sun was shining, I took the opportunity to take a stroll through the market. Usually I detest the market in Bafoussam. People are often obnoxious and in the rainy season, it's a muddy mess. But this day, I was particularly in the mood for some market action. I roamed through the crowded alleys with relative ease. Saw a stand with some scarfs so I stopped to barter with the lady. Two scarfs for 3000cfa ($6), not bad. I pride in the fact I now can buy most things like a true local.

Then I found my way to the veggie section of the market. I was looking for cucumber and didn't see any. So I inquired a mama. "Salut, ma fille !" (hello, my girl/daughter) I will miss being greeted this way. She told me where to find cucumber. The lady selling cucumber had a bunch of other things, among them, garlic that are already peeled! This is the equivalent of finding gem. I hate peeling garlic!

I concluded my stroll through the market, picked up my copies and then went behind the gas station to find a car back to Batié. Apparently during the week, taximen aren't suppose to be getting clients anymore. They are suppose to get clients at a place a bit outside of the city. That requires an extra 200cfa (40cents) in taxi to get there. So during the week, getting car in the center of the city is a hush-hush operation. Like a true local, I do not want to pay the extra 40 cents. I knew exactly where to go and who to see to get a car back home. The things I do here. :)

A delightful day in Bafoussam. At this moment in time, I already know for the rest of my life, I will miss days like this one. *sigh*

Rain. Love It. Hate It.

I love the rainy season for several reasons. For starter, when it rains, I can stay in like rest of the population here. "It's raining" is a perfectly valid excuse to not do anything. The rain washes away the dirt and everything is less dirty. My house is not constantly covered by a layer of dust. Although my feet are still always dirty because the rain causes the mud to get all over the place. On a side note, the other day I realized that I have not worn closed-toe shoes in over a year. The thought of wearing high-heels is very foreign, and the fact I just typed hell instead of heel clearly reflects my feeling on this subject.

Since it's still the summer and my water boys are on vacation, the rain allows me to just put a bucket out rather than going to the pump and fetch water myself. That is a definite big plus. Finally, there is nothing more soothing than a cold rainy day when I can wrapped myself up in a sweater, read a book or get work done without interruption. I have really learned to love the rain since my time here.

However, nothing is ever so perfect. The one terrible thing about the rainy season is that my clothes takes forever to dry. When the sun does come out, it's deceiving. I put my clothes out on the line, and the next thing I know, I had forgotten about them and they are soaked in rain. But clothes are one thing, I wring them dry and it's okay. Now, bedsheets are a whole different story.

There are some things we as PCVs have to do that you may not remember. And washing your bedsheets by hand is such task. By hand, without running water. First it takes all of my energy and then some to wash the sheets and wring them dry by hand. Then I catch the small window that the sun is out to put my sheets out on the line. On this particular Sunday, I did just that, then began doing some work on the computer. Working so consciously that I completely forgot about the sheets. Several hours and many pouring session of rain later, I suddenly thought of them. Inappropriate words came out in all four languages I know. I was not a happy camper.

The problem with the sheets is that they hang lower, so when the rain pours, mud gets all over them. Not only are my sheets now soaks, I will have to repeat the entire process over again. Fan-freaking-tastic.

The rain. I love it and I hate it. This must the what they mean by "can't have your cake and eat it, too".

Friday, August 14, 2009

Present Moment. Wonderful Moment.

It occurred to me a few days ago that I only have about 10 months left of service. This was shocking. Suddenly, any lonely feeling or "oh life sucks here" feeling had vanished. All is left is "how is it possible I only have 10 months left?!" panic.

I thought of all the things I still need to accomplish, namely, building 30 libraries. Yikes.

The realization brought on a complete change of attitude. I began to really notice on the minute detail of everyday life here. Each moment is special in its own right. I am constantly thinking to myself, "embrace this moment, because in 10 months, even if I want it, I won't have this again."

Some of the amazing moments this week were as follow:
  • I was running on the neighborhood market day and when I ran through, all the mamas waved. After the run, I stopped by to pick up some groceries, and mamas were so happy to see me. One wouldn't stop talking me in the patois that I don't understand. I got some extra tomatoes as cadeau.
  • After my class one evening, I went to my fish mama with my tupperware. She got a grilled fish ready to go for me, and some baton de manioc. Mmmm yummy. Then she forgot the onion, so I reminded her. She told me how I'm just like one of them! Fish mama loves the fact I come prepared with a tupperware.
  • Went to the pump by my house to get water after a run one morning, there were kids I don't recognize pumping water. They are here during the vacation. Little girl called me "la blanche", so I taught her my name. The boy who's bigger offered to pump my water and then carried the bucket on his head and brought it to the house.
  • The same little girl came to my house today with her posse. They yelled "Wendy, Wendy" continuously until I came to the door. I was happy she stopped calling me "la blanche". The kids asked me a million cute questions. Including, "pourquoi tes yeux sont comme ça?" (why are your eyes like that?) "pourquoi t'es blanche comme ça?" (why are you white like that?) "pourquoi tu parles comme les gens sur la télé?" (why do you talk like the people on TV?) They are SO cute. I told them if they are good tomorrow we can have coloring afternoon chez moi.
I am very happy here. Every moment is a wonderful moment.

Jesus Party!

The one trait I've strengthened during my time in Peace Corps is to think VERY quickly on my feet to accommodate all sorts of unexpected situations.

Weeks ago, while preparing to begin my second round of business classes, I got approval from the Secretary General at the Mayor's Office to use the meeting space. I delivered a protocol letter with exact dates and time. The Mayor signed it. I got the OK.

Last Friday, Mr. SG told me I need to switch keys with him because there is a church event taking place this week and I would need to use the smaller room. Not a problem. I figured it's just a sort of meeting or another.

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived at the carrefour at 4pm and I found a band set up in front of the building entryway. They were prepared to blare some serious gospel music. I had 30 minutes until my class begin. Oh Crap. If you've ever been to any Cameroonian event, you know when it comes to music, it is about quantity (how loud can we blare it) and not quality. And if you've been into any kind of Cameroonian buildings, you know soundproof does not exist.

For 15 minutes, I walked up and down the carrefour feeling frustrated that no one informed me of the happening. I went into the bank, and my counterpart happens to be the one organizing this event. I asked him if the Mayor knew about this musical glory happening at the same time as my class. He said, "oh yeah". Then I looked at the flyer, and of course it was not clearly stated that there would be a sort of concert taking place at this time. I proceeded to give Mr. SG a call, and naturally, he had no idea of this. Great.

4:25pm. I walked into my class and explained the situation to my students. We decided to rough it out. By closing all the doors, we were able to keep the noise out somewhat, and I carried on teaching them basic accounting. Ironically, the last class was about goals and action plans. So I pointed out how this is a perfect example of poor planning, and they agreed.

I left my class feeling amused and somewhat entertained when I saw all the villagers dancing to the gospel. I am not sure how much gospel they really are absorbing, and how much they are just there for a good time. Either way, the ambiance was fun. And once again, only in Cameroon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This is how we do it

I may have Internet, and I may be Posh Corps, but there are certain moments that distinctly remind me that I am indeed, still en afrique.

This morning, I woke up to Antoine beeping me and then banging on my door at 7:30am. In case I haven't explained the concept of "beeping", it's when people call you, let it ring once or twice and then hang up before you pick up. Purpose? So you will call them back and therefore it doesn't cost them anything. The practice is very strange for us Americans, since for some bizarre reason, we, for the most part, have to pay for calls that you make and receive.

Anyway, Antoine is the Peace Corps driver, also the chief of my quartier (neighborhood). In some ways, he is sort of like my dad in village. He's not here often, but when he is, he takes care of business for me. I went to the door, he wanted to know if people can still sign up for my business class. I said yes, but before Thursday afternoon. Also he wanted to tell me he caught the kid who stole my sandals and that he will bring the kid to come return them and apologize. Very cute. But was it necessary at 7:30am? I am not a Cameroonian. I do not wake up for no apparent reason at 5am.

Lately, my water supply has been running a bit low. Since the rain often comes in the afternoon now, the kids don't come by to get me water. But with the rain, I can just catch it with a bucket. Late afternoon rain came and it is absolutely pouring out. There is a spot on the side of my house where the water comes down like a faucet, but it requires me going around the house. So picture this, I am holding an umbrella, but still getting wet, hopping to the side of my house to catch water with this bucket. Return inside to empty water in the big bucket. Repeat. This happeend about 4 times until I had adequate supply of water. The whole time I was thinking, "The things I do in Africa. This is absurd but funny. And I will probably miss it."

Business Class: Round II

Yesterday began the first session of the business classes in village. I had one heck of a time this time around recruiting students. Perhaps I became too confident and thought word of mouth would do and thus did not attend enough neighborhood meetings. Anyhow, I had only around 15 students during the first class, so I told them if they find someone to sign up for Thursday, I'd pay them 500cfa ($1). I am pretty sure I will be paying money out of my own pocket for this session of classes.

The reasons people give me for not able to attend are quite amusing. A lot say, "I don't have time." and it would be 10am and they are sitting at a bar drinking a beer. Really? Don't have time? Come on. A lot of people say, oh, it's vacation right now, so a lot of people aren't around. People who take vacations are students; ironically, 3/4 of my class right now are students. Even with just 15, the first class was already rewarding. People are often timid during the first session, so it's less fun to teach. I enjoy it far more when there are plenty of interaction among students. These exchanges are very valuable.

Having taught the condensed version with RELUFA in Yaoundé a few weeks ago spoiled me. The level of students are different and it was so much easier and the conversations were much more in depth. Also, it was so well organized for me that all I had to do was show up and teach. This is different. I have to do everything. After all, I am a volunteer for rural development. There is a reason why I've been placed here.

Here's hoping this next round of classes will be smooth and successful!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer Blues?

Technically, it's "winter" here, so I suppose it would be more like "winter blues", which makes more sense. I've been feeling some severe waves of nostalgia as of late. Maybe it's all the rain, but there is definitely a mood lingering.

I have been in Cameroon for over a year now and all along, there were people coming and going. For the first time, I am experiencing severe nostalgia of those first few months at post. Those few months when Juliette and Grégoire were still here, and there were constantly visitors or some sort of happening. Those were the happy days with lots of dinner parties, lots of dancing and well, lots of fun. I miss those days. Now, just me in the village, not nearly as much fun...

I so did not know how good I had it.

I am understanding loneliness to a whole different level. I laugh at the fact I once thought I was so alone in college because I was spending so much time either working or at the library. Those were the days when I still could call up a handful of friends at any given moment to meet for coffee or meals. Oh, what I would give for one of those meals with any of the friends right now.

You may ask, "well, don't you have any Cameroonian friends? You've been there for a year!" My answer, "yes, but I keep them at an arm's length" Why? because I get burned every time I let people too close. In the beginning, I hung out with a lot of the kids because I thought they were harmless - wrong. They stole from me, not once, not twice, but many times. I had to put an end to cookie afternoons and coloring sessions chez moi. For a while I was becoming closer to the moto guys who were taking me until one borrowed money from me and I had to twist his arms to get it back.

And then there are all the high school boys who are near my age (people are old here for school) and as soon as I become friends with them, they tell me they are in love with me and can't stop thinking about me. Most of them don't even know my last name. The flurry of calls and text messages makes me fearful of those friendship. There aren't a lot of girls my age, and those that are either have kids or are always busy working in the farm or doing housework.

So there you have it. I have "friends" in village, but they are more like how I would define "acquaintances" back in the real world.

Having Interent, surprisingly, actually makes this problem worse. Yesterday, the Cameroon country desk officer came to my house for a visit. She was a volunteer here 10 years ago and she was marveled that I have a computer and Internet. She said they didn't even have cell phones back then, and when she talks to her parents, she would said, "okay, we'll talk again in 3 months." Times have changed.

The Internet keeps me connected with the world, but it's still not human interaction. Rather, it reminds me of all the things I can't do. It's a real tease that can push the loneliness over the edge. I recognize this is a phase that will pass. I am handling it. Just another aspect of life as a Peace Corps volunteer. I am most certain that after these two years, I can live anywhere in the world.

Campus For Cameroon/Community For Cameroon

In the same vein of Classroom For Cameroon, I hereby introduce Campus For Cameroon and Community For Cameroon. I hope through the power of community, I can spread the third goal of Peace Corps: Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. And through the power of group effort, the Books For Cameroon project will become a reality.
  • Who? Community & campus groups around the USA! (girls scouts, boy scouts, rotary clubs, church groups, etc.)
  • What? An opportunity for community and campus organizations with a service component to learn about Cameroon and life in the Peace Corps. Members are encouraged to organize presentations for the community to inform other U.S. citizens of life abroad as a Peace Corps volunteer and the country of Cameroon. In addition, organizations are encouraged to organize fundraising events to help make the Books For Cameroon project a reality.
  • Where? Across the USA and beyond!
  • When? The months of September & October, 2009
  • How? Organizations can host presentations to discuss the Books For Cameroon project, the Peace Corps and life in Cameroon. Campus groups are encouraged to working with local Peace Corps recruiter to inform the university community about opportunities in the Peace Corps. Scout troops can use this opportunity for members to earn badges. Organizations who raise over $500 will be mentioned in the press release at the conclusion of this project.
Some Fundraising Ideas
- Lemonade stands
- Bake sales
- Car wash
- Local restaurant night (donation are tax deductible!)
- Change jars (Penny War)
- Benefit concerts (local bands/student groups)
- BBQ

Please feel free to leave comments of any other fundraising ideas!

Classroom For Cameroon

After a month of bugging everyone I know on Twitter/Facebook/Email begging money to fund Books For Cameroon, my friend Colleen gave me a brilliant idea to incorporate classroom teaching into the fundraising. I took to the idea immediately since it encompasses the third goal of Peace Corps: Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Ladies and gents, I present to you: Classroom For Cameroon
  • Who? Students and Teachers in grades K-12 all around the USA!
  • What? Month-long activity for kids to discover Cameroon, Africa, and the Peace Corps. Meanwhile, students will collaborate to create fundraising activities to help kids in Cameroon to have libraries!
  • Where? Classrooms all around the USA!
  • When? The months of September, 2009
  • How? Each week, teachers and group leaders will spend some time to help students answer the week's topic question. The method of teaching is free for each teacher to decide. Below are some suggested links and resources. The fund-raising effort will begin on September 1st. Each Friday, each group will submit their progress to be posted on the Cash For Cameroon honor roll! Schools raise more than $500 will be mentioned in the press release at the end of the project!
Resources for elementary school teachers (grades K- 5)
Resources for middle school teachers (grades 6-8)
Resources for high school teachers (grades 9-12)

Some Fundraising Ideas
- Lemonade stands
- Bake sales
- Car wash
- Local restaurant night (donation are tax deductible!)
- Change jars (Penny War)
- Benefit concerts (local bands)
- BBQ

Please feel free to leave comments of any other resource materials & fundraising ideas!

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Call for Help! - Building 28 Bilingual Libraries!

As many of you know, I somehow got myself into this silly project of bringing 28 bilingual libraries to Cameroon. All I wanted was some books for this tiny 4-room school by my house. How the project manifested into such scale, I haven't a clue.

Either way, here we are, trying to raise funds to pay for the shipping fee requires for a 40-foot container of books to come from the US (about 22,000 books), in collaboration with Books For Africa. I suppose it's been about a month that I've been sending out emails, bugging the crap out of you on Facebook and Twitter, yet we are barely at $1,000. How much do we need? $11,500. Riiiight.

$11,500 may seem like a lot of money at lump sum, but if you break it down, it only takes 2,300 people to donate $5 to reach the goal. You are telling me in this day in age with all the social networks, I can't find 2,300 people to give up their next $5 latte/beer/burger? I hope humanity is better than that.

That's not all. In phase II, we'll be needing roughly the same amount of money to get French books, in collaboration with Biblionef and l'AESCO. Yikes.

So anyway, I am desperate. I am calling for help. Literacy is something most of us take for granted. Yet here, most people can't read. Think about if you can' read - how your life would be different? We want to help Africans to help themselves. But if they can't read, how far can they go? I want to change the fact that most of the people I've met here has never seen a library in their entire life, and if they did, it's because they were privileged enough to go to a university.

Can you contribute some pocket change and help me make this project a reality? If you are a small business owner, this is a perfect tax write-off! Let's help Africans help themselves by giving them the resources. Tell your friends and neighbors!

To make a tax-deductible donation: Http://tiny.cc/booksforcameroon
To follow us on Facebook and look at adorable pictures, and read stories that's been published about the project: Http://tiny.cc/booksfc

Thank you all for your support!