Friday, February 27, 2009

The Complicated Ways

You know how at interviews when they ask, "Describe a time when you had to think quickly on your feet to respond to unexpected problems", or "Describe a time when you had to solve a problem creatively"? I think living in Cameroon has allowed me to have at least one story a day that answers to these behavioral type questions.

I never realized how wonderful store hours are. You know Wal-Mart is open 24 hours a day except Christmas and Thanksgiving. You know Walgreens and the gas stations are always open. On Christmas Eve, you can always go see a movie or rent them at Blockbuster. I know I can find all my living stables at Target or Trader Joes. The only time I remember not finding something I want is when it's some bizarre thing like a pink, transparent see-through ipod case (I never actually looked for one of those), or just the right pair of black heels for my little black dress (I did have a black heels crisis). I am reminded of the wonder of store hours every time I trek all the way to the carrefour and they don't have something I totally need. Because you bet I am not going all the way there unless I have to. It's so natural for stores to be "out of something" or just simply not open at all.

When I am in my house, there's how to best utilize my limited water supply as not to waste. Recently I've rearranged my schedule so I can be out and avoid the kids coming by my house after school. But the downside of it is I don't have plenty of water fetchers ready to work. I do laundry, and then I wash the floor with the soapy water. I always have to make sure there are water for the filter, because it is not good when there aren't water to cook or drink. And I usually have to spread out my chores that requires water, which includes shower. Today for example, I took a bucket bath, and then did dishes, and that depletes the supply so much that I must wait to do other cleaning later.

All of the above mention things are all quite minor and daily, but last night I was encountered with a classic "this is Africa" moment. I had been searching quite a while for flights from Yaoundé to Taipei. Either the entire trip on one booking is simply impossible, or insanely expensive. After many comibnations and logical thinking, I narrowed down to two separate bookings with Air France. Then because my Internet is too slow and spotty, I decided to walk my sister step through step of booking on the Air France Cameroon website. We got through everything until when it's time to input payment info, and it wouldn't work. So I go to Air France US website and it tells me the flights aren't available, which is obviously not true. Then I go to Air France France website, and it still wouldn't work. Finally, I sat online while my sister called Air France US and booked my flight on the phone. Apparently all flights out of Africa aren't allow to be booked online, because there are too many fraud. Then the problem came with the credit card company freaking out because it's paying for a flight out of Africa. A flight out of Africa is apparently more thief-esque than charging two Macbook laptops in the same month. In the end, Air France had to submit a bill to credit card company and confirmation will be delivered within 24 hours.

Through it all, I was actually more amazed at the efficiency of Sherry getting on the phone and able to get something done in a flash than the complication of this process. I'm used to this, but I'm not used to getting things done. Sherry was concerned about my extended layover where my luggage won't be checked through. I said, "I will enjoy checking and rechecking my luggage because it will be SO efficient." I will need to do some serious mental preparation before I land in Asia. The Asian efficiency is going to put me over the edge!

Stoned Heart? or Stronger?

Last week, Juliette went back to France. The population of "les blancs" in village is now down to one - just me. Several friends and I accompanied her to the airport. On the way there, I noticed that I felt nothing and became alarmed by the lack of feelings. Starting at age 12, I've had to say many goodbyes to people whom I don't know if I would ever see again. Some are easier than others to part, but there are also some sort of sadness. There were times when I sat on the floor of my apartment crying all day or when I had to say goodbye at the airport and the crying made you thought I was filming a movie. In the past six months, the frequency of these goodbyes has increased dramatically. And perhaps I have peaked. All I felt when I send off Ju was, "here goes another". In a way, it's easier. I'm not sad or happy to see her go, I'm just very glad that our friendship occured. This is probably the mentality I ought to have if I plan on globetrotting for the rest of my life.

Speaking of globetrotting, my family has recently decided to meet up back in Taiwan! It began with just my parents going taking care of business, then my aunts family in the US is meeting up, then my sister is stopping by before her summer job begins. When I heard all this, I couldn't stand missing out on this once in a decade family reunion, even if I am in Africa. I haven't been back on the island of Taiwan in four years. The last time I was there was the summer that began my addiction to globetrot. I name this blog Round II partly because I feel a need to reconnect to my past and so much of moving to a new continent and learning new ways of living mirror to my experience 10 years ago in the US. This time, going back to Taiwan will allow me to connect the dots even more after having experienced aspects of life here that matched stories of my parents' childhood in the Taiwan that was still developing. Once again, life falls into places in the utmost mysterious and fascinating ways.

Back in Business

After a string of less than pleasant events in the last month, things are looking up, for real this time. I took a small trip a while ago to clear my head, to regain perspective and to avoid punching someone/some kid in the face. The trip was a wonderful escape (details to come). I saw different ways of living within the same country and I have gained perspective on where I am, both my place in this country, and in life.

Juliette and I had many lengthy conversations over development and what's it is really all about. Along the way, we met interesting people that taught us a little more about the world. We came across a group of French hunters who were here for just few weeks. The one guy we spoke with brought a kilo of candy and a suitcase full of medicine to distribute. It's people like them that had the kids yelling "donne-moi le cadeau" (give me the gift) at us in an area where that's probably the only French they know. The guy talked about all the things they (Cameroonians) can do to be more "eco-friendly". We laughed later - people who have no idea. People care about having food for dinner and money to send their kids to school. Their level of carbon emission is the last thing on their minds.

Then we met a 84-year-old guy from Norway but had done his undergraduate studies at University of Washington. He came to talk to us randomly one night when Ju and I were having dinner. Turns out he first got to Cameroon nearly 10 years ago on a church mission and had felt in love with the people in the village. And since, he's came back every year for different periods of time personally financing projects for the people he's grown to love; building houses and sending kids to school. We met one girl he's sending to nursing school now. He was fascinating and showed that personal wealth can do a great deal of good this way. Makes me rethink the private sector. There would be efficiency, and money. Money that I can turn around and do greater good with.

I also met other French volunteers whom I haven't met before. We discussed at length and compared our work. And I couldn't help but keep feeling as though I am just here wandering the fields aimlessly hoping to stumble on something good to do, while the French volunteers are sent here with very specific projects and goals. They have a legit job. They also get paid 3 times what I get. Also, they speak French, duh. I can't help but feel they are looking at me amazed at what in the hell I am doing here not speaking French that well and living in the middle of nowhere with no real goals and little pay. Yup. That's the Peace Corps for you. When I try to explain the "culture exchage" part of our goals, which is 2/3, I myself feel a little ridiculous.

Despite of it all, I got back in village and am still glad to be here. While researching for future job possibilities, I rediscovered my dream job as an International Manager at HSBC. I had discovered this program a few years ago but had given up after an internship-searching debacle that sent me seeking for a therapist. I had completely forgotten about it and when I rediscovered it few days ago, I was amazed at how unknowingly, ending up in the Peace Corps has further qualified me for this dream job. To put it simply, this job is like a life-time Peace Corps, except in international banking. One spends their career making 18-months to 2 year rotations in any of the 85 countries that HSBC has operation. I will have to adapt quickly and learn languages as I am here in the Peace Corps. The difference is, I'll have a real pay, and a real job with specific functions and a learning curve so great that I won't know what to do with myself.

I miss absurd efficiency. I miss strange looking excel spreadsheets with equations out of the wazoo. I want to make the world a slightly better place, but I am learning that doing it through the traditional non-profit way is not for me. I am grateful that I have this experience to really find myself, in a way that no other job/experience could offer. Meanwhile, I have 19 months or so left in this experience. I intend on wracking up more ridiculous stories for my future interview.

I am back in business, and I have more reasons to stay and tough out the remaining months of service than ever. Now, let's get some projects rolling!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Justice Served

This morning, I spent the morning doing dishes, cleaning the house. I set out a box of trash in the backyard and was planning on burning it after I took a shower. I took the shower, just as I was getting ready to go take care of the trash, I saw the box was gone and the fence door cracked. I stepped outside and saw two kids going through my trash in the middle of the field. I recognized them. I yelled and they ran.

I was annoyed. What is wrong with these kids? Trash is not toy! A while later, a group of kids that I like came to get water for me, then later they asked me about the stuff that was stolen. And then I showed them the trash in the field from the morning and we had a discussion. This group of boys have more or less dedicated themselves as my protector. They said they will come to my house and make sure the kids don't annoy me everyday after school. They also identified the one kid I recognized this morning is Antoine's grandson. This kid is in so much trouble.

Antoine is a Peace Corps driver and a chief of our neighborhood. He comes in the village every now and again and always takes me to meetings and such. I am lucky because he's got some power and he takes care of me. A while later, Antoine came with another guy. I showed them the trash incident from the morning, and right away Antoine ordered for the backyard to be fenced in completely so no one can enter. Then not 20 minutes later, my group of protectors dragged the rascal and another kid who was equally annoying to my front yard. Antoine then begin exercising his power as the adult and gave the kids a good beating. I went back into the house after a few minutes and let them took care of business.

After a while, I see a group of adults whom I'm not very familiar with out there beating the kids. Motos were stopping to watch the show. This was an event! I wish I can say I feel bad that the kids were getting beat, but I really don't, not at all. I got a good spanking when I didn't want to practice piano when I was a kid, much less stealing things. They SO deserved it. Also, there were other kids watching, which should serve a good lesson that this is what happens when you mess with the white girl.

At last, justice is served. As it should.

Things are looking up with this turn of events. Also, last night I received an email from a guy who ran across my blog. As it turns out, this guy lives in New Jersey and has been living in the States for 29 years. But, he is originally from Batié. Actually, not even just from Batié, but from my quartier! He saw the library proposal for the primary school of Famgoum and wanted to see how he can help. He's from a prominent family here and knows a lot of people. I emailed him back to solicit more information, and he told me the people that are relate to him in town, including the lady who sells me drinks at the carrefour! Also, the mayor is apparently his cousin. I couldn't wrap my head around that for the longest time. This is wild. Technology is an amazing thing!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

W.T.F.?!?

To Do Tomorrow: Change the luggage combo lock on the latrine to a real combination lock with turns. Yes, it happened again. Never thought toiletris in a latrine would be so damn popular.

So it happened today. I went to speak with the headmistress of the school and expressed my concern with kids and that I would not be able to continue my involvement with the students in a group setting. She was incredibly understanding and said that the students steal from what little they have at the school also. We had a good conversation. I expressed interest in continue working with individuals who really care about learning. Also, we are going to help her get her daughter's old computer up and running again and have some sessions on that. I was rather sorry to go until the events that followed soon after.

Then around 2pm when school was out: kids were all over my house. Annoying as can be. What did I ever do to deserve this? I left an hour later to teach English to the Women's Group. 3:30pm rolled around an only one lady showed up. I guess since the end of dry season is approaching, the ladies are busy working in the farms. I went home, and my friends were here. The kids also came back and seriously trying to drive me mad. I literally had to lock me and my friend in the house, both front door and the back door. Those little jerks would run to the back door after I've locked the front one.

So the evening moved on nicely without kids. We had a nice dinner in candle light because of course the power was out. I headed to bed but then woke up after the power came back to go to the latrine. And then, I saw an empty chair with a raisor. They even took the toilet paper today. So not only did they still my stuff yesterday, they came back TODAY and stole the replacement. Whoever this is obviously doesn't shave, because that Venus razor is expensive here. I should have changed my lock yesterday.Tomorrow, I am putting a real combo lock there. The three turns are far too complicated for those stupid kids. Even if they know the combo, they can't get it open.

This is absurdity. It was all too good to be true when I had a streak of 3 months where kids were charming and cute where all they wanted was fetch me water. When I first got here, the kids were annoying like they are now, I thought it was because I was new. Apparently not. It's a game to them. Let's see how we can bug the hell out of the white/Chinese girl today. 3 months of splendid goodness, and now I get everything in one month. I suppose that emotional chart about life in Peace Corps was no joke. I hope this dip is a steep one and it will shoot straight back up soon. What doesn't kill you makes you... more opinionated about everything? Or so I've felt lately... One positive thought follow by three frustrating things. The ups and downs of Peace Corps life; suppose it's better than a boring life...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Enough

Tonight, I drew a line. It was 6pm and I was on my way to the latrine for a shower (hot bucket bath). I opened the door, and saw that somehow my shampoo, facewash and soap are gone. That's rather peculiar, the latrine is locked with a combo lock! But obviously these items didn't suddenly grow legs and climbed out of the window. Obviously some little shit head had broke into my latrine and took these items. I must've not turned the combo lock enough. My anger didn't stem from the missing of my shampoo and soap, but instead this event is an icing a very bad tasting cake. Few weeks ago, when I was dealing with my broken computer, I came home one day and found that some shit head had took a shit on my latrine step. So, the expression, "pile of shit" is quite literal here. It's not the first time that kids are around the premise my house being utterly annoying. I used to put my trash outside and there are evidence of kids going through my trash. Little things here and there and I brush them off as stupid stuff that kids do because they have nothing else to entertain them, so they take the white girl as target of fun.

But tonight, I've had enough. It just so happened that today I was thinking about quitting my gig as an English teacher at the school, and cutting back the programs I am doing with the kids per the reasons I discussed in the previous blog post. The even of tonight acts almost like a sign. I don't know which kids are hanging around my house pulling tricks but I know they are kids. My house is too close to the school, and everyone knows where I live. So maybe the kids were being bad and I yelled them at school, and they get back at me by doing stupid shit like that. I love kids and I enjoy working with them, but purely on an individual basis. I can't deal with the nonsense. Also, the exams I gave this week also shown just how little kids care about what I am teaching. Whether or not they actually care about anything at all, I don't know. But it's very obvious that I am just something for them to get away from the regular teacher. Sure there are the few that actually care about learning, but I didn't sign up for this. It was something to do while I was getting a barring on my French. But now, I've had enough. I need to get back to the reason I joined the Peace Corps, and it was certainly not putting up with rascals all day.

And ironically enough, today, Nura and I hashed out details about our upcoming business class that we'll be teaching together in BatiŽ. It's perfect timing. It's time to put an end on work that don't make me feel productive and instead put me in a bad mood just about everyday, and start helping people/adults who appreciate and are grateful of my presence here. The kids can continue to fetch water for me and continue to save the pocket change I give them. But there will be no more movie afternoon Chez Wendy or cookie-making time. I hate to do this because there are some kids I really really like. But since I don't know who's the culprit, I have to punish them all. Too bad.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Solitude

Power went out a few hours ago, so I lit a candle, made some dinner, and began watching "Paris". A french movie that had been recommended to me by, well, a French. The film had wonderful music that made me miss playing the piano and terrific cinematography that made me wish I was on the next plane to Paris. There were scenes of Cameroon in that film and for the first time ever, I really grasped how strange my life is. I find it strange when I see my own pictures on Facebook or the blog, where they are removed from the parameters of my life here. But to see scenes of life here in a movie was beyond me. They are the same scenes I would've seen in documentaries or videos on YouTube; except, now that's where I live. I can't find words to describe how strange that is...

At the same time, it's helped me to remember just how exotic and amazing this opportunity is. Despite the frustrations, I will likely never again live as I am now. Few weeks ago, I had the chance to visit the French resort thanks to Juliette's Parents' friends. It's not my first time to see how the expats live, but it further reminds me just how far removed they are from the people in the country. A chance to live amongst the people is rare. I can't say that I live exactly like my neighbors since I am currently having a bowel of cold Honey Nut Cheerio thanks to my fridge and Gary's expense account at Score (the European supermarket) that paid for the cereal months ago.

It's a Tuesday night and I was curled up on my couch enjoying a film with a nice mug of hot tea, surrounded by warm candle light. Life isn't so bad here. I am 22 and will be almost 24 when I leave. Let's say I began my life of uber productivity at the age of 4 (I am Asian, you wouldn't believe the sort of classes my mother enrolled me in while I was that age). I can take 2 years out of the past 20 years and just relax a bit. I have the rest of my life to live off of caffeine and sleep deficiency.

Fellow volunteer gave me a pep talk last week while I was going through a bit of crisis. We talked about sitting in future interviews reflecting on our time here. She said, "sexual discrimination? checked. racial discrimination? checked. every freaking rule in that equal opportunity employement handbook? checked. checked. checked." So true. The things we deal with here may seem like mere cultural differences, but some of the things are just absurd. When was the last time an African person walking down the street of a U.S. city and someone yelled, "the black! the black!"? Exactly. For me, I'm not even white. So not only do I get discriminated living here for being "non-black", I also have to be a race that I am not? And when was the last time your collegues told you you are too old to not be married as a girl?

I've been kind of anti-social and not letting the kids hang out at my house lately. Today, I realized why. I began doing more projects at the primary school that I teach at, and they are exhausting. Teaching is already difficult with the lack of supplies and large number of students. American teachers have it so good. Elementary schools in Taiwan were about the same size as the classes here, but we did have more supplies and tools. Last week, I was giving an exam, and I finally broke down and use my own money to make copies because I couldn't bare kids turning in scraps of paper. They do that for homework, and that's fine. But it'd just waste too much time writing everything on the board and expect them to answer questions, too. Teaching is an extremely difficult task when you have nothing to work with. Anyway, with the after school programs, all the teachers leave and I'm the only one left and it takes me on average 15 minutes just to get the kids to calm down. And then I have to constantly deal with the others who like to congregate and see what's going on. These days, I spend on average 3 hours a day at the school and at the end of the three hours, I am so exhausted from dealing with ALL the kids that I just want to shut my door and be left alone. But as I've described before, that's impossible.

Kids are great to work with, as long as they aren't in a group. I love my neighbor's kids. They are so cute. The oldest kid, Loïc, is one of my students and he's really well behaved, and comes to get water for me like clockwork. The other day, he asked me if there are people like him (black) in the U.S. So I explained it to him but also added that we don't yeall "the black" at them when they walk down the street. Then I said, "but people here call me 'the white' all the time. Not very nice, is it?" A few days later, I was at the bank and having a discussion with his mom (she's the cashier at the bank) about living here and I mentioned all the attention I get. She said it must be really hard and that she admires the courage we volunteers have. Then she talked about how her son had related what he had learned from me. I was proud. I had taught one kid to properly treat White people.

The little things. They add up. I just need to constantly remind myself of that.