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!

Percussion Festival in Foumban

Saturday morning, I met up with 3 French girls in Bafoussam and rode in their pick up truck to Foumban. Clotide is the French volunteer in Dschang and is blessed with a car. Seeing a girl drive here in Cameroon is really bizarre, but cool at the same time. I haven't driven in over a year, and thinking about it is really strange to me! Shall be interesting when I finally drive a car the next time...!

Anyway, we were off to Foumban for a percussion festival. Foumban is a city in the West province, but unlike the rest of the Bamiléké westies, the city is mostly fill with the Bamoun people, and the Muslim influence is strong there. In the morning, we visited the palace where the Sultan lives. Within the palace is a museum on the Bamoun culture. Just so happened that morning there was some sort of ceremony on the succession of the throne. I am still not exactly sure what it was about, as the case most of the time with these ceremonies. There were lots of people dressed in really pretty clothes though, so I took pictures!



After the ceremony, we visited the museum. This was my second time there. First time was when Megan came for a visit, and we had the tour in English along with Laura and her sister. This time, we had the tour in French. Interesting stuff.

We met up with Dakar, a Cameroonian friend of us who lives in Foumban, and he took us to the market. People are so much calmer here than in Bafoussam. I detest going to the market in Baf. because people just would not leave me the heck alone. Here was much calmer.


The percussion festival was suppose to start around 2pm, but of course we got there well after 3pm and chairs were just then being brought out for the official thing. However, there were various groups playing, so we amused ourselves in that. I am really fascinated by the music and the culture. It's not something I really understand, but interesting nonetheless. Too bad Megan wasn't visiting during this time, she would have really loved it, being a percussionist and all.



The festival is apparently a sort of competition between all the groups. I didn't realize until we came back at 6pm and the event finally began at 6:30pm. Our friend, Dakar, apparently is the MC for the event, and saved us front row seats. Per usual, we had to go through protocols of blah blah blah speeches that took at least half an hour. I really like when the French guy from RFI (Radio France International) got up there and gave his 2 minute speech and in it remarked, "i think we aren't here to hear the speeches, but to enjoy the music. So let's enjoy!" Now, that's more like it.

The four finalist groups played and it was fantastic! Yet unfortunately, after an hour of playing, it was another long thing picking the winner, the criterions, blah blah blah. And the group that wasn't even the best and didn't respect the time limit (they went on for another 5-10 minutes after the MC tried to stop them) somehow won. This is the first time the percussion festival took place, and somehow the winner is the "School of Culture". Makes us wonder if that's somehow related to the "Minister of Culture" who was putting on this event? hmmm...

Despite of it all, the weekend was a good one! Good culture, good company, good food, good weather (no rain all weekend). What more can we ask for?

Small Luxuries

The one thing I know I will miss when I return to the "real world" is the way I find delight in the most minute details of life here.

My friend Jérémy, the last of the Frenchies in my area, is leaving in a few weeks and he left the village for good a few days ago. Sad times. Saying goodbye really doesn't get easier. It's one of the few aspects I dislike about being a globetrotter. I suppose I can't have my cake and eat it, too. The only good thing that came out of Jérémy's departure is his gift to me - the antenna for Camtel (Cameroon Telecommunication - my Internet provider). My village is mountainous and my house is situated in this funny dip where I get very little reception. The antenna now provides me with faster Internet - still no DSL or Cable speed, but hey, I'll take what I can get!

Later the same day, Kate came over to print certificates for her business class. Since I am posh corps, I bought myself a printer way back when - so worth it! Especially since the one photocopy place in village doesn't work more than half of the time. I tried to make copies 4 times last week (still cheaper than printer from printer) and either the electricity was cut, or they ran out of ink, or out of paper, or not open. Absurd.

Anyway, Kate came over and since her village is more like mini-town. I asked her to bring lettuce and cucumber. I still had a package of stove top stuffing left (thanks Megan!), and she brought over instant mashed potato and gravy! To top it off, she also bought two chicken legs from the chicken lady in her town. Yes, we had a faux-Thanksgiving and it was AMAZING. :) Package food from the USA is serious luxury for us volunteers.

The Faux-Thanksgving - Pure Goodness!


The next day, I was still craving salad and by some miracle, there was a mama in town selling them! I was so excited! I hope she doesn't stop the supply!

It's the little things that really excite me!

Out of the US and into... Cameroon?!

For most of us, the first time out of the US is usually somewhere nearby - Canada, Mexico - or somewhere popular in Europe - France, England, etc. On my first day of teaching the business seminar with RELUFA, I met two girls from the US. One of them is still in high school, and it was her first trip out of the US! I was amazed! Apparently Patience (the girl's name) had wanted to go somewhere that spoke French, and her dad knew the person running the church mission here in Cameroon so there she was for 2 and a half weeks.

The poor girl was stuck in Yaoundé the whole time. I can only imagine the culture shock she was experiencing. So during the week, I took her to lunch, showed her the Peace Corps compound, and experienced a bit of Cameroon that she wouldn't have experienced. On the last day, she was brave enough to try poisson braisé (grilled fish)! Bless her heart, it was her first time "eating fish that looks like a fish". I suppose that means with the fish head and all.

Beside the "wild" adventures, Patience asked me plenty of questions about life as a Peace Corps volunteer and life in village. I was more than happy to answer her questions. The questions ranged anywhere from "what made you decide to join the Peace Corps?" to "how long did it take you to learn how to cross the street?" Through answering them, I realized how much I've grown through this experience thus far. Explaining to someone from the US about my life here reinforced my decision to challenge myself and have wild stories to tell. I hope I didn't scare the girl too much with my ridiculous stories and maybe someday she'll become a Peace Corps volunteer herself! Goal 3 of the Peace Corps - checked.

'c'est comme ça chez nous'

Two weeks ago, I taught a week-long business seminar in Yaoundé, in collaboration with RELUFA, a network aim to reduce poverty in Cameroon. The NGO organized a group of young students who are currently in either high school or university. The seminar is a part of the summer program organized for youth. I had a lot of fun teaching; being the same age as most of these students really help me connect with them.

For this seminar, I condensed the usual 12-session business class into 5 days. Since the students are still in school-mode, I didn't have too much difficulty covering the materials. The kids really got a kick out of the fact I live in a village. I used a lot of examples to illustrate that the mamas selling food on the side of the street also constitutes as an "enterprise". I find it very important to help people realize that businesses start from those small and seemingly insignificant activities.

The interaction in the classroom grew everyday. On day one, everyone was sort of timid, but by the end of the week, I had to interrupt the discussions because people were getting too wild. The reoccurring theme of the week is when I point out the inefficiencies that exist here in Cameroon and the students respond, "mais c'est comme ça chez nous" (that's how it is here). For example, I talk about the going to a restaurant and there is a big menu, but only 3 things on the menu are actually available. Compare to in the US where restaurants have menus thick like a book and 90% of the time, everything on that huge menu is available.

Students in Class

I attempted to help them think differently and change the apathetic attitude of "well, this is Africa." I really believe it's this sort of attitude that prevents countries in Africa from developing. It's a self-fulfilling prophecies of inferiority that must be changed. There are moments during the lecture where the room becomes very quiet, and you can tell the wheels are turning in the heads of these young minds and that I am imparting knowledge that may be changing their lives. Those are very rewarding and powerful moments.

On the last day, one of the students told the coordinator that he would like to make a presentation on a project for me and the class on the last day. So, the coordinator asked me to leave some time for this. But the time came, and there was no presentation at all! The students had organized themselves and bought me a small statue as a token of appreciation. The gesture was really heartwarming and later during feedback, the students said really positive things about the week but most wish the seminar lasted longer than a week.

Group Picture on the Last Day

Each time I teach these classes, I am amazed at what is common sense to most of us is such eye opening knowledge for people here. A large part of these students are in universities studying economics and whatnot, but they told me my classes were so much more practical and they learned more in a week than their entire time in university thus far. I suppose what's the point of learning economic theories if you didn't know keeping good accounting and inventory is important for the survival of a business?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Let the Rain Fall

We are most certainly in the midst of the rainy season here in West Cameroon. Today was a perfect rainy season day - the rain was falling ALL DAY LONG. I am not kidding. From the moment I woke up until even now, it's either pouring or drizzling. So, like any other Peace Corps volunteer who is bien intégré (well integrated), I did not leave the house. What can I say, I take my job seriously in trying to blend in with the culture. And here, on rainy days, people stay home.

I wonder when again for the rest of my life I can say, "I'm just going to stay home today, because it's rainy." I bet the folks living in London who are reading this must hate me with a passion. Sorry. I paid my dues. I lived in London, too.

So instead, I baked cookies for 3 hours today with the neighbor kid (the good one who gets water for me everyday, not the jerks that steal from me.) We, or I, went a little crazy and made two double batches. So that is, 4 batches of cookies. The flavors today were: chocolate chip & cinnamon sugar. To my defense, there were a few belated birthdays I want to make cookies for when I return to Yaoundé next week. I have, believe it or not, moved on from my making-elaborate-food-for-no-apparent-reason phase. Probably because I actually have work to do that matters. Thank goodness!

Besides the cookie baking fun, I did do some work on the computer today preparing for the business seminar I am giving and some work for Books For Cameroon. I am not a total slacker. The rain falls, but the work still go on, kind of.

I've decided to write a bit more often to capture the simple tasks of my daily life here, instead go disappearing for weeks at a time and bombard you with a vague summary of what I am doing. After all, to be cliché, life is composed of all these insignificant details, n'est-ce pas?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Emotional Rollercoaster

People probably often describe the Peace Corps experience as a roller coaster ride - full of unknowns, etc. That is undoubtedly true, but for me, the emotional roller coaster ride seems to have a greater effect than the general ambiguity of everyday life. My emotions are heightened. So when I am feeling happy, I am REALLY happy. But when I am annoyed or upset, I am SO MAD I can punch someone.

The following is a progression of my moods today. And if I was back in the "real world", I would probably be a perfect candidate for therapy.

Woke up after a perfect 10-hr beauty sleep. I had no idea how I slept so long and so well. Usually I wake up naturally after 6-8 hours. thought: My life is amazing right now. I don't ever really have to wake up to an alarm.

I made some tea. Checked email and sent off a few for my projects. Chatted for a while with a good friend currently living in South Korea. thought: I am so lucky to have Internet here. Life would be so different. I also have such great friends!

Decided it was time to go out and hang with the villagers and promote my business classes. I caught a moto into town and stopped by the City Hall and had a chat with the Secretary General. The mayor has yet signed the letter I dropped off last week. thought: typical Cameroon. It'll maybe be done next week. Not happy, but not too annoyed.

Stopped by one of my favorite bars to say hi to the bar lady. Saw mayor having beer with a few other "grands" (big, important people). thought: it's 3pm. They are drinking beer. And he didn't sign my letter. Feeling amused at the complete lack of efficiency here.

Bar lady's brother happens to be the Cameroonian gentleman who found me online a few months ago. He was in village for a visit. So I stopped by his house to say hi. Had a really nice exchange with him about my life here and projects I am doing. He was really nice and told all the villagers that we were with to take care of me. thought: The world is a small place. Made even smaller by the advent of technology. I love village life here.

Went to the other side of the village to post fliers about the business class. This is one part of the town I don't frequent much. One guy was sitting at a bar as I was posting the sign. Then he said, "give me one. I want to read it." I told him I don't have a lot to give out, but come read it here. He said, "you expect me to get up and go read it?" I said, "um, yeah." and left. thought: What the heck is wrong with people? Don't complain to me that you don't have any money when you are sitting at a bar at 4pm and you can't even muster enough energy to get your butt out of a chair to read a sign. Obviously annoyed.

Bought some flour and other things to make cookies. Lady thought I say 10 kg of flour when I actually said 2. We had a good laugh about that. though: I love village.

Getting ready to walk home, a gang of moto guys asked if I wanted a ride. I said, "oh no, I'm going to walk." Some little jerk face yelled, "oh yeah? you are going to walk? walk all the way to Bamendjou then." thought: Annoyed. Why are people assholes for no reason?

Just as the last thought was passing, a moto guy (A) that's my friend stopped to see if I got my money back. I had lended another guy (B) 27,000 cfa supposedly for his mother to go to the hospital. A month later, I had to chase him down to get the money back. Turns out, (A) president of the moto association told me that (B) borrowed 27,000 from the association. I said, "oh that's funny, cuz he only paid me 25,000." (A) was upset and said, "Oh that guy is so dishonest. This is not good. You make sure you ask him to pay you back right a way." thought: Not everyone is a jerk. Some people do care about me. Feeling rather warmed.

Then 10 minute of walk later, a girl about my age said hi to me. Then she mumbled something. I didn't get it. Then she said it again, "money, I want money." I shaked my head and walked on. thought: WHAT THE HELL? Became very angry for no real reason.

Walked the rest of the way home. Changed and went for a run. Cute mamas saying hi to me as I ran. thought: so cute! Then some guy waved and creepily gestured for me to stop and talk to him. thought: ugh. Creep! Why do you think I am going to stop running and talk to you?

Got back from the run. No power. Boiled water for shower. Took a bucket shower in the kind-of-dark latrine. thought: My life is ridiculous. Slightly amused.

Spent the rest of the night working and collaborating with people stateside on the press release of my project. Feeling very positive. thought: I am very happy right now. Life is great.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

And... We Are Back! (or at least I am)

After sending Megan off, I was in Yaoundé for Mid-Service - the week-long medical exams to make sure I didn't catch any strange diseases over the past year. Very luckily, nothing weird. I got my teeth cleaned, some dental work done. But overall, still very healthy, alive and kicking.

I got back to village and was completely alone for the first time in over two months. Truth? it sucked. But after a few days, I began to cherish the solitude. Every now and again, I enjoy staying in my house and not leaving for a few days. I take pride in the fact I am never really bored and there is always something to occupy mind - read a book, read a magazine, cook a meal, watch a movie, etc. The very simple things in life that we often neglect when things get busy. I am learning to really cherish them.

My projects are going well, in fact, beyond my wildest imagination. The 25 bilingual library project has now grown to 28. A Cameroonian gentleman emailed PC Washington inquiring about the project. He would like to donate, but only if the Limbé City Library can be included in the project. Limbé is the gorgeous beach town here in Cameroon. So I told him I would be more than happy to if he will foot the bill for extra transportation and lodging costs for me to get there and check out the site. Phase I of the project is in full swing fundraising mode to get $11,500 in collaboration with Books For Africa! You can contribute your next $5 latte/beer/burger here: Http://tiny.cc/booksforcameroon or follow our progress on Facebook under the Books For Cameroon page!

Besides the library project, I was contacted by RELUFA, a micro-credit NGO in Yaoundé. I will be returning there next week to do a 5-day business seminar meanwhile accessing the internal operation of the organization. And in response to popular demand, the second series of business classes will begin again in Batié during the first week of August!

So life is great overall. Recently learned more of the French volunteers whom I am close with will be leaving at the end of the summer; that's not so great news. But after a year here, I am getting better at handling the coming and going of friends. I try as much as possible to put my energy in work and planning for the future, and hoping the rest will work themselves out.

Oh, finally! The new shipment of volunteers arrived last month. It's so weird to think I am now the "old ones". Strange to think just a year ago, I was in stage. Also, Happy Belated 4th! I barely remember the last 4th of July that I was in the US. 'Tis the life of a globetrotter!

A Visit From My Past

Sincere apologies to my readers, if you are still out there. Somehow I managed to let the entire month of June slipped away without an update.

A week after my return from the grand vacation half way across the world, a dear friend came for a visit. Megan is one of my closest friends going back to the days of high school and it meant a great deal that she took the time and effort, not to mention the money it took to come experience a small piece of my life here.

We did a bit of traveling through Cameroon, though not as much as we would've liked due to lack of time. Megan probably didn't pick a very good time to visit since I had just returned from vacation, and my tolerance for everyday Cameroonian annoyance wasn't very high. So a bit of advice to those who will host a guest - don't do it right after your return from civilization.

Perhaps I've just returned from the real world, or perhaps Cameroon has taken its toll on me, but being with Megan for the three weeks provided a lot of perspectives for me.

  • I used to be more hopeful/naive about life in Africa. Megan and I had numerous conversations about what is wrong with Cameroon and what it takes to "fix it". Cameroon is one of the most corrupted countries in the world, we all know that. But what's interesting is our attitude towards it. Megan had optimistic ideas about how things could perhaps be changed. I maintain the position I've came to months ago: I'm not here to change things. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is way more about an experience for the self than create changes for others. I see my work simply as a by-product of my time here, and that's how I have to think of it to keep sanity.

  • Life here is wacked. After being here for a year, I don't think about the fact that always squeezing one extra person than full capacity in vehicles is weird. Megan and I took a bus ride from hell to Fombahn to visit the palace. It was hot; we waited forever in the very back of a very overcrowded bus. Then once we got going, the bus stopped every 5 minutes to pick someone up or drop someone off. Actually, also dropping and picking up things: pigs, goats, you name it. To make matter worse, when we finally reach destination, the jerk driver tried to cheat us out of money and wouldn't give us our change back. I almost got into a fight with the asshole (excuse the language, he absolutely deserved it). 5 years from now, I will think back on this period of my life when I almost get in fights with people over 50 cents... It's not the money; it's the principle.

  • When we first arrived to my house in village, I think Megan went through a bit of shock. It was also strange for me because I had to constantly remind myself she's not just another volunteer. When other volunteers come to my house, they make themselves at home, and know exactly how my water system works, how to fire up the gas, etc. Having Megan there made me realize that washing dishes in two buckets is not normal. She kept asking me if she should dumped out the water, and I kept saying, oh it's fine - good for another few wash. Also, the fact I crap in a hole is very strange. But furthermore, the fact I'm too lazy to even walk to my latrine at night, and therefore just pee in my backyard is very VERY weird. :)

  • Megan made me realized I've really changed; not necessarily for better or worse, but simply very different. I found it amusing when she told one of my friends that he would've never recognized me even just a year ago. When she had to call me one month in advance if she wants to see me, and I can only book her into a few hour window of time between my chaotic schedule. Sometimes I do miss that life, but I know that's how I will be the minute this two year excursion is over, so I cherish every morning when I don't have to wake up to an alarm.
All in all, the visit was superb and made me very grateful of our friendship. And it's
very comforting to know that upon my return, at least one person from my past will be able to relate when I talk about how I miss grilled fish and baton de manioc.