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!