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?


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.