Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Little Things

Now that I've decided on my next move, I'm getting increasingly more anxious with the rest of my time here in Cameroon. Yet at the same time, I am trying to take in every last bit of this love-hate relationship that I've developed with Cameroon.

Some things in the past few days that I want to remember:
  • The drive from Bafoussam to Batié. This is 30-45 minute ride is one that I take very frequently and over the past 20 months, I've now gotten quite comfortable. I almost always sit in the front passenger seat, meaning I only need to be squished with one other person. And if I get lucky, this person is skinny and I'm riding (relatively) comfortably. The ride is beautiful, and I made a mental note that I will take a video of it before I leave.

  • I have grown to be practically immune to bugs. I don't even bother to get up and kill bugs when I see them now. It's too much work. I simply let them roam freely in my house. Luckily, I have lots of little lizard friends who are around to eat the bugs. These lizards remind me of childhood in Taiwan, so comforting also in that way. Few nights ago, a lizard attacked one of the biggest spider I've EVER seen in my entire life. And friends, I've seen a lot of freaking large spiders, this one was special. Little lizard somehow was able to attack this spider that is bigger than himself and proceed to start swallow/eat it. I sat in my chair and watched this live attack going down. Who needs National Geographic when I have this happening 3 feet from me?

  • I was running today and neighborhood kids were sliding down a sandy hill with various lids/tubs, then climbing back up the hill, and repeat the act. This immediately reminded me of going sledding in the snow! Appropriately enough, it is still winter in the Northern hemisphere. People do the same things. Black or white. Snow or sand.

  • Recently discovered that eating locally produced roasted peanuts and Mambo (local, I think, chocolate) bar simultaneously really closely mimics peanut M&Ms! Wish I had discovered this earlier. But, I still won't mind if you send me peanut M&Ms. :)
That is all. And lastly, I recently received an email from a prospective PCV who shares the same Taiwanese-American background. Not many Asians join the Peace Corps and I was happy to discuss with her my experience and provide some insights. I try to be meticulous about keeping up with this blog because I enjoyed reading others' experiences while applying. If you are a prospective PCV reading this, let me know what kind of info you would like me to write or to add. And of course, I'm always happy to answer questions via email!

Old Habits Die Hard

I've always been a terrible procrastinator. In college, the semesters when my grades were less than stellar were the semesters when I didn't have a sufficient part-time job. I take the free time for granted and I procrastinate. In the end. I don't accomplish as much. Being busy in a way manages my time for me. There are only so many hours in a day to go around, and when the days are filled, I don't have the choice to sit around.

Here in the Peace Corps, I have nothing but time. And as a result, I procrastinate, a lot. For the Books For Cameroon project, we are in the process of designing library management training for the participating schools and communities. Kate has compiled materials from two different sources to create the training manual. While I've delegated the training design to Kate and the others, I still somehow ended up with the amazing job of translating 30+ pages of document into French (note the extreme sarcasm.) I just keep telling myself it will be good for my French...

I have started on the translation work and frankly, it's not that bad. But, it is a lot like in college when I have papers to write. I know all it takes is me sitting down and just doing it. Yet when I have the time to put it off, that's exactly what I've been doing...

For the past few days, I have been obsessing with thinking about life in London next year and everything that comes along with that. Oh yes, battle of graduate school is over. I made a decision to attend London School of Economics next year! Anyway, I told myself I would reserve the entire Sunday to my translation work.

Naturally, Sunday gets here and my Internet was out all day. Internet makes my life a lot easier with the online dictionary. So of course, I decided the work can start tomorrow. Old habits die hard.

It is also no wonder Cameroonians never rush to do anything and are always nonchalant about scheduling. Why bother scheduling anything when things out of your control will happen and mess up the plan?

Monday, January 25, 2010

So Close, Yet So Far Away

Somehow, the end of January has sneaked upon us. That August 2010 COS (Close-of-Service) date once seemed so far away is now in the not-so-distant future. Usually, people leave a bit earlier, especially those of us that are going on to graduate school.

With an end in sight, I've been thinking of the next step. With graduate school decisions slowly rolling in, I am faced with some important decisions, and one that comes with a hefty price tag. Unless American institutions cough up some serious funding, my choices remain between schools in London and Paris. With an acceptance from the LSE (London School of Economics) in hand, the other offers will need to be quite impressive to compete. Stay tuned to the battle of gradschool!

I've been doing some research online between the different schools, accommodations, etc. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, I was looking at cell phone plans, home decor, grocery stores, gym memberships. And as I look at all these shiny websites, I realized just how far removed I am from the modern world. Everything seems incredibly foreign to me, and I had forgotten a good majority of things that even exists on the marketplace.

The re-integration process will be brutal. In roughly 7 months, gone will be the days of waking up without an alarm, and leisurely drinking coffee and easing into my mornings. Yikes, I best enjoy the remaining of quiet village life while I have it. It's a tough balance between feeling very excited about the "real world" yet being sad that this part of my life is about to come to an end and I will never experience anything like it again.

But until next summer arrives, I have got some serious work to get done! Currently, I'm teaching the third series of business classes in village. The final count of students from this round is 31! I am quite pleased. Books For Cameroon project is progressing. 20,000+ books will arrive at the end of February. Crossing fingers that all well go somewhat smoothly and that maybe, just maybe, for once Cameroonian bureaucracy and corruption will not rain on our parade.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Une Vraie Africaine

After nearly 20 months of being in Cameroon, I finally gave in and got some dreads on my head. I never really had any real special interest in getting the hair done, but I figured it's one of those things that I simply must experience before leaving. So, just before launching my 3rd round of business classes in village, I spent the entire day "becoming African".

My friend Bibian is a hairdresser and she has been asking me about getting my hair done for months. Naturally, she was thrilled when I told her I'll finally take the plunge. So, Monday morning, we found ourselves at the local bar that I frequent and began the long process of hair-braiding.

True to Cameroonian form, Bibian told me she works really fast and it'd only take 3 hours or so. To which I was extremely skeptical since I have heard nothing but excruciating long hours from other girls. For some, it's even a 2-day event. From hour 1 of the process, Bibian kept saying, "see? it's really fast, we'll be done soon". This is SO Cameroonian. It's much like when they tell you, "yeah, yeah, I am on my way", but then don't show up until an hour or two later.

The Beginning

Naturally, it came to be 5pm and we were finally putting the finishing touches on my rasta. By this time, mamas who were walking by would come and help tying up the ends. At one point, there were 4 women working on my head. Of course, Bibian said, "well it's only because you have so much hair that it takes so long." riiight. Always take their indicator of time with a grain of salt and add on 3 hours or more. Time is absolutely not money in this culture.

Hour 6

In the end, this was really fun experience. During the 6 hours of hair-braiding, villagers would stop by to comment on how good it looks on me and how I'm becoming a real African. And of course, "now that you are becoming a real African, you should definitely get married here and not go home."
Bibian & Me

The demand for me to stay in country has been overwhelming these past few days since I got the hair done. Everyone from village mama, to sketchy men, to the governor of the West Region advised that it's best that I do not go back to the U.S.

Yes, the governor. I met with him yesterday with Théo´in regard to the Books For Cameroon project. During the meeting, Théo mentioned that I will be ending my service in about 6 months, to which the governor said, "what are you doing going back to the States? You should get married here and stay! Sure there are some dust, but the climate is great!" We continued to talk about the project, and at the end of the meeting, he walked us to the door and said, "I hope you will take my advice and stay here. You can go home to get married, but come back here to live." Théo said he must have been impressed by me because he invited us to his "salon" instead of his "bureau", and the "salon" is supposedly for special guests only. Funny Cameroonians.

Now, the beauty is not without a cost. Besides the fact it took 6 hours, my scalp also hurt a great deal during the first night from the weight of all the fake hair and I couldn't do anything but to lay horizontally on my bed to ease the pain. The pain, however, is really worth it because the villagers, and even my friends in Bafoussam love it so much! This is definitely one of those "I will miss Cameroon" moments.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Located in the Southwest region of Cameroon, Limbé is one of my favorite towns in the country, and my preferred beach vacation destination here in Cameroon. After Christmas, I spent a few days there both for business and pleasure. I needed to visit Limbé City Library, one of the participating libraries for the Books For Cameroon project. I thus used this and gave myself a few days of vacation hanging by the beach and eating amazing seafood.

Amazing Seafood at Down Beach

Limbé is an English colonial town, and I dare say the cleanest, more orderly town in Cameroon, far better organized than the political and economic capitals of Douala and Yaoundé, respectively, both Francophone cities (remnants of the French colonization).

The Limbé City Library became a participate of the Books For Cameroon project when a Cameroonian living in the US emailed Peace Corps Washington about participating. When his email reached me, I happily agreed because I love Limbé, and the beach. :)

The former librarian Maggie and I have been corresponding via email. When I finally met her and the library, I was thoroughly impressed. It's already a well-functioning library with card catalogs, reference materials, and even a kids corner. Their biggest need is more books, which is where the project comes in.

Here I must comment on the wonderful Cameroonian hospitality. Maggie and I met to tour the library and she graciously invited me to her home after the visit. Her sister was getting married that day, so the house was filled with a flurry of activities - chicken killing, food cooking, people singing (rehearsing) and the like. Maggie introduced me to her family, and showed me photo albums of her family that are abroad. She made sure to tell me that her home is always welcome to me when I visit Limbé and she also wanted to see if I was able to attend the wedding that evening. Weddings here is an ALL night festivity and since I was to travel back to Yaoundé the following day, I kindly declined the invitation. It blows my mind how nice she was to me, a total stranger that she has never met just two hours prior!

Oh, funny side note. One of the many people I met at her house met me and said, "oh, I follow you on Twitter!" It was so strange for that to happen here in Africa! Oh, the power of social media!

2009 Review

Happy New Year to my lovely readers!

In 2009, I spent the entire calendar year in Cameroon. The last time I spent an entire calendar year in the same country was 2004. The constant locality made me feel as though nothing much happened, but in close examination, 2009 was yet another exciting year. I continued to grow as a person and finding new directions in life. 2009 was the year that I really improved on my French skills, my bargain shopping abilities (Cameroon style), and became fluent with Cameroonian travel. This, however, was also the year filled with technological mishaps.

January: Macbook internal hard drive crashed just after the New Years. I spent the month thinking a lot, reading a lot, writing a lot and being mad at the Cameroon postal service a lot. This was the month I questioned for the first time my role in the Peace Corps and my purpose in Cameroon.

February: Macbook fixed. Wonderful trip to the Grand North region of Cameroon with Juliette that took me out of the funk. Began new chapter of social life in Cameroon after Juliette's departure from my village. Advertised and organized my first series of business classes. Drama with village kids began this month.

March: Successfully began business classes in village. Feeling productive and contributive for the first time. Planning for the Books For Cameroon project was underway. Village drama with kids continued. Introduced to the world of Twitter!

April: Wonderful ending to the business classes. Proposal writing for the Books For Cameroon project and other prep work. A big thunder storm came through and fried my power converter and Macbook charger.

May: Traveled half way around the world to my place of origin in Taiwan, with extended layovers through Paris. Very touching experience to see families again after so many years, and also re-thinking about my roots. Logged 48 hours in an airplane within a 3-week period (lots of frequent flyer miles!).

June: Hosted my long-time friend Megan's visit to Cameroon. Refreshing seeing Cameroon from her perspective. Proposal for the Books For Cameroon project approved, began the long grueling process of begging for $11,500.

July: Conducted a week-long business seminar in Yaoundé for a group of university students with RELUFA, a Cameroonian NGO. Strategizing the fundraising effort. Drafting press releases and researching various avenues.

August: Launched second series of business classes in village. Continued money-begging. Decided that I would return to school after Peace Corps and purse a masters degree in the areas of international relations/economics public policy.

September: Finished second round of classes. Shifted fundraising activity into high-gear. Flooded every social media website imaginable. Basically bugged the hell out of everyone I know and many people whom I don't know. Desperation makes one do crazy things. Also, GRE studying. Technological mishap: Kate dropped my iPod, and it died. Luckily, Nura sold me hers.

October: Somehow, miraculously raised $11,500. Re-took the GRE. Prepared for graduate school applications. Followed up on various business consulting projects in village. Bought Nura's comp when she left the country as an insurance against future technological mishaps.

November: Submitted graduate school applications. Received the first acceptance from University College London a few weeks later. Began planning logistics to execute the Books For Cameroon project. Thanksgiving in Bali/Bamenda.

December: Follow-up with participating schools and communities in the project. Communicating with Books For Africa on the Stateside, RIDEV, MTN Foundation and others in Cameroon to plan the next step. Holiday travel to Kumbo, Limbé and finished the year in Yaoundé. Last tech mishap of the year: dumped a cup of coffee on the computer I bought from Nura, and it died.

All in all, a very fulfilling 2009 and here's to an even more exciting 2010!