Saturday, June 26, 2010

The End Is Near

Earlier this evening, I was working on my post book for my replacement. This is a document filled with a wealth of information about my village and life in general in Cameroon - anything from the minor kinks of the house to where to buy grocery, my favorite bar lady, moto guy, etc. Life here isn't so obvious, and it has taken me two years to really get the hang of it. As I was compiling this document, I became really, really sad - tears falling sad.

I am 23 years old, turning 24 in a few months. By the time I leave Cameroon, I will have spent approximately 10% of my life here. That's not a small amount. These past two years were the longest time I have resided in one single place since high school. This wasn't just some adventure to a foreign land for a few months, this was my life, for two years.

The key element that makes this ending so much more difficult than the rest is that I likely won't be returning to this country for many many years. Most people in this village can barely operate a cell phone. Needless to say, I won't be emailing with them or skype-ing any time soon, or ever. The neighbor kids have been coming by everyday and asking how much longer I will be here. They have a sad look on their faces and it breaks my heart.

The sadness is two-fold. Besides my village, wonderful people have came into my life - other Peace Corps volunteers, French volunteers, my Chinese family that have so graciously welcomed me into their home. While keeping in touch with these people will be easier than villagers, when I leave Cameroon, this chapter of our friendship will also end. We will go on our separate ways, and life will never again be the same.

This morning, Emmanuel, my moto guy and I got trapped by the rain at the lycée. It reminded me of last year when the exact same thing happened. And like the last time, I also forgot a book (I never learn my lesson). We were trapped there for over an hour, but this time, I embraced it. This would likely be the last time I will ever be trapped somewhere and unable to leave due to rain.

My life has been changed in a deep and profound way from these two years. I see humanity differently, appreciate everyday for simply being alive, and thankful for the simple things in life. When things get rough in the future, I hope to always think back on this period of my life when I was happy when I get the chance to take a hot shower or even just having running water. The excitement and relief when power finally comes back on after a long outage.

Life is short. Time flies. May events in life continue to shake and change me as they did these past two years.

World Cup Frenzy

This year is the first time that an Africa nation has hosted the world cup. I am sure you are all well aware of the significance. Being in Cameroon, one of the 7 African countries that had advanced to the World Cup, is quite exciting. I have never watched so many World Cup games as I am right now. I'm sure the fact I don't have much on my schedule helps.

Unfortunately, Cameroon didn't do so hot and was eliminated from the tournament just after the second game. Nevertheless, the two games they did play, I watched them at bars with fellow volunteers and it was quite the event. Sure there are sports bars in the US, but there is something quite intoxicating about watching the games at semi outdoor bars on not so fancy televisions. People crowding around, sitting in plastic chairs or benches. When the game begins, the streets were completely quiet. Everyone stopped what they were doing and crowded around the nearest television to observe the game.

MTN is the the official sponsor of this year's world cup, and they happen to be my cell phone provider here in Cameroon. During the Cameroon - Denmark game, MTN had promotional activities in major cities where big projectors were set up in the streets, they gave out noise makers, wrist and head bends, etc. The pre-game festivity was much like any tailgate in the US, but the national unity and energy level was outstanding. Just few minutes into the game, Cameroon scored its first goal and the excitement was indescribable. You really just needed to be here. I've never seen anything quite like it!

Watching the U.S. games here is equally exciting. For the U.S.-England game, we brought the U.S. flag to the bar. Cameroonians were rooting for us. The ambiance is so incredible! Although, I have a feeling people won't be cheering for the U.S. during tomorrow night's game of U.S. vs. Ghana. After all, Africans have to unite and support the last remaining African remaining team in the World Cup.

The World Cup, more than other sporting events, seem to have this unifying effect for the world. That feeling of togetherness is so contagious. After all, as they say in Cameroon: On est ensemble! (We are together)!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Realities of Development

Yesterday, a former student from my business class called and wanted to set up a meeting. I happily agreed, only to realize that he probably is trying to get me to do something. It's rare that people in this village are that motivated.

I was right. Him and another guy also from the business class wanted me to help them with a project. But by help, they mean, they want me to write their project proposal so they can get funding from the Italians, or some other European country.

Needless to say, I was annoyed. They took my business class months ago and during our 6-week long classes, they learned all the steps of writing a business plan and/or project proposal. Yet, they came to me with nothing written except for a few measly pages of information they scrambled together. They said, "we hired someone to help us but she's going on vacation. We thought we can sit down with you and do this." I said, "writing a project proposal isn't something you sit down and do within an hour. We had the course for 6 weeks for a reason." In the end. I told them I was sorry that I couldn't help them and explained that had already written a proposal, I could have given suggestions. But since nothing has been done, and my time is limited, that I was not able to offer help.

This, along with my library check ups this morning left me feel drained. Why do they think I am god and am here to solve all problems? Why do they never make any initiative and why do I feel like working with villagers in some ways is like babysitting? I gave them books. I gave them training on library management. Yet, unless there is a plan for someone to constantly go check up on them and bug them, then it's very likely that all will be for naut. I gave you the food and the spoon to eat it, do I really need to feed it to you, too?

Two years may feel like a long time for most of us in the fast-paced world. But here in a village of Cameroon, where everything takes F.O.R.E.V.E.R., two years is a very short time. It took me my entire service to get books here and to teach a few rounds of business classes. Despite our best efforts to drawn up follow-up plans and passing the projects to new volunteers, there is no guarantee that these Cameroonians will use the knowledge that were taught or resources given.

The problem, I think, is mentality. They look to foreigners as some sort of fix-all solution. Somehow, they think we have all the money, skills, and knowledge in the world to make their lives better. Kate once told a story that illustrates this. For two years, people always bugged her about teaching them how to use the computer and the Internet. Cameroonians who run cyber cafés could easily teach them, but they never think to ask them for help. In the same light, I attempted to train Cameroonians who can give the same business classes that I taught to others, but they tell me that people won't listen to them. The same information coming from a "white" person's mouth apparently is worth more. How will a country ever grow and develop if its people are constantly relying on "white" people and not themselves? Changing that mentality could be the key, but how to do that is the big question.