Friday, July 23, 2010

Peace Corps Loves

In less than 3 hours, I'll be on my way to the airport and begin the long journey back to the U.S.A.! This is the moment that I've waited for for two years, and as strange and sureal as it is, I am ready to begin the next chapter of my life!

This last week was wonderful. I spent it in Yaounde with the last group of the 2008-2010 SED/ED volunteers. As it stands, Laura and I are the last two still hanging around in the transit house. Last night, we said a big batch of goodbyes. The end of one's Peace Corps service is one of the strangest moments in life. It's incredibly difficult to describe, but I was glad to have 8 other wonderful loves here to experience the end of this journey.

David described our group as "never has there been a group of individuals assembled who has such insatiable appetite for enjoying themselves" during our final ceremony. And how right he was. We like to think of this group as a "work hard, party hard" group. Our APCD graciously said something nice about each one of us during this ceremony - the work we did in the community, the kind of volunteer we were, etc. All of us managed to do a good amount of work but also had a lot of fun! We later were presented with an amazing pin that we've all been waiting for: a pin that has the U.S. & Cameroonian flags and the Peace Corps logo.

Naturally, this week, we indulged in the finer things and frequented the fancy establishements in Yaounde to celebrate the end of our service. The indulgence included Happy Hour at the Hilton, lovely dinner at a fancy French restaurant, a visit to the artisanat market for last minute souvenirs, many many dance parties at the PC transit house and a big celebration for Ehab's birthday! This week happened to also be mid-service week for the volunteers who came a year after us, and we were able to celebrate this ending with some great people. Time spent with Americans during this last week has helped me get into the correct mindset for returning. Two years since I've been on the American soil. I think I'm in for a shock!

I'm scared, excited, sad, nervous and all sorts of other emotions. For the coming weeks and even months, I will likely have crazy anedotes on my readjusment to the US and the "real world" in general. This experience will quickly fade into a dream, but I'm glad this blog was here to capture moments of this dream. Thank you all for following my service these past two years. I will continue to document future adventures on Asian Polyglot and I welcome you to continue sharing your ideas and provide encouragement!

For now, I say: au revoir Cameroun! Hello U.S.A.!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Last Day au village

I woke up after a restful sleep around 8am, without an alarm, of course, and put on my running shoes for one last jog down my favorite path. The crisp air made for a comfortable jog. I took noticed of each house that I ran by and took in each rolling hill that I passed. I will unlikely to have a regular running path this beautiful for years to come. I waved at villagers along the way that I often see; likely the last time I would see those faces again.

Returned home and heated water in the small marmite for one final bucket bath in my latrine. I remember my very first bucket bath - in the same latrine, during site visit two years ago. Back then, I found it to be a treat but slightly awkward. But now, I am so at ease with this process; it had became a basic routine.

Billy, my neighbor boy, came by the house and hung out with me like he always does. But there was a hint of sadness. He helped me wash floors for the last time and counted the money he had earned and saved in his jar. "if it wasn't for you, this money would've been long gone," he said. He had learn the value of saving; that was my small contribution to his life.

I took down the mosquito net and pictures on the wall in my bedroom. Still felt like any other day, but today is the last day.

Headed into town to drop off some things my friend had bought from me, then stopped by the omelet shack for a sandwich. One littler girl was going on about the different patois that she speaks because her parents are from two different towns. She spoke in an adult manner and it made us laughed. I stopped by the phone credit lady to get some MTN credit for my phone before hopping on a moto to come home.

Billy came by again soon after I got home and we hung out more. He kept asking me what I was doing with different things that I am leaving behind, and I got slightly annoyed. He's still a kid after all. I gave him some cookies and he was happy. Liz came by in the afternoon to pick up my fridge with Emmanuel, my moto guy. We chatted. Eman tied the fridge on the back of his moto the way he used to tie my gas bottle. I told Eman to come back and pick me up after dropping Liz off in Baham.

Around 5pm, we went into town. I waved at kids at the water pump as I do every time I go by. I visited all the usual boutiques that I always visit, but this time, it was to say goodbye. An incredibly strange feeling. People you see everyday, and suddenly, I won't see them for a long long time, or ever. The goodbyes were strange, but weren't particularly sad, until I got to my bar with mama Chantal and my friends were there for one final drink.

I ordered one last poisson braisée with baton de manioc and drank a coke - a typical dinner that I've had numerous times. This was the last. My friends gathered and said great things about me and hope for wonderful things for my future. We made sure to exchange contact information one last time. As people started to leave, I could no longer pull myself together and was a teary mess. Mama Chantal put her arm around me and said to not cry, it's just parting, no one died. But to me, it feels that a part of me is being cut off. Everyone comforted me and said that I go back to school, and in the future, I'll come back. Of course I think that as well, but we all know that life isn't always that straight forward. Despite all my good intention to return, there is no guarantee.

Tomorrow, I will make the trip to Bafoussam as I've done many many times. Except this time, it's for good. Batié has became my home. Each time that I travel,  I am comforted to know that this is the place I can come home to. After each trip, despite of the length of the journey, I am always relieved to be on that moto ride from the carrefour to my house. But tomorrow, this home base will be there no more, and my life as a globetrotter continues.

Passing On the Torch

Tomorrow is my last full day in village. I am nervous and am not sure that I am ready to leave. Though I am realizing that perhaps one is never ready to leave a situation as this. I just simply gotta "pull the band-aid off" so to speak. So many emotions. It has been a wild ride. Try as I may, words are simply insufficient in describing how I feel. Last week, I hosted several volunteers who came through on site visit, one of them was my replacement. Showing them around made me see even more clearly the beauty of my village and life here in general.

I've been waiting to meet my replacement and show her around throughout the better part of my service. So much so that when the idea of canceling site visit for trainees was proposed at our Steering Committee meeting, I fought hard to keep it. I still so vividly remember my own site visit from two years ago and how helpful it was to get into the right mindset for the remaining time in training and have something to look forward to. The biggest problem I see in the work of Peace Corps volunteer is continuity, and I see site visits as an important element for information exchange.

It was exciting to speak in person with the person who will take over my projects, and integrate into a community that I've grown to love so much. Cristina was full of energy and I was excited to introduce her to everyone and show her the ropes. I didn't realize just how many people I know until Cristina was scribbling everything into a notepad, as to not forget. In answering all of her questions, I realized how much I've became an expert with life here in Cameroon. I left her a detailed post book full of tips. Everything from traveling, to shopping, getting water, bathing, using the latrine, finding help, where to buy certain things. All the basic things about life here needs an explanation. Nothing is simple and obvious. There is no one stop shopping and no directory of services. Other volunteers are your directory.

Besides the everyday stuff, I took Cristina to meet many of the work contacts that I've established over these past two years. Who you know always help facilitate things no matter where you are, but here in Cameroon, the difference can be night and day. We met with the mayor and he even took us to lunch. Cristina wanted a social media tutorial from me, so I gave her a quick lesson on blogging and twitter. Hopefully through these different mediums, I'll be able to see the progress of this community.

Even within the past two years, big improvements have already occurred, mostly thanks to the wonderful mayor. I didn't realized this until I was pointing out different things for Cristina. Things that exist now in Batié but didn't exist when I got here: a cyber café, more power lines in farther out neighborhoods, new cobbler at the carrefour, more stable power supply, better MTN réseau - I now can talk on the phone in the  comfort of my own bed and not have to run outside every time the phone rings. All the buildings got a fresh coat of paint this past year. There are now 3 places to make photocopies instead of one. Few more tailors have set up shot and also a new coiffeur at the small carrefour by my house.

Slowly, but surely. As they say in French "petite à petite" or in Pidgin, "small small catch monkey".

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sounds of Cameroon

The great thing about having to uproot your life every few years is that you take things for granted less, and the departure always make you take notice on insignificant details of daily life. The other day, my fellow PCVs were discussing how we wish we can record the sounds of this country. Here are some of mine:

    •    the neighbor's chickens that come to my back yard to eat scrap food
    •    old clunky cars and busses that struggle to make it up the hill
    •    the RFI (Radio France International) sound bite that announces time
    •    sound of Batié, pidgin, and Cameroonian English
    •    merchants yelling prices of different things in the market (cent-cent franc! deux-deux cent!)
    •    rain falling on my tin roof
    •    Nigerian music, specifically P-Square
    •    Cameroonian music of any kind
    •    Cameroonian sayings from Cameroonians: Ouais! tsk tsk. je dis que, tu m'as gardé quoi? patience, ma fille, etc.
    •    ringing tone from MTN when you call someone
    •    the general chaos that occur when many Cameroonians are in the same area
    •    sound of kids saying "bonjour, madame Wendy"

In other random reporting of things I will miss about Cameroon: bar shopping. In case you were wondering what are these big yellow slippers, they are my most prized bar shopping purchase. One Saturday afternoon, while sitting at our bar in Bafoussam, a guy walked buy with several pairs of shoes as they do. Those big yellow duck feet stood out and I immediately thought, "omg those are too funny, I must have them!" It all began as a joke, but now, I think these may come home to the US with me and become the mascot of my service!

Send Off

Few weeks ago, Antoine, a driver for the Peace Corps who happens to be the chief of my quartier threw me a going-away party at his house. True to Cameroonian form, I was unaware of the time and whether I was suppose to invite people myself until the day before the event. I was running all around town on that Friday prior, contacting all my friends and people whom I've worked with and informing them to come for my send off "tomorrow at 2pm". I received a lot of, "that's kind of a late notice, but I'll do my best". Usually, when you hear that in the US, that means, "um yeah, I won't be there". Since there were also lots of funérailles happening and various events on the same day, I was expecting for a small gathering with some villagers, instead, I was faced with a FÊTE!

People trickled in slowly. While not on time, the party was well on its way an hour in - this is amazing for a Cameroonian event. I think my friends have all been well-conditioned to my on-timeness. Those 100 CFA fine for tardiness is paying off!

The mayor and his secretary general presented me with three traditional kabbas. Antoine's family prepared a huge feast. My landlord showered the event with champagne. I was symbolically presented with a set of twins in hope that I will have lots of kids and return for a visit in the future. Friends came in from Yaoundé just for the party. People sang my praises for FIVE hours. If it wasn't for the sporadic jokes about me staying and never going back in between, I don't know how I would have held it together. All of my close friends from the village made it despite the crazy events that were occurring simultaneously that day in village.

I was really touched by the speeches that people gave. They made me realize that people do notice the work that I had done and are incredibly appreciative of it. The positive energy gave me hope again in development work and reassured my decision to pursue graduate studies in international development.

Later in the week, I was in Bafoussam and ran into one of my previous business students that no longer lives in village. I told him about my departure, and few days later, he phoned to tell me that he had left me a gift at the local bar. Today, I picked it up and it was a beautiful wood-carving hanging. As I was packing, gifts of appreciation from my time here filled my bag. They mean so much more to me than any souvenir that I could possibly purchase. I am going to miss this country despite its quirkiness, and there will always be a place in my heart for the village of Batié. I hope to do all that I can to pay a visit in 5 years and see how it has evolved.

The Extreme North

I'm in the process of making a slide show with pictures from my two years in Cameroon. I realized I had never written about my trip to the Extreme North. While looking at these pictures, I was amazed at how surreal that trip now feels. It was nearly a year and a half ago, and the vast differences between the North and the South makes that voyage seems like a dream. Soon, Cameroon as a whole will feel like a dream. In some ways, this is one of the many side effects of globalisation. While it's now much easier to travel and have wild experiences, identity crisis becomes a more common issue among globetrotters.

Anyway, Juliette and I explored the Extreme North region of Cameroon, while cliché, it was an experience of a lifetime. We took Camrail, the one and only rail company run by the government, from Yaoundé to Ngoundéré. I was rather surprised by the comfort of the sleeping carts. Not much different than many of the euro rail. We were quite lucky that the train operation was going through some reform and it was running surprisingly on time. The 12-hour journey went by without much of a problem. Although from what I've heard, that luck is rare.

The train pulled into Ngoundere just before 7am and we bought a bus ticket heading to Maroua right there at the station. Julitte and I were both amazed at the efficient system that the people in the North have. Instead of buying the ticket and running onto the bus to hoard a sit and be hot for the next hour or two, or however long the wait may be. The Northerners actually buy a ticket, and sit in the waiting area. The ticket issuer holds all the ticket until the bus is full and then call the name out in order of purchase. It makes so much sense and makes the wait much nicer. I experienced this system being implemented in Yaoundé once, and it was a complete chaos.

8-hour bus ride later, we arrived at Maroua. A great muslim city that is so clean and no one déranges. No adults yelling at me only little kids calling out "nasara" (white man in fulfuldé). We visited the main market, a leather-producing place, and several artisan places.

Once rejuvenated in the city, we headed to Rumsiki - a pretty famous tourist attract north of Maroua. The only way to get to this village is by taking a two-hour moto ride. I love taking motos, so was excited by this prospect. That ride, I kid you not, made me feel like I was in one of those National Geographic films. Once arrived to village, we decided to go on a hike. One elderly man from our hotel offered to take us as a guide. Juliette turned to me and said, "this old guy wants to take us on a 4-hour hike?" Well, the joke was on us. We walked down the giant valley and then climbed back. I was in my hiking shoes and felt as if I was DYING. This old dude was walking around in his flip flop - no water, nothing.

After the hike and a nice shower, our guide took us to see the crab sorcerer - a traditional fortune teller. According to this crab sorcerer, he told me that I will have 4 children, and marry a rich man that my mother would not approve of. My husband supposedly will want me to have babies all day but I will put my foot down at 4. I paid 1,000 CFA ($2) for this information. We shall return to this in the future to verify its validity.

Our next destination was Maga & Pouce. These two small villages were pretty off the beaten paths. When Ju & I arrived to Maga, we weren't even really sure that there would be a hotel/guesthouse. Luckily, there was one! The next day, we headed out on a pirogue, a motorized wooden canoe, for a 4-hour ride to see hippos! In retrospective, that was probably a really stupid idea. But it was AMAZING. We saw these huts in the middle of nowhere that people live in. Our guide told us those are likely lived by families of fishermen. We did eventually see hippos, but didn't get too close, for obvious reasons.

After being baked under the sun, we headed to the nearby village of Pouce for its market day. It was a huge market with people from all the surrounding villages. We saw many of the Bororo people who are the nomads in this region of Africa. People rode donkeys. The culture was so immensely different from anything I've ever experienced. I was touched.

Seeing pictures of these voyages remind me of why I am a traveler. I am, after all, a small, insignificant individual in this universe. Seeing other cultures and ways of life give the kind of perspective that I think many need in modern societies, especially those who are often surround by stress!