Update

Dear Friends and Family,

The news has been bleak, lately – war in Gaza, conflict and tragedy in Ukraine, Ebola in West Africa. I think during these times it is important to remember that there are good people out there doing good things. It is with a very heavy heart that I write to commemorate three of those people, two of whom passed away and one of whom has gone missing in the course of doing good things this past month.

Yesterday, I found out that Boko Haram has hit very close to home. Three weeks ago, militants entered Magdeme. They looted compounds and, when they reached Goni’s home, they demanded his money and his family. When he refused, telling the men that Boko Haram was not Islam, they shot him. Thank God, the assailants left without taking anyone with them.

As many of you may remember, Goni was one of my two “dads” in Magdeme. I wouldn’t have lasted two days, much less two years, in village without him (he was the one who caught Loki and translated my apology on the first night when she escaped and ate my neighbors’ chickens!). Far beyond making me a part of his family, he contributed so much to his village, acting as de facto chief, resolving disputes, giving food and money, and providing unparalleled comedic relief (whether we were laughing with him or at him). In a place where it is not easy, and certainly not advantageous, to be principled, Goni acted with integrity to a fault. He is one of the best people I have ever met and there is a hole in my heart that no middle-aged, Pidgin-speaking, high-pitched giggling, machete-wielding, Morgan Horse Magazine-loving African man can fill.

Sadly, the news of Goni followed another tragic incident. On Thursday, I learned that my good friend, Cyrus – a fellow PCV from my group who served in the Adamawa Region – lost his brother and father in a plane crash. Cyrus’ brother, Haris, was flying around the world to raise money to build schools in Pakistan. At seventeen, he would have been the youngest pilot ever to have completed the trip around the globe. Haris was traveling with his father, Babar, a former pilot in the Pakistani Air Force. They were nearly home when their plane went down off the coast of American Samoa. At this point, Babar is still missing. Rescue teams are searching the ocean and Cyrus has gone to Hawaii to wait.

It hurts to feel so far away and helpless at times like these. As I’ve come to realize in speaking with people from village over the weekend, the worst part of “times like these” is that they are happening all the time. For every story that is headline news, there are hundreds that don’t make the papers. The markets in the Far North are closed, people are too afraid to go to their farms, families are splitting up and leaving. I see the situation in northern Cameroon getting much worse. And I’m overwhelmed. But the long-term, structural problems that underlie crises must be met with long-term, structural solutions. As Haris so wisely recognized, we should go to the ends of the earth for education.

Goni, Haris, Babar and their families were supposed to be celebrating the end of Ramadan – Eid al-Fitr – tomorrow. Please keep them all in your sincerest thoughts and deepest prayers.

 

“Breathe properly. Stay curious. And eat your beets.”

*Disclaimer:  This is another honest post (all of my posts are honest but some leave out the nitty gritty).  Also, RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) are notorious for regaling people far past the point of interest/tolerance.  But, here, you have to listen to me!  Muahahaha… 

I am very happy to be home – it is difficult in some ways, wonderful in others, and strange in general.  For the most part, though, this post is a reflection on my time in Cameroon.  I’ll be seeing most of you soon (can’t wait!) so if you want to know how the adjustment is going, ask me then…preferably over a cheese platter.  I apologize in advance if I sound preach-y – my posts seem to take that inevitable turn down Soapbox Street when I start talking about the broader lessons I’ve learned.  With that, here goes… 

“Breathe properly.  Stay curious.  And eat your beets.”  Tom Robbins is brilliant.  I’m not sure how this advice, which he prescribes for attaining immortality, will pan out.  Incidentally, though, it perfectly sums up what the Peace Corps taught me. 

Breathe Properly

I didn’t sign up for the Peace Corps because I thought it would be easy.  Quite the contrary.  But the experience was challenging in ways that I never fully imagined before I left (on the other hand, many of my pre-departure concerns never materialized).  The hardest thing to deal with was loneliness.  I had incredible friends in Magdeme and I probably knew every person in village (certainly everyone knew me).  Still, no matter how much time you spend out working, visiting, or traveling, you are going to have a lot of time to yourself.  A lot.  I filled that time planning projects, studying French and Kanuri, cooking, reading, writing in my journal, and attempting to exercise.  As any good citizen of Magdeme can attest, however, there are times when all you can do is lie on a mat.  At those moments, you are simply alone with your thoughts.  And sometimes those thoughts aren’t the best companions because they invite unwelcome guests – worries loom larger, homesickness acts up, heck, even some existential issues creep in.  At times, I literally felt like I was holding my breath waiting for it (I’m not even sure what!  The slump?) to be over. 

But!  There are two sides to every story…Here in America, I feel like we are constantly out of breath!  Life is go, go, go.  And I don’t necessarily mean physical motion.  Even when we are “doing nothing” we are often doing something – watching TV, talking on the phone, listening to music, surfing the web.  There are distractions everywhere!  Very rarely are we ever alone with our thoughts, which, even with what I said above, can be extremely fulfilling.  There was nothing like walking my dog each night through the farms, looking up at the sky, and feeling happy/peaceful/balanced for no reason whatsoever.  As Geneen Roth says “awareness is learning to keep yourself company.”  I feel aware!  Cameroon offers awareness in spades!  And I think I’ve grown as a result. 

So…breathe properly!  There is a happy medium for taking time to reflect and stimulating yourself with activity and interaction.  As I’ve concluded in many cases, the Camerican option is best.   

 Stay Curious

I joined the Peace Corps primarily because I was curious – curious to experience a completely different way of life, curious to meet new people and learn about other cultures, curious about speaking new languages, curious how my green (novice!) green thumb would fare against the desert.  And, boy, did I learn a lot. 

No one would claim that the Peace Corps is God’s gift to development.  It ain’t.  But two-thirds of the organization’s mission involves cultural exchange and, in that endeavor, I think it is unparalleled (well, unparalleled by anything I’ve seen).  Now that I am back home, unsure of when (I won’t say “if”!) I will be in Magdeme again, it is tough for me to talk about the connections I made in village.  Because what can I say?  Those guys (and gals) are my family.  I spent every day of the last two years with them and now I am a world away.  I can’t practically describe all that they taught me (that is what the blog was for!).  At times, I thought it was hard to be there.  Only at the end did I consider how hard it must be for rural African villagers, most of whom have very little concept of the outside world, to play host to a complete stranger, a stranger who rejects many of their customs.  I asked to be there, they didn’t ask for me!  But they truly made me a part of their community and for that I am beyond grateful.   

I do have to take advantage of my Returned PCV status (i.e. no longer officially affiliated with Peace Corps Cameroon) to say this – Cameroon’s political situation is crippling the country.  I was a history and government major and I spent nearly half of my college career researching and writing a thesis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I care deeply about the right to sovereign, representative government and supporting people in realizing that right.  I went to Cameroon in large part because I was curious about whether people in the developing world (who often face daily struggles to get by) also care.  They do. 

What to do?  So much time and money is put into developing Cameroon but the efforts are sort of like sticking 1000 band-aids on an injury when what it needs is surgery.  If you keep putting resources into the same corrupt system, politicians are going to keep manipulating them.  They’re clever – you don’t get to be president for 30 years if you aren’t.  Unfortunately, the culture of corruption becomes just that – a culture.  It trickles down to the point where it affects even village-level interactions.  Change is necessary.  By the same token, Westerners obviously had a heavy hand in installing post-independence politicians throughout Africa in the first place.  Supporting their removal is just playing from the other side of the court rather than changing the game.  Well, supporting free and fair elections isn’t necessarily supporting removal.  Many people in Cameroon do like President Paul Biya because he has maintained stability – no small feat when the countries bordering Cameroon include a failed state, a country with a violent rebellion, one with an active, al-Qaeda-funded terrorist group, and another with a dictator.  Controversial issue.  What to do, what to do?  I know what I’m doing now – I’m stopping! 

My assessment may sound cynical.  But I don’t mean it that way at all.  I went to Cameroon to learn so that I could be more effective at higher levels of development work.  Creative solutions to the problems exist (or are possible).  A lot of the time they start with Cameroonians and if they don’t start there they will definitely continue and succeed there.  It is sad to see that the system often prevents those Cameroonians from finishing their education and/or finding a job.  Based on what I’ve observed, I genuinely believe that the best way we (individual donors) can help is to support individual Cameroonians in their endeavors to advance themselves, whether through education, microfinance projects, etc.  A2Empowerment was the best program I saw doing this type of work in Cameroon.  Check out the appendix of Nick Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky for a list of good organizations that specifically support women. 

After having lived in Cameroon, I am so, so grateful for my own education.  A lot of people laughed – I certainly did – when I was assigned to be an Agroforestry Volunteer.  However, Peace Corps Volunteers are successful not because of their technical knowledge but because of their determination and ability to think openly and critically, traits that come from being raised and educated in the United States.

So…I’ll be trying to stay curious.  I know that Cameroon isn’t Africa isn’t the developing world, etc.  There’s a lot to discover out there!  In fact, my next move will be exploring the U.S.          

Eat Your Beets

If some of the biggest challenges of Peace Corps were unanticipated, so were some of the most important lessons.  In that vein, my Peace Corps experience has led me to sincerely appreciate and understand being ecologically “placed” (if that make any sense!)  My neighbors in Cameroon live off the land and that has helped me to see what it is to live naturally in a place.  Their lifestyles and farming practices are destroying local environments at an alarming rate but people at least understand that their livelihoods come from their surroundings.  I often used to have a conversation with my friends about poverty in the U.S. versus that in Cameroon (nearly all Cameroonians are under the mistaken the impression that America is an unadulterated paradise).  I would tell them that, in some aspects, I think that it is worse to be truly destitute in the United States than it is to be desperately poor in Cameroon.  That statement sounds absurd when you think of the malnutrition, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, gender inequality, lack of education, etc. over there.  But the poorest of the poor in Magdeme survive on their own – they can feed themselves off the land – and the same can’t be said for the vast majority of the American poor (or rich!).  I saw the farm-to-table food production process every day and I so admire the people who labor for it.  It’s not easy!  But there is also something very rewarding about the notion of having to work for your sustenance.  Cameroonians think so, too – food production and preparation are central to their culture.  And they are very proud of the foods native to their regions and/or ethnic groups.

I think I’ve covered this issue in my blog so I won’t say too much more other than that I’ll try to prepare some Cameroonian food for you at some point and maybe you’ll understand their pride!

So…I will *try* to eat my beets (I hate beets!).  Beets grow well in New York so get plantin’!  (Okay, not quite yet).  Seriously, though, I want to hit the farmers’ markets and cook more – and be more conscious of what it is I am buying, cooking and eating – here in the States.  “Thinking globally and living locally” is not only better for the environment but I believe it is more fulfilling, too. 

Drumroll, please… 

THANK YOU so much for following my blog.  Thank you for the letters, calls, messages, packages, and vibes – they meant more than you know.  And a huge thank you as well to everyone who supported our Peace Corps Partnership tree-planting project – it received special recognition from the Peace Corps administration and, more importantly, it impacted over 5,000 Cameroonians…and it was all possible because of you!  Last but certainly not least – if you (or someone you know) are remotely considering joining the Peace Corps, do it, do it, do it.  I guess all that’s left to say is…manayena ba Kanuri-ay “Allah clayowa,” manayena “say tooshiya.”  Neyley wayatey!   (“In Kanuri we don’t say “good bye,” we say “until next time.”  Peace be with you!).

Penultimate Post!

7/7/12

I had an incredible 4th of July, complete with vanilla ice cream and apple pie (followed by Arnold Palmers, halal hot dogs, potato salad, watermelon, and iced sugar cookies). Megan came up for it and we cooked for my neighbors.  Then we went to Maroua for a pagne spending spree (which turned into a Porte Mayo-staying, -eating spending spree, which turned into me finding out I have no money). 

Today, I went to Kolofata to do a Moringa training and plant trees.  Few people showed up but it was a good even so.  I need to try to organize the Magdeme training tomorrow.  I waited out the rain in Mora before coming home – I’m finally learning !  It has been raining a lot lately, which is good – we need it. 

13/7/12

Friday the 13th and I’m happy.  I took an awful practice LSAT but I’ve since started studying.  I like the logic games and studying makes me feel productive but it’s so weird here!  Magdeme+intense productivity=?…an indefinite equation.  Actually, I’ve been productive on the work front too !  Catherine, a nearby Health volunteer, and I are continuing our series of Moringa trainings today and this weekend.  CADEPI trees were delivered to Doulo farmers Wednesday and yesterday.  And I planted trees around the well.  My next move is to plant 100 trees at the health center.  I’m no longer in the red for tree-planting, though – woot !

14/7/12

Two years ago today I found out I was coming to Cameroon!  I am currently chasing zuzus (giant flying insects that come out after the rain and that can be fried and eaten) with Goni’s daughters, Kakaesa, Yagana, and Falta.  I’ve never seen Falta so excited about anything ha.  They are yummy (zuzus, that is). 

20/7/12

It’s 3:45 AM.  Ramadan started last night.  It is overcast and you can’t see the sky here but someone must have seen the moon somewhere.  In any case, the government announces the moon-sighting on the radio.  I’m only going to do a few days of the fast but NO cheating this year (that means no water, aye).  I’m currently up really early to binge eat noufou (I’ve decided noufou – peanuts and a tree nut ground up to a fudgy consistency – is the key to my Ramadan survival strategy) – I could get used to this.  Ha, talk to me in a few hours.  I finally purchased prayer beads in Mora yesterday – from a very confused-looking kid.  People take sacred items here very seriously and I’m not sure how they would feel about me buying beads.  So I didn’t even try to bargain the price.  I felt like I was buying drugs (not that I would know how that feels, of course!). 

These last few days have been an insane whirlwind of tree planting, LSAT studying, organizing the CADEPI project, and holding Moringa trainings.  I have no idea how everything is going to get done before I leave for VACATION on Tuesday but it is and I will be outta here.  If one more person asks for a cadeau while I’m planting their trees, I’m going to flip but oh well.  It is really good to get out and work.  The trees are kickin’ my butt…literally, I’m sore!  On a side note – yesterday I was working at the health center when a van full of bloody people, including a nassara, came flying in.  One of the agence buses had an accident because the driver fell asleep and hit a sheep in Magdeme – yikes.  No one was seriously injured, thank goodness. 

Well, back to bed.  A perfect day would be going to Doulo in the morning and returning for a long afternoon rain/rest before break-fast pizza.  But the rain’s starting now so we’ll see.

21/7/12

Palendrome date!  Whew, Ramadan tires you out.  I’m shot.

16/8/12

Man alive!  Remember me?!  A lot has happened in the three weeks since I’ve written – vacation, close-of-service (COS) conference, the return trip…where to start?!  I want to write about the most recent things but I also want to go in chronological order so I’ll be briefer than I should be. Here goes…

-I spent the lead up to vacation doing some serious tree planting at the hospital.  Lo and behold, they survived (thus far)!  I also spent the time falling off the Ramadan wagon in a big way.  Oh well, 2 days (of real fasting – no food or water between 4 AM and 6 PM) is progress from last year!  30 more years here and I’ll be good to go for the whole month.  Anyway, abandoning village for the duration of Asham was a great idea since people are pretty zombie-like throughout, which brings me to…

-VACATION!  A few friends and I started our vacation with a trip to Mokolo to pick up the matching Extreme North dresses we had made for COS conference.  They weren’t exactly what we asked for but they still look great (and very impressive for a village tailor).  The same tailor is making Megan and me our Ramadan clothes out of ridiculously hideous pagne  that we bought as a joke in Magdeme.  I can’t wait to see them! 

[Side note: I was just having a tranquil, I-love-Africa ride to Maroua to pay my dang landlord and prepare food for the end of Ramadan party when our tire burst.  I’m now sitting under a tree on the side of the road.  Luckily the Mont Mandara boys can change a tire in -10 seconds at the age of 3].

Anyway, we had a nice, slow, leisurely trip down south.  We spent a few great days in Ngaoundere and visited Madame Wabo (a renowned tailor who makes American-style clothes out of pagne) in Yaounde before heading to Kribi (the beach!).  It really felt like vacation.  Our train ride was simultaneously awesome and awful.  I hate first class (where you have a seat instead of a bed for the 13 hour, overnight ride)!  I can’t sleep at all and end up spending the whole night eating the cookies sold on the train.  But an old al-Adji sitting next to us broke fast with us by sharing his food (which prompted everyone else to do so as well).  It was really cute.  And, even though we left Ngaoundere an hour later because of Ramadan, we still got into Yaounde at 7:30 AM!  I love it when the train is on time!  The POOR girls following us were on the train for 25 HOURS!  They woke up in Ngaoundal – the stop after Ngaoundere, which they had left 10 hours before – and got into Yaounde at 7:30 PM.  Anyway, the South was prune (a purple and green fruit unique to Africa that I would describe as a bizarre combination of an olive, a baked potato, and an avocado)/plantain central.  YUM.  And Kribi was amazing.  We ended up being there for 6 days, enough time to make a boat load of Cameroonian friends.  Kribi is a port town and has a very colonial feel but it’s pretty quiet.  We stayed in a hotel run by Northerners right across the road from President Biya’s house.  Every morning we would run, jump in the ocean, and have tea, yogurt, and bananas for breakfast.  Glor.i.ous.  We also talked our way onto Biya’s beach, which made for a very tranquil time.  Unfortunately, my wallet was stolen on the last night.  Thank goodness I had just taken my phone out so he didn’t get that, too.  But he did get my money and our hotel key.  I had a minor breakdown about the robbery – it just made me feel so different.  No matter what (Megan and I had been speaking Fulfulde to the omelet-sandwich making guys from the North when it happened!), we will always be white, which, in itself, is enough justification to rob someone.  I also felt incompetent.  And our new Cameroonian friends felt ashamed.  Pardon the expression but, all around, it sucked.  Not a great way to leave but fantastic trip overall.    

-From Kribi we returned to Yaounde for COS conference.  The first day was held at the embassy, where we got our COS dates (November 15th!) and candy corn.  COS conference…mixed feelings.  It is sinking in that we will be leaving and I was really sad.  What with hanging out with 50 Americans, talking about the post-Peace Corps transition, and staying at an upscale hotel, the whole week felt like we were already in America.  But, at the same time, that is what I loved about vacation/the South – it didn’t feel like we were in America but like we were in the proud, distinct, dynamic, developing Africa.  I have so loved my experience in the North and wouldn’t have traded it for anything but it is SO different (and stagnant) compared to the South.  I could never stay and live there indefinitely.  Au contraire, the South is alive and I could see myself putting down roots there.  But I shudder at the typical ex-pat life in the South (the very antithesis of putting down roots, more like living in a glass bubble).  I spent the whole week thinking about how unusual and incredible the Peace Corps experience really is and how I’m going to have to give it up soon.  On perhaps an even grave-er note, I had the horrid realization that my clichi (sun-dried meat) days are numbered!  Oh no! 

-Anyway, I’m back in Magdeme now and I feel like I haven’t written for months.  I spent my first days back being pretty “blah” and feeling different and melancholy.  Mushee, one of the health center workers, told me a story about how the people in his village believe that children die during rainy season because the sorcerers have to consume human flesh before eating fresh okra, which is harvested early in the season.  Always question your assumptions!  Here I am teaching women about anti-bacterial, insect-repellant neem lotion and they probably don’t even get why those characteristics are advantageous!  COS conference was hard and sad but why draw the departure?  Why couldn’t we just rip the Band-aid at the end?  I don’t like changes and good-byes.  They make me feel lonely.  And yet, at the moment, I don’t feel very motivated or social and I want to read.  But I need to be making the most of Africa!  Bah.  The weather here is cool right now and it feels like autumn at home, which evokes memories of when I left the States 2 years ago.  It is bizarre to be experiencing the same feelings from the other side of the pond.  Full circle. 

The Ramadan fete started yesterday, which was nice.  So many cookies, sodas, oil/rice plates, I literally think I gained 10 pounds.  Megan and I looked ridiculous(ly) stylin’ in our bright green outfits.  I love Ramadan here because it is a holiday for the kids and everyone looks so nice. 

P.S. On good notes, my health center trees survived (okay, I already said that but it’s a very good note!) and three of my students – Boukar Boukar, Mahama Adama, and Amos – passed their national exams!  Big congrats to them! 

31/8/12

Wow, I had such a wonderful day!  It was a typically Al-Adji/Djanabo trop (“too much”) day but since part of that involved being trop en retard (“very late”), at least I got to spend the morning at the house.  But – wait for it – we placed the bee hives!!!   Man, did we place those hives.  I am so GLAD it’s finally done.  Josue came (okay, people say he can be annoying but the guy is persistent and it pays off  – the Korean ambassador called him to order honey while we were sitting on a mat in Algonderi!).  And about 10 guys from village voluntarily came and helped us get everything set up.  Cam Cam is spoiling me – all you do is say you want something done and it happens (it just may happen 3 days later and in a manner you didn’t intend at all).  Cameroonians are awesome – they were chopping trees, carrying said trees on their heads, driving motos through rivers, etc. – to get the hives in place.  Speaking of, maybe Cameroon isn’t spoiling me – we walked through a legitimate sea to find a site for the hives (my second such excursion in a week – more on that later).  It was worth it, though.  Afterwards, we held an impromptu, on-site apiculture training.  It was super.  And throughout it all, the day was gorgeous and cool.  Woot!  (I only wish I’d done it sooner so I could have seen the harvest!).

1/9/12

I love Jane Austen!  And this is why: “let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.  I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly at fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”  So talented at painting reality and yet what an unrealistic reality it is:) – a good break from some of the realities in Cameroon, regardless.   

2/9/12

I’m drowning!  This is the most intense rain I’ve ever been in.  It is literally raining in my house through the roof.  It is funny (and by that I mean not at all funny) to try conceiving of an evacuation here. 

INSANE.  The rain started a second round.  I feel like I should start building my boat and cherching pairs of animals. 

Ok now’s as good of a time as any to catch up on my journal.  A better time, actually – there is no end in sight to this rain…

-I was busy for the past 2 weeks with camps and visitors.  Cedric, one of our language trainers in Bafia, called me 2 weeks ago to say he was in Maroua and needed a place to stay/someone to hang out with.  I went in to see him and luckily found a volunteer to host him there for the night.  We had a fun, if brief, visit.  After climbing the mountain in the morning, I left to make it back for  my day of the girls’ camp in Kolofata.  The seminar was fun but, holy cow was our retour an adventure.  It had rained in the morning and the Kolofata “road,” which is unpaved, was destroyed.  Nouhou, my friend and moto driver, was 1.5 hours late coming to get me as a result.  And, on the way back, I could see why he had been delayed– we were practically moto-ing down a river (not across, down).  When we got to Mora I was unbelievably productive – market, LSAT books, sous-prefet meeting – but I made it so that our depart was right into another storm.  We had to take cover in the Doulo chief’s compound for an hour.  Finally, I decided to leave, even though it was still raining.  I got home cold, wet, and tired – and happy to be there! 

-Friday started out to be a really good day.  I was so ready to just be tranquil and stable in village for a bit.  I walked to Double, visited the doctor, and found out that construction is starting on the new school (incredible, it’s actually happening!).  Then, when I got back to my house, I saw a text saying that I had visitors – volunteers from the South – on the way.  Ahhhhh – my life/house have been in disorder since vacation!  I didn’t panic, though.  I cleaned my house and yard like CRAZY for 3 hours.  Then I went to Mora to stock up on food.  I got back just in time to finish up, ask Kaltime to prepare red millet and tasba for dinner, and pretend like I hadn’t lifted a finger before they arrived.  We had a pretty good night – walked to Double for beers, ate traditional food, had tea, passed out.  The next morning we had French toast and bean beignets.  Then we went on a serious trek to Ganai Shua to look at Arab houses.  On our walk, all I could think was “can’t go over it, can’t go under it, have to go through it.”  Mud!  Anyway, they left shortly after we got back. 

-Finally some respite but not much because Jess and her visiting sister’s drama camp in Mora started Monday.  Spending a whole week discussing communication was a great idea and it went really well.  I had to run to Maroua to send in a work survey on the third day and saw that Peace Corps had purchased my ticket home – November 15th, here I come!  I tried to aller/retour Maroua in one day and almost made it but our car started smoking in Godola (10 km outside of the city) and we had to turn around.  I was too beat to try again so I stayed.  The next morning, I got the Mont Mandara rickshaw back to Mora.  Of course, the sous-prefet stood me up for our meeting so I ate cookies instead. 

-Anyway, that brings me to the weekend.  I’ve already written about our hive installation.  I spent Saturday and Sunday doing my computer class and some farm visits in Doulo.  Bah, do you know what Ishaga, one of my students, asked me?  He goes “pardon, Madame, I know you have done so much for us, I am ashamed to ask, but could you bring us all to America?”  Ummm…who do you guys think I am?  My projects really must seem miniscule compared to what they think I am capable of.  I explained the difficulty of the visa application process and they were like “oh!  Well when you become a minister you can waive all of our visa applications.”  Not how it works in the good ol’ U.S. of A., my friends.  Things are wrapping up well for work, though – bees-check, Doulo trees-check, threaten the well-technician with prison if he doesn’t come collect his materials-check.  Still to do: plant the Magdeme school trees, take my high school students to Mozogo, and send back the well stuff.  It is hard to believe the end is approaching (and the LSAT stands in the way – aye).  Djanabo and Kaltime are pregnant and I won’t be here to see the kids!  I do plant to stay in touch, of course (and that includes baby clothes shopping for Djanabo!).  Speaking of, I am going to use the last bit of this rain (which is finally clearing up!) to answer a great letter from Grandad before heading to Mora. 

11/9/12

I have an awful cold.  I couldn’t taste my noufou lunch – sad day.

I went to Gawel to visit Megan the other day.  We walked to Loulou and visited the Italian priest there.  Man, the guy has a weird life – a flat screen TV and France24 news in Loulou (a village that, but for the solar panels installed on the priests house, doesn’t have electricity)?!  And a weird outlook – he distributes malaria medicine to the whole village and claims that distributing things is an ideal development strategy.  Effective, maybe, but completely unsustainable.  But he also has ricotta cheese, hard cheese, lemonade, and amazing oranges that he very generously shared.  We radically changed worlds (change for the better?) when we went left and went to the Loulou market and sat on logs to drink giant beers with the gendarmes.  Leaving the following morning, seeing the school director en route, joking with one of the gendarmes from the day before about not having my ID and fording the river with Maman Isaac’s sister made me really sad about one day leaving for good.  Also making me sad – Djanabo is planning a serious-sounding fete for my departure.  [Sidenote: lizards love noufou…can you blame them?].

12/9/12

Really nice, cool morning – especially nice after how hot it was yesterday (luckily, we got some rain last night).  I’m feeling less angst-y today than yesterday.  I spent quite a bit of yesterday afternoon just walking around village and it was really nice.  I chatted with my old man friends, Bintu and Aicha, and the phone credit men in Kanuri and visited Kodomi and the doctor.  A banana truck broke down here a few weeks ago and today the driver decided to give all of the spoiling bananas away.  It seriously felt like a holiday in Magdeme.  Everyone, from village grandes to babies with no teeth, had bananas – boxes of them.  People after my own heart.  The banana bonanza contributed a lot to the good mood.  And, of course, gorgeous sky on my Loki walk. 

Ah!  I just almost stepped on a GIANT lizard (kimono dragon style) in my latrine!  I FREAKED out – not okay!  Aye, those lizards are so creepy – more lizard-like than snake-like but certainly too snake-like for comfort. 

14/9/12

I’m ready to go home.  I wish I wasn’t but I am.  It doesn’t help that I’m reading The Best and the Brightest and studying for the LSAT.  Or that I was a blob yesterday.  Hard to believe I have 6 weeks left here…I think part of my stagnancy is that I have to be here but can’t work that much (because of the LSAT – I can’t wait until it’s over!).

15/9/12

Happy anniversary, self and Peace Corps!

16/9/12

S.O.S!  I can taste NOTHING because of this cold!  I seriously think I’m depressed about it.  And paranoid.  My senses of smell and taste will come back, right?!?!

19/9/12

I had a meeting with the director, the chief, and the parents at the school on Monday.  We are going to plant the trees tomorrow.  It is sad and shameful that the mountain people are obviously so much poorer than Kanuri people and yet they send their children to school and the Kanuri do not.  An old man was going around village today trying to register students.  Afterwards he said he was giving up after getting only 6 kids in 2 weeks. 

After the meeting I went to Maroua.  It was my most terrifying Mont Mandara ride yet.  We had a new driver and he FLEW (which you can NOT do if you do not know the road here).  And he was off the road more than he was on it.  Anyway, I went to say goodbye to an American friend and to purchase a painting from a Cameroonian artist friend who is also leaving.  President Paul Biya is coming to town and another friend, who is a member of the Presidential Guard, said I should come see him.  We went on an epic search for the temporary barracks, which involved looking like spies and almost getting our awesome moto driver arrested.  The military here is crazy. 

I moto-ed all the way back to Magdeme the next day because the agence was packed.  It changed my life. 

This morning I biked to Mora for some exercise.  On the way back I hit a cow.  And then a whiskey truck stopped and a hilarious Indian man gave me a giant bag of Vodka in sachets.  Thanks?  Now it’s raining again.  Man, we suffer without water and we suffer with water!  Maga, Pousse, Benoue, Garoua, and Lagdo – cities and villages in the North and Extreme North – really are suffering.  The storm from a few days ago had devastating effects – there were many deaths and thousands of homes and crop acres were completely destroyed.  Displaced people are now living in schools and camps and they are saying cholera has started breaking out.  Even people here are getting nervous that their dry season millet will spoil in the nurseries before they can plant it.  Goni was literally bailing out his farm today.  And to think the States had a drought this year! 

21/9/12

The well project is out of my life.  The well technician sent Mahmadou with a cart to PUSH the materials (probably 600 pounds worth of equipment) to Mora.  Fete! (Well, not for Mahmadou).  Project completion is accelerating.  We planted the trees at the school yesterday (good, helpful turnout!  I so wish I had a camera for when ALL the students paraded to my house to get the trees).  I got a package!  This is shaping up to be a good day.

27/9/12

Flat bike tire at 5:15 PM in Doulo.  Not enough time to fix it before dark so I had to find a moto and I’ll be going back for my bike tomorrow.  Fail.  It’s windy and stormy out.  The sky looks just like the opening sequence in the Harry Potter movies.  The sky is so beautiful here – I am preemptively missing Cameroon.  Then I think of the Cornell clock tower playing Harry Potter music in the winter and I miss home.  Ah!  One word for my last weeks here: schizophrenia.

9/10/12

Well, I am post-LSAT, for better or worse.  It is so nice to be home.  But so hard to believe home is only home for 3 more weeks!  I’m sitting with Goni while he looks at my Morgan Horse magazines – one of his favorite pastimes.  Write soon.

12/10/12

Okay, STILL need to write my update but I am WIPED out.  I biked 30 km to Ganse for a moringa training for Rural Women’s Day, which is actually on Monday.  But  the training got started late (*gasp*) because we spent the morning planting 600 trees.  Turnout was great and the photo ops were even better – too bad Jess and I forgot our cameras!  I biked back and visited with Djanabo before coming home.  Okay, the day was a lot more tiring than it sounds.  I wanted to pass out but Goni and Kodomi (after Goni sent his daughters to get the non-existent corn that we planted in my compound – oops!  The corn is non-existent because I’ve been eating it.  I am going to turn into an ear of corn).  Now, I should update my journal but I finally get to sleep so GOOD NIGHT! 

P.S. It rained (a big one) last night!  I skipped my Loki walk in favor of tea and Tom Robbins.  Good thing because the thunder wasn’t lying.  I love the smell of rain!

15/10/12

One month from today I will be getting on a plane to the U.S. Craaazzzyyy.  [P.S. Happy (real) Rural Women’s Day!]  I can’t take the ups and downs of the final weeks!  On the one hand, I could leave today and I’m ready to.  On the other hand, they are seriously going to have to tie me to a moto to get me out of here.  Falta and Yagana asked me to stay last night.  And Goni told me that the whole village is praying I go home and get a good job so I can come back and visit.  So many emotions!  Okay, long overdue but here’s a quick recap of my trip to Yaounde…

-I started the voyage by visiting Megan in Gawel.  It was a lightning trip that looks like it was my last time there!  We ate Fred, her chicken – I think it was the best chicken I have ever had.  There is something about food that doesn’t come out of a plastic container from P&C…

-I got the bus in Maroua the next day.  It didn’t leave until 11, boo!  But I got a good seat next to a cute little high school student who shared all of his snacks with me.  The trip went fairly well until we got to the University of Ngaoundere, about 5 km from the city, and could go no further.  People kept saying the road was couped (which is what they say when bandits attack) and that scared me for a second (it was 8:30 PM and we were sitting ducks!).  But they meant the road had literally been couped (“cut”) – it had been torn up for a construction project and a big truck had gotten stuck in the mud, which blocked all traffic.  The driver basically told us “good luck” getting to Ngaoundere so I squished on a moto between some old Fulbe men and off we went.

-I ran, got breakfast, and easily validated my train ticket all before 7:30 AM.  I love being matinale (an early morning person) here!  The train was good.  I woke up in the middle of the night to John Denver music and thought I was dreaming.  But a fellow PCV traveler confirmed it.  It turns out the train crew just has great taste in music because they played 90s tunes on the return trip.  The best part of the train, though, was getting in at 7 AM (on the arrival and the return!).  I’m afraid I used up all my train travel karma!  The train didn’t go so well for everyone, though – Jeff got in the day after us and said that he saw someone try to jump off the train only to get pulled under and crushed.  It happened coming into Yaounde, right in front of a bean mama.  Eek.

-Anyway, Yaounde was pretty uneventful.  I made way too many Cameroonian friends.  I let leaving go to my head and gave out my number with abandon.  Mistake!  Cameroonians can be so creepy with their incessant calls and text messages!  I met a cool German-American expat who grew up in Rochester.  Small world!  I was supposed to go to their house for dinner but she got sick. 

Now I’m back in Mags.  I think I took my last Mont Mandara ride from Maroua yesterday!!  I’m heading to Mozogo on Saurday with my students and Tala Mokolo on Sunday and that’s pretty much it for work.  Good thing I’m leaving because I’m getting a little too integrated – starting to believe in spirits.  First, there’s my cold, which I think I got from biking to Ganse in the wind (curse you, Cameroonians, for being right sometimes about the “fresh” air!  Explanation: Cameroonians contend that fresh air (and, at times, spirits in the air) causes illness, which is why they steadfastly refuse to ride with car windows open regardless of the heat or bodily odors of fellow passengers.  Attitudes towards fresh air and car windows have been known to lead to not insignificant confrontations between volunteers and Cameroonians travelers).  Then, we passed a Mont Mandara car with a flat 2 days ago and had to stop because we also had a flat.  Spirit trap!  (Except that, for us at least, it was a false alarm, phew). 

Burned dry season millet fields smell like Pizza Hut!  One month!

16/10/12

Cheering on the electricity, which is trying it’s hardest to come back on and stay on at the moment – c’mon, c’mon, c’mon!!!

20/10/12

Trip to Mozogo completed.  TalaMokolo tomorrow.  Fete du mouton (a Muslim holiday)Friday.  Going away party Sunday.  Depart.  Just had a huge traditional dinner that hit the spot.  YUM.  Now I’m beat from Mozogo and going to bed (it’s 5:18 PM). 

21/10/12

Ten day countdown and what a way to kick it off.  Exhausted.  Will write about it tomorrow.

23/10/12

I can’t stand the Magdeme market.  Two languages (no French)+two currencies=very small chance of getting what you want.  Garrggh!!!

Okay, so…Sunday – the trop-est of all my trop days with al-Adji and Djanabo.  I have spent some good times sandwiched between those two on a moto and Sunday was one of the best – and longest – of them.  We went to Tala Mokolo to see the apiculture project there.  Holy cow, I do NOT remember the trip being that horrendous.  You literally moto UP a rocky mountain.  It was both strange and cool to take Cameroonians somewhere right in their backyard they had never been before.  Al-Adji did a good job driving (despite the fact that Djanabo and I were grabbing onto him for dear life and backseat driving like crazy).  Unfortunately, a young boy was driving Djanabo’s mom and she basically ended up walking the entire way way.  So it took a while.  We almost fell several times and I became a real volunteer as a result – tattoo-ed up Cameroon-style with a serious moto burn (note: practically every, single Cameroonian has this scar from a moto exhaust pipe on the inside of their lower-right calf – a right of passage but a painful one!).  We finally got there and talked a bit about how to get bees into the Bunderi hives.  It was really helpful to be able to discuss the issue in person.  We then saw their honey extraction operation.  Things were in danger of petering out when we decided to go see Josue’s father’s garden (YES! The program worked out ideally – we agreed the big hives were too far away and we got to see the garden, which is what I wanted to visit anyway).  The garden is Eden, a miniature paradise.  Period.  Djanabo, al-Adji, and, especially, Djanabo’s mom (so cute!!) were so impressed.  We spent the afternoon eating ourselves sick on guavas with a few citrons, papayas, pamplemousses, and cucumbers thrown in.  A woman gave us some Nigerian peanuts that she had just harvested (literally we picked them off the plants on her head) on the way back – so good.  I’m glad I had made us leave the garden when I did because that was just the beginning of our acceuil (I abandoned my notion of biking back to Magdeme that evening pretty quickly).  Josue’s wife prepared us a delicious chicken, which was funny because Djanabo had jokingly said to me earlier that we deserved a sacrifice for making it there.  We also had more papaya and honey was well.  We FINALLY said good bye at 4:30 PM and made it back quickly but JUST made it down the mountain before dark.  Our moto was obliged to stop in Oujilla, where the village chief has 54 wives, for a while to wait for the others.  But we hung out with an awesome old Podoko farmer who told us about their special millet harvest tradition – no one can cut before the chief of millet and the traditional chief do or they will be cursed.  After everyone has harvested, they have a giant celebration.  Mountain towns are beautiful – they look like artisan villages, with houses made out of rocks and stone. 

Anyway, when we got back to Mora, I was already exhausted but made what I knew would be the mistake of saying we could stop by Fatime’s (Djanabo’s sister) house.  We ate fried potatoes and green sauce and wrote the program/invitations for my party (Cameroonians are IN.SANE. about protocol!  Djanabo and Fatime literally wrote the invite for half an hour before decided they had to ask a professional.  Good thing I consulted them, though!).  It was so peaceful, though – sitting out on a mat in the dark, under the stars.  That’s how people here pass every night and I”ll miss it.  We finally left and then stopped at Kellou’s (Djanabo’s other sister)!  Hadja was sick and I thought we were never going to leave.  We did leave, though, and I think Djanabo was tired because she let me leave Doulo right away.  Great, overwhelming day – the cherry on top of my Djanabo/al-Adji excursions here.  Now the holiday and my part and I’m out.    

28/10/12

Well…I thought I knew the emotional roller coaster before.  I just got back from my going away party…I survived.  It was wonderful in that everyone came and the food was delicious.  But it was also a bit overwhelming– a little awkward and a little out of body – like I was going through a set of motions.  Dance, nassara, dance!  And I did!  (There were traditional drummers).  I’m just so stressed out.  I don’t know if I’m more upset about leaving or about not being gone yet.  I feel a little leeched and just want to spend my remaining time with my closest friends. 

Aye, now it’s all happening too fast.  Who’da thought?!

30/10/12

Oof, I haven’t been able to sleep for 2 days.  So begins my last full day in Mags.  How did this happen?!  I went out with a bang in Mora yesterday – frightening level of productivity.  Take that!  I biked my bike in for the last time, left it at Mont Mandara, closed my project bank account, dropped off my mailbox key, and, wait for it…MET WITH THE SOUS-PREFET (after weeks of trying).  He had even done what I had asked him to do for our bee project and I was able to get all of the documents I needed for the successful continuation of the project.  Booya!  On the way home, I dropped off stuff at Oumate’s, left some paperwork in Tayer, and went by Djanabo’s.  Since I am closing my post, I decided to donate all of myt furniture to the health center.  So when I got back to Magdeme, the doctor came over to tell me what he wants – almost all of it!  Woot!  Now I have today to just relax in Magdeme.   Goni and I are going to see his dry season millet and then I will hit the market.  [Loks and I are back-porch sitting’ in the dark, cold pre-dawn, listening to the call to prayer.  So nice].

Oh, quick recount of my latest run-ins with sorcery.  The drummers who came for my party have a pretty notorious reputation.  You don’t want to make them mad.  Fatime refused to pay them an additional 8.000 CFA at her wedding and they cursed her, saying she wouldn’t have children.  Since then, she’s had a miscarriage.  Later, after my party, we were all sitting outside and you could see a light (like a flashlight) rapidly descending the mountain, too fast for a person in the dark.  I can’t say I subscribed to the consensus agreement – sorcerer or the devil – but I admit, it was weird.  And let’s put it this way, when the drummers told me to dance or they’d hex us, I danced. 

It’s the last night in Magdeme.  And I feel…I don’t even know…just sort of numb.  But I had the perfect last day in village, including the world’s best guava.  I book-ended my time here with a trip to Goni’s farms.  Then I hung out in the market and went to Double and the health center to say good bye.  Afterwards, I had a meeting with Sajo and Goni to put them in contact for our Magdeme nursery school project.  Goni was so encouraged he called Abba Kaka and another man to come listen to Sajo’s ideas.  It was a super note to end on.  Mal Ali, Yeza, Yeza’s daughther, Kodomi, Goni, and al-Adji spent the evening at my house.  Even Goni’s mother came over.  That was really tough because she is someone I will probably never see again.  Crazy when I think about the kiddos growing up, too, because I won’t recognize them when I come back.  But thinking about my dads (Goni and Kodomi) is when I really start to lose it – I don’t want to leave them.  This is so weird.  Did these two years happen?!  I feel out of body right now.  Du courage, self.

31/10/12

The Band-aid is off – that hurt.

I am alive (just busy)!

10/4/12

I am reading a really good book, Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner and I love it, especially this quote:  “talent…is at least half luck…We are lucky in our parents, teachers, experience, circumstances, friends, times, physical and mental endowment, or we are not.  Born to the English language and American opportunity, we are among the incredibly lucky ones.  What if we had been born bushmen in the Kalahari?  What if our parents had been undernourished villagers in Uttar Pradesh, and we faced the problem of commanding the attention of the world on a diet of 500 calories a day and in Urdu?”

I had a fantastic birthday last weekend.  I got a leather bag that I had ordered from Abdou, I went SWIMMING (twice! In a pool!) – glorious! – had cocktails and cheese, got Jelly Bellies from a friend, made key lime pie, and discovered that the man who works at the imported goods store in Maroua is from Blamaderi (we chatted it up in Kanuri). 

12/4/12

The kick-off of the vaccination campaign for the entire district was held at the chief’s house in Magdeme yesterday.  I thought the government decided to have the event in Magdeme because our health center got such rave reviews after the latest inspection but, instead, it was because Double had the worst cholera outbreak in the Extreme North last year.  Village pride!  The prefet, sous-prefet, and mayor were all supposed to come. In typical fashion we ended up waiting 2 hours for the sous-prefet’s (the least important of the three) stand-in to come.  Protocol (formal interaction with authorities) is SO weird!  The district doctor gave a speech that spent 5 minutes thanking the (absent) prefet, sous-prefet, and mayor for coming.  We couldn’t even hear the rest of what he said.  Then, I could only cringe when, ceremonial ground-breaking style, the important government people who were there (none of whom have had any medical training) officially started the campaign by giving the first shots.  At this point the school directeur and I not-so-surreptitiously faded to the background.  But the gendarmes were eager to take our places injecting infants! 

In other news, Boko Haram, a Muslim extremist group in Nigeria, is in Bunki.  They burned down the police station, killing 8 people, yesterday.  My neighbors strongly reject Boko Haram’s methods.  In fact, they do not even recognize the group’s religion as Islam.  But they are fully d’accord with its goals – regime change in Nigeria.  A little nerve-wracking.

As for today, agroforestry FAIL!  I finally went to visit Abba Chari’s farm.  Upon seeing a Eucaplyptus tree, I mentioned its detrimental effect on the water table…now he is going to cut it down!  Negative one on the tree planting front.  But I did get cadeau-ed mangoes and limes:).  

13/4/12

It is Friday the 13th and I just got highway robbed.  A random lady heard about my Neem presentations and sent me some oil to buy.  That’s the Cameroonian modus operandi (not unlike that of my parents’ interior decorator)– send the product, collect the money later, thereby making it super awkward for the buyer to say no.  All I did say was “how much?”  3500 CFA!  I got it down a bit but yikes.  What am I going to do with Neem oil?!  Oh well, at least I encouraged her production.  I couldn’t very well NOT purchase it after running around telling everyone about its benefits for a year and a half!

16/4/12

I am TIRED.  I need this well to be done.  Looks a little like rain chez nous!

24/4/12

I haven’t written in forever, largely because I’m still holding my breath on the well.  Inshallah.  But, in other news, the first victory in the “Elizabeth versus The Elements Showdown 2012” goes to The Elements.  Resoundingly.  Loki and I were en brousse (30 minutes out of village) when the wind overtook us.  It was the first real thunder/wind/rain storm of the season.  The dust obscured everything and we almost got taken out by flying thorn bushes.  I should have seen it coming – literally.  The wind-dust combination looks like some really strange light being emitted all along the horizon.  I hope Kangaroua – the completely treeless village I was in yesterday – is still standing!

25/4/12

The rain has left me with a palpable feeling of nostalgia – but for what?  I’m not sure – Bafia, girls’ camp, mangoes?  I am LOVING  the smell of this weather!!

4/5/12

I had had a rough few days and I really needed something to cheer me up.  Now, I’m cruising to Maroua in a VIP bus (a.k.a. a 40-seat bus) with only 3 other women and our 10-year-old-looking driver is blasting Celine Dion.  I do love this place.  Cheer up: check.

6/5/12

Ah, I have so much to write.  The well saga isn’t over but I’m outta here!  Davey got his visa the day before he was supposed to come and I’m currently waiting for the plane to Douala to meet him.  It’s incredibly windy but I’m fairly confident the plane (which isn’t here yet) will still be leaving because there is a serious grande(probably a minister) flying.  Fancy men in big boubous keep running by.  And a ton of them are Kanuri!  I knew from the the scarification, hats, and beards even before hearing them.  I feel like I’ve been here a while.

17/5/12

Holy cow – long time!  Where to start?  First, Davey’s visit.  I am so happy he came!  It was a whirlwind but we did everything we wanted to (and ate the bejesus out of some mangoes).  Meeting up with Davey in Douala worked out surprisingly well (as travel did throughout the trip).  Of course, in typical Davey fashion (okay, Loftus fashion), he wasn’t done with his thesis.  So we spent most of Doulala in an A/C hotel/America-land (hummus, pizza, ice cream!).  But we did do crack peanuts, grilled fish, spaghetti omelets, and crazy person-spotting while we waited for the flight, which wasn’t until Tuesday morning anyway.  Bouba picked us up at the airport in Maroua and we did 3 people and 2 bags on a 20 minute moto ride into the city.  We tried to go straight to Mags but the bike I borrowed for Davey had a flat and it was already almost dark so we decided to stay in Mora.  We got yummy folere and not-so-yummy bouille for dinner and crashed at Liz’s house.  We headed out first thing in the morning.  Our arrival in Magdeme was like the second coming.  On the first day we walked around and greeted everyone.  Thursday was windy/rainy but we biked to Mora and climbed the mountain.  We also did the marche and came home to a great mango lunch.  Friday we went – in a car! – to Meme, which was, as usual, LONG but awesome.  It rained all Friday night but we were still able to head out Saturday morning.  The Mags visit was the best part – hanging out with my friends.  Leaving was tough, in more ways than one.  Goni killed a chicken, we all took pictures, and Mal Ali and Yeza sent us back with a ton of treats.  It was really sad.  And Davey was only there for 3 days!  Anyway, Saturday commenced the whirlwind.  We went all the way to Rhumsiki – a cool, mountainous area in the Extreme North that sort of looks like Mars – where we met Megan and Bouba.  We went for a great run (barefoot children kept up with me the whole way – ha – so I taught them our environmental song) and we had a fantastic, candlelit (though not by choice – no electricity) dinner.  The next morning we got up at 6 and went on a quick hike through the valley.  After that, it was just tourist site central – singing children, crab sorcerer, artisan markets.  It was a quick stay but, with all of the gimmicks, any longer would have been too much.  As an aside, it is clear that, with all of the tourism, Rhumsiki must be really well off.  But it still looks like just any other brousse-y village.  I suppose it has an incentive to stay under-developed to offer tourists a glimpse of an idyllic African village, which is pretty depressing.  Next stop was Gawel, Megan’s village.  We didn’t have much time to rest before the dog and pony show recommenced (Davey was, unsurprisingly, so great at humoring everyone, which I feel is sometimes our main role here:) ).  We decided to get a beer and kosse (bean beignets that taste like hash browns) before going back to rest.  Famous last words.A gendarme at the bar bought us another round and the rest was history – toasts to “one love,” Celine Dion renditions, Franglish, deep war/gender discussions, and shirt-swapping filled the rest of the night.  At some point we went back and had folere – a good end to a good night.  We didn’t make it to Maroua until around 1 on Monday.  We wanted to do the market before it got too late.  Yet again, no rest for the SERIOUSLY weary.  We spent a while going around the covered market assembling Obama’s care package (we decided to purchase everything “Obama” we saw – from flashlights to notebooks and everything in between – and I’m determined to get it to him!).  Then we went and hit the artisan market (hard and effectively!).  We ended the day with a delicious dinner and way too many crack peanuts.  We got up really early Tuesday to climb the mountain.  Davey was sick but came anyway.  Bad idea.  He was really sick when we got back and I had to run around getting set to leave.  It put a big damper on the last bit.  I think we were just BEAT.  Davey flew out and called me twice from Douala, feeling completely better, which was very good to hear.  We didn’t sleep at all but the trip was everything I’d hoped it would be.  Wish he was still here!

After Davey left, Megan and I ran into some embassy workers we had met the night before. They were with a crisis-management employee of USAID/WFP who wanted to conduct interviews in villages along the road to Chad.  We ended up scheduling a meeting in Magdeme.  It was cool.  And I got to show someone from USAID the (USAID-funded) well, which I was also happy about:).  I’m probably in big trouble because I didn’t inform the chief about their visit but I think I was able to get the small/honest group that USAID wanted as a result.  A problem with foreign aid field work is that, when the people in villages hear that someone is coming to talk to them about their situation, they assume that money is coming, too, and they sometimes magnify their problems accordingly.  It can be difficult to get a realistic account of their daily challenges. 

A note on development work that’s been coming up lately (with Rhumsiki, our Gawel bar discussion, the embassy/USAID workers, etc.) and that I remember discussing in school: the international aid community is such a self-perpetuating structure.  Think how many jobs and Western livelihoods depend on underdevelopment!  Not that the costs outweigh the benefits – I don’t think they do.  But there are serious issues with the current institutions that need to be resolved if long-term, sustainable development is the true goal.  Western organizations throw SO much money around but a ton of that money is effectively thrown AWAY.  Cameroonian domestic politics are essential to this matter and I can’t discuss that topic on my blog as per Peace Corps rules.  But, at any rate, I think the problems would be a lot clearer to Western aid workers if they were a bit more in touch with local populations.  I do know these people are experts who have been working in development for a long time (certainly A LOT longer and in a FAR more qualified way than I have!), are good at what they do, and are WELL-aware of inherent shortcomings in their positions.  But, for example, the embassy workers aren’t even allowed to take public transportation; many of them don’t speak French; the USAID/WFP people showed up in 3 SUVs with a contingent of armed guards and had to cut the meeting short because they can’t travel after 6.  I know all of these precautions make sense from a safety/security/liability standpoint but, in the villagers’ eyes?!  Sheesh, no wonder they think I grow money at my house.  Actually, in the grand scheme of things, it may not make sense from a security standpoint.  In Strength in What Remains, a book about the ethnic conflict in Rwanda and Uganda, Tracy Kidder talks about “structural violence” in African life.  By that he means daily “violence” – infant mortality, disease, starvation, and also exclusion.  The latter includes “foreign development workers and their privileged Burundian and Rwandan counterparts riding through dirt towns in SUVs.”  Some people suggest that such habituation to life’s hardships is part of what facilitated the frightening escalation to genocide.  I don’t know.  I think that Cameroonian villagers are unbelievably tranquil (the English “calm” isn’t exactly what I mean), especially given the challenges they face.  But the idea is food for thought.  

21/5/12

Man, do I love sitting outside under my awning in the rain.  It reminds me of the Creek House.  I should say – I love the rain as long as I’im not out in it, which I was AGAIN on Friday.  Thank goodness it started after Moundou, the village 3 kilometers from Magdeme.  I didn’t have that far to go.  And it was all dust and wind until the very end.  I feel like one experiences pure emotions here and the halo-like, eerily-lit approaching dust storms are completely and utterly terrifying!  I rolled up to my house looking like the creature from the black lagoon, covered in dust that was starting to turn to mud because of the raindrops.  The rain started in earnest the second I got inside (that – just reaching shelter before a storm hits – may, honestly, be the best feeling in the world). 

I had a super soy training with the Doulo mothers’ group on Friday.  Tofu has hit Doulo so I’m hoping soy beignets and milk will follow.  The well is finished except for the cover, which we are adding soon and which, in the meantime, isn’t essential to the function.  I didn’t celebrate 20 mai (Cameroon’s Independence Day equivalent) by going to the parade but I was in Mora to plan our field trip to the Mozogo forest with Jess.  And I scored a ride back to Magdeme with Malloum in his car – woot!

22/5/12

Loki is currently munching on a MASSIVE rat tail.  At least maybe my yard will stop smelling like the dead animal I haven’t been able to find.

23/5/12

Wow, has it only been a day since I last wrote?  I have had a long, boring day of doing nothing.  I’ve made significant progress through Atlas Shrugged and Little Dorritt if that tells you much.  I was supposed to make mango jam with Oumate this morning but he wasn’t there, of course.  So I made it myself and then had a tasty PBJ – which I forced Goni to try – for lunch.  My trip to Doulo was semi-productive in that I dropped off the attendance sheet to be signed for our field trip Saturday.I’m really excited!  I hope it doesn’t rain!  (Knock on wood).  I haven’t had down time like this in a while, though.  Having free time and working on my trimester activities report have finally been making me realize that, for all intents and purposes, the well is DONE.  I haven’t felt like this, effectively, since November (what with vacation, mid-service conference, well, visits, etc.).  Phew.

27/5/12

Enjoyed an afternoon of rain today.  As has been the serendipitous case this year (knock on wood), I made it back JUST in time.  I had been in Doulo with my high school students and I fought a 2 front assault on the way home.  Thank goodness the rain wasn’t yesterday because we went on our Mozogo field trip and it was GREAT.  We cut out a few chunks of the sessions but stayed on schedule (kudos to Jess and me), did the essentials, saw baboons and a SWEET Baobob tree, and, most importantly, fit 50 kids and 10 adults in 2 cars with a combined occupancy of 32.  It was a wonderful trip.  I think the kids really loved the excursion.  But it is so depressing and aggravating to see the differences between children raised in French-speaking homes versus those raised in patois-speaking homes.  At the end of the day, we had the kids perform sketches.  The Mora kids were creative and argumentative with their presentations.  The Doulo kids could not even repeat the French lines I gave them.  I need to talk to my teacher friend, Sajo, about starting an informal nursery school in Magdeme.  Exposing young children to French would be invaluable.  The sky was beautiful on the way home.  You feel like you’re in a snow globe (because of the size, not because of the snow, sadly).  I’m headed back to Doulo tomorrow to drop my computer off for my students – they have the practical section of their national exam tomorrow and they’ve never even touched a computer before!!! Aye.

31/5/12

I am very content/contente right now.  It’s 9 AM and I’m in Ngaoundere.  I’ve already been for a run, confirmed my train ticket, and had a delish bean sandwich.  And now it’s a gorgeous day.  Getting here yesterday wasn’t easy, man.  I left Magdeme at 7 AM and promptly broke down twice with Mont Mandara (at one point the 14 year-old-looking co-pilot was pulling pieces out of the engine).  Then the bus didn’t leave Maroua until nearly 1 PM – perfectly primed to have to stop for every prayer (2 PM, 4 PM, 6 PM, 8 PM) before getting to Ngaoundere.  Anyhoo, we were off.  A note on driving here:  it’s like the movie Speed – you are trapped in a giant bus that has no business going 50 MPH but does.  We stopped at the gas station just before Garoua, which usually means we aren’t going to stop at the bus station.  I REALLY had to go to the bathroom so I ran in.  When I got out, the bus was driving away!  I had to chase it and jump in the moving vehicle!  NO ONE had said anything.  Thanks, guys.  It could have been worse, though – we left 2 other men and they had to catch up with motos in the rain.  I even told the driver to stop and he didn’t.  Well, I got everyone back when we did stop at the station in Garoua.  Rain+untreated leather bag+1000 CFA of clichi (sun-dried meat) I bought for lunch=complete dead animal.  Yikes did it wreak on that bus because of me.  Two young guys joined our row in Garoua.  They sang the entire way down.  More power to them but Cameroonians have no shame when it comes to belting songs – the whole country is like one giant American Idol audition highlight reel.  We had to do the last 3 hours in the dark – scary.  I kept – irrationally? – thinking we were going to be stopped by bandits.  It’s nerve-wracking when the armed guards get on the buses (though I suppose that should be comforting).  Anyway, here I am.  And I get to see my parents soon! 

16/6/12

Well, I’m post-parent visit and everyone survived – more than survived, it was great!  Today is  Jamie’s wedding and I wish I was home with everyone.  I’ve been in a bit of a funk but I clawed my way out today.  I went to visit Djanabo and she uncannily told me about how we have to profit du temps (make the most of our time) because life is just who you’re with and what you’re laughing about. Wise.  On an entirely different note, farmers give their animals a tablet to make them look fat at market and Djanabo told me that people also take the same tablet to make them appear fat and rich!  Yikes.  Anyway, back to Doulo early tomorrow for my students. 

MY HOUSE SMELLS LIKE DEATH AND I CAN’T FIND OUT WHERE/WHY!  STARTING TO THINK IT’S ME!

17/6/12

I had a good day today.  Slumps are the dumps and it feels good to crawl out of them.  Oh!  I forgot to mention – things started to look up yesterday when I found a very dried out Wellington behind my bike (he had escaped from his ceramic pot after a big rain a few weeks ago).  But he was alive!  And happy to be so – he swam around and woofed down the crickets/grasshoppers that I caught for him.  Homeward Bound IV, anyone?  Two other good things from yesterday: had some delicious, seriously sketchy-looking fried fish at Djanabo’s just when I had been craving Doug’s Fish Fry.  And I saw a bunch of kid’s stopping a boy who was selling hoyoro and beignets from his bike – Cameroonian ice cream truck!  Made me smile.  Anyway, I reviewed with my students this morning and then MADE myself go to Mora market despite the wind.  I’m very glad I went – fresh fruit!  Well cover placement tomorrow, girls’ camp Tuesday, Summer Solstice party at a friend’s Wednesday, girls’ camp again Thursday.  And rain (?!) tonight!

Okay – the recount.  My parents got in to Douala on a Saturday night.  It was wonderful to see them – but so weird to see them in Africa!  We went to the hotel and got beers and sodas on the street.  The plane to Maroua left first thing the following morning.  Goni and Malloum met us in Maroua – also so strange to see them at the airport!  Goni called them “Father” and “Mommy” – teehee.  Thank goodness for the private car.  Mom and Dad’s taste of travel in Cameroon was more than enough to terrify them.  Plus having our own car enabled me to stop 25 times to buy a million mangoes on the way back.  We got to village in the afternoon and said hi to everyone (even the old imams were freaking out and they are tough nuts to crack).  The welcome-parent-kill-count: 1 goat, 3 chickens (plus a ton of beans and noufou – which I’m including in the kill count because the quantity I ate nearly killed me).  We did the grand tour of Mags on Monday.  In the evening, Goni took us on an en brousse adventure in search of the Mbororo, the nomadic herders from Niger.  Afterward we had a nice dinner with Goni, Kodomi, and Mohammed.  On Tuesday we moto-ed to Doulo.  We started with a perfectly-timed visit with Oumate and Abdul, which included a visit to the book collection.  I was so psyched to see how much the students were using it!  Then we went to Djanabo’s for a fantastic visit.  She made a smorgesboard lunch that had samples of everything.  The grande finale was a Cameroonian photo shoot, which consists of thousands of super awkward poses.  We made it back to Mags in time to go to the market and do another Goni excursion.  Wednesday started early with the trip to Waza, the national park near me.  Goni invited himself and I invited Djanabo and her son, too.  Waza was a bit overrated (although, have you ever seen a giraffe run?  SO cool!).  We somehow managed to make it out of village, after good-byes, at a reasonable hour.  It was probably because we had said good-bye to Mal Ali the night before.  The next morning we hopped the plane down South where we got a cher car to Limbe.  The beach was beautiful; it is right at the base of Mount Cameroon – at 13,000 feet (starting right from sea level), the highest point in West Africa – which is volcanic so the beach sand is black.  I got a gorgeous painting from a local artist and witnessed the run-up to what promised to be a memorable “Miss Beach” pageant.  We headed to Douala at 2 PM and got fish on the way to the airport.  I think it was Dad’s favorite meal here – as I told him it would be – but he paid later – as I told him he would.  We had a relaxing time at the airport before my friend Beth showed up with her parents and we – parents and kids – parted ways.  A great trip – as with Davey, we miraculously accomplished everything we wanted to.  [Interjection: I’m talking with Goni as I write this and I think I should share his latest observation “If Obama is not come to power, America she go fall in big, big hole”].  All in all, the trip was super.  Unfortunately, it took a nosedive immediately post-departure.  I spent the night with Beth and her Southern friend.  Let’s just say the digestive situation was BAD and the force-fed giant Coke (hey, at least I refused the Guinness), a stranger’s house, a stranger’s bed, a bucket flush latrine, and no electricity did not help matters.  I was counting hours, no, minutes, until Maroua.  If I hadn’t been in a strange part of Douala in the middle of the night, I would have been in a hotel in a second.  I was SO happy to get to Maroua (even though it was a homecoming to hot season temperatures).

19/6/12

All I can say is thank the Lord above for creepy truck drivers (never thought I would say that).  And for the fact that I’m leaving before next June because I don’t think I can take one more year of this Mora-girls-camp-death-by-the-elements tradition.  After completely and utterly jinxing myself, I set out from Mora in beautiful weather.  I noticed a pretty terrible storm but it was way off towards Meme and the wind was going in a favorable direction.  Then, on the other side of Doulo, the storm overtook me – how is that even physically possible?!  The wind was going the other way!  Anyway, I thought if I could just make it past Tayer I’d be okay.  I don’t know why I always say that!!!  Being closer to home doesn’t help, if you get caught in a Harmattan rain strom, you’re lucky if you’re not flying through the air Wizard of Oz-style.  Anyway, I saw the dust cloud past Moundou just after I saw the sheets of rain.  I thought only one thing – death.  A van was stopped on the side of the road and I seriously contemplated asking if I could get in but it took off, probably afraid that I would do just that.  BUT – praise Allah – a truck was stopped just ahead and the driver jumped out, grabbed my bike, and told me to get in.  I may not have accepted the offer a year ago but I didn’t think twice today.  Hitch-hiking with Gabonese truckers going to Chad seems like it could end badly.  But it was perfect.  They gave me cheese and a pineapple!  Gotta do that more often…and by that I mean never again.  Oh, and it didn’t rain a drop in Magdeme.  Special.

22/6/12

I had a water sanitation training with the women in Doulo this morning followed by an early lunch of folere chez Djanabo.  Girls’ camp Tuesday and yesterday – the Game of Life session that I ran was really fun!

27/6/12

It is a beautiful day today!  There are butterflies all over my tree:).  Loki and I went hunting this morning.  It poured yesterday evening and, at one point last night, it sounded like someone was climbing on my roof.  Loki went nuts.  Then, this morning, I came out to find a GIANT rbush at hiding under my rafters. Goni wanted to catch it, of course.  So a boy poked it until it jumped and Goni and Loki chased it.  Lokster got it.  Speaking of rats, I was in Gawel the other day and we climbed Mount Loulou.  It was amazing.  We saw tons of baboons on top!  They were sitting on a rock out-cropping opposite us, West Side Story-style.  They barked like crazy when they saw us.  We had a mountain person as a guide and he found a bush rat in a trap [note: he also said kids scaled the giant, sheer rock face using only the sparse grass tufts in order to hunt big birds – I believe it].  He was SO excited about his rat.  He danced and sang to it the whole way down.  Mountain people are hilarious.  He also performed a special rain dance ritual at the summit.  Bouba said it wouldn’t work because he wasn’t an old man (it did, though).  I’m glad I live chez the Muslims but living with pure, pagan mountain people would be a trip for sure.

1/7/12

Happy July!  I’ve gotten really bad about writing.  I’m profiting from the rain to skip my walk with Loki and read/write/drink tea on the porch.  I’m glad it’s raining though, the farms seriously need it.  Plus it’s Sunday – should be lazy, right?  Anyway, I wanted to write about a few things.  (1) The bugs just keep getting bigger and bigger during rainy season – I saw a beetle the size of my fist last night (2) walking Loki back home at night is like being on a moving sidewalk at the airport – old mamas coming back from their farms with tons of stuff on their heads keep getting on (3) boubous remind me of saddleseat clothes. 

Goni – my 3 year-old neighbor with the world’s absolute greatest smile – was hit by a moto and he died last night.  There was a ceremony/internment and I later asked Kodomi who had passed away, assuming it was an elderly person in Mal Ali’s compound.  He said it was a 3 year-old from my neighboring concession.  My heart sank asking his name because I knew it was Goni.  But I couldn’t believe it.  I still can’t believe it.  We’ll never see that smile again.  More than anything, the kids make you feel you’ve been here a long time.  Babies who weren’t even born or who were strapped to their mothers’ backs when we got here are becoming little people – walking and talking and laughing.  And more than any child here, Goni embodied that for me.  When I first got here, his mom (who is younger than me…and she’s already lost a child) would always climb up to the wall and show him off.  I remember when the smiling started. 

Well, so it goes…

8/2/12

Legalized !!!! Take that, February! (I haven’t even left MINADER yet and had to stop to write about it). One year later and the GIC I was helping to become officially recognized by the government has been so recognized. The delegate when a little nuts with the rubber stamp – I think every page – all 50 of them – got one. That’s not just Africa time, that’s Cameroonian-bureaucracy-sans-bribes time. Unfortunately, that ridiculously complicated process would have been prohibitively difficult for a group to do on its own.

11/2/12

I celebrated International Youth Day like a grande today (albeit a crashing, flip-flop wearing grande) by getting a seat at the stadium instead of having to stand out in the torturous sun. Now I’m tired. The students had the entire week off of school in order to practice marching. The best practice award still goes to the school that had its students do their marching exercises on top of the cotton, which has to be pressed – multi-tasking for the win. I missed seeing the primary schools parade but I saw the high schools and my friend Sajo (I couldn’t pick anyone else out specifically). The majorettes busted out Venga Boys – nice taste. I came home to my neighbor tapping his millet with a car (a.k.a doing donuts in his field) – again, impressive use of time. I’m beat but still have to prep for two English review classes, organize the library presentation, and entertain Muhammed and Goni. But had a nice bike back with Jess after we planned our joint agro-forestry project coming up.

14/2/12

Happy Valentine’s Day! I don’t feel so hot – or rather, I do – I think I have a fever. I don’t know if I’m sick or if hot season is starting. At any rate, the electricity is out and I didn’t sleep well last night. Also, I just heard a fighter jet for the first time in a year and half. I’m not sure who was more freaked out – me or Loki.

Bah, Loki dug up my aloe. And it is hot as the blazes. Far too hot to make witty remarks to people asking what I brought for them as I come back from the market. I’m meellllting.

Well, February has shown me to be an uppity fool today. Sick, no aloe, no water or electicity (have both now but I’m properly grateful), stood up by the well technician, forced to eat 2 pots of bouille…*

*Bouille (translation: gruel) is a staple food here. It is made with flour, water, peanut butter, and sugar and people live on it. During Ramadan, it is the food with which they break their fast every day. I have to admit, I really like some bouille on some occasions. But, overall, I’m not a fan (shh that’s blasphemous here) and I have yet to start subscribing to the popular belief that eating hot peanut butter water makes the heat easier to stand.

15/2/12

Drama in Doulo today – the director beat up a teacher up because the teacher hit a kid (go director!).  The Kanuri got a shout out on BBC tonight…for their connections to Boko Haram. Great. Eight boys in Kolofata were arrested just for listening to a speech by Mohammed Issa, the leader of the extremist group. As usual, gendarmes don’t mess around.

17/2/12

Holy cow, what a day. It was another Djanabo/al-Adji, villagers-probably-think-I’m-a-sorceress-because-I’m-out-so-late day. I got up at 6 AM to plan my talk on neem for the giant women’s group in Doulo. I left for Doulo at 7:15 AM, waited chez Oumate until 8:30 AM, and waited for the women until 9:30 AM. The neem lotion presentation lasted until 10:45 AM and it was a huge hit. Even the men were really interested and everyone asked a ton of questions. After the activity, I went to Djanabo’s to find out if our planned trip to Bunderi (our apiculture site) and Waza was still on. Surprisingly, I wasn’t the late one and, thankfully, I was able to ride my bike back double time to Magdeme. I got back at 11:50 and left for Double at noon. I had lunch and waited for the car with Djanabo and her mom until 2 PM (keep in mind, this was supposed to be an all-day trip). We finally left for Kangaroua and I, at last, saw the other side of Double. The giant onion farms all have wells rigged with weighted arms to pull up the water. They looked like giraffes. I felt like Don Quixote. There are NO trees after Double. I have no idea how the villages stay standing throughout rainy season. Anyway, after we arrived in Kangaroua the gendarme who gave us a ride lent us his car and his chauffeur for the rest of the day – sweet. I saw an Arab house (the Arab Shua have large, beautifully decorated round houses that they live in with their animals). They showed me a completely random, huge forest in Bunderi and we chose a spot for the hives. Afterwards we continued to Waza and saw antelopes and real giraffes everywhere – so cool! The trip started to be too much when we stopped by the Waza chief’s house. It was fun to speak Kanuri with him but we still had more than an hour home and it was already getting dark. We finally got back to Kangaroua and had to stop to pray (speaking of, I talked to Djanabo and her mom about Boko Haram today – they don’t even regard the group’s religion as Islam). When we left Kangaoura the car broke down but the driver literally just beat the engine with a shoe and it started again. We FINALLY got to Double and I moto-ed home and entertained al-Adji for a few minutes. And now here I am. Phew.

18/2/12 I

 HAVE REACHED THE PINNACLE PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER STATUS – I got a baby named after me! The doctor just called to tell me. Woot woot!

19/2/12

Well, the price I had to pay for getting a little “Elizabeth” was having to eat my weight in bouillon. I hate it. I HATE IT! I don’t even know what the stuff is!! The underskin fat of cows and goats?! Today I got the cow tail and had to eat every last bit of it. Yum.

20/2/12

Turns out digging a well is not like working on the railroad all the livelong day. The amount of surveillance it is going to take to make sure the workers don’t take their money and run (to the bil bil market) is going to be insane. On verra. I’ll be happy when this baby is dug.

22/2/12

Allah. On Monday thieves cut the throats of two children and stole their 50 sheep (children are the ones who take the animals out en brousse all day – another reason school attendance is so low) in Kossa, a nearby village. Everyone in Kossa dropped what they were doing and tracked the man to a river near the border. They haven’t been able to find him yet. Makes my heart hurt just hearing about it.

24/2/12

You know you’re villageoise when…

-red millet beignets start to taste good

-you keep you money in a plastic bag tied in your shirt

27/2/12

Chida mbeji, alhamdilaye (a lot of work!). Wowee. I have been so busy. The well starts this week. I got the cement today – I’m currently sitting on 25 bags of expensive stuff. I have to buy a sacrificial goat tomorrow (that would be the first unforeseen cost in Magdeme). I’m happy to shell out for it, though, if it means Allah will be working on this well, too. Also I have more of the CADEPI project tomorrow – a cookstove and bio-gas training in Magdeme followed by environmental education at the school. I managed to get an alternative translator, inform the chief, contact the director, and put the word out all in 30 minutes. Don’t look now but I think I was just productive. Now about that unfinished environmental education presentation…

28/2/12

Well, I told CADEPI the training would be difficult in Magdeme and I’ve been vindicated, though I don’t want to be. I’m pretty embarrassed for my neighbors, actually. Emmanuel from CADEPI came and I dragged people out for the meeting. First they came late, then Tijani barely translated, and then they started fighting with the chief over who had received an improved cookstove during the last NGO distribution and who hadn’t. I’m sorry but “the government used to give us money” is not a response to “how has the environment changed in the past 50 years?” Emmanuel just kind of gave up eventually. At the end, the chief told us we couldn’t meet with the women today so we went to the school and kids had left (the director was at the market). Emmanuel couldn’t believe the condition of the school . It was painful to see the cycle so clearly: short-sighted adults -> no children at school -> short-sighted adults. At least we got a few people who were interested in planting trees. 2

9/2/12

Aaaah. First deliciously ripe mango of the season after a crazy day. I went to and from Maroua (after biking to Mora and hanging out on the side of the road while the chauffeur fixed two flat tires) to get well money. Just when I got back to village the technician came with the materials.  I can’t believe the project is actually starting!

2/3/12

9*&%&^$%@$#@&^_(*&(*^*$^%#. You heard me. One of my well workers is missing already, it is HOT, and – oh yeah – someone stole all of my money. A man from my bank called last night to ask if I had used my debit card in France and to tell me that someone had spent everything in my account. I’m practically in Nigeria!  Aren’t we supposed to be scamming France?!  Thank God I had nearly finished transferring all of my project money to a separate account.

10/3/22

I haven’t written in a while, probably because I don’t feel like doing much of anything except lying in water. Our International Women’s Day activities went really well, especially in Magdeme. Throughout Women’s Week, the nearby volunteers and I did a neem lotion training in each of our villages. Boukar (the lead well worker, not the technician) no-showed again and I had to fire him. His workers, whom I like a lot, are going to finish the digging. But on the bright side, the technician cadeau-ed me a pineapple! P.S. it is HOTTTTT!!!!!

11/3/12

Almost mango season! Muhammed is bringing me mangoes from Nigeria today:). I am currently in the middle of preparing a salad a la Goni. Lately, on market days, Goni has taken up bringing me delicious salads. Today I’m attempting to recreate it (though, as it is sans Goni, it is also sans a liter of peanut oil, which is probably the best part).

14/3/12

I was so mad at Boukar the other day but I am incapable of flipping out at people – what is the deal? I ended up chatting it up with him for a while, munching a giant kola nut, and inviting him to America. But I was able to get back the money he had been advanced (by dropping the fact that my boss, Barack Obama, is not down with “eating” money, a.k.a. corruption) so wala problem. The well is coming. If and/or when it’s all set, I will look forward to spending the rest of my service on bees, trees, and cheese (with some education projects mixed in). I’m visiting Djanabo tomorrow, which should be nice.

15/3/12

I feel a little like I’m walking a tightrope with a horse on my back ha. But I just had a long conversation with my mom (and another in Kanuri), which was really nice.

19/3/12

Goni, you’re incredible. A few months ago I lent him some money to do bean stockage (you buy the beans right after the harvest and then save them to sell at a much higher price). He had to sell the beans yesterday to buy millet and the first thing he did was pay back my loan. I could really use the money, too! Way to go diversifying my assets:). I watched him kill the anti-sorcery chicken (don’t ask) at the well this morning, too. It was so peaceful, he prayed the whole time. Sometimes I forget how wise these guys are. We were talking about food security last night. He was telling me about the 3 famines he’s witnessed and about an “old papa” who died last year after having advised him “don’t you be joking for the work, you never see one kind of wonderful thing” (meaning even Goni hasn’t seen famine at its worst).* I can’t imagine a world with no food. Not even a little bit. I guess that’s why I sometimes feel like we Peace Corps volunteers are playing dress up here. We see how our neighbors live but we will never be like them. I should thank God for that. It throws me sometimes when I think of the opportunities I have had, particularly the chance to go to college, just by virtue of where I was born. I’m putting that education to good use crafting a theory about a country’s level of development as a function of how much its cookies resemble the classic animal cracker (again, don’t ask). In other news, someone was killed in Double last night and the perpetrators took his tongue for sorcery. Creepy.

*Random note: “wonderful” has a pejorative connotation in Nigerian English – it took me forever to catch on to this fact and has caused some amusing/embarrassing misunderstandings with Goni.

29/3/12

Wow. It has been a while. Let’s see – I visited a neat village, Djinglia, in the mountains; Loki and I have acquired a turtle, Wellington (guess where he came from); oh – VISA reimbursed my money and I spent a bunch of it with Abdou at the artisanal market. Wellington wouldn’t eat the grasshoppers I got him so I ate them. With vinegar, piment, and the Red Hot I brought back from the States they tasted just like chicken wings. You know you’ve been in Africa too long when…

31/3/12

I just had another “is this my life?!” moment – Goni and I were out watering the well’s cement rings by moonlight at 10:30 PM. Like I’ve said before, night is NIGHT here. Scary. And I’d just come from reading In Cold Blood, ha.

I went to a party at the doctor’s today. The whole crew from the health center (minus Kodomi) was there for a typical party meal – spaghetti mixed with rice and topped with oil and meat bones. Yum (actually, it is). I left just in time to get home before dark and, sure enough, I got a flat tire 3 km from village. It wasn’t too bad since I was almost home but I did have to stop 6 times to pump it on the way. Not a single person stopped. Chivalry? Nah, we’re just here to cook your dinners! Lots to do really early tomorrow – walk Loki, get water, water the cement rings, lesson plan, teach in Doulo.

1/4/12

I hate surprise parties! (i.e. parties for which you have not received an invitation but to which you show up in flip flops, not having showered for three 120 degree days in a row and at which you are given the second-best seat, told to eat first, and photographed incessangly just because you are a nassara – whew). Today it was the promotion party for a gendarme here. Actually, he works in Bunderi and just has a house in Magdeme because Mora is too far. Consqeuently, he ain’t Kanuri and there was A TON of alcohol at the party. The Muslims were clearly uncomfortable. So was I, given that I kept having to refuse his offers of whiskey. Oh well. At least the standard practice here is “dine and dash.” As soon as you finish your food, party’s over.

2/4/12

I’m mellllllting!!!! I found the next (fifth? – Bob, Mahmadou, Yagana, Fadi, Tala – no, sixth) kid I’m bringing home – Fanaa, Eza’s granddaughter. Her mom is on board.

I hit the drive-thru (a.k.a. girl with a plastic bucket sitting on the side of the road) this morning. Nothing like koki and hoyoro on-the-go for a morning bike ride.

4/4/12

It has been inescapably hot for the past 3 days. I had forgotten from last year that one day the heat is bearable, and the next day it is NOT.

The tiny pagan quartier in Magdeme had a HUGE party tonight – drums, flutes, bil bil (millet beer) for hours. Sadly, it turns out a guy died from a snakebite while hunting rats this morning. Aye. They could rival the Irish.

5/4/12

Another honest entry…“The doctrine of our time is that man can’t get along without a whole hell of a lot of stuff.” (Steinbeck). Sad but true. I’m happy I’m learning to laisse that here. But can’t there be a happy medium? I want to be able to value nice things without worrying that everything is superfluous. What is necessary and what isn’t? I hope I can learn that too. I’ll be really honest, in some ways I think I’m learning that I’m more materialistic than I thought I was. Peace Corps forces you to look at yourself (well, it puts up a giant, wrap-around mirror and you can look or not) and, as another PCV has said, you don’t always recognize what you see. I have a better example – a few American friends and I were celebrating a birthday in a nearby village the other day. We were eating the cake one PCV had made and a bunch of pre-teen boys were being extra-persistent with the standard “la blanche, la blanche donne-moi l’argent.” Now, the constant demands for money can be tiring but, the thought crossed my mind, when I signed up for Peace Corps Africa did I ever think I would be eating cake in front of seriously malnourished African children? No way. I like to think that I’m a compassionate person. But, as I’ve found here, compassion is active, not passive. It takes work, especially when you are surrounded day-in and day-out by people deserving a lot of compassion. I hope that the objective (maybe?) perspective of myself that I’m getting here at least counts for something…

There and Back Again

18/11/11 

Wow. Outsourcing Christmas shopping is THE way to go – I LOVE al-Adji and Djanabo.  Al-Adji was just over and I got the history of the Qur’an and a count of all the gendarme checkpoints between here and Kousseri (21!).

 23/11/11

 So far, so good on the village pumpkin pie front.  Sadly, my lack of a tin is going to make for some hideous mini-pies. 

Tee hee.  Al-Adji just came over to visit again and, I, once again, got a theology lesson.  This time?  Each person has a running dossier of good and evil deeds.  Two small malachies (Arabic for “angel” maybe?) sit on your shoulders and record everything you do.  When you die, the grande malachy pulls your file from his cabinet and determines your eternal fate.  This case isn’t the best example but I often find it interesting how devout Kanuri people are and yet how much mysticism is evident in their worship.

24/11/11

I had to force myself to go to my environmental education class today but it was good.  I talked about water and did a fun water sanitation demonstration.  Take that, cholera! 

Pumpkin pie versus Muhammed was a draw – you should have seen the size of the bites he took (I don’t even think they can be called bites they were so tiny) but he took a second.

27/11/11

What is wrong with me?  Now, I’m less excited than anxious about going home.  It’s like I’m living my life 2 weeks ahead of time.  I’m already thinking about coming back and I haven’t even left yet.  Time is going too fast (ha, that’s the Cameroonian speaking)!  I think I’ve just been feeling a bit trop lately.  I had a formidable/formidable day in Mora yesterday and I’m  overwhelmed.  Too overwhelmed – I’ll write tomorrow. 

29/11/11

I got cadeau-ed a skeeter netJ The government distributed mosquito nets to every family in Cameroon and the doctor included me in the census.  Woot, woot!

Kay, karambani – I just had a bizarre, slightly sketchy encounter with an old lady I saw on my way back from Double today.  This afternoon, she said she was going to come to my house for a cadeau.  I laughed, as I always do.  But she actually came…and got really mad when I didn’t give her anything and tried to force her way in.  I’m grateful for Loki.  I owe her a big ‘un anyway.  She got away from me en brousse today and let me catch her before she terrorized the village.  (I almost book-ended my year here in a not-so-good way).  I’m ready for vacation, I think.  I’ve been thinking about this for so long, now it’s really happening and it doesn’t feel like it.  I will be home one week from today.  Wow.  There is a lot I’ve been wanting to write about (depuis depuis) so here go bullets:

-I had a super-productive day yesterday (not necessarily time-efficient – in fact, it only happened because I gave it a whole day – but productive).  I opened the project bank account and saw the sous-prefet (who, by the way, looks EXACTLY like the guy from Super Troopers – a fact I couldn’t really get over during our meeting). 

-I had an in.sane Saturday.  Djanabo and I had programe-d making sauces with Kellou.  Then Kellou was hospitalized with malaria and typhoid on Thursday.  Thus, I left for Doulo wondering if our cook-off was really going to happen.  But it did.  Oh, it did.  We went to the onion farm to pick leaves and then headed to Mora.  Before anything, we had to have a lunch of folere (delicious, as always!) and I had to depense major bucks for a kid to go to market to get all of our ingredients.  Then we made 5 sauces – folere, folere and onion, gumbo, ngubudu, and something I forget (my favorite!  Shoot – zome, hada – something like that).  At first it was fantastic – I LOVE time spent sitting on a mat, shredding leaves, listening to the cadence of Fulfulde and then sharing a plate of food.  Then it was embarrassing – they made me cut the veggies (avec a dull knife and sans cutting board or any surface to cut on) and turn the cous-cous.  And then it was too much – 4:30 PM, getting dark, still had to bike home and only one sauce prepared.  Four hours later…I showed up at a Mora PCV’s house with our smorgesboard.  He was sick but let me stay.  Like I said before, formidable/formidable. 

-Goni and I were talking about the U.S. last night (I’ve been spouting off to anyone who’ll listen – woohoo, vacation!)  And we were both determined that he would go there someday.  I was semi-serious about finding a way for him to visit.  He was dead serious about wanting to come live.  As he says, “you pay aller/retour and you ‘lose’ the retour” hahaha.  Du courage, mon ami.  Anyway, for now he’s praying I get a good job (you’re not alone, Dad!)  so I can buy him a ticket.  I completely sold him on Virginia.  Goni’s American accent – “oh, HI! What you doing here?!) was absolutely hilarious.  He’ll have to work on his southern one.

[Gaaaarrrrghhhh…sometimes I hate the lack of control here!  Goni won’t let me leave tomorrow because Mal Ali is going to Bunki to get something – like a melon?! – for my mom.]

30/11/11

Well, tomorrow is the depart and it feels really weird.  Surreal.  But also sort of sad.  I sepnt the night hanging out with Goni, Muhammed, al-Adji, and Kodomi.  I can’t imagine what it will be like to leave for good.  Noufou for breakfast to cap off my 4 days of living on 250 CFA.  Wow – I have a haircut appointment a week from today.  This is too much!

5/12/11

**Excuse this post – it’s the stream of consciousness that documents my travels home.  Note – my friend, Megan, and I were together until Brussels (hence the “we” – though it may seem otherwise, I haven’t gone completely crazy)**

At  a Total (gas) Station in Yaounde.  Been driving around the city for 2.5 hours.  I’ll believe we’re leaving Cameroon when I see it.  But – Christmas cadeau of all cadeaux – we scored a ride to Douala with a Peace Corps staff member.  We just finished dinner – complete with Chilean, Argentine, and South African wine – at his house.  America, here I come (I think)!

Douala airport (AIRPORT?!?!) – Feel like the uber-villageoise Kanuri dudes on the train.  Bumbling idiots.  Currrently stuffing folere leaves into our wallets. 

Brussels airport – Now, I feel like I’m watching a movie, partly because we look like we landed from Mars – everyone is in black and gray scarves and we’re in pagne and flip flops (so funny to see the Africans layering on the plane).  Simultaneously so foreign and feels like I was here yesterday.  So happy this isn’t final.  Had a minor freak out taking off.  Grateful for the 300 CFA plastic flip flop – they remind me of (Cameroon) home. 

Freaking out!  Just left Megan.  Almost missed boarding – ha! – they had to call me.  Hesitated when they asked if I had any weapons in my bag but never did end up stabbing anyone with that cous-cous turner…

I love you, America!  Smuggled in folere/dates (sort of…it was legal, don’t worry); found out Philly to Syracuse flight was canceled; everyone and their mother helped me get on an earlier one (even though I was speaking Nigerian English); felt the urge to start skipping and singing the national anthem.

The 75 year-old Korean woman next to me is using an iPhone.  Help!!!  These worlds just don’t seem compatible.  So indescribable to see grass and trees.  Ah!  Just started eating a bowl of potato salad with my hand…oops. 

Everyone is reading, reading, reading (and fat, fat, fat!).

4/1/12

It’s 12:30 a.m. – I’m back on the other side (and seriously jet-lagged).  I have so much to write.  I feel more alone than ever – not because I’m unhappy, au contraire.  I came home to Magdeme today.  And it felt like home.  And, just like when I got to the U.S., it felt like I hadn’t left – I looked at a picture of Jenna and thought “Aw, can’t wait to see her” – wait, I just saw her.  If both places are home, where am I supposed to really feel at home?  I almost cried seeing people today.  They were so happy – the neighbors all came out; Yababa stopped playing to hold my hand; al-Adji showed up; all of Goni’s daughters came by with him (he told me that every time Yagana saw a plane at night, she would say “look! Liz is back!”).  Anyway, I’m in a real limbo.  Happy to be back/loved home.  So to recount…

Well, I’m over a month past what I want to write about but I’ll recount anyway.  Getting into the Syracuse airport was amazing.  Looking back, I was seriously out of it.  But I saw Mom and Dad right away (with balloons haha) J.  We went to Kirby’s and had steaks at the bar while watching the SU basketball game.  I’m not going to give the details of the rest of the trip.  Suffice it to say it was excellent – thank you SO much to everyone who made time to visit with me, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see all of you!!  General reactions: right from the first night at Kirby’s, it was so strange how un-strange everything was.  I slipped right back into “life.”  It’s like the two “lives” two don’t coexist.  Then there would be moments – like calling Goni from the mall or seeing millet in plastic dispensers in the grocery store or setting up a tree in the house – that would just give me a serious jolt.  And the choices!  Ah, I was COMPLETELY incapable of making decisions.  There were other times at which the excess rightly gave me a shock – like girls in flip flops wearing leg warmers or people making fun of each other for having old iPhones.  (I’m sorry but I am SO  not into SIRI and e-books).  But people kept asking me if the excess was awful.  No, it wasn’t.  The lack of recognition/gratitude was.  We shouldn’t necessarily shun nice things just to shun them.  Most people who live much simpler lives (like my neighbors here) wouldn’t.  But we should recognize that we are very lucky to have those things and that life would still be pretty great without them.  I got back into Cameroon mode on the Philadelphia-Brussels flight – tried to save part of my flight lunch to share with villagers ha (fail). 

8/1/12

Well, the return has been pretty easy, partly, I think, because it has been very productive.  I went to Mora Friday and accomplished a lot: met with CADEPI regarding a giant reforestation project and secured trees for the Doulo, Tayer, and Magdeme primary schools; picked up an AWESOME package/letter from Makish; met with Jess and Liz regarding the girls’ camp and a Men as Partners seminar for Women’s Day; went to the market; met with the well tech to discuss materials procurement; and made a deposit in the project bank account.  I’m going back next week and I’m hoping for an equally productive day.  There is only one (major) downside to being back – Nigeria is going to the dogs.  The president removed the fuel subsidy and people are not happy.  The recent unrest on top of escalating religious violence in the north resulted in the closure of the border.  Now, everything is expensive, there’s nothing in market and strikes are imminent.  Open up, Nigeria, you’re supposed to be the land-of-everything-good!

10/1/12

I am riding a Kanuri wave.  Neyley wayatay!  I told a random guy en brousse  this morning that there is no Kanuri in the United States (although there probably is) and he said I should write it all down and teach it.  Ngala zoro!  I had another nice conversation with my old, scarecrow friend (he’s about 75 and every, single day, he rides his bike out and spends the day sitting on a termite mound, yelling at the birds that attack his millet).   

Curse the Magdeme market!!! Naira, francs, Kanuri, Hausa, Fulfulde – ah!  Pick one language, one currency, and one exchange rate – PLEASE!  I spent all my money again (I think – the Naira-CFA exchange rate changes so often, it’s not like I would actually even know).  But the market is crawling with gorgeous, Nigerian tomatoes and noufou so I’m okay. 

It’s weird/interesting to be on the “real” side of all the conflict in Nigeria, rather than the academic side.  I’m certain the IMF/World Bank/international donors insisted on the lifting of the subsidy.  But I find myself on the side of the strikers.  We can’t afford this!

11/1/12

Argh.  I went to the health center because it is vaccination day and I wanted to make lotion with the women who were waiting but there were no women there.  So I talked with the doctor for an hour, which was actually really nice.  My French needs brushing up, though, man.  We talked a bit about work.  He’s going to talk to the chief about the Moringa orchard I want to plant at the center and he’s going to put me on a team for UNICEF’S upcoming, regional nutrition project.  I also told him about our tentative 8 Mars (Women’s Day)  plans.  He said he’s going to buy me pagne., to which I replied that the real cadeau would be if he wore it.  He laughed so I added that I’d buy him a drink on 8 Mars since that’s apparently how it works here (on Women’s Day, all of the men say “happy holiday, now buy me a drink”).  He concluded by saying that he doesn’t like 8 Mars because women think they can “leave the kitchen” – bah. 

14/1/12

Let me just say “ahhhhhh, Nigeria!!”  I would go into it but the whole situation is giving me a headache so I’m just going to leave it.

15/1/12

I love my students.  Along with Parmesan cheese (which I’m already almost out of), they make life better.  I’m going to talk to the prefet and the delegue from the Ministry of Secondary Education (MINSEC) about our student association and library project tomorrow.  I also love Muhammed – talked to him on the phone tonight, didn’t understand a word he said.  Where is he?!  I have his WWE wrestling DVD!  And I can’t keep it floating around here – according to Goni “people in the world, they don’t know what they are, can never follow the religion…especially these wrestlers.”

17/1/12

Notes from the health center meeting:

-The village chiefs are asking me for news of Nigeria – not good.  But I’ve adopted the “inshallah” perspective.  It is somewhat frustrating to talk to Goni about the strikes/price spikes because he just doesn’t get that the Nigerian president is between a rock and a hard place (i.e. he can’t just reinstate the subsidy because moto drivers want him to).  I have, on the hand, discovered something I really like – asking the Cameroonian government for money.  I went to MINSEC yesterday and had a nice conversation with the delegate.  I think he’s going to help us out with a contribution to the library.  I have to follow up, though – we’ll see how good I am at that. 

-That health center meeting was…I don’t know…ridiculous?  Productive?  Run-of-the-mill?  It was basically just an upbraiding of the village health representatives (i.e. “Ousamanou, you are an ignorant villager who doesn’t clean his water – you need to be more vigilant!”).  Does that work?  And the upbraiding was mainly carried out by using concrete examples (i.e. “Ousamanou, because you are an ignorant villager who doesn’t clean his water and needs to be more vigilant, your two youngest children got cholera.  Remember that?”) – medical confidentiality much?  Also, while the 23 men, 2 women and I sat under the hangar, a girl gave birth inside.  Poor thing. 

-How different my situation is from this time last year.  I remember at the first health center meeting I was so nervous and uncomfortable.  Not so this time around – I chatted everyone up in Kanuri and was first in line to prends my jus at the end. 

31/1/12

I am a delinquent writer.  I got back from mid-service (a week-long, medical/general evaluation in Yaounde) on Sunday.  It was fairly uneventful – no more Giardia (oh yeah, I was diagnosed with Giardia in the States – based on the same symptoms that I had been having here for 8 months.  Special), lots of cheese, and the easiest trips down and back yet.  Oh!  I also met up with a friend from village.  Trying to coordinate a rendez-vous in a city neither of us knew while speaking only Kanuri was almost impossible, but not quite because I found Baba Gana and scored new headphones from his older brother, Goni Salay, who sells fake iPods in the market. 

I’m really happy to be back up north – I feel way too villageoise for Yaounde.  But the froid is gone!  I’m starting the fight against the hot season early with an afternoon tea (here, they say “hot fights hot”).  Other than that, it’s plan, plan, plan for work – I had a meeting with the director of the Doulo primary school today and I have meetings with CADEPI  and the well committee tomorrow.    

3/2/12

I don’t know if that was heartening or disheartening.  The well committee and I just did 2.5 hours of money-collecting rounds (to reach the 25% community contribution requested by USAID).  We got 9.000 CFA to add to the 100.00 CFA already collected.  240.000 CFA to go.  We stopped every 10 feet for kola nut (a stimulant that is basically the African village equivalent of coffee in America) but I got some taweeska (millet beignets), some good Kanuri conversations with kids, and a peek into all of my neighbors’ concessions.  I don’t love how the women crawl on their knees to give money to men but at least they’re giving.  I may like asking the Cameroonian government for money but I do NOT like asking villagers for money.  One old lady asked what I had brought for her.  Um, actually, on the contrary…

Speaking of the Cameroonian government giving money, though – the MINSEC delegate called today to tell me he is going to contribute a small sum to our project.  Sweet!  I’m really impressed that he called back.  Now, I will be able to start the project for Youth Week. 

On the education front, I had a meeting with the mother’s association in Doulo today.  Holy cow.  About 75 women showed up (thought it took them an hour).  It is too bad I am just finding out about this group now.  But we’re making lotion in 2 weeks and I told them about my big plans for doing a nursery with their children.  The nursery will be comprised of Moringa trees, which the women can then plant, use, and prepare to improve nutrition in their community.    

Ah!  STARK contrast to last year – February is going to be WORK month.  I won’t even get into the CADEPI/UNDP project yet – 16 trainings in the last 2 weeks of February.  Aye, on verra. 

6/2/12

Teeny, tiny mangoes in Mora market!  I ate 5.  They tasted like girls’ camp and hot season.  Speaking of hot season – it is starting. 

In other awesome news, I made it onto the old man mat today!  It only took me 14 months but they finally invited me to sit down!  I also ordered the library shelving.  Allegedly it will be ready for Youth Day.  I’m looking forward to the Youth Day cultural celebration, not so much the parade, which mostly entails baking in the sun while watching thousands of students march by.  Maybe I won’t go and say I did.

Education Nation

**My next post will be from the other side of the pond!  I am ready to professionally fete Christmas for 3 weeks.  I CAN’T WAIT to see everyone!**

26/9/11

Wow, day from Cameroon – I had a serious laundry list of things to do work-wise so I biked to Mora in the morning.  I spent forever at Djanabo’s trying to set up a meeting to start another micro-finance group and eating beignets.  When I finally got to Mora, I found the post office was closed because the mailwoman felt like going to Nigeria (who wouldn’t?).  I continued on to MINADER where I was informed that the GIC responsable had taken the day off.  I called the well technician and his phone was off.  As I was trying to make the call, my friend, Abba – my empty propane tank’s ride to village – passed me on his way out of town; I decided to get lunch but couldn’t find any kids selling street food (I guess they’re all in school – yay!).  I did manage to pay rent but that only worked because I had to spend 50,000 FCFA.  Things started to look up on the way home – I ran into the directeur of the primary school and scheduled a meeting for tomorrow; the well tech called back and we agreed to sign a contract next week.  The amount of work that I get done by happening across people on the road is sad…or impressive – there are definintely positives to living on the only paved road north of Maroua.  Finally, when I got home, Adji (a.k.a. Superman) came back from Nigeria and we part-ed directly into the eye of a storm to get gas back in Mora.  Sidenote: I love bou-bou-ed Cameroonian guys on motos, especially in wind storms – they look like warlocks on brooms (do warlocks ride brooms?).

27/9/11

I just drank a cup of Starbucks Iced Caramel Latte.  Mrs. Bowser-san, this is love.  I had a meeting with the Magdemé directeur this morning.  For the billionth time, the education system is grave here, perhaps the most grave of any of the development challenges in Cameroon and even more grave than normal in Magdemé.  The school buildings (what is left of them) were built in 1956 and haven’t been touched since; when the current director came there was a single student; a grande in village single-handedly supported the school and raised attendance to 153 but he died last year.  I think what makes the education situation the biggest “problem” here is that villagers don’t necessarily see it as such.  The directeur is called “Directeur Sous l’arbre” (“Director under the tree”) not only because there are no desks or usable buildings at the school but also because the people here prefer education “sous l’arbre,” meaning Qur’anic school.  Most all village children spend a good chunk of the day sitting under a tree, echoing an imam as he recites the Qur’an.  The lack of education also creates a challenging cycle – behavior change is easiest to effect amongst youth but how do you access kids if they aren’t in school?  I guess that is a common theme here, though – the populations in most need of help are often the ones that are hardest to reach, due to the language barrier (sex ed for teenage girls with a 65 year-old male interpreter?  Not too pleasant or productive for anyone involved).  Sorry, I’m getting off the education horse (I’m sure I’ll be back up there tomorrow).

Some random guy en brousse called me “feero Kanuri” (“our Kanuri daughter”) today:).   

2/10/11

I biked the 53 kilometers to Kolofata and back yesterday.  I had awesome pili pili from a giant, Southern mama there – I love those ladies and their accents!  I also saw the vice prime minister’s house (even though he lives in Yaoundé) – insane.  It looks like a cross between a 1970s retro mansion and a space station.  I passed “the campaign” (a big caravan of dump trucks carrying people waving President Biya flags) on the way back – I can see how things could get rowdy.  One week until the election.

Ha – I watched “Planet Earth” with Goni.  I’ve been promising to show it to him for a long time (ever since he saw an underwater photo in a magazine that fascinated him).  He was enthralled.  There was a lot of “Allah-huakbar”-ing.  “Planet Earth” is incredible for anyone but to have never seen some of these places or animals before?  Amazing.  Technology is changing the Peace Corps in crazy ways.  For my part, “Planet Earth” made me miss home in an ecological sense.  I saw snow and it was almost physically refreshing.  I have to say I didn’t really conceptualize home that way before coming here.   

P.S. Speaking of Peace Corps/technology/modernity, I gave Goni a packet of Starbucks coffee and he told me he worked for 12 straight hours.  Ha. 

7/10/11

Hehe…oh, Cameroon.  I was just listening to the radio, which was covering the campaign in Douala.  I will let the broadcast speak for itself: “Citizens were reminded to pick up their voter cards, to not wear party regalia to the polls, to not drink themselves into a stupor before voting, and to vote only one time – for Mr. Biya.”  I ran into the campaign again in Maroua when Biya was there, which proved to be a disaster and a half for productivity since the entire city was shut down.  Random tidbit – for both campaign visits I have seen, the local government completely redid the roads.  Well, for Biya they undid the roads – they actually took out the speed bumps through Maroua.  And they’ll put them back in as soon as he leaves.  Aye.  Il faut profiter, I guess. 

8/10/11

You can learn a lot when you don’t have water to wash the pot (like potatoes and cinnamon go really well together). 

Today my neighbor was telling me about how villagers in Magdemé can harvest just enough food to get by.  When he was young, 1 hectare of land yielded at least 12 bags of millet.  Today it is hard to get 12 bags from 4 hectares.  That much change in a lifetime?  Scary.

9/10/11

Too many thought-provoking books, not enough Kanuri!  I had (or tried to have) a discussion of The Lexus and the Olive Tree with Goni and Kodomi yesterday haha.

11/10/11

I filled up my environmental education schedule for the semester.  Also, mango jam was apparently a huge success (I made it with Oumate’s wife and she taught it to her friend who has a restaurant in Nigeria). 

It’s cool out here tonight.  And quiet.  The moon is stunning.  It is overcast and there are no stars so the one bright light must be plane.  How starnge to think that, right now, the weather is really (actually) cold back home.  Seems far away.

I love the color pallet of the Extreme North.  Huge expanse of blue sky and sandy earth with black/magenta folere flowers. The lime-green karal– dry season millet – nursery patches are so incongruous.  They remind me of my Limited Too wardrobe circa 1996 (remember those days, Mom?). 

Rain is awesome!  I spent the evening outside enjoying /being misted (sometimes doused – but happily) with what may well be the last rain of the season.  Simple pleasures:).

*Sorry if I sound preachy here but, remember, these posts are excerpts from my journal so I’m preaching to myself.  I’ve been reflecting on my first year here and what I’ve learned so far.  I want to make sure the lessons  last even after my service ends.*  I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Tom Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree – very good, very opposing outlooks on life/globalization/the future.  So I’ve been thinking.  One unexpected lesson from the Peace Corps thus far: I have come to value certain aspects of American culture more than I ever thought possible.  It is unbelievable what telling a child “you can be anything you want to be and do anything you want to do” can do.  Good early childhood education – all education – is everything.  Life without it can be painful to see.  Empowering children eventually leads to real power for the entire community.  But a really unexpected lesson that I’m just starting to see from living in a subsistence farming culture?  Maybe Americans place too much emphasis on having everything.  As Kingsolver (and, with the financial crisis in hindsight, Friedman) shows, there can be serious consequences to this attitude.  Ecologically.  Economically.  Emotionally.  When is enough enough?  I would not trade the American culture of childhood for the Cameroonian one for a million bucks.  But, at the same time, our culture isn’t natural.  It is not normal to be able to buy mangoes and bananas in the DeWitt Wegmans in the middle of December (or ever).  But most of us, as Americans, don’t even recognize that.  Let me tell you – I will be throwing a region-wide party when the first mangoes show up in market next year.  There must be a balance.  I do know, at least I hope, that, thus far, Peace Corps has affected me in 2 major ways.  First, I really have a profound appreciation for education.  And, second, I am gaining a similar appreciation for food (ha, you say, that’s not news!  But I don’t mean in the eating sense:)) and the food production process.  I have my first environmental education event tomorrow.  On the one hand, I feel like I have a real opportunity to work some American teaching style in (though the kids are so unused to interactive learning, it can be hard to implement).  But, on the other hand, teaching these kids about the environment?  Seriously?  They live off of it.  But, it is true, I would not say that many Cameroonians appreciate the environment for its own sake.  I guess we all have a lot to learn. 

13/10/11

My neighbors need to stop launching organ bag bombs into my yard!  (“Organ bag bomb” is pretty self-explanatory – a bag full of animal organs that unexpectedly flies over my wall).  It’s strange that they aren’t saving the parts – usually the organs/feet/heads are the most coveted pieces.  Maybe chicken-dying season, which comes with the cooler weather, has started.  Muslims can only eat animals they have killed. 

14/10/11

One year ago today we received our post assignments. 

Tasba season is like Black Friday (or 7:30 a.m. at Puerta Plata – shout out, 127 Blair!).  Tasba is a wild plant and its leaves are used in sauces here.  Now that it is ready to harvest, the women will start getting up ridiculously early (even earlier than usual) to run out en brousse and collect as much as they can. 

I had the first of many environmental education events at the primary school yesterday.  I sang more in public than I ever have in my life.  TMy friend and I came up with a song about tree planting to teach the kids and the directeur was SO into it, he made me sing it about 7 times.  I’m pretty sure the BIR unit (the equivalent of the SEALS in Cameroon’s army) at the gendarmerie in Doublé heard all 7 renditions…wonderful.  Fresh bread making, guava jam preparation, and English group review tomorrow.

15/10/11

Check, check, check.  Ah, the education system is rough (I told you I’d be back – sorry).  No English teachers at the high school (just a community member who shows up from time to time), no textbooks – how are these kids supposed to pass a national exam?  I am going to be doing an English review class every Saturday for high school students in Doulo.  Although the subject I am teaching directly is English, I am going to use a CCBI (Community Content Based Instruction) approach, wherein all of the material in the course relates to agroforestry/the environment.  Our first session was today.  I really like this group of guys (unfortunately, there are no upperclasswomen in the village).  With all of the national exams, it is difficult to reach the final years of high school so anyone who has done so is usually very dedicated.  What I truly want to do is create a library in Doulo (“library” sounds like a big project but it would really just be a book collection kept in one of the primary school buildings).  The high school is in Mora – 10 k away from Doulo – and none of the students can afford textbooks.  The boys certainly warmed to the idea.  We want to create an offical student group that will cultivate and sell beans in order to raise money for books that all of the students in village can share.  We are going to call the project “Books for Beans.”  Unfortunately, agroforestry work in the Extreme North is seriously hampered by the long dry season.  The library will have to wait a while.  I have a lot of half-started projects going on but I’m pretty excited about this one. 

16/10/11

Ah!  Enough is enough!  My neighbor just gave Loki a dead baby sheep.  And I have to say “thank you”!

19/10/11

Word is out that I am going home for Christmas and I’m going to have a lot of pumpkins and live animals to deal with.  Sweet, old men.  Let’s just say I’ll have a great Thanksgiving and I’ll have to pass the Magdemé love onto my parents and grandparents (the intended recipients of the squashes and chickens).  Also, they say if I go home, I have to bring people back.  For once, the old guys and I see eye-to-eye!

More environmental education tomorrow. Also lotion-making.

22/10/11

I had an epiphany this morning.  I feel really bad saying it but I sometimes used to think that the kids who freak out (screaming, shouting, jumping, waving) every, single morning when I walk by with Loki were a little ridiculous.  Really, kiddos?  It’s been a year.  Then I remembered the monster truck.  The daily visit from the garbage truck in Montreal was arguably the most exciting event of the first three years of my life [sorry, Davey (but I’m even sorrier that you probably don’t remember that truck)].  I am the Magdemé monster truck.  Wow.

I have English review in Doulo today, which I am excited about.  I also have English with my Magdemé guys tonight.  We started back up after a long, rainy season hiatus.  I’m happy to have them back – I love them, largely because they think I live next door to Hulk Hogan and are determined to learn the Kanuri translation of “Delta Force.”  Like I’ve said before, the technology/Peace Corps mix is a neverending source of entertainment. 

27/10/11

I just came from environmental education at the Magdeme primary school – a little out of control as usual but the most active student was a girl – woot!  I’m tired.  [I’m checking out a very well-blended-in snake right now – not cool].  Here are some catch-up bullets before I continue to Tayer for neem lotion with Adda Brigitte’s group and the Tchinmavamafa VSLA:

-I went to Maroua for work a week ago and was patting myself on the back for packing light when I realized I had forgotten my ID/residence permit.  Somehow the car didn’t get stopped at any of the 5 checkpoints on the way in.  No such luck on the way out.  There is always someone without an ID in the car so stops are pretty common and I’ve mastered the exasperated look all Cameroonians give and the sounds they all make when faced with such delays.  But, this time, I was the one holding up the whole car.  Embarrassing, intimidating…and potentially expensive. The gendarme wanted to take me to the police station but I ended up getting to leave without even having to pay him anything.  Won’t be doing that again.

-Token Mont Mandara story from my quick trip to Maroua – we were stopped at a control and the driver was out of the car showing his papers when the van started to roll away.  Now, I had seen this happen at the bus station and a bunch of people sprinted after the car.  But, this time, the chauffeur just walked along next to us, continuing his business.  I also had one of my creepiest interactions with a Cameroonian man to date (and that is saying something) – a clearly-Southern (Southerners are typically way more forward than Northerners), young guy handed me his phone, in which he had written “Hello Elizabeth.  I need your help.  Please can I see you in Maroua?” Um, no, no, and no.  Turns out he knew my name from when they called out the tickets at the bus station.  I told him that was a little sketchy.  He told me he wanted an American wife.  Better luck next time.

-I was writing up the well contract (which is signed – woot!) the other day and I finally looked up the translation for chevalier, the name of the device used to lower the cement rings into the ground.  It is “knight.”  I’ll take one of the those. 

-My English review went well last week, je pense.  The topic was adjectives and adverbs.  We stayed for 2 hours and the students were ready to keep going.  Anyhow, a couple of weeks ago, I was reading through the national exam review book to get some ideas for the diagnostic test I was writing.  All I can say is YIKES!  I don’t know that I would pass the exam.  It is an absolutely ridiculous mélange of hard vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, open-ended fill-in-the-blanks, and errors.  Prime example: “The girl crossed the street at a mall’s space.  It took her 20 minutes!”  Exam-takers were supposed to choose the phrase that best matched the underlined expression (answer: very slowly – the underlined words clearly supposed to be “snail’s pace”).  What?!?!

28/10/11

Can you stab someone with a cous-cous turner?  Would the only 2 things I accomplished today be the purchases of said cous-cous turner and popcorn?  Would said popcorn have bugs hatching out of the kernels?  Yes, of course, to the latter two and I’ll get back to you on the first one.  February-esque day.  No one is where they said they were going to be.  And as a result I have been everywhere (fruitlessly).  Bah, at least I have my students tomorrow.

I had a hilarious night with Goni and Mohammed (kay!  Speaking of – did I forget to write about the concert in Mags?!).  It went a little something like this – “[Kanuri], blah, blah, blah, breakdance, blah, blah, blah, Michael Jackson, blah, blah, blah, oh baby.”  Next, Goni started talking about how he is going to go to the U.S.  He’ll ask my dad to loan him some land and some sheep so he can get established while he tries to find a wife.  Then he’ll fatten the sheep, give one to my Dad as thanks, and profit off of being the “old papa with [the] sweetest meat.”   

29/10/11

Aah, nothing like a cous-cous lunch and upperclassmen lycee students to brighten the day.  I went to Djanabo’s and we made guava jam (which she really liked – I am definitely going to do mango jam with her) and neem lotion.  Then I had manioc leaf sauce and cous-cous before heading to English review.  There were even more students this time – cool.  They seem to be into it.  I need to cherche articles on Integrated Pest Management for next time.

30/10/11

Two, tiny “BonJOUR, MaDAME” boys* started singing “L’arbre est la vie” (the song I taught them at school) when I was walking Loki!  Nevermind that it was soir, not jour, they gave me French and the environment – woot!

*Virtually none of the children in village speak French, even the ones who go to primary school.  But a lot of them know “bonjour” and the gusto with which they say it – “bonJOUR” – compensates for the otherwise lackluster vocab.

5/11/11

The Fete du Mouton starts tomorrow and I am b-e-a-t.  This Muslim holiday falls 2 months and 10 days after Ramadan and commemorates Abraham’s (almost) sacrifice of Isaac.  In celebration, every family will kill a sheep to share with their friends and family.  My gas has been going almost all day in preparation for the fete…I have 7 dozen cookies to show for it.  Sheep have been running around like crazy and, man, are they cher!  75.000 CFA for a ram half the size of the one Goni and I saw in Meme a few months ago for 60.000 CFA.  I’ve been running around like crazy, too.  I’m finally sitting down to dinner after a long day, which included a nice lunch with Cay, English with the high school guys, and a phone call from Davey and Carter. 

6/11/11

Barka ngumeri (“happy holiday”)!  I’m not feeling super festive today.  I like being prepared for the salah (90 cookies, a pack of candies, and boiled peanuts) way more than I like the thought of trying to fairly distribute all the goods.  Salah miracle count: 2 (I haven’t eaten any of my cookies and I swept my “front yard” Cameroonian-style without feeling super awkward).  One month and I will be in Syracuse.  So hard to believe.

Whew, the Goni and Mal Ali compound cookies have been distributed and the camera and I have survived intact.  Now trying to devise a strategy for getting cookies to Kodomi without inciting a riot of children.

8/11/11

Third salah miracle: butchering the sheep leg I was given without cutting my hand off (but said miracle is negated by the fact that I ate a dozen cookies.  Oops).  I got some really nice meat cadeaux from my neighbors.  I am definitely going to buy a sheep to raise for the fete next year.  Uh oh, gotta go…phone’s ringing and I think I’m headed for more meat. 

Blaaahh MORE meat and fried bread.  Adji invited me over to his house to finish off his salah food.  At least I got to do it while watching Chinese Wonder Woman.

Little boys circumcised en masse at Kodomi’s today.  Not-so-bonne-fete.

FAIL!  I just found out that you have to do ablutions before touching the Qur’an.  I should say I found out after I paraded through village and showed the book to practically everyone I passed.  On the salah, no less.  I was also told that you must always keep the Qur’an in a special place and never put anything on top of it…just after busting it out from under John Adams.  Symbolic.  Aye.

10/11/11

I had a lot of fun making lotion and speaking Kanuri with Bintu (Kodomi’s first wife) and the family yesterday.  Also, I’m learning a lot about the Qur’an, such as: always have water (rather than just hand sanitizer) in the latrine so Muslims can do their complete ablutions after using the bathroom; the Qur’an says men must walk 5 steps away from where they’ve done their business in order to wash up while women don’t have to go anywhere; and the scripture also gives a proper time to cut one’s toenails.  All my info is from Goni and we generally understand about 65% of what the other is saying so I’m a little skeptical.

Moringa is a magical plant.

Argh! I confirmed my weekly environmental education class with the director earlier this week and arrived at the school today to find it empty.  I compensated with a soda/vent/hard-boiled egg with the doctor.

11/11/11

Best date ever (I made an epic wish at 11:11 a.m).  Whew did I have a productive day.  I made a lesson plan for my high school English review class tomorrow, went to MINADER, finished a GIC application, went to Maroua to go to the regional MINADER delegation, stopped by the bank and the tailor, bought books for class, and went grocery shopping.  I’m exhausted but I had a fun(ny) English class au village tonight.  I love the way culture gets distilled by our lack of a common language.  For example, Mohammed asked for the umpteenth time if I was married (I think they like to rub it in), to which I responded “Not yet.  Many American women go to university.  A lot of work, no marriage.  But I have time.”  Mohammed’s very concerned response? “You a big lady, remains only one year!”  I’m not sure what happens in one year – I hate to burst Mohammed’s bubble but I’m probably going to find out.  Nevertheless, such reduction can be profound.  After I gave my “a lot of work, no time, no marriage” reasoning, Mohammed did his usual “here, no money, no food, no work” refrain.  But today he added “a lot of prayer.”  Amen, mon ami, amen.  Speaking of “amen,” I’m so happy I survived traveling today – I almost got dumped in Tayer, the Mont Mandara man was in.sane., and I had to moto home in the dark.  Phew. 

13/11/11

Uh oh.  I just dreamt that I went to Brighton Bakery and ordered Digestive Gold (awful Nigerian cracker/cookies that taste and look exactly like cardboard…and that I love).

Whirlwind day.  I went to my friends’ house and had a breakfast of millet cous-cousand leaf sauce.  Yum.  Then we went to see the onion farm that I planted with them.  The onions are huge!  I’m glad I will be back from vacation before the harvest.  Afterwards, we went to a different farm to pick squash that my friend’s one-and-a-half year-old son (a.k.a my best bud) planted.  Harvesting the squash necessitated searching all over a giant field given that “planted” is a liberal interpretation of how the baby chucked seeds everywhere.  When we finished we had more cous-cous (or, rather, they gave me more cous-cous and watched me eat it – I hate that!  A year of practice and I’m still a total amateur when it comes to eating sauce with my hand).  I got a squash cadeau out of the day and promised to attempt pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.  On verra.

17/11/11

Well, I can’t speak to the quality of the teaching but I’ve been very busy with my primary school environmental education classes, my village English group, and my high school boys.  I really like the work with all three groups – content-wise there are a lot overlaps but the audiences are so, completely different.

I am finishing Under the Banner of Heaven and, as I’ve said of many other books, it has been a particularly interesting read in this context.  The book is about Mormonism – Mormon fundamentalism, in particular – which, as Krakauer notes, is similar in many respects to Islam.  One part of the book really struck me – Krakauer briefly mentions the distinction between people whose lives are truly shaped by religion and people for whom religion is a habit.  You know, evangelicals versus the Christmas/Easter Christians.  I had always thought of that distinction as one of degree – some people adhere to their church’s teachings and practices more strictly than others but most espouse roughly similar beliefs.  And, I thought, in the United States, those beliefs favored a scientific/rational worldview over a faith-based one.  To me, religion has always seemed primarily an external, social phenomenon, a way of identifying groups and organizing communities.  The structure and societal “order” (as Krakauer’s reporting makes clear, the “order” promoted by some faiths is anything but order for society at large) that religion provides stem less from what people believe than from who else believes it.  Piety/morality derive from what other people say, not what God says (not saying I believe that, but I think history gives evidence of it).  But I’ve only recently begun to understand the genuine importance of religion in some peoples’ lives – all of this recent Qur’an business au village got me thinking and so did Krakauer’s book.  The ideas I was just talking about above were based on a lot of assumptions.  I don’t think I’m being insensitive when I say that I, and most anyone else, would call Dan Lafferty (the fundamentalist, murderer, and subject of Krakauer’s book) completely insane.  But, here, I live in a community where people believe (I mean, believe) in the power of God in a similar fashion.  And they are not crazy at all.  It is really hard to see things from their perspective, to wrap my head around a belief system so different from my own.  Yikes, think how many faux pas I could commit without even the slightest suspicion of having done anything wrong!

Life on the Oregon Trail

**I am sorry it has been so long since my last update!  Take my motto: blame the rain (steady electricity has pretty much been non-existent during rainy season).**

23/7/11

Work is going pretty well – it may not necessarily sound like agroforestry work but it’s work that I’m very happy with.  I’ve actually been having fun filling out the USAID proposal.  I’m less worried about the project now that the application is almost done and I’ve enlisted Oumate’s help for the budget.  It is extremely useful just to have a Cameroonian present on your side when talking about money because, as I’ve said before, the fact that I’m a nassara increases the price of everything at least four-fold.  I asked the technician how much he pays his laborers and he said “I pay 1500 CFA per meter but since this is a ‘project’ we’ll say 3000 CFA per meter.”  Not exactly how it works…

Yikes, the season of maladie (which comes with the rains) really is here.  All of my group presidents have malaria, Oumate has typhoid, and small children and elderly people are dying at a pretty alarming rate.

Speaking of children and work, a few nearby volunteers and I had a meeting yesterday to talk about organizing events for Youth Day and Women’s Day.  I’m excited.  I also need to start planning activities for the environmental club that I am going to form this fall at the primary school (scavenger hunts, bingo, class garden, tree nursery – any other ideas?). 

24/7/11

Laaaaaaaaa chairs!    A.Maz.Ing.  I only had to stand over the carpenter and refuse to leave for the 2 hours it took him to finish them (he had promised they would be done 2 weeks ago).  I still have no idea how I made today happen – went into Maroua, did some work, picked up my chairs, and made it back to post all before dark.  Oh wait, I do know – I dropped 25,000 CFA. 

28/7/11

Well I’m officially going to try to observe Ramadan.  I’m already planning on cheating on the drinking part which isn’t good (my neighbors won’t be eating or drinking between 4:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.).  But I’ll be under close observation for the first 2 days because they coincide with my apiculture training.  My friend al-Adji says if I do the fast he’ll buy me pagne for the 3 day fete at the end of Ramadan.  Defininte incenvite. 

30/7/11

“Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendance there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.”  Amen, Tom Robbins, Amen.  Wegman’s better look out when I come home to visit in December.

I love that my best friend in village is a 50 year-old man…I had an interesting conversation with Goni about infertility today.  I was saying how it must be a pretty tragic problem for a woman here because Cameroonian women are so defined by their capacity to bear and raise children.  He agreed that, yes, it is difficult and said that, most of the time, infertile wives are sent back to their families.  But, he added, women can’t help it when they become sterile after getting caught in the dust tornadoes that come with the harmattan (strong, seasonal winds)My thoughts exactly…

31/7/11

I am pretty sure there is not a single piece of fruit in the entire departement.  Harvest is still a long way away so it is only going to get worse before it gets better.  Moment of silence for mango season.

Somebody pulled the Ramadan alarm in Magdeme.  The whole village is in a tizzy because the imams called Ramadan last night when someone said he saw the moon.  But then no one else could see it.  Some people started fasting, some ate, some started their prayers, some didn’t, some went to the fields, some stayed home.  I told them that the calendar says Ramadan starts tomorrow.  But they told me calendars are bogus.  Ultimate consensus: Ramadan has not started yet.  Phew!  I almost broke the fast before it even started.

3/8/11

I’ve been meaning to write for a long time.  But I’ve been kind of exhausted/a little out of it.  So, bullets:

-I just gave Loki dog treats that my predecssor sent.  Now she’s eating a goat head that my neighbor brought over.  How weird Pup-peroni must be for a Cameroonian dog haha.

-Wow, night is night here.  I almost never go out after dark but, for a number of reasons, I ended up having to come back to post from Mora in the dark last night.  The electricity was out all over and there is a new moon.  It was wild (literally) how dark it was.  It reminded me of why humans are afraid of the dark. 

-See you never, Ramadan!  I got a package from my predecessor and there were OREOS.  I didn’t stand a chance.  Days of fasting: 1.5.    

-Well, as they say here, “on propose, Dieu dispose.”  I was supposed to have my apiculture training today.  I got up super early and went to Tala Maloum.  I was so busy getting the trainer set up that 8:00 a.m. (our “scheduled” – ha – start time) snuck up on me.  Besides Djanabo, there was not a woman in sight.  Seriously?  I had been by the village every day that week to remind the group to get there on time.  I went to the women’s quartier and Fulfulde/sign languaged the only  woman there to tell her she had to find the women and get to Djanabo’s house JONTA (“now“)!  She Fulfulde/sign languaged that the women were milking the cows.  What?!  The cows live way out en brousse!   When I got back to Djanabo’s, Oumate told me that the women might not be back until 9 or 10.  I think I put the fear of God in him with my “ca ne va pas” because he left to find the women STAT.  When he got back, he told me that there had been a terrible moto accident the night before.  Two boys from the village were transporting gas near Meme.   The first moto fell over, the second moto crashed into it and they both caught fire.  One of the boys escaped but the other couldn’t.  He was burned so badly, Oumate was calling him a nassara.  But he livedIt gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.  The burn victim was the younger brother of one of the ladies in the group, which means he was related to all of the women since Tala Maloum is literally one, big family.  So the women were actually all at the hospital and would be there for the foreseeable future.  We postponed the training and I felt really, really bad about being so upset.  Keep him in your prayers.  Though I feel uncomfortable saying it, the morning actually ended up being pretty amazing.  It basically turned into one, big networking session.  Djanabo and Josue (the bee GIC president) hit it off just as I had hoped they would.  There were only a few awkward moments like when Djanabo swore that when you get stung by a bee you vomit honey and pass out.  They eventually started talking about opening a store together in Mora (a cheese and honey store no less).  I had invited the small enterprise development volunteer from Mora to the training.  We decided that we are going to teach Djanabo and her group how to make cheese and work on a feasibility study for the store.  Cheese!  We could potentially satisfy the second goal (share the (best of) American culture)requirements of PCVs the world over haha.  Anyway, everyone there was very excited, talking about project ideas and sharing their experiences.  The dynamic was very inspiring.

4/8/11

The moto driver died.  Death is so immediate here.  And it is strange because, since I am terrible at remembering names (and since most everyone has a variation on one of three names), a lot of the time I don’t know who exactly has died.  But odds are I knew him/her, including the moto driver.  Death also happens close to home.  Literally.  I am constantly shocked by the fact that there is absolutely no medical saftey net here.  If you can’t pay, you don’t get treatment (with the exception of cholera).  And even seemingly minor illnesses can turn very serious.  So, many people pass away in their houses.

5/8/11

Finally in perfect sync with the rain!  My 6:30 a.m. walk looked like 6:30 p.m.  The sky was leaden when the sun should have been rising.  Stunningly beautiful thunderheads started to roll in.  By the time I was almost back to village, the scene was incredible.  The clouds were like dementors coming through the village.  Everyone was running in from en brousse (including Loki and me) and just as I got back to my quartier the rain started to pour.  It was so good to come in, put on a sweatshirt, make French toast, and read (in my chair, of course!). 

15/8/11

Another marathon entry (sort of like the marathon rain yesterday – total downpour followed by 5 hours of steady rain.  I think the regular rains are finally here.  Oddly enough, my schedule was, once again, perfectly in tune with it.  Jinx)…Whew, where to start?

I was feeling pretty awful last Sunday but I biked in to Mora for dinner with two volunteers and a Cameroonian friend and his family.  I made peanut butter cookies and they were a hit with the Cameroonians.  I stayed over in Mora and was sick the entire night.  I’d been feeling off for a while but not too bad.  But, for about a week, I had been absolutely exhausted and had zero appetite so I decided to go to the hospital on Tuesday.  

I had to wait until Tuesday because we had a meeting at the prison that morning.  It was good the whole cluster (grouping of volunteers) came.  We plan to do “Men as Partners” (a popular Peace Corps HIV/AIDS education program) there in September.  The warden was a really nice guy who genuinely believes in rehabilitation.  I want to get him a French copy of Malcolm X’s autobiography, one of my favorite books (debateable whether one could say Malcolm X was “rehabilitated” in prison but the changes he underwent there are fascinating).  The prison tour was interesting.  Unsurprisingly, there are 300 prisoners in a space meant for 100.  Two of the prisoners are women.  The youngest inmate is 14.  The teenage prisoners get a lycee education, though, which means life in prison is probably a lot better for them than life out of it.  Crimes range from petty theft to banditry but everyone is mixed together.  All of the male prisoners hang out in one, big courtyard, which we just walked right through.  There were 3 big “cells” for the men with 107 prisoners assigned to the biggest one, which was only slightly larger than my 2-room, one-person house.  Honestly, the atmosphere  was way less threatening than it would have been in the U.S.  The only minor harrassment that did occur was when the prisoners tried to sell us items they had made.  The incident itself wasn’t a problem at all but I was a little weary when, instead of asking the prisoners to back off, the guards tried to get us to buy the stuff, too haha. 

Anyway, from the prison I went to the agence to get a van to Maroua.  Unforutnately I barely missed the one leaving.  Miraculously (and I mean miraculously), the ticket guy told me to get into an empty van and we left!  Just the other day I had told my friend I wanted three things: (1) to ride in a car with a seat all to myself (2) to swim in a schistomiosis-free lake, and (3) to take a hot bath while drinking a cold Fresca.  Check!  We picked up more people along the way but for 5 glorious minutes the seat was all mine.  It was sort of like the day the little boys on the road gave me water.  Hey, not complainin’.

On with the tour of Cameroonian institutions: the hospital.  I did NOT want to go.  By all accounts, going to the hospital is a miserable experience (as it is anywhere).  But I’ve had some low-level, long-term digestive issues (par for the course here) that I really just needed to get looked at to avoid any random, long-term effects.  Like I said, it got worse (and different) last week so in I went.  **Warning: this post is one, giant overshare but, after almost a year in the Peace Corps, my concept of appropriate dinner-table topics has taken a hit.**  Anyway, over the course of my visit, I alternately wanted to laugh, cry, and laugh again.  When I got there, the first 2 doctors they sent me to had decided not to come back after their lunch breaks.  The thrid one was quite nice and professional.  But when I busted out the stool sample kit Peace Corps had given us, a random guy busted in to the exam room.  He didn’t knock or anything, he just came in, said “bonjour,” sat down, and started talking to the doctor and texting his friend.  He left when I did.  Next, I was sent to the lab, which was far from the cleanest place in the world.  The tech drew blood and then handed me a plastic bag – the same kind of plastic bag beignet mamas sell doughnuts in.  I sort of looked at it then looked at him.  He just goes “leave your bags and go around the corner, we need ‘selle’.”  Well, I left my bags but surreptitiously took my French dictionary – I had an idea what “selle” was but there was no way I was handing some random guy a plastic, doughnut bag of it without being sure.  The wanting to cry part came as I was paging through my dictionary in the latrine, realizing how pathetically out of control of my own healthcare I was here.  Anyway, while I was waiting for the test results some little toddler came over and started beating me up.  She was really going at it – kicking my leg, pinching my arm, pulling my clothes.  Her mom didn’t care at all – her solution was that the girl shoudl hit my stuff instead of me (better, I guess, but her daughter didn’t agree).  At that moment, I sort of preferred my usual terror-inducing effect on toddlers here.  Patience was wearing thin when my results came back – malaria and typhoid.  Now, before you get nervous, remember I said “low-level” health issues.  It sort of seems like a fever is a pretty integral symptom of tyhpoid FEVER and I had been cool as a cucumber.  I didn’t feel that great but I also didn’t think I felt like typhoid or malaria.  What’s more, 2 of my PCV friends were also diagnosedwith typhoid and malaria around the same time.  Maybe it was 2-for-1 week at the lab.  Maybe they caught it early.  I don’t know.  All I do know is that, getting the diagnosis, I felt like I was sitting in front of a computer screen playing Oregon Trail rather than sitting in a doctor’s office (as in “darn, malaria and typhoid – now I can’t shoot buffalo at Fort Laramie”).  Just sort of surreal.  Anyway, malaria/typhoid or not, I’m taking the meds and feeling better. 

I got back to village on Thursday, just in time for apiulture training take 2 on Friday.  I think the training, especially the first day, went very well.  Josue was incredibly interesting (it is so much fun to hear him talk about bees, just like they’re people) and many of the women were very engaged.  Unfortunately, Josue will be out of town until December but we are going to start a project in Doulo when he returns.  The delay will at least give us time to raise money for the materials, order any necessary items, and find a good site for the hives.  Plus we have the cheese project to work on in the meantime. 

17/8/11

My canteloupes are growing like crazy.

Just saw 2 pigeons get dive-bombed by a hawk about 2 feet in front of my face.  Almost got taken out on the follow through.

I had my second well committee meeting yesterday.  All of the members seemed motivated and it went well (har har). 

Magdeme is falling down around my ears!  Seriously.  I think every family lost at least one wall in the last rain.  The chief lost almost his entire compound.  Hellloooo neighbors.  As Goni says, though, thank God the houses didn’t fall on anyone this time. 

18/8/11

I heard my neighbors’ house collapse last night.  Yikes.

Rain has made work tough this week.  All 3 of my groups canceled their meetings.  It has been raining twice a day, every day for three days!  With that and Ramadan, I’m pretty sure most of the Extreme North is hibernating.  I may not be good at the fast but I’m really good at the afternoon nap.

20/8/11

The later it gets in Ramadan, the later everyone stays up (or the earlier they get up?) to pray.  It’s 1:30 a.m. and the imams are going strong. 

I spent the entire day with one of my women’s groups yesterday.  We walked way out en brousse to find the group’s cows (during the rainy season, some families move out en brousse with the village’s cows to make room for the crops).  We came upon a little makeshift village of teeny, tiny one-man platformed tents.  I didn’t get to milk a cow but maybe next time.  We walked back carrying 2.5 gallons of milk in an old oil jug.  I need to learn how to carry things on my head like the women here because the milk was heavvvy.  There are some moments when I say to myself “this is my life now?!”  This was one of them.  When we got back we made cheese and then I ate my weight in folere (my favorite leaf sauce that I am going to do my best to recreate for you all at home).  I felt terrible – the woman who made it for me was observing Ramadan but it would have been a lot worse to refuse the food.  I finally finished and, just as I was getting ready to go, it started raining.  Three hours later I had gotten my friend’s ENTIRE life story.  It was dramatic.  And it made me realize for the umpteenth time how hard life can be for young girls here.  When she was in school, she had to feed her family and field marriage proposals (from her 8th grade teacher).  At that age, I was worrying about yearbook pictures and trying to decide whether to take Spanish or French.  Never did I think that those would be considered luxuries. 

I am addicted to citronelle tea – possibly because it tastes like Fruit Loops milk.

28/8/11

Whew, I am way better at fete-ing the Ramadan fete (the salah is a 3 day celebration following the month of Ramadan) than I am at fasting the Ramadan fast.  Actually, that is debatable – I spent all day preparing cookies and cakes for my neighbors and I ate half of it…oops.  But getting ready for the fete is fun!  I got my nalay (henna tattoos) done in Mora today with some girls there.  And my friend al-Adji got me pagne!  It is beautiful!  I’m still not exactly sure what the 3 days entail but I guess I’ll find out soon enough.  We are in need of a fete.   There is cholera in Mora and Tayer and many of my neighbors knew people who died in the Boko Haram violence in Maidugri, Nigeria. 

But our cheese looks great (we’re trying an aging technique so I haven’t tasted it yet).  I’ve been working on lesson plans for my environmental clubs and waiting to hear about my well project – fingers crossed!  I just found out I have to go to Yaounde in 3 weeks for the HIV/Gender and Youth Development Committee meeting.  That will be a nice trip.  Oh!  I have a giant cucumber in my garden!  C’mon melons!

29/8/11

Call me Mr. Blister – got stung by a blister beetle this morning and proceeded to burn myself multiple times baking all day (baking with an iron pot on a stove is tough!).  I took a break from cooking to go to my Tayer VSLA meeting, which went swimmingly (*note: my journal writing is pretty bland – I’m going to try to rectify that*).  We are writing the group’s constitution and they were very excited to get a chance to MAKE the rules. 

30/8/11

It’s 9 a.m. and I already need to lie down from eating too much.  I give 2 or 3 peanut butter cookies to people and they send me back with a meal.  And I still have to go visit Oumate and Djanabo…uh oh.  Better gear up.    

Yes!  I FINALLY had my camera in the right place at the right time.  The salah is stupendous.  The entire village gets together in brand new pagne for a communal prayer and a reading from the Koran.  It was quite the sight.  I was going to creep up and take some seriously zoomed-in pictures from afar (I had asked if it was okay to photograph ceremonies but I dind’t know about religious ceremonies).  But then Tijani’s creepy younger brother (who is now my new best friend) became artistic director of a great photo shoot.  The kids quickly found out that I had a camera.  Said camera became way more interesting than the Koran so I left before the ceremony was over.  But, at last, documentation!  For some reason, all the little boys had sunglasses on haha.  Pretty suave.

Today was really special.  I had a giant smile on my face the whole time.  I think it was because a holiday is a holiday, no matter where you are.  Everyone was happy and looking their best in their new clothes as they celebrated with friends and family.  It was wonderful to be a part of it.  The fete wasn’t perfect becasue I ran out of cookies to give out in about 5 seconds.  But now I know how it works – you keep a plate of treats out at your house to give one to each visitor and the kids FOR ONCE have free reign to ask for money and candy – and I’ll be ready for next year.  Speaking of next year, today was the first time I thought with relief that I have more than a year left – like when you wake up half an hour before your alarm clock.  There are moments – like heading back with Liman on the moto today after making holiday cookies and visiting friends – when this whole Peace Corps thing seems like real life rather than a semi-surreal experience.  It is hard to explain how that feeling is a big deal but it really is.  What will I do when I get back to a place where a bright orange jumpsuit and brown leather sandals with huge silver buckles (my Ramadan outfit) don’t make you totally cool?  

1/9/11

I’m feeling melancholy.  The first day of the fete was fantastic.  Then, yesterday, I bought 1000 CFA worth of kola nut on a whim to give out to the men in village.  But handing it out was just sort of awkward.  Then a random guy from a neighboring concession came to say ‘hi’ at 8 p.m. and Goni flipped out.  Feeling a little out of place but making progress.

3/9/11

Peace Corps does help you understand a world that you might never have encountered otherwise.  I’m reading Interpreter of Maladies and I can really identify with the stories, partly because I have a ton of first-/second-generation American friends back home (and I miss you all terribly!).  But partly because I feel like I can better understand the India the characters left behind, too.  I’m in the middle of a story in which a Bengali woman newly-arrived in Boston just asked if people would come running if she screamed.  I laughed because I had had the exact same conversation with Goni.  He can’t believe how unsafe homes in America are because you actually have to PHONE someone in the case of an emergency and wait for a CAR to come.  

I’m out of gas and I’m sick of it.  I’m not sure if my skills have gone downhill since the first time my gas ran out (not much further down to go) but I am seriously unmotivated to cook on 3 stones.  I think I’m just more relaxed/“ca va aller” about the situation.  Let’s put it this way – I didn’t freak out and buy canned turkey from Nigeria this time around.  Still, I made eggs this morning with my predecessor’s GMAT books.  I’m not looking forward to taking the LSATs haha – you see my current priorities.  I’m going to get milk/make cheese with my women’s group again tomorrow.  

6/9/11

Okay, if canned turkey were an option at this point, I wouldn’t turn it down.  I paid 3000 CFA yesterday to find out that Mora won’t have gas for at least a week.  I begged a volunteer there for his hot plate and got very excited to have pizza for lunch.  Halfway through the sauce, the power was knocked out by a storm that came out of nowhere.  Ahhhh!   Note to self: eating pizza with raw dough ne va pas.  Of course, the weather is beautiful right now.  I really hope the power comes back before tonight since, lo and behold, during rainy season all the firewood is wet!  I could do some serious damage at the Ithaca Applefest right now.  Speaking of meals, though, I had a good one with the cow-herding ladies en brousse yesterday.  I think it was actually the first time I’ve eaten with villageoise women (men and women eat separately and, since I’m a nassara, I usually get my own plate).  It was nice.  And I’m getting much better at eating with my hands – it’s best if you form your millet into a little Tortilla Scoops-style scoop.  But, ouch, it burns!  A year later and I still am not used to plunging my hand into a giant ball of millet that’s come straight off the fire.  I can’t complain about the rain, though.  I have NO idea how the herders sleep out in it.  The cheese-making went decently well again.  We are going to try to market it in Maroua.  And I THINK Oumate is going to spearhead the Doulo  honey project, too.  I used him as a translator at our training and he couldn’t wait to get started.    

Last night, Goni began a story with “one time I was at this club in Lagos…” Come again?  I guess you have to know him but I died laughing.  But it was the start of a sad conversation that you hear too often here.  A lot of  people desperately want to leave Cameroon.  I can’t imagine having to choose between your home and opportunity.  

My backyard is a jungle that smells like the bird exhibit at the zoo.  I’m beginning to wish the kids would come back to slingshot the herons out of the giant tree again (not really, I don’t want the birds to die and the tree overlooks my latrine – Kids, you call me nassara for my white skin, now? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet).  

I just got back from my walk with Loki.  I took some good pictures of the Mora and Meme mountains that I am going to have a Cameroonian friend paint for me.  I was also thinking en brousse that it is hard to describe how my “normal meter” has adjusted.  On the one hand, cold beverages, milk, cheese, eggs, bread, and apples are allprohibitvely expensive luxuries.  But, on the other hand, things from home will pop into my head like I was in the States yesterday (like I think I just saw a security guard from the Dome walking through my neighbor’s millet field 10 minutes ago).

7/9/11

I have had a very content 2 weeks au village and I am looking forward to another one before my trip to Yaounde

Seriously?!?!  The hot plate just broke.  Gahhhh!!! I had to jinx myself.

8/9/11

The USAID-SPA project coordinator just called and my well project was accepted!!  I hope it’s not another jinx but things are looking slightly up.  I started a fire (in a good way, hopefully not to become a bad way – the wind is pretty strong) and made tea and popcorn.  Off to see my soy fields, Djanabo, and the director of the Doulo primary school tomorrow. 

9/9/11

Wow, I miss fall at home right now – not in a super homesick way but there is a cool breeze here that is reminding me way too much of chicken BBQs, ski sale, Morgan show, sweaters, apple picking, trail riding, school (!), fair…

11/9/11

Wow, it is hard to believe it has been 10 years.  I wish I had access to American or international news right now (international radio is not working but CRTV had a very nice September 11 program this morning).

I was making so much progress with the kids on the road through Tayer!  I had made it all the way from “Baba Nassara, donne-moi cadeaux” (“White Mama, give me gifts”) to “Nassara Elizabeth, teenum clayo-wa, na?” (“Elizabeth, how is your body?”).  Then, today, I got “Baba Cadeaux.”  Excuuuse me?!

I went to Mora yesterday to get stuff to make peanut butter cookies with a friend in Doulo.  I stopped at Djanabo’s on the way back and she prepared a huge lunch of  fufu (manioc cous-cous), a southern dish, and sauce that tasted like Chef Boyardee.  Wow, a year really is a long time because I actually enjoyed the old Elmer’s Glue consistency of the fufu.  I washed it all down with hot ice cream – that is what I’m dubbing the more-than-whole, out-of-the-cow-into-the-glass-(via-the-fire) milk that I get from my women’s group.  Then al-Adji wanted to show me his onion farm and I ended up spending the afternoon planting.  I was b-e-a-t when I got home.  Today, I left early to make peanut butter cookies (after making an omelet over the fire, which I’m getting quite good at if I do say so myself) and repeated the whole thing again. 

Ah! I. can. not. listen. to. Goni’s. rants.  He just told me 90% of women are going to hell.  Reason?  They leave their houses without their husbands’ permission.  What/who does he think I am that I would not take offense?

12/9/11

Yikes, I either had my first malaria prophylaxis hallucination/dream (they say side effects can start really late) or something funky is up.  I just fell asleep for an hour.  When I woke up, it was completely dark outside (it was 10 a.m.).  Little green/blue/purple salamanders who turned into people came out of my curtains and started performing interpretative dances.  I freaked out a little and decided to take my Coartem (malaria treatment).  And then I really woke up.  It was so real!  Even the salamanders.  Bizarre.

13/9/11

YUM!  My garden cucumbers are so good.  I love being able to saunter out to my backyard to stock up on fresh food.  I am trying to get my house/life in order before heading to Yaounde.  So for work/blog purposes, here is a quick summary of my current projects:

-The Tayer VSLAs are going very well.  The last training/first round of contributions is in 2 weeks.  I am going to buy the group members sodas and take pictures.  I have also decided that I am going to start another VSLA with one of my groups in Doulo.  Those women are having some serious intra-group trust and money management issues due to the fact that they cannot read their account book (such problems are common).  I think a VSLA could really help them since the program is designed for illiterate people; small details focus heavily on building trust in the system (for example, the safes we give the groups have 3 locks on them so no single person can ever access the money alone). 

-We have made cheese a couple of times.  We are still in the experimentation phase and milk will run out when the rains stop (when food for the cows disappears) so we are going to have to wait a while before we have a product ready to go.  But, in the meantime, I am going to bring materials back from my Christmas vacation and we are going to do a comprehensive feasibility study.  I want to be ready for next year because we really want to make this a successful project.

-Oumate says he is going to try honey production (he also says he has had appendicitis since February).  Apiculture is an amazing agroforestry project and I think it could really work so I told him that, if he is serious, I will contribute for the initial investment.  I am going to get in touch with the apiculture trainer when I am down south to determine all the logistics of a start up.   

-Well project!  I am pumped but now I have a lot of money to manage so I want to keep everything on track from the beginning.  Construction won’t begin until March (that is when the water table is at its lowest).  But, in the near future, I need to draw up a contract for the well technician, open a bank account, create a collection schedule to raise the community contribution that USAID requests, recruit volunteers for the labor, and hold a community meeting.

-Next down the chute: environmental clubs at the Doulo and Magdeme primary schools.  I have got a pretty decent outline.  First semester: do 5-6 trainings on the importance of trees (deforestation, erosion, uses of trees, etc.).  Second semester: plant a nursery and, later, transplant the trees around the community.  Hopefully we can culminate with a field trip to Mozogo, a small national park (where I saw the baboons!) about 35 km away. 

So that is the state of affairs chez moi.   Christmas is dangerously close to being in sight so I need to think work and not coast haha.  But I’m feeling good about my projects. 

Dear Nosy, Old Magdeme Men – Mind your own business!  Goni yelled at me last week for letting my neighbor into my concession and someone else just subjected me to the 3rd degree for stopping to talk to some guy (also an old man) who was visiting from Maroua.  I’m not one of your wives. – Sincerely, The Village Harlot 

16/9/11

Bah – I am en route to Yaounde.  The (allegedly) 7 hour bus ride from Maroua to Ngaoundere (where you get on the train) is so rough.  We literally had to drive through a river at one point where the bridge was out.  It could have been a lot worse, though – a few weeks ago, one of my friends waited for 12 hours at that bridge after a rainstorm.  Anyway, our chauffeur  drove like a crazy person and the trip still took 9 hours.  But we passed a Peace Corps vehicle on the way and a bunch of different people started yelling out names like  “Madame Gloria,” and “Mr. Nick,” and “Miss Jennifer.”  It was cool – no one is going to claim that Peace Corps is God’s gift as a development organization but volunteers do make a mark.     

Ah, I’m getting to Yaounde and I can feel it!  I am currently eating a giant, yellow banana that I bought out of the train window for 25 CFA.  Fruit salad, here I come!

17/9/11

After 3 straight days of travel I am ever-so-slowly becoming a real person again and it feels so good.  My clothes are in a washer and dryer for the first time in a year; I took a hot shower for the first time in 6 months; and I am wearing an ‘Ithaca is Gorges’ shirt for the first time ever (I found it in the up-for-grabs pile of clothes that other volunteers have donated.  Now I have to find out where it came from!).  I am also preparing to brush my teeth with the new toothbrush I bought on the trian.  Hey, you never know what you need or when you are going to need it.  A friend and I were just complaining/laughing about how pushy people are here.  SO pushy.  There is ZERO concept of lines – it is usually an utter free-for-all and, where there are lines, you quickly become a pancake trying to hold your spot.  But why do Cameroonians behave that way?  Because it works.  It was the same deal this morning with the guy selling toothbrushes on the trian.  He gave a ridiculous 15 minute spiel after which he would have been a goner in the States.  Here, we all bought his product at the end, including the security guard who had come to kick him out.

18/9/11

One year in country!

Onward

18/6/11

Bit of a whirlwind last few days – had a massive bike breakdown that required a day trip to Maroua; found a well technician through MINADER (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development); met with Adda Brigitte’s group about starting a Village Savings and Loan (VSLA*) group; hosted Goni and Kodomi for a 6:30 a.m. well meeting.  I finished that all off with a joy (bike) ride back to Maroua this morning to submit my trimester work report.  Now I’m not doing much other than trying not to stuff my face with crack peanuts (sugar+peanuts – that’s it but just wait until I come home and get you all hooked). 

*VSLAs are basically self-funded micro-finance groups.  Members of the group all donate a certain amount of money each week and, throughout the year, can borrow that money to fund small, income-generating projects.  VSLAs are similar to tontines, which I have described before and exist everywhere here, but they differ in that members must use the loans for group-approved projects (not pagne and beer, which is what many tontines spend their money on) and they must eventually pay the loan back with interest. 

23/6/11

After reaching Maroua on Saturday and sending my report, I continued the pretty epic bike tour.  A friend and I headed into the mountains (with the bikes on top of an agence bus – we were bringing tiramisu and tiramisu >> biking up a mountain, duh) to meet up with some other volunteers in Mokolo.  We had an AMAZING Italian night at the home of a volunteer who had just returned from Italy bearing gifts (parmesan, Romano, salami – ah!).  On Monday, my friend and I continued by bike to another friend’s village 30 kilometers away.  We had an absolutely incredible ride through the mountains.  When we got there, I killed my first chicken!  Actually, it was not cool – the knife was dull, ’nuff said.  My chicken had it rough but for #2 we were nearly chasing a headless bird around the compound.  I’ve decided this aspect of animal husbandry/food preparation is something everyone should experience, though.  It really makes you appreciate where your food comes from and how it ended up in front of you.  We had a great dinner by lantern light to celebrate the solstice.  On Tuesday, I headed out early for a FLAT (read: perfect) 50 kilometer ride home, during which we saw baboons (they were about 4 feet away from us)!  After the mini-vacation, week goal=identify a site for the well. 

27/6/11

Currently feeling like a bit of a blob.  The new sous-prefet is here to see the village.  Kodomi told me he was coming yesterday and everyone is at the chefferie right now.  They’ve been playing traditional drums all morning.  I would really like to see the ceremony.  But instead I”m lying on my “L” couch (a mattress folded in two and propped against the wall).  No one told me when the sous-prefet got here and now I don’t want to go interrupt the event.  Where would I sit?  (This is always the biggest problem at village meetings.  I can’t sit with the men on the mats.  But the chef only owns 2 chairs.  Hey, that’s 2 more than I have).  Boo.

My little home-stay brother, Yannick, just called:).  He somehow learned French in the last 6 months.  No electricity in Bafia – hehe, surprise, surprise.  I, on the other hand, FINALLY replaced my light bulbs (4 months after they went out).  Next step: chairs.

28/6/11

I am reading the 9/11 Commission Report and I’ve been thinking…There is certainly no shortage of frustrated, young, unemployed men here or in sub-Saharan Africa in general.  So why is the Middle East so prone to extreme reactions (not just terrorism but apparently political uprisings, too)?  (Four years of college didn’t answer that.  Or provided many answers…Anyway, still thinking).  I know there are a plethora of reasons but, based on conversations I’ve had with some of you back home, I feel it’s important to note the role Islam plays in security and stability here.  Magdeme, of course, is a microscopic case study but I think it is an interesting one nonetheless.  My village – even compared to Double – is incredibly peaceful and quiet (“sleepy” is how many visitors have described it).  If you were to ask people here why this is, they would answer “Islam.”  Religion does more than just encourage pious living, though.  The Koran is an instrument – some would say a weapon – of justice, too.  Goni has described to me on numerous occasions about how, as a last resort in serious criminal cases, the authorities bring the Koran into the dispute resolution process.  And just yesterday, Djanabo told me about how “coups de route” (bandits on the roads) were a big problem until last year when Nigeria stepped up countermeasures.  The primary such measure was the use of the Koran.  When a criminal is confronted with the Koran, he must surrender all of the information he has and tell the truth or he will die.  Literally, Cameroonians say “le Coran tue” (“the Koran kills”).  I don’t exactly know what this means but everyone believes it, which is the important part.  Of course, the logic behind oath-swearing and the use of the Bible in courts chez nous is the same.  But here fear of actual bodily harm, rather than legal repercussions, still motivates adherence to the law. 

5/7/11

I haven’t written a whole lot lately but I don’t think too much exciting has happened.  Things are going pretty well on the work front.  VSLAs are under way with Adda Brigitte’s group and, more promisingly, with my other Tayer group.  One work challenge here is that people say “yes” to everything, whether or not they actually mean it.  I think they are used to being told what to do by Western development workers.  But most PCVs are not experts!  And some of the things we are asking villagers to do – like give money or allot half of their millet fields to trees – are fairly high-stakes demands.  So you really want to be sure people know what they are getting themselves into.  But we’ll see.  Things are also tentatively looking up in the well project department.  I was in a serious funk Friday because Oumate stood me up for the first meeting with my second well technician.  I am glad I asked for his help/presence, though, becuase my first well technician tried to charge me 5 times the accurate price for a site selection.  Anyway, we scheduled a meeting for yesterday that actually happened.  We identified 2 potential well sites.  We also set a meeting for Saturday afternoon to outline a budget.  Just in case things were going too well with the well, though…a humungous heron pooped on my head while our whole group was walking through village.  Bam.  I feel like that has to be lucky, though, right?

9/7/11

The cantaloupes I planted are poussing!  Take that, you Elizabeth-Loftus-star-agroforestry-volunteer haters!  (Jinx)

12/7/11

I just finished Half the Sky, a book about development opportunities for women by Nicholas Kristoff and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn.  One of their main points was that people need to get out and see poverty.  And I realized again what an experience Peace Corps is.  But, to be honest, the book was also a bit depressing for a couple of reasons.  First, it was basically a commercial.  To be fair, it acknowledged itself as such.  But another of the authors’ main points was that Americans’ best contribution to development is money.  As I’m discovering here, that is true.  Cameroonians in rural areas expect money from Westerners (boys in village think I print it at my house).  This makes work hard.  I really hope my funded projects come through.  I currently have 2 planned – the first is the well.  The second is a very small-scale project – a 2 day intensive seminar on apiculture for Djanabo’s group.  The training will be led by the president of the honey-producing GIC I discussed a while back.  Local experts say that honey production is certainly possible here and that good quality honey would sell for a high price, but villagers lack the necessary training.  The women in the group are very excited.  So am I – not only would this project be a wonderful educational opportunity but I think it embodies how we, as Peace Corps Volunteers, can be most effective.  That is, we can best help by identifying and securing in-country assets available to groups that otherwise would be unaware of such resources.  The book did get me pumped about my VSLA projects.  I am going to translate the stories and read them to my groups this week to energize them as well.  Anyhoo, tangent.  The book’s second depressing aspect (and I am being brutally honest/pretty insensitive here): the authors claim that to see the developing world is to be inspired to help.  Certainly, certainly true…if you can help.  But, man, it can also generate some cynicism.  I am sad to admit that I could totally picture the story recounted in the book about a doctor in southern Cameroon who went home early and let a patient and her unborn baby die because the patient couldn’t/wouldn’t pay for the surgery that would have saved her life.  There is a tremendous gap between educated Cameroonians and Cameroonians in remote villages.  Tremendous.  Just as PCVs sometimes do, doctors get frustrated working with villagers and it can turn them hostile.  Yesterday I listened to the chief of our health center vent for 20 minutes!  I think such hostility is part of what can lead to grave situations like the one described in the book.  And that is bad.  But I also think that the doctors are in a difficult position, too.  They can’t help everyone – they simply lack the resources.  Like with the 47 little boys on the road who demand “dix francs” (about $0.02), you don’t give even a tiny amount to any of them because you can’t give to all of them.  Okay, dealing with a life-threatening situation is barely comparable.  But, still, I can see how it would seriously, seriously wear on you to be confronted with those choices every day.  The journalists and PCVs can leave.  The doctors can’t (at least the good ones don’t).  All of that said, I can say unequivocally that my experiences here have really solidified my hope to pursue a career in development.  I guess Kristoff and WuDunn’s larger point would be that witnessing serious problems makes you genuinely value the importance of finding creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable obstacles and motivates you to try to think up such solutions.  And, in that, I would agree 100%.

13/7/11

Doing the lamps dance!  Electricity is back after a 2 week hiatus.  Woot!

15/7/11

My boss is coming for site visit tomorrow (unexpectedly – VERY unexpectedly – moved up a day).  I have no chairs, no food, no electricity (again), and no way to inform my groups we’ll be stopping by.  That was all on my “to do” list for tomorrow.  I DO have a trashed house, way too much overgrown grass, and a ton of rain.  Wonderful.  Oh well, ca va aller.  I’ve been very busy this week, which I’m happy about. 

19/7/11

My funding application for the apiculture project was accepted!  One down, one big one to go.  Inshallah.

Help, there is something wet falling from the sky…

25/5/11

I just got back from a friend’s village where I went to fete 20 May, National Reunification Day.  Backstory: Cameroon had two colonial rulers, France and the UK.  Eight of the 10 provinces were French and the other 2 were English, which is why Cameroon is a nominally bilingual country today.  Since all French colonies were granted independence on the same day, 1 January 1960, 20 May also serves as Cameroon’s Independence Day (though reunification didn’t happen until 1961).  Anyway, non-religious holidays aren’t really recognized in Magdeme.  So I went to Gawel for what ended up being a great 20 May.  Megan and I were both tired so we initially decided to skip the festivities, which were being held in the head of her arrondisement half an hour away.  But the grandes (important people) in her village wouldn’t have that, of course.  They held up the entire ceremony and sent a moto driver to come get us.  I’m really glad we went.  We watched the obligatory parade, which is just a procession of the local students (I really do appreciate all the marching practice they do but once you have seen one parade, you’ve seen them all), went to a hot but good lunch at the sous-prefet’s house, and watched a town soccer game and a donkey race.  We made it home after dark.  The sunset over the mountains on the moto ride back was beautiful.

Ah!  8 months and I have completely forgotten rain.  You know you’ve been in the Extreme North too long when…It sprinkled this morning and then stopped.  There were some really ominous-looking clouds in the offing but, like the stubborn nassara I’ve become (read: idiot), I decided to set off for my meeting in Tayer even though the old woman next door told me not to.  (Side note: it can be grating to feel like a child all the time so you develop a “watch me” attitude when people say you can’t do something.  The only problem is they’re usually right).  It started pouring halfway there but I thought that, having made it half way, I should keep going.  Yikes.  I was practically blown off the road several times.  I finally made it to a friend’s house but she wasn’t there.  Her daughter gave me dry clothes and I proceeded to hang out in a tiny, dark room with 7 children for 3 hours.  At least I brought a book.  And I had some great folere for lunch (folere  is a common green leaf sauce that people eat with millet).  I also got to have a nice conversation with the 2 daughters who go to school.  Anyway, I would ruin the first real rain by getting caught out in it.  Oh well, the aftermath was amazing.  I can’t wait until next time.

31/5/11

Well it may only rain for 3 months out of the year but when it rains, it pours.  I have a yard!  The desert is blooming and it is so wonderful.  It is hot because of the humidity but I’ll take it.  Grass under my feet, bucket bath feels like jumping in a lake (if you really use your imagination)…Love it.  There’s not a whole lot going on right now.  A grande  in village died and everyone in all of the villages I work in has been at the funeral for the past 3 days so things have been quiet.  For ceremonies here, the men wear their 3 piece boubous and the women all wear bright, beautiful full-body scarves.  The internment procession a few days ago was amazing – I’ve never seen such a big funeral here with so many people dressed up.  My camera is never in the right place at the right time!  But I checked that it would, in fact, be okay to photograph the ceremonies so I promise to get a picture (and actually post it) soon.

Power has been out for a week and I’ve burned through all of my candles/used up all of my batteries.  Spending the night twiddling my thumbs and listening to 327 little kids chant the Koran.

1/6/11

I am EXHAUSTED.  I think today was one of the best days I’ve had in Cameroon, in large part because I sure didn’t think it was going to be.  Djanabo called at 6:30 am and asked if we could do their soy preparation training today.  This is my favorite group and I had wanted to do a good job with the soy presentation for them.  I was totally unprepared but it ended up working out really well.  We made the best beignets I’ve had here (they don’t call me “Mama Beignet” in village for nothing – actually, the women did all of the cooking and I’m a bit dubious about that nickname, which definitely doesn’t come from my proclivity for making the beignets).  I love these women. 

Village Savings and Loan training for one of the Tayer women’s groups tomorrow, then Maroua for our regional meeting.  Girls’ camp in Mora next week.

Cherry on top – I got my package from Grandma and great magazines from Grannyjinks and Granddad!  Thank you!

7/6/11

Woo am I happy to be back in village.  I was worried about being gone for a whole week what with our regional meeting and the camp.  But it took me 2.5 hours to get home from Mora because I saw every, single person I’ve ever met.  I visited Oumate’s family and Djanabo in Doulo; I ran into the doctor and some out-of-town friends who are here doing reforestation work for the government, too.  It was such a nice bike ride back, weather-wise and friend-wise. 

But OMG…that’s almost all I can say about yesterday.  [*Drama queen disclaimer: I know I freak out excessively about a lot of small-seeming things here.  But, for some reason – maybe it’s living alone – the small things don’t always seem so small].  Rain: 2, me: big, fat 0.  I was lazy, as usual, and waited a while to leave Mora after we finished the first day of camp.  When I finally left you could hear thunder and things looked pretty bad in the (not-so-distant) distance.  But the wind was with me so I took off.  About half way between Mora and Doulo (a.k.a. 5 km into the 10 km stretch of no villages/trees), the heavens opened up.  (I have to say the sky did look amazingly beautiful seconds before it decided to try to kill me).  I can’t even describe what ensued.  But it was terrifying, in all seriousness.  I got blown off the road after biking for a bit at a 90 degree angle just to go in a straight line; my shoes broke, fell off, and got washed away in the insta-river that had appeared by that time; my bike chain’s guide got smashed and jammed the chain so I couldn’t pedal; the rain came so hard it burned; the wind was practically ripping my shirt off.  I felt like hitchhiking to Chad with one of the massive trucks that are always on the road or assuming the fetal position under a tree or just  sobbing.  Most of all, I absolutely, positively did NOT feel like biking back through Mora – the barefoot nassara out in the rainBut even the truck drivers were off the road; there are no trees here; and it was raining too hard to cry.  So I walked my bike back to Mora barefoot and unable to see.  When I finally showed up at Jess’s, her teenage neighbor just looked at me and said “merde.”  Yup.  I can’t tell you how dry clothes, hot tea, an evening walk in the rain-cooled fresh air, and our attempt at pizza felt.  Even though I’m out a bike pump (lost on the road), a cell phone (water-logged), my shoes, and my dignity, things could have been worse.  I came home to find about 10 lizards smushed dead flat (literally) in the hinges of my windows.  Looks like I faired pretty well against the wind.

Whew…guess you had to be there.  Sorry for wasting 2 entries on rain stories.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  That better be the last of them!

8/6/11

A LIZARD JUST GOT ITSELF STUCK DOWN MY SHIRT!  Loki chased it onto my mat/face/neck/shirt.  Not okay.

11/6/11

We finished our girls’ camp yesterday and I am exhausted!  It was a fun/challenging/informative experience, one of the best I’ve had here.  We ended up having about 40 participants.  There were 5 PC volunteers, including myself, and we each led a day of the seminar.  The camp content came from lesson plans in the “Life Skills Manual,” a text distributed to Peace Corps countries worldwide, and we supplemented the core sessions with our own activities. 

I was in charge of the first day, “Communication Skills,” which was somewhat ironic given that I was nervous about leading a big group continuously in French (usually I am speaking French for someone who is translating into a local language so I have time to think and less pressure).  It was certainly hard but I think it went well.  Through several activities, we demonstrated and practiced communicating assertively, especially in the face of pressure.  The girls are almost painfully shy/quiet in front of adults and/or people in positions of authority so I think it is important for them to talk about expressing themselves well.

On Day 2 we covered relationship skills.  I spent most of the morning guarding the food/door from the little boys outside but I think these were good sessions, too.  We finished up Tuesday with an hour of sports – Frisbee and soccer.  It was indescribably great to see the girls running around, playing just like the boys here (but in full pagne haha –quite impressive).  Some of them were really talented.

Wednesday was HIV/AIDS and hygiene day.  The anonymous question box that we left out all week and talked about every day indicated that some of the girls were upset by the subjects we discussed.  This was a very productive day, though.  On the whole, the girls knew a lot, but they asked – and had answered – some good/important questions, such as “can you get AIDS by eating with someone?” 

The Thursday theme was “Thinking About My Future.”  We invited educated women from the community to come speak to the girls about their lives.  One of our Peace Corps language trainers, who is now managing a massive conservation project in Waza National Park (about 50 km north of me) came along with a woman who works at CADEPI, a local NGO.  I thought the women were wonderful.  They talked a lot about how to cope with family and religious pressure to marry early (one had married before she had finished high school, the other had waited).  In the course of doing so, they unintentionally reiterated almost all of our points from the week, especially those regarding the importance of good communication and smart health practices.  This “review” was fantastic because, come on, a “life skills manual”?  Really?  You could be forgiven for doubting its efficacy/practicality.  But the information really does matter!  Anyway, after the women presented, the girls talked about their futures.  They wrote stories about themselves in 15 years and it was inspiring to listen to the girls who read them aloud. 

The topic for the final day was income generation.  Exorbitant school fees are a major obstacle to education for girls here.  Sometimes, if a girl really wants to continue with school, she can help pay her own way.  We talked a little bit about money management and then made piggy banks, which was…interesting (I can say in hindsight).  Kids here are rarely given things by anyone so when we handed out materials, madness ensued (paper, markers, scissors flying everywhere).  Afterwards, we divided into stations and taught the girls how to make products that they might be able to sell in the market.  We prepared mango jam, peanut brittle, and lotion.  This part of the camp was a great idea in theory – all three products are incredibly easy to make and use materials that are cheap, abundant, and locally available.  Unfortunately, the girls were more concerned with trying to get samples than with learning how to make the product.  At the end we gave out certificates and took some good pictures (note: we took a TON of pictures throughout the week, which I will post on Facebook since I can’t seem to do it here).  

We all left pretty beat but, overall, the camp went really well and we learned a lot for next year.  I can’t wait to do it again.  We finished up with a delicious, celebratory dinner (with cheese!) last night and a climb up Mora Massif this morning. 

14/6/11

I may be temporarily deprived of the ski racing and horse show circuits but I have the market circuit, which is pretty great.  I saw my French-speaking, peanut butter-selling friend at the Magdeme market and we talked about our plans for Meme market this week.  Not for the first time I thought how much fun it would be to just be a market vendor – have your old man/vendor friends, your customers, fun snacks sold by kids, different market every day but same places every week…

I think I mentioned before that the village and I are going to try to get funding from USAID to develop Magdeme’s water resources (or lack thereof).  I just had my first project meeting with Kodomi, Goni, and the man who calls himself my husband (3 of the 4 members of the village’s old water committee, which we plan to expand to include women).  I got ALL the nitty, gritty details of Magdeme’s water history.  There are 2 standard wells, 2 deep-water pump wells, and a bunch of village wells (basically just holes in the ground).  Of the 2 cement wells – both of which were built in the pre-independence period – one is too dirty to use and one does not have enough water.  Both of the deep-water pump wells are broken.  Kodomi and Goni used to collect money to repair the pump wells.  But the repairmen dropped the motor to the bottom of one and it became too expensive for the villagers to fix again.  The government promised to fix the other one but the repairman who came stole all of the parts and disappeared.  I had heard all of this from Goni before but he tends to…embellish…so I hadn’t believed all of it.  Anyway, for our potential project, the men opted for an open-air, cement well with the works (i.e. fence to keep animals away, cement “apron” to direct water runoff away from the water source, metal grill over the top to guard against debris, etc.) instead of the normally-preferred, deep-water well.  I was really happy about the foresight in their decision.  I am going to Mora to do some research on well technicians tomorrow.

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