Saturday, May 17, 2008

la vie, l'amour, la transition...on va faire comment?

So it's been awhillllleeee since I've written anything here. Lots has happened, so i will try and summarize as best as possible.

Major Events:

a.) the strikes

b.) consolidation

c.) business class

d.) mobile computer


f.) best friend ETing

g.) boyfriend deciding to not extend for a third year or work in Cameroon

h.) training design workshop

Ok, from the beginning.

It has been a couple months since the strikes and riots have happened, but I feel like I need to briefly clarify what happened (at least from my perspective). Most of us agree that they started when a truck drivers' strike, spurred by high gas prices (which are controlled by the state), got out of hand. In Douala, people started shooting each other and destroying gas stations and PMUC vestibules. Then it spread to the Anglophone regions, the capital city of Yaounde, and the West province (where I live). The rioters went in and shut down schools, burned tires in the streets, and generally caused mayhem. What happened varied from town to town. I am 15 minutes away from Bafoussam, the provincial capital of the West and the third largest city in Cameroon. Apparently things were pretty bad there. I don't know what that means exactly, because the minute things started to get bad, PC ordered us to stay in our houses, which is exactly what the Cameroonian families that weren't participating in the strikes were doing. I share a compound with another family. It has huge walls and I felt like I was more in danger of dying from curiosity about what was happening than from violent rioters. This lasted for about a week, then the army was deployed and everything settled down.

This is when PC decided to consolidate those people affected by the strikes, just in case they were to start back up again. Everyone in the near West was consolidated to my post (about 12 of us). They didn't start back up, and we spent several days consumed by boredom, wanting more news and some sort of resolution. After a few more days, it was business as usual and everyone went back to their respective posts. After that, it was almost like nothing had happened. There was very little evidence in my area of what had happened, although if you look closely, you notice that the road has begun to deteriorate where they burned the tires (exactly what Cameroon needs, another bad road!). Now, it has been several months since the riots and daily life has completely returned to normal without any problems since.

I finished teaching my first business class a couple months ago as well. Before I started, I was terrified of about a million things: teaching, teaching in French, teaching in French to men who may not respect women, teaching in French to men who may not respect women who have been running businesses for 20 years. You get the idea. I was also terrified that I wouldn't have enough people sign up. However, it turned out the I had 38 people in the class, and was still turning them away afterwards! Next time, I am only letting 30 in, tops. The class was a fabulous experience for me because I learned that the best way to learn how to teach is to just jump into it. You are never going to feel 100% ready, especially if you are teaching in a second language. However, once the class got going, I loved it. I co-facilitated with the regional director of my bank, which also taught me a lot about how to train those with whom you teach (training of trainers). She ended up being way too busy with work and family (manages five bank branches, has five children, gets up at 5am each day), so she wasn't as involved as I would have liked. However, everything still went well. Everyone was excited and dynamic. People participated, raised interesting questions, and tried really hard on their homework. And they gave me really positive evaluations! In addition, the make up of the class was incredibly diverse, and it gave me an interesting insight into different types of business problems in vastly different sectors. For example, I had a 60-year-old woman in the class who sold fertilizer in her neighborhood, and a 16-year-old student who aspired to start and market a comedy act. And although these people were in completely different places in their lives, somehow they were both able to related to and do well in the class. I'm very satisfied with the results. I will be teaching the class again during the training of the next batch of volunteers in order to act as a model for possible work they could do at post. That means that PC people will probably come in and watch! Scary!

I have also been working working working on my mobile computer project. I recently finished a project design and management book that emphasizes how hard it is to estimate the time designing a project takes. Designing this project took much longer than I wanted it to. Managing the other three people working on it, designing, researching, and creating lesson plans, formatting computers, doing training of trainers, logistics and so on finally resulted in a ready product about two weeks ago, right before I had to pack up my stuff and head to Yaounde for three weeks for the HIV/AIDS/Gender, Youth, & Development committee, the training design workshop for this year's SED/ED training, and training of trainers (where we give a sample session, to prove we can teach). And we were so close to implementation! I am heading back to post for two weeks at the end of this week, then heading to America for three weeks, then coming back to help with training. I am DETERMINED that we will implement the project during those two weeks I'm at post. In fact, we have already found a women's group (mostly wives of a chief) and have dates when we can work with them. FINALLY!

The people implicated in the project are myself, another volunteer, and two junior members of the NGO with which I work, RIDEV (the Research Institute for Development). One is a dynamic, extremely intelligent 21-year-old woman, who will be teaching lifeskills with me. The other is a charismatic, diligent 28-year-old rugby player who will be teaching computers. In addition to the computer project, the RIDEV team has other projects primarily in the domains of HIV/AIDS prevention/stigma reduction/and care and support, and human rights. I attend their weekly meetings and act as a consultant, helping them design and monitor projects, giving regular feedback and tips on professionalism. We recently had an exhausting, yet fruitful retreat where we hammered out a formal project plan for the organization, hoping to give the members concrete and sustainable direction. I very much enjoy my work with them and love seeing their personal and professional growth. I feel extremely lucky that I work with such motivated and honest people. That is not always so easy to come by.

The other volunteer who was working on the computer project was my best friend and post mate, Travis. He has kind of had a rough time since we arrived in country, approximately one year ago. When I switched posts and moved right across the carrefour from him, he told me that it gave him a reason to stay. He loved teaching, and generally liked his colleagues, he just wasn't happy in other areas of his life. Every time he talked about going home, I would talk him out of it. Lately, I felt like everything was going way better. He talked about how he couldn't imagine being in America, how he was so excited for next year, and how he had so many projects that he was excited about. That's why I was incredibly surprised when he called me to tell me, "You are going to be mad at me. I ET'ed." For those of you that aren't savvy with the PC acronyms (god, there are so many), ET means early termination, or the decision to go back home without finishing your service. In fact, I was mad. Really mad!

Why? Because in addition to my best friend and neighbor dropping this bomb out of the blue, it was on top of something of equally lame proportion that I had been preparing for for awhile: my boyfriend of almost a year (another PCV, who is also very nearby) is finishing his service at the end of May. So basically, the two most important people in my world here are leaving me to my own devices. At the exact same time. If I was allowed to swear in this blog, I would do it right here for emphasis. The day that I found out that Travis was leaving me too was the lowest day that I've had it awhile. It's because they get me the way other people don't. It's because nights in Cameroon are ridiculously lonely sometimes, and it is really nice to cook with someone and just have them be around, even if you are both reading or working. If you are a woman, you can't have Cameroonian men over without people thinking things are happening (your neighbors and the guy), and it is really difficult to make women friends (most people your age are married and have kids). So I kind of fall back on my PC friends. Everything will be different next year though. Complete integration here I come! Sigh.

Actually, although I am very sad and wracked with feelings of abandonment (to be a little dramatic for when Travis reads this), I am not overly depressed. Keeping busy with work is keeping me from getting too down. I am excited to help out with training and see all of my projects come to fruition. In June, I am going home to visit my boyfriend, going to the Bonnaroo music festival, and seeing some of my family on the west coast, then coming back and working working working. Only one more year to go! Although there have been some major bumps in the road, I am determined to see this through, and not just stand it, but enjoy it. Interestingly enough, although this is yet another time of major transition, I am in a (generally) positive place and am ready to take on these new challenges.

I also have an interesting perspective because I have been working on training design for the past week or so. This brings up extremely strong, almost physical memories of my own training a year ago. I have also "friended" some of the new trainees, and taken a look at their concerns about coming here. I want to give the best advice I can, but really, it is so hard to prepare (emotionally, mentally, physically) for something you have never experienced. Even with my previous experience in Senegal, I still had no idea about Cameroon before I came. You just have to give in to the unknown, ask advice about packing, and don't read the Village of Waiting (too negative, Nine Hills to Nambonkaha is MUCH better).

It is amazing the difference a year makes! I have changed so much. In fact, I am a little bit terrified of going home and walking into Walmart or something. America has turned into the unknown for me. I can kind of picture it, but have no idea how it will affect me. Regardless, the minute I get home I am stuffing my face with sushi, stocking up on DVDs, and basically regenerating for year number two.