Sunday, August 16, 2009

The End of a Blog

since i am no longer in cameroon, i am discontinuing this blog. however, i am starting a new blog that will hopefully carry me through the next few years as i travel to who knows where doing god knows what. the address:

stay tuned for my year in italy!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Things I Miss About Cameroon

So I stopped writing in January. Truth be told, with projects and planning and life in general, writing in my blog did not even factor into the list of priorities of things I must accomplish before I leave Cameroon. In fact, I left Cameroon more than two months ago. Since then, I've had a ten-day wonderful vacation in Morocco, a week at the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee, and some wonderful time seeing friends and family. I've been amazed not only by the extreme level of culture shock I experienced when I first returned to the States (akin to being in an alternate reality or even a nightmare you can't wake up from), but also by how quickly I have been able to remember my old American life and habits. However, I need to add some sort of closure to my Cameroon/Peace Corps experience before I truly move on to the Next Step.

In my final weeks, with the help of my volunteer friends, I started compiling a list of things that I would miss about Cameroon. I know how quickly one forgets the little details. I also made the conscious decision to NOT make a list of things I wouldn't miss. I will probably remember the majority of the challenges I faced. To be somewhat cliche, the two years were bittersweet and a part of me would rather honor during my departure by thinking positively rather than nit-picking over the things that have driven me crazy.

So, we will just keep the list of Things We Will Miss About Cameroon (/Peace Corps)
  1. Beans & Beignets- A breakfast staple of fried bread balls and delicious beans... All the energy you need to prepare yourself for a day of work in the fields.
  2. Poisson Braise with miondo & piment- Translation: Grilled fish with a "special" cassava treat and hot sauce. What you eat when you are too lazy to cook dinner.
  3. Being given special treatment- Sometimes it feels like you are a celebrity, which can definitely have its perks.
  4. Bossing around children/well-behaved children- The way that children behave and are treated is completely different than what we experience here. Everyone pulls their load in a family (even 5 year olds) and babies are quiet on 5-hour bus rides.
  5. There is always someone who wants to earn a buck- With a well-developed informal sector, you can always find someone who will wash your clothes, help you fill your gas bottle, carry your really heavy bags, etc. Moving houses was MUCH easier in Cameroon than it has been in America. Everyone wants to work and people help each other.
  6. $1, 22 oz beers- you get used to the fact that they're usually warm.
  7. Handsome Cameroonian men
  8. Motos- Motorcycle taxis that whisk you anywhere from city boulevards to narrow paths between villages. When you arrive in country, you're usually nervous about riding them. By the time you leave, you're a champ.
  9. Dispensable income- I wish I still had a stipend or could buy a meal for 50 cents.
  10. Arguments with total strangers.
  11. Calling everyone Mama, Papa, my sister- Anyone could be your family.
  12. The Frip- The used clothing market. Lots of used clothing gets sent to Africa. What people don't know is that many industrious African businessmen sort the clothing and sell it. In most of the markets you will find a used clothing section with well-organized stalls selling much better stuff then you would ever find in a good will in America (usually for a good price).
  13. Koki/Koki beignets- Black eyed pea pudding made with palm oil, maggi cube, hot pepper and salt/Black eyed pea patties deep-fried in palm oil. Delicious and oh-so-good for your cholesterol.
  14. There's no such thing as inconveniencing someone- people are rarely in a hurry and usually interested and willing to help.
  15. Bar shopping- because the informal sector is such a thriving part of the economy, all you need to do for some interesting shopping is go to a popular bar in your provincial capital and wait. The hawkers will come to you selling everything from toothbrushes to bushmeat.
  16. Trace- African MTV that only plays ghetto-rap music videos from America all day long. Enough said.
  17. Fashion lenience- Want to wear the same outfit 5 days in a row? Maybe feel like sporting a hot pink track suit? No problem!
  18. Tailors/Pagne- Beautiful cloth is for sale in markets all over the country. If you find a good tailor and spend some quality time on the internet looking at pictures of J Crew dresses, there are endless possibilities regarding cute summer dresses you can have made.
  19. Grateful village folk- They help you feel like your work is actually making a difference.
  20. Being bien integré- Feeling like you know the country as well as a Cameroonian and that you can do almost anything with minimal problems.
  21. Fresh exotic fruit (especially mangoes, pineapple, and passion fruit)
  22. Spontaneously dancing and singing in the street without anyone thinking you're crazy.
  23. Hitch-hiking- Apparently it's dangerous in America?
  24. Grands buying you things- The power structure in Cameroon is extremely "top down" and the rich men generally feel the need to show their power by spending money. Poorer PCVs sometimes like to take advantage.
  25. Franglais
  26. Crazy thunderstorms almost daily during the rainy season.
  27. The change between the dry & rainy seasons before there's too much mud or too much dust.
  28. The handshake snap- Only the cool kids can do it.
  29. Spaghetti omelets- You wouldn't think so, but adding some cooked spaghetti to a crispy omelette is delicious.
  30. Picturesque surroundings.
  31. Chickens walking around with baby chicks.
  32. Year-round sunshine
  33. Getting babies named after you.
  34. Giving people little presents/getting them- Just to let people know that you were thinking about them while you were away...
  35. Conversations in taxis- You've stuffed 8 people into a sedan, might as well make friends.
  36. Having people completely trust in your expertise/ability to help them.
  37. The world is your toilet- you don't have to buy something to use in the facilities in a store (if there are any) and you can relieve yourself in a public place without getting a ticket (I know... the small things in life).
  38. Sending letters etc. by bush taxi.
  39. Pirated TV series from Bamenda- How else would your spend your long and lonely nights? I never liked Lost until Cameroon. Or Heroes or Gossip Girl or Boston Legal. You get the idea.
  40. Special English- "How no? No fine." Although I find myself now speaking it with anyone who speaks English as a second language. This could be a problem.
  41. Kribi & Limbe- Beautiful beach escapes.
  42. Village strolls- Since I've been back I've realized that Americans are hardly ever outside unless it's for a scheduled activity. House to car to restaurant to store to house. This disturbs me.
  43. Certain kids that always make you smile
  44. The moment when you realize that the water/electricity has finally come back on after being cut for a really long time.
  45. Beeping- No credit on your phone? Just call the other person so it rings long enough for your number to register. Then hang up. They'll probably call you back.
  46. Using anything as an excuse to drink- It is the Cameroonian national pass time.... (just to clarify, we are not talking about getting wasted, just one is good enough).
  47. Palm wine- impossible to really describe, you must taste it yourself.
  48. Gaining weight and being considered more beautiful for it.
  49. Having Cameroonians think that spoken American Enlglish is some sort of special dialect or German.
  50. Having private conversations in public places because no one understands you.
  51. Cheap chinese shoes and lingerie at the local markets.
  52. Heated political discussions that you're not supposed to have because they might be too volatile.
  53. Hearing traditional oral folklore.
  54. Sorcery/marabouts/vampires/superstition in general- Marabout=witch doctor. And many people truly believe that vampires exist. Maybe the next vampire TV show can take place in Africa?
  55. Village women singing
  56. Travel snack shopping- You can buy an amazing selection of things out of your bus window.
  57. Goats everywhere- I just discovered that many Americans have never eaten goat. They are never for milk in Cameroon, usually just for special eating occasions.
  58. Kola nuts & everything they represent- Kola nuts are definitely an acquired taste, but they are an amazing tradition that represent life and virility, among other things.
  59. Unprocessed food- although it would appear that American vegetables are fresher (or at least preserved better).
  60. Not refrigerating eggs, mayonnaise, or really anything and firmly believing that a good reheating will make anything edible.
  61. The market- organized chaos that yields great rewards for those who are patient enough to take the time.
  62. L'Afrique en miniature- "Africa in miniature." Cameroon has any climate that you desire, from the hot, dry sahel, to the humid, dense jungle, and from the mountains to the beach.
  63. Teaching in French/Having in-depth conversations in French every day.
  64. Condom demonstrations with people who have never even touched a condom before- I ended up adding this very important health aspect to many of my projects.
  65. Africa time- I used to be chronically punctual. Two years in Cameroon has rid me of this terrible affliction.
  66. Drinking in the morning and not feeling guilty about it- When in Rome...
  67. Riding petit chauffeur, as long as it's for less that 30 minutes- This means that you are the second person sitting the driver's seat, right next to the stick shift and two other people in the passenger seat.
  68. The red earth the green fields and blue sky, as long as it's not in the form of dust or mud.
  69. Really feeling compelled by injustices towards groups of people you know personally.
  70. Leather goods from the North province- although they're not as refined as what I found in Morocco.
  71. Prunes- Not actual prunes. Some purple fruit that may or may not have a name in English that is served grilled with grilled, ripe plantains.
  72. Mirror dancing- When people go out to night clubs, often times their only interest is to dance with themselves using the mirrors that line the walls.
  73. Weaver birds & the little blue ones (Cordon bleus, according to Nura)
  74. Self-determined schedules, vacation, and the possibility for endless free time.
  75. Pondering development theories and actually having a real, concrete place that can confirm or deny them.
  76. Burly taximen with stuffed animal collections on their dashboards.
  77. Being able to get anywhere you've never been, relying completely on strangers' help- there are no maps, but there is usually someone willing to help.
  78. Beer promotions- Buy a beer, look under the cap, win a free one!
  79. Jacky Pacher- Probably my favorite Cameroonian restaurant. Cheap and delicious. Serving everything from the staple "pommes sautés" (boiled potatoes with sauce), to monkey or porcupine. Yes, I avoided the last two.
  80. "On est ensemble"- Saying. We are together. Even if everything sucks, we have each other.
  81. How easy it is to get to know all the "right" people- networking is amazingly easy.
  82. Cooking everything from scratch... and the results- Mexican feasts made from scratch (including tortillas rolled out with old wine bottles), enchiladas, lasagna made with a dutch oven, etc.
  83. Théo, inspiration to us all- PC health tech trainer and the director of the NGO with which I worked. We all aspire to be more like him. Talk about dedication.
  84. Having it be completely acceptable to go 3+ days without showering.
  85. Kabas- The most commonly sported attire for women in the southern part of the country. Essentially a mumu.
  86. Being able to buy fresh fruit, peanuts, grilled corn, etc. neatly packaged for 25 cents.
  87. Being on TV/the radio/in the newspaper all the time.
  88. Mai tais and unlimited olives and peanuts at Hilton Happy Hour.
  89. Ndolé/Legumes/Njama Njama- Collard-like greens. One of the few, specifically vegetable dishes.
  90. Funerals- Burials honor someone's death. Funerals celebrate their life with trumpets, gunfire, and lots of food.
  91. Rasta fête in Yaounde- The Cameroonian rastas get together and make music every Saturday night.
  92. Back-talking to the police and tricking your way out of paying bribes- Must remember that I can't do that anymore.
  93. "Ashia"- Slang. "That sucks, I'm sorry."
  94. Cheap sunglasses. Lose them or break them, pas de problème.
  95. Narcoline- The internet/restaurant/bar hangout of choice in Bafoussam- basically our equivalent of a coffee house where you can buy a cup and surf on the internet for hours, much like I am doing now (although there's no wireless or free internet there).
  96. "Ouais, dis-donc."- Franco-Cameroonian. Only counts if it's said with a strong Cameroonian accent.
  97. "Tu es la?"- Saying. Literally, "You are there?" More like, "What's up?"
  98. Michael Jackson dance parties at Theo's- RIP MJ.
  99. Mexican sunflowers- Everywhere. One of the few wildflowers
  100. The roller-coaster hill between Baham and Batie- when driving in public transport, they take the hill extra fast and you feel like your stomach is in your throat.
  101. Peanuts in their various forms- boiled, grilled, sugared...
  102. Fresh honey in old coke bottles- MUCH stronger than wild honey one would buy in America.
  103. Never having to worry that your music is too loud and is disturbing your neighbors- everyone is loud and no one complains.
  104. Really feeling like you know what your talking about (even if you don't)- once you create your niche in that initially crazy world, you feel completely at ease and find amazing simplicity. This simplicity disappears in America.
  105. Explaining bizarre elements of American culture to Cameroonians and seeing their wide-eyed reactions.
  106. When something works spectacularly well against all odds- this will make your week and you will remember it long after it happens.
  107. Talking for free after 11- Special phone deals where, for once, you're not spending roughly half your stipend on phone credit.
  108. Playing gastro-intestinal Russian roulette, as long as you don't lose- "Has this meat been reheated? Oh well."
  109. Knowing exactly where your food comes from- aka watching the chicken be killed and plucked right in front of you. Or killing and plucking the chicken yourself.
  110. Comparing ridiculous stories with other PCVs- who had the "best" disease? Who had the worst bush taxi ride? Other volunteers are the only who aren't scared/horrified/awed by these stories. It really freaks people out in America when I tell the "there was a larva in my butt cheek" story. Volunteers will say, "Oh yeah? Well I had 3 on my thighs!"
  111. Crazy Yaounde taxi driving tactics- somehow, it all works out with minimal damage.
  112. Sleeping under a mosquito net.
  113. Men holding hands as a gesture of friendship, even if homophobia is rampant.
  114. Rain on tin roofs- which makes impossible to hear your music/movie/conversation and compels you to go to the window and watch the cloudburst.
  115. Top Pamplemousse- Grapefruit soda, especially amazing when served ice-cold after a long walk in the sun.
  116. TIA- "This is Africa" Those moments that are just so ridiculous, you could never even accurately explain them to someone who hasn't lived there. And you just have to laugh because you have no control over the situation, but you know it will somehow all turn out ok. And you will miss it when you're gone.
I miss it.

Friday, January 9, 2009


i am sitting in the dark, the power having been cut, on and off and on and off, waiting for my computer battery to run down before i worsen my eyes by reading by candlelight.

apparently it's been about 6 months since i last wrote my last blog (this sounds like i'm about to make a confession...). truthfully, i feel as if i have been here for long enough that i've stopped noticing anecdote-worthy happenings that people love to hear about (interesting gastronomic and gastro-intestinal occurrences) and can only concentrate on one of two things: work (specific projects, how to make them better, what is development?, am i actually accomplishing anything?, etc.) and the big WHAT'S NEXT.

and really: no one, save for my parents and perhaps a few, select friends and family members actually wants to hear about the nuts and bolts of my work. most other peace corps volunteers don't even want to hear it. forget best practices, let's talk best beer! so usually, i just go on quietly figuring, storing it all up in my head until my next meeting with my counterpart so i can flatten him with all of my ideas. let's not do things one step at a time! let's do it all now!

but i only have approximately 6-8 months left, which, according to my organization (the man), is not really any time at all. apparently not even enough time to share my best practices with the people that don't really want to hear about them. so i am caught between barrelling forward and wondering if it is time to step back.

and daydreaming about the future has a been a rocky road of bad GRE scores, intermittent internet, and sudden panic attacks about whether or not i am actually ready for or will get into the grad school of my choice over there on that elusive east coast, specifically DC, where i have always dreamed of living.

now, i am one application submission away from having my nights free once more to watch tv series until i have to get up and run around my house to shake the sedentary-ness of it out of my system. thank god for yoga, pilates, and dancing with the stars dvds, although i'm sure my neighbors think i'm crazy when i start doing the jive above their heads at 11pm.

on a different note: my mother recently came to visit me. parents coming to visit always breeds reactions from your fellow volunteers like you might hear in a shrink's office: "and how does that make you feel...?" give a little pause, gauge the reaction, then either offer condolences or congratulations. this is caused by the range of different travel experiences among parents. you will encounter many a volunteer who says, "my parents? coming to cameroon? NO. we can meet in france." it's true. unless you have parents that are willing to ride on the back of motos over bumpy roads, squeeze into the back bush taxis where the floor heats up so much going up hills you can barely put your feet down, inhale copious amounts of red dust, and sleep in a hotel with no running water and foam mattresses, it's usually a difficult trip to undergo.

luckily, my mother was just along... for... the... ride... she got to experience EVERY type of public transport that cameroon has to offer, from the aforementioned bush taxi, to hitching a ride in a private car (which you pay for, and i intend on doing when i go back home). her being here momentarily put me back into that place where i look at cameroon and think "wow, i'm in africa," which is one of the best feelings that you have and that unfortunately fades after the first 6 months have passed. seeing things through her eyes and reliving the discovery just makes me want to travel more. however, being up north and seeing icky tourists with khaki shorts, white chicken legs glowing in the sun, with huge cameras slung around their necks just made me want to disappear. nope, can't. even though i'm tan from that intense african sun, i still glow even when i want to be in the shadows.

now, i am back home (Bandjoun, if you're wondering), missing my mother. by the end of her trip, i felt like she wasn't just visiting, and it made me realize how much i feel like i actually live here. it's not just some maybe-i-can-put-up-with-this-for-two-years-without-dying situation. i am comfortable, finally. the fact that it really is so temporary frightens me. i am flickering between wanting to move on to a place where i feel like i have some upward mobility, acknowledgment, benefits, and anonymity walking down the street, and that strange, sinking feeling of regret that i am leaving a place that has become my home, not knowing how or when i will return again.