Life as I know it... Has now turned into a 'jungle book'... Welcome!! I hope I can keep you all entertained with my posts about how the Cameroonian life is treating me.
Apparently drafting emails is the most reliable way for me to communicate from Bafia- our training site for the next 3 months. The internet kicks us off whenever it feels like it and I must say it’s rather annoying considering that Peace Corps has us on a tight leash, only permitting us with 2 or 3 days of wifi- they are our providers. We could pay to get wifi at our host families' houses but that’s really expensive for us. Yesterday, it rained for half of the day which was the most it’s rained at once since we’ve been in Cameroon. Not what I expected at all. But I guess we are in what is called “la petite saison seche” which means we are actually in more of the dry season with random rain here and there which makes it super humid and malaria prone... Not to worry I am taking my Mefloquine every Friday night! Unfortunately even while taking our malaria horse pills we can still get malaria... last night a bunch of us were going over why we think we’re going to catch malaria because apparently its quite common amongst volunteers... great ha. As of right now my legs look like a mosquito's battle field. Yet, I’m not too worried about it, I had pretty bad diarrhea for just about 2 weeks. I was finally put on antibiotics about 5 days ago when I told PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officers) that I found blood in my stool. The blood was an obvious concern to them as opposed to the fact having a liquid bowel movement foe 2 weeks straight and intense cramping wasn't... TMI- I know; sorry guys but here there is no filter, we share everything. We’ve already figured out who we’re going to call when we need someone to come remove the mango flies from our asses if and when we get them lol... Knock on wood. Not too worry about the blood in the stool though, I’m feeling much better and have found my appetite again haha. My trip to the hospital was an interesting one, I must say... I don’t recall ever being asked to poop in a plastic bag before. I think I was most disturbed when I had to bring in the bag the next morning along with 2 other volunteers having similar issues. We were asked for our samples while sitting in the waiting room in front of everyone. Mind you our bags were clear... enough said. We all laughed about it the entire ride back to the training center.
I must say that there are a lot of things that I miss that I didn’t think I would by being in Africa living as the Africans do. Like a toilet that flushes or a real shower. There is no running water in Bafia. The people here have wells or a “forage” where they fill up buckets of water, for drinking, for laundry, for bathing, for washing food, etc... I consider myself lucky because my host family has an actual toilet as oppose to a hole in the ground. When you look at it in that perspective, pouring a bucket of water down the toilet to flush isn’t that bad. I have almost mastered the bucket bath but that doesn’t mean I like it. Given that it is pretty hot and humid here, pouring cold water all over your body at the end of the day feels refreshing, I have grown to appreciate cold showers now- something I thought would never happen back in the States. That doesn’t stop me from wishing for a “real” shower... I haven’t even started my 2 years and I already miss showers, the real ones.
Bafia is located in the center region, which is as you’ve guessed in the center of Cameroon. We are about a 2 hour bus ride northwest of Yaoundé- the capital. The weather here as I said earlier is very hot and humid, quite the tropical climate. It’s funny how I remember saying that the summer was my favorite season back in the States because I loved the heat, well I may be re-evaluating my feelings toward that preference. I have never sweated this much in my life! I mean I break a sweat just from walking from one side of the house to the other. It’s quite amazing actually to think that I even have that much water in my body. But with the heat there’s always a nice tan that fallows haha.
The food here is pretty interesting. I had quite a variety while in Yaoundé but I couldn’t bring myself to appreciate it much given that I was pretty sick once the vaccinations had begun. I was mostly on a banana and hydrating salt diet. My host family has been slowly easing me into the variety of foods that they have to offer. So the first night I got in they made me a fish, potatoes with some kind of red spicy watery sauce. It was good. I did not realize that here in Africa, the idea of eating everything actually meant everything. So when they served fish for dinner, it was the entire fish minus the intestines. I got lucky and only had the tail end. But I watched the rest of the family suck the head and bones of that fish dry... I really like the fried plantains- they are delicious and really simple to make. I also had the opportunity to try the sugar cane from the yard; one of my host sisters used a machete to chop it off. The use of machetes here are extremely common. I was surprised that it didn’t take me much to convince myself not be alarmed when children would walked by me holding their machetes over their shoulders. I’m more afraid of the hand size spider that sits in the bathroom watching me take my bucket bath at night then the people in the streets headed to the fields with machetes haha. Anyway, so I never thought I would say this but I think I’m contemplating vegetarianism hahaha. A side from the fish, I have not liked any of the meat here and I haven’t even tried bush meat yet. I will try everything and I’d rather know what I’m eating after I have already swallowed it. I love the eggs and bread. They're fantastic! I’ve even discovered that they have chocolate that taste just like nutella!!! I know all you nutella fans out there know how happy that makes me! They also have these interesting patisseries that’s a cross between a donut and fried dough and you can find them almost at any market, bar or persons selling them in the street. They serve a crap ton of potatoes which are good too. I’ve tried the manioc which is a particular taste but I enjoy it. The fruit here is amazing, its all fresh!! It’s pineapple season so I have been getting my fair share of fresh pineapples. We have also been finding bananas, avocados, mangos and prunes.
So I have made a few friends here within our training group. There are 42 trainees; half of us are in the education program (ED) teaching English, computers or science. The other half are in the small enterprise development program (SED). We are all roughly the same age ranging probably from about 21 to 44 and I’d say that there’s an even amount of male and female trainees and we have 1 married couple. For the same amount of time that we've spent with each other I feel as though we grown fairly close. The trainers have told us that we are a dynamic and strong group, which is encouraging to hear. I think by the 3rd or 4th day in Yaoundé we all felt that we got lucky with or group. We all get along, everyone seems to be strong in their own way and best of all, everyone has an awesome sense of humor.
We generally have a very busy week, which isn’t surprising considering the integrating process Peace Corps has been putting us in since basically Philly. It’s been such a rapid process that we haven’t had time to blink never mind even think about what’s going on. We went to a nice comfortable hotel in Philly with air-conditioned room, fluffy pillows and queen size beds with a big bathroom, hot water shower, big tv and a nice view- to a “nice” hotel in Yaoundé where the shower pressure was non-existent, cracked ceilings, occasional flushing toilet, 2 beds for the lucky ones and a hallway mirror- to our home stay: total immersion. I think the way they did it was good; they threw us into it without us really noticing what was going on. I mean, now that I think about the conditions we had in Philly or even in Yaoundé I see a tremendous difference but I’m not complaining. I am quite happy with my experience so far. Don’t get me wrong, it’s difficult but it’s only going to get crazier...
Usually we have classes Monday through Friday 8-430 and Saturday 8-12. Sunday is usually chore day and church with the family so that tends to start at 6am. You want to get an early head start on that laundry. When you’re washing it by hand it takes more than 30mins and if you’re me, it’ll take you 2 hours to hand was everything then hang up to dry. We have a 7pm curfew every night, with the exception of a planned party with an extended curfew. We are generally allowed out after that as long as were with our host family and we text our training director our whereabouts. Our evening rituals usually consist of 1-2 beers given that’s what PC allows us. Mostly, we just go to the bar to relax after the day. Some drink, some eat pain au nutella and some just sit around and socialize. We also use this time to go to the market to buy food, clothes or other items that we can bargain prices with. I was a total success in Yaoundé, when I talked the guys into selling me a pack of Marlboro for 1000CFA when he tried to sell it to me for 7500CFA. (500CFA = $1). So for those of you that were wondering, during training we get a stipend every 2 weeks of 40,000CFA (which is very manageable, things are relatively cheap here). We swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers on the 17th of August then head to post the following day. I don’t know how much we will be getting paid yet.
PAINTING A PICTURE
I’m going to try to put pictures up on facebook so everyone can see what Cameroon looks like because it is so different that it’s difficult to describe. It’s very colorful. Yaoundé has red dirt, not too many trees given that it is a city. Lots of pedestrians, cars, moto taxis. People everywhere. It’s nothing like a city you would see in Europe or in the States. Our bar in Bafia consists of a shack with a cooler for the beer, soda and water and crackers, cookies, bread and cigarettes that surround the clerk. The infrastructure is terrible. The roads are there in most places but they don’t seem to have been finished, they just kind of stop on either side. People sell food, phone credit, random clothing in little shacks on the sides of the street. For the most part Cameroonians are super friendly especially when they hear you speak French. They like that.
Training is pretty intense; I won’t spend too much time talking about it because it’ll probably bore you guys. We have 2 main training houses that we study, work and have seminars in. They are both pretty run down but they have the essentials. The teacher training course is held in the lycee bilingue (the bilingual high school). The SED trainees stay at the main training house which we also call the SED house. Now when I say high school, it’s nothing like a high school in the states. This is literally chunks of cement buildings with holes on the sides as windows... super run down. But it works for us. I have a couple pictures but it’s so difficult to upload them because of the internet connection we have here. I will try to go to the internet cafe or at the SED house on or wifi days given that we don’t lose power- which is very common in Bafia. Anyway, so we begin practice training with real students the 1st week of July and I’m super nervous. Today we just had our 15 mins presentation on our lesson plan. I must say I was rather impressed with myself considering my public speaking skills, the trainers were happy with my English lesson ha. Tomorrow we get to find out where we are going to be posted for 2 years and I cannot wait to find out. This weekend we leave Saturday for site visits all week.
Site visit is where we head to our post for the week with our counterpart and meet the volunteer that we are replacing (if we’re replacing one), meet our future colleagues, explore the community, open a bank account etc...
THE BAFIA FAMILLY
So a little about my host family… I have a mother; Micheline and a father; Divine. The father is an English teacher for elementary and secondary school and also attends classes at the university in Yaoundé. He travels a lot so I don’t see him much but when he is home we usually have interesting conversations about Cameroon’s culture, history, climate and Bafia’s community. Politics are off limits, PC discourages any particular involvement since the presidential elections are coming up and voicing an opinion might give the Cameroonians the wrong idea about what we are doing here. Micheline is mostly a stay at home mom but also works at a salon (a wooden shack in the neighborhood- I have yet to see her work in it) She usually is crazy busy doing other things such as working the field, (it’s almost corn season) cleaning the house- and when I say cleaning the house it’s tough labor. They have no such things as vacuums or mops, they’re on their hands and knees with rags- Cinderella style. She also does laundry, fills the buckets with water to leave near the bathroom or kitchen. Sunday morning’s Divine and Micheline play basketball and go running at 6am before church. I get up around 630-7am everyday and she’s up feeding the pigs or doing something. Makes me question her sleeping habits because she is usually up when I go to bed around 930 as well. I also have 3 sisters living at the house Brenda who is 13, Melvin I believe is 10 and Onya who is 6. They have a 16yr old sister that’s staying next door because I took her room- she’s got a tude (like all 16yr olds but she likes me- thank God haha) And there’s the oldest son who I met last weekend. He is in his 3rd year at the university in Yaoundé and came to Bafia for a short visit. I interact mostly with Brenda, Melvin and Onya, they have so much energy and are so curious about everything. When I gave them the Boston Red Sox towel they played with it for 30 mins, along with Micheline because they thought it was so beautiful. It’s amazing to see people appreciate things like that, that you wouldn’t really see in the States.
Let me just tell you a little bit about their cooking arrangements... They have a tiny ass kitchen inside and a more convenient one outside where I’ve watched them cook fish, corn, eggs and plantains... sanitary? Questionable. At least it’s cooked over the fire and I just tell myself that the germs have been burned off, no biggie, it’s like an extended camping trip. I’m planning on cooking them an American style dinner within the next couple of weeks: garlic bread, grilled cheese, pasta with tomato sauce and guacamole (this should be interesting) most other trainees have stuck to pasta and tomato sauce.
Micheline, Brenda, Melvin and Onya have taken me out for walks around town and to the Marché where the usual calls from locals are “oh la Blanche” which I’m getting used to. So far I have bought a couple pairs of flats and earrings for the women in the family (I kinda got suckered into that one). The flats though I needed. Cameroonians are very into the way they dress and it was pointed out previously that flip flops were not acceptable to wear to class, so I needed some nice shoes. I actually bought paigne as well (African fabric which is often used to make clothing) the other day to have some dresses made, I’m really excited to see how they came out. A bunch of other trainees already have a few made and they look nice.