Friday, June 11, 2010

My First T.I.A. Experiences

First off, T.I.A. stands for This is Africa. Meaning the experiences/moments I have that let me know where im at. After meeting and driving home with my host family they showed me all around the house. There is running water and for the most part stable electricity if it doesn't rain since it rained alot that first night and all the electricity went out. The house has a kitchen, but there is a place outside kind of like a covered shack where they were cooking my first dinner of fish and spaghetti. (Here fish meaning literally the whole fish, which was the second time ever i've eaten it like that!) On a cultural note, a lot of people here eat the heads of the fish, their eyes and yes sometimes even the bones apparently for the calcium. As required by the Peace Corps my room has a door with a lock, a screen on the window, mosquito net, bucket for bucket showers, some starter toilet paper, kerosene lamp, bed, matress, pillow & sheets. Because I understand better than I speak i'm afraid that they thought with the few things I was able to speak I was much more fluent than I really am. My host mother has since confimed this saying I understand very well but have trouble being able to converse back. After dinner which is normally around 8 I just couldn't take anymore in. I retreated to my room and felt the first true pangs of lonliness. Not being understood is very hard. A few tears came before I told myself that i'm exactly where I to be. A call to my mom, which consists of me "beeping" her (letting it ring twice then hanging up so she can call me back and its free for me) helped resolve this isolation feeling and I was able to go to bed with no problems. The next day we debriefed about the first night with our host family. Alot of people went to bed around 7 and we were told we should always be prepared for awkwardness the first night which made me feel better. So here they are, my first T.I.A. experiences:

1. Making sure my mosquito net is down and tucked into my mattress atleast two hours before I go to bed and then making sure i've done everything necessary before crawling into it at night.
2. Waking up to rooster's crowing every morning
3. Getting a page/ handout that describes how to use the toilets here (in short always bring a bucket of water with you)
4. Having no fear about discussing bathroom issues
5. Lying in bed in a skirt & sports bra fanning the sweat away while charging my laptop with a regulator the size of a shoebox.
6. The first couple of mornings my brother Jerry would walk me to school and pick me up afterwards. One morning I fell in front of him and scraped my knee on the dirt. C'est mon première blesseur (sp?) en Afrique!(my first wound in africa!) I said this to him to say a joke but of course to also keep my pride intact :).
7. Bringing my own waterbottle to the dinner table because its water that has been boiled and filtered.
8. Killing my first bug(and thankfully the only one so far)in my room and not freaking out about it like I thought I would.
9. Seeing a family of five on the same motorcycle. Two parents with three children with a little baby near the handlebars all dressed up to go to church...of course with no helmets.
10. My family and I getting a good laugh/bonding over watching this American learn to wash her clothes by hand in a bucket of water for the first time.
11. Washing my underwear by hand in a bucket when a chicken strolled by.
12. Asking where to throw something out and being told to just put it on a trashpile on the ground outside.

Things i'm glad to have brought:
1. Camping towel
2. Solar headlamp
3. Pillow from home!
4. Small mirror to put on my desk when getting ready in the morning

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fast Forward

Life is very different. If I was on top of things I would have kept a journal thus far to give an accurate picture of all I have seen and done. This time last week I had already left home but was still in orientation in Philadelphia. With all that has happened, I feel its been so long since I left. Fast forward the sadness of saying goodbye to family, friends, and yes even my dog Wali. Fast forward seeing some historical sights in Philadelphia, Peace Corps orientation, meeting other volunteers, getting my yellow fever shot, 2 hour bus ride to JFK, and a frantic search as to the whereabouts of my mom to say goodbye before I left the states. Fast forward through a sleepless flight to Brussels, starting to freak out and get nervous in the Brussels airport, passing out on the plane to Cameroon, having a first impression of Africa being of two different colors red and green. Fast forward the first night in the hotel where everybody was in some way or another freaking out about something. Fast forward through the weekend of language tests, of which I placed intermediate-mid (the minimum needed for successful completion of training), through painful shots of typhoid, hepatitis, and menigitis (only 6 more required shots to go!) Fast forward through medical and safety lectures, a cultural dance event (our first official chance to do something besides being shuffled between the hotel and PC office), through a dinner at the country directors house for which the U.S. Ambassador was present.

This for the most part gets to the present. Yesterday they bused us all to Bafia where we are training for the next 10 weeks. When we arriwed,they announced the host family and then called out the name of the trainee who they belonged to. We met in front of everybody and depending on who was present we gave each family member three small hugs rotating sides of the face, kind of like three kisses on the cheek. My family has 8 people, they told me to expect 6 but well this is Africa there is no suprise to see more. They dad Celestin is a nurse, the mom Lydie is a drugstore assistant. In family terms,Jerry is my brother he is 19 and so far my main host. He haswalked me to training and picked me up and even helped me cook my breakfast this morning. My cousins are Elvis, Sandrine, and Epiphane 22,20, and 11 respectively. Anne is my big sister who is 25 that I have yet to meet. Well 5minutes now remaining on my internet so I must end this, it was rushed but I hope understandable. More on Bafia, training, my awkward first night with my African family, and this new life to come soon now that I have internet!