Sunday, December 18, 2011

Walikonis Goes African

And then the parents came to Africa!

I remember when they were ready to purchase tickets as soon as I came to Cameroon to arrive for New Years only seven months later. Thats when we decided on London instead. Upon my insistence they waited to come. I told them many times over visiting towards the end of my service would be beneficial to us both. Me more established in every way, which in turn would help make their trip more enjoyable. Well as my service is fast approaching its close and almost being able to count the remainder of months on one hand, my parents did express after visiting me how they now understand why I made them wait. I can't encapsulate their decision to wait and my place/mentality/growth at post any other way then these two pictures.

Here is what they would have found...

but now is much more improved.

And now their visit in their own words (any added thoughts I have will be italicized)...

As Janelle promised, here is a blogpost from her parents following our trip to Cameroon.

We arrived in Yaounde on Nov 20. We did not rent a car, but Janelle hired a private driver for the duration of our stay. We were quite thankful for three reasons: 1) The only traffic law that we could observe was that cars drove on the right-hand side of the road. Other than that, it seemed that it was a free-for-all as respects how you got around, either on the road or in town. If there was room for your car to fit into a space, then you took that space. You just made a lane for yourself if that got you ahead. 2) the unpaved roads are horrible! There is no road maintenance and the ruts are deep, and 3) the busses are amazing for how many people are packed into a bus (three people in a two-person seat), and all the belongings are strapped to the top.

Welcome to Eastern Cameroon Parents! 10 K out of Batouri and they chanced upon their very own logging accident. The truck didn't gain enough momentum going up the hill. Where you see the car coming out is where our own car passed through moments later.

The bus company in Batouri full of "prison buses"

The first day of our visit we visited the Peace Corps office, meeting some of the staff and some volunteers who happened to be there. It is clear the staff take good care of the volunteers! While in Yaounde we stayed at the home of the Director of the British Council and his wife. Janelle made friends with them during the Embassy party this past summer. We spent that afternoon buying fabric to make clothes. We were impressed to see how noticeably improved Janelle's french has become when she was discussing prices. Even the Cameroonian friend showing us around Yaounde remarked how she was better than him at haggling!

The next day we headed to Janelle’s post in Batouri. This is in the eastern part of the country.

We spent four days in Batouri. The first day there we went with Janelle to her malnutrition project. Babies were weighed, arm circumference measurements taken, and some powdered meal prepared to send with the mothers. Some mothers were quite young, we figure perhaps 14 or 15. Janelle tried to ask their age, but their response was they didn’t know. Another mother’s child found a large beetle, so she took it home after breaking off the legs to feed her child there. Janelle shared that these beetles are commonly found in the market.

The following day we met everybody at the bank where Janelle has her official Peace Corps job. We dined at the accountant Abdoulaye's home that evening, sitting on the floor. Janelle shared this is something she does quite often in the evenings.

We were guests-of-honor for a celebration organized specifically for our visit one afternoon at the Batouri orphanage where Janelle has spent time with the children. They were quite excited to show us their living area and we spent time dancing with the kids. It was very touching to us both. They had also prepared some short theater sketches for us. Janelle did some english revision with them and we all sang as she led out in teaching them the hokey-pokey. A journalist was there to take pictures, who also interviewed us for the radio about our impressions.

We were excited to have a english nun, another anglophone, come to Batouri! In August, another nun approached me and informed me of her recent arrival and thought she would appreciate the visit. It was a blessing to us both. She shared then she had recently prayed she would like to speak english with somebody and I was not in any place to refuse the company!

We dined on local foods during the day, which appears to be a choice between washed leaves (bitter unless washed very well), legumes, rice, potatoes, plantains and fish. Janelle prepared the evening meals at her home.

Another of Janelle’s projects is to work in a joint effort with the World Food Program with some refugees from the Central African Republic. So Janelle took us into the bush about an hour’s drive from Batouri to meet with the refugees one morning. She discussed in length with them about the organization of a savings group she is starting with them. She spoke in french and her french was translated into fulfulde. During the meeting, men sat on one side and women the other. At the conclusion of this visit, one of the older refugees attempted a marriage proposal for Janelle since her parents were there to bargain with!

After those four days in Batouri, it was back to Yaounde for an overnight stay. We got into a small vehicular accident on the way, where our car sideswiped a van. No real damage was done, but it was interesting to observe the reactions of everyone. All the occupants in the van got out, as well as the five of us in our car. We were told by Janelle and the other PCV in the car with us that this was a typical reaction from Francophones. Everybody talks with big gestures, has something to say, and will say it to anybody listening. Once everyone had their say, we all got back into our respective vehicles and continued on our way. After Yaounde we were on our way to Bafia to meet her “host family.” This is the family she lived with the three months of her Peace Corps training period. We enjoyed more plantains there, spaghetti omletes, and being taken to some of their family where, since we lacked french, entertained ourselves with the children. That night we stayed in a local hotel. There was no water during our stay at the hotel.

The following day we were on the road again, this time to Buea, in the western part of the country. We stayed with Bill and Trixy, who Dawn knew from Loma Linda, CA and who Janelle has made friends with. It appears that this couple is also well known among the Peace Corps. We took a couple of hours one afternoon to the beach town of Limbe so Janelle could show us the black sand beaches. It was very picturesque with Mount Cameroon in the background and the water there was very warm. We enjoyed lunch at the local Wildlife Center where we could eat seated with a view of gorillas.

After a two-night stay in Buea, we drove back to Yaounde to meet the Peace Corps country director. The director was unavailable during our first visit to the Peace Corps office, so this was our chance to meet her. The following day, which was the last day there, we attended a ceremony at the Peace Corps headquarters where the end of service of some of the volunteers is acknowledged. Then off to the airport that evening for our flight home.

We flew on Swiss Airlines through Zurich to get to Cameroon. When we boarded the plane in Zurich on the return flight we noticed a flight attendant who was on our outbound Swiss flight on the 18th. Amazingly, when we passed by him, he told us that he remembered us from the flight two weeks ago! Go figure…

Janelle is doing an awesome work as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She has gone beyond the expected to find projects that help improve the lives of the local population. It was quite impressive to see her influence in the community.

Was very touched to receive this in an email a few days later when they shared with me their impressions of their visit...

We shared with grandpa and grandma that people are people no matter where you go. Everyone has hopes and dreams and wants to be successful.

Your malnutrition project showed us that mothers want their babies to be healthy, but they don't have the means nor perhaps the knowledge of what to do about their malnutrition.

Your World Food Program project showed us that people are willing to cooperate and take direction and the skills of planting crops are common to everyone.

Your involvement with the orphans showed us that even there someone (like Pauline) is willing to lead a program to take care of the orphans. And children there respond in the same way as children in North America; they want and enjoy the attention of others.

Idrissou, Abdoulaye, and your host family showed us that people are truly welcoming.

Your friends who wanted to share gifts with us showed us that your friends truly appreciate your kindnesses to them and wanted to show their kindness to us in return.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peace Corps: "Hardest Job You'll Ever Love"

Because i'm in Yaounde, said goodbye to the parents and am now have time to waste until I go teach the newest SED training group at their in-service training on the beach in Limbe (this was me last year in Kribi), was shown these by other volunteers, and in case you might still wonder what this whole Peace Corps thing is all about. These might help shed some light... Unfortunately only one link worked :(

Life is Calling. How far will you go?

For all the times I have told you this experience has not left me without stories! Seems I've collected quite a few, some very similar to this. Although, I guess i'll wait to see how interested people are to listen to them upon my return. Can you believe it already, just less than four months and i'm already up for my close of service conference! That is where my training group gets together for the last time and Peace Corps Admin starts preparing us to go home. Second year sure flies by.

And the article (you'll have to copy and paste).

5 Reasons Not To Join The Peace Corps: "...the biggest challenges and rewards come from the time spent at home, in the village, with members of the community. It may be impossible to change the world, but living in a tiny corner of it is a reminder that it is possible to change individuals, circumstances and ourselves."

Monday, November 14, 2011


Don't fall off that chair. I too am surprised this is coming so soon after the other one. Internet (in Batouri!)decided to like me and be friendly this week!

Random fact: did you know Eastern Cameroon is where "genetic evidence" suggests the AIDS virus first jumped to humans? I'll leave you science people to explain how that can be proven, but there is/has been a team from Johns Hopkins studying just that in a town about 200 km from Batouri.

In the scheme of Cameroon being “Africa in Miniature”, the East, being as big as it is, includes both savannah and jungle. The Congo Basin starts in the southeast corner of Cameroon and as such there is a lot of forest. This makes logging quite ubiquitous, part of what makes up life as an Eastie, and something you couldn’t help but observe if you are one of the lucky few to venture out this way. As I have said many times, I live on a logging route. One of the few main roads in the East that starts in the Southeast corner of Cameroon by the Congo heads north where it is joined with the road from the CAR before heading directly east (through Batouri) is dominated by these logging trucks. This road remains unpaved save for that 1km strip through Batouri. Dimako (a village in the East) is the crossroads for all these logging trucks coming from Gabon, Congo, CAR, and Cameroon.

I have so many stories I could say about this industry I don’t even know where to start. From its presence by way of logging trucks and their sometimes constant accidents I see, the deforestation that happens, and the reforestation I have helped with. That is to say, if you had no other hint, the clue to know the East is the natural resource wonder of Cameroon is in its perpetual existence. Judging by the amount of pictures taken lately, maybe time it got a special shout out.

A quick snapshot into the beautiful, untouched, wild land of Eastern Cameroon. Batouri I think is around the point where savannah starts blending with jungle. Savannah is above, jungle below. You should go take a listen to the song “Mine, Mine, Mine” from Pocahontas. “A wilder, more challenging country I couldn’t design…in a land I can claim. A land I can tame. The greatest adventure is mine!” I have yet to find anything else that encapsulates this place any better, in my view at least. I really should go out and search some pictures of gold mining.

My latest trip home from Bertoua. This accident is probably the most G rated you can get. Yep, that is my vehicle! We all got out before it attempted to pass. Dry season brings tons of dust and gives me a nice orange glow, but rainy season really makes travel fun (note sarcasm).

And here it is – the notorious logging truck! The biggest logs can only be taken three at a time. Julia and I call ourselves dusty road diplomats.

This is the logging company I worked with on their reforestation project back in March/April. We know the owner who is good friends with Ed. He is a true success story starting from a carpenter to now running one of the biggest logging companies in Cameroon. The trucks drop the logs off before they are moved to be dried and transformed into more of the wood as we know it. I have some facebook pictures up from a visit here back in March, reforestation project and all.

I stole these pictures from Mike. He is the agro forestry PCV coming to Batouri in December. I asked Peace Corps Admin to give Batouri an agriculture PCV and they took me up on that request! Thus as I told him, I decided his destiny. Was overjoyed when he brought up his desire to work on tofu even before I had a chance to tell him I had already decided he was going to do just that on my malnutrition project. Here I was introducing him to people on the reforestation project. The hope is for him to continue on with that since he is more qualified and in the know than I. They just started planting the first of the seedlings that will be transferred to their plantation in April/May.

Time to fête again! This time for the Muslim’s fête du Mouton (sheep). Fêtes are nice because it’s one of those rare days when the attempt is made both to look nice and wear something nice, even rarer to see me with my hair down. One of my survival techniques for Cameroon – quit while ahead. This strategy is applied everywhere. Sometimes I’m having a great day, but I head home before something could go wrong. Or, I’m having a bad day/moment and I head home to shut out Batouri and repose. I’ve been known many a times to be found taking a nap on the mat on the floor in my bedroom. Don’t judge, it’s reliably cool!

This strategy applies to beauty regime. Usually I wash my face, put sunscreen on, pull my hair back and call it good. Then in the evenings wash off whatever dirt or sweat has accumulated put some cream on and call it good. Some of my clothes have become really baggy and stretched out from washing them by hand, but because they are loose and thus I feel make me sweat less I wear them and call it good. Am I venting? You got me. Confession, I have occasionally in recent weeks gone back to pictures from home to remind myself me feeling put together is possible. How Cameroonians can do it, I only admire them more for it!

Making a meal all by myself from scratch for 20 people? Never would have known I could do that until Africa came into my life. Well I would not spend a day and a half in the kitchen just for anybody. Rumor has it my post mate Jessica is getting married to our Cameroonian friend Jupiter. I organized an engagement party for them recently. Of course because I’m hosting lights must go out. True I could have taken a picture of all the guests, but more important to document this labor of love. You know it was yummy when a PCV tells you word on the street is I can make some “kick-ass” Mexican food!

A nothing picture, uploaded just to show you the ambiance that candlelight and kerosene lamp brings to my house and the great group of easties sitting on my couch. Had everybody write down advice for the couple, and my concentrated look is probably trying to figure out how to translate the english into french. The contraire is always easiest!

Parents visit? Its this Sunday! They will be writing the next blog post (you guys promised). We both don't know what we're getting ourselves into ;). Good vibes out for safe travel!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Les Refugees

Let it be said-Africa is an adventure! Yep sure have been confronted with a lot of realities of life in Africa as of late, but I still can’t imagine my life anywhere else at the moment. There is no way around it, death is a poignant topic. One that has obviously not escaped me during my time here. Kind of gnarly, eh? I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to put the subject behind me!

I can't say it enough, the second time around is where its at. Things are flowing smoothly enough that its all moving so fast now I can barely keep up! Never been so in love, so invested, and so established in this experience as I am now. Since I’ve conveyed the challenges of finding work, I thought it time to share some of the fruits of my labor and projects that have been occupying my time. The agriculture and youth development pcvs who arrive in Batouri in December told me they were excited at all the work opportunities I showed them during their recent site visit! Particularly, my favorite project, working with Central African Republic (CAR) refugees. First a little background.

Central African Republic is a mineral rich, landlocked country in central Africa that garners little international attention. The political situation has been unstable as of late. Sometime in the mid-2000s there was an unsuccessful coup d’etat against the president. This launched the country into a kind of war between rebel and presidential forces, which unfortunately caught innocent civilians in the middle. The west and northwestern regions (or those bordering Chad and Cameroon) were particular regions of insecurity. I do not know whose forces were predominantly responsible for what, but in a war it goes without saying the stories left in its wake are anything but cheery.

The Mbororo ethnic group in the CAR is particularly known for owning livestock. In rural Africa, a lot of one’s wealth is in their livestock. It’s what people inherit and plan to pass on to future generations. It’s also what makes up a lot of bride prices. This ethnic group was specifically targeted for just that very reason, and when the entire livestock is seized by force…

As the refugees started coming into Chad and Cameroon in step international organizations such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to process and organize the refugees and the World Food Program (WFP) to provide food for them. This provided for their acute needs and now that that critical stage is deemed over the WFP is focusing on more sustainable development where food is concerned. They sponsor an organization in Batouri to help in its Food for Work program. What that means is the WFP provides the seeds necessary to grow the food, but the refugees and local Cameroonians clear the fields and do the planting. In exchange for the work they are given food rations in place of money. This will continue until the fields start producing crops. In Cameroon, the refugees are placed only in the Adamawa and East regions and I believe they number in the 80,000s.

With the help of this organization in Batouri, now in steps this Peace Corps Volunteer. We have chosen two small villages east of Batouri where the hope is to work with these groups to help teach them how to market some of the crops harvested from these fields. However, my true function has been working with some of the refugees and Cameroonians in these two villages to organize themselves into groups so I can start what are called Village Savings and Loan Associations with them. These are savings associations that allow groups to save and in return give the possibility of credit to its members in villages without any formal banking sector. As the WFP has told me, this falls under their Food for Training program. The East hasn’t been without its challenges, but this work has made me realize how perfectly placed I was in this region to have this opportunity to work with refugees. It’s intriguing work to me and quite the opportunity to sit and chat with them about their experiences that brought them to Cameroon.

Getting set up for food distribution. What's on the menu? Palm oil, salt (maybe sugar I forget), legumes/split peas, and then either rice or corn. This month it was corn.

In the Work for Food program, Katherine works closely with the Refugees and follows the progress of their work. At the end of the month she calculates and adds up how much rations of each item they will receive based on the number of days worked. Everybody sees her first to sign their name before receiving their ticket and standing in line.

Refugees starting to line up. Took this picture before myself joining in and helping measure and distribute corn. Can you imagine living off these types of food rations each month? I don't think you can, I sure couldn't! While I'm like 97.2% against putting the sponsoring country on any aid supplies, I was proud to see my two countries representing! Palm oil - Canada, split peas- USA.

The WFP buildings in Batouri.

A look inside.

Me with the Director of the WFP in Batouri.

Chillin' with Mbororo women en brousse.

The meetings for my bank's business associations are held in members homes. I prepare my presentations beforehand and tape them up wherever available - this time a door in the living room. This days topic was introducing the concept of marketing before diving into talking specifically about product to a women's association that mainly sells food on the side of the road before. In the simplest terms possible, I tried to discuss with them the importance of having a quality product, why its good to differentiate it, and giving examples of improving their presentation/packaging. If you are familiar with the marketing mix, yes Peace Corps in my training did tell us to add an additional 5th "p" here in Cameroon. Personel/employees and customer service, which gets its very own catergory, can always use a boost here! The bank employee who works with the associations told me the animated conversation that followed was a good thing.

Art project for handicapped youth this month - binoculars! Everybody for about 2 months was helping me save up toilet paper rolls.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Face of Malnutrition

Just when I thought my African life couldn’t get anymore surreal....

Second year in Batouri is still going so much better. The constant ups and downs of life here are all part of the game. Nice to feel comfortable, established, and in control of things. A huge majority of it is from deepened friendships and the satisfaction of working on projects. Remember me grumbling about trying to find work and not being able? Who would of thunk I have come to the point I’m actually turning people/projects away. Not this girl of seven months ago that’s for sure! Julia calls me the Carrie Bradshaw of Batouri solely for the reason that when I talk about this town I talk like I am in a relationship with it. We have rough patches, but turns out this place is good for me. Small and quaint enough that I can walk anywhere I need to by foot and have gotten to know a lot of people, yet big enough and with a sufficient mix of ethnicities that I can hide myself and keep some anonymity that my other PCV counterparts who live in villages lose.

Following the theme of constant ups and downs, this past Wednesday was a down and a shocking reminder just how surreal my life here can get. I choose to talk about this because it will do me good not to keep this to myself. It’s also a perfect time to debut my malaria/malnutrition project.

As I shared in my earlier post, Wednesday mornings I am working with a Malnutrition project at the Catholic Health Center. This past Wednesday a mother brought her 2 year old daughter for the second week in a row to be weighed and receive some fortified flour. The week before she was at least moving and crying, however this week she was barely stirring. It was evident to the naked eye this was a severe case of malnutrition. When I picked her up to weigh her she was all bones and my fingers could practically touch – she weighed less than 7 kilos (15ish lbs). Denise, the nurse I work with, saw her and immediately arranged transportation for her to go to the hospital. She asked that I meet them there with my camera so I could document a severe case such as this. By the time I arrived at the hospital the nurses were in the middle of preparing fluids for her to drink to help with her dehydration and hypoglycemia. I was to wait until she had finished drinking those before I could film her unclothed. She started taking slow sips, but less than 5 minutes after starting the nurse told the mother to stop. We all watched in the next few moments as she passed away in her mother’s arms. Sigh, a rough moment. The swell of emotion that first came subsided into shock at what I had just witnessed and the following juxtaposition of seeing a grieving mother holding her child and the nurses carrying on with business as usual.

The mother with her daughter.

Why you ask would I involve myself in this work when I know sad outcomes just as this happen and that breaks my heart to see? Believe me, I’m the first to ask myself. My own answer is a complicated jumble of words. I accept and have seen myself families that truly do not have sufficient funds for food, however I think most of it boils down to the fact that so much of the finality and the irreversible outcome of death can be avoided here. I’m up against mentality, lack of education, and a culture that does not lend itself to good eating habits. If I could be so fortunate for you to visit Batouri I am 100% certain you would agree with me. Not here in Batouri, not a place with a daily, decent-sized market! Some eating customs do not lend themselves to healthy growth. No feeding your child solid food at three months is not good and do not fear your child will not have a taste for the finer things in life if you give him some meat or eggs, etc. Maybe I can persuade some of the people who told me for now the two kids I have seen succumb to malnutrition didn’t do so because it was their destiny. Au contraire sir, stop that order of your second beer and buy some decent food (was said a bit nicer). It’s not destiny or sorcery, but negligence when a kid is dependent on the food you give them.

Well I can’t change the world or Batouri, but here is how I’m going to work to change the views of 30 families. What started as an idea middle of August now officially kicked off as a project this past Saturday. We discussed with 5 community members the purpose of our project and asked that they each find 6 families with kids from 0 to 5 years of age who are at-risk, can really stand to benefit from this help, be open to the idea, and have a willingness to change. We will then take those families, particularly, the women and educate them on two issues, malnutrition and malaria – the highest causes of infant mortality here.

For malaria we will educate them on the disease and what they can do to prevent it. If they do not have access to a mosquito net one will be supplied to them with subsequent visits intended to ensure its proper use. For malnutrition we want to educate them on nutrition and ask what they prepare for dinner and feed their kids and then show them ways of improving this diet. I want to discuss with them proper eating habits over the course of several days and introduce to them examples of nutritious meals. Kids will be weighed on each visit and their progress noted. The next phase of this project will be to then give them the necessary seeds to grow this food. We are getting an agriculture PCV in December and I am waiting on him to help me with this part and to work with him in showing these families how to make tofu - and excellent and easy to make protein source. (Dear future PCV yes I have decided work for you, but feel you might come to appreciate having work ready and at the waiting for you! :) ) Me or the next business volunteer after me can take that tofu and possibly turn it into an income-generating activity. If it happens to grow then from the original thirty there can be thirty more sought out.

Ready to start :) From an idea to reality. Here are all the local Cameroonians I have found to help!

So that's it in a nutshell. What do you think? If you feel it's a worthy project to support there are plenty of ways it is needed! This is the proper place for a shout-out to the Azure Hills Focus Group. It was a pleasure to present to you about my experience when I was home. Not only have you taken me under your wing for a gril you all didn't know and send me regular care packages, but believed in a project I had when it was all an idea. It has allowed me to start this in such a short time. Thank you, you have been a blessing!

Now to end on a not so heavy topic. 'Twas a welcome distraction to have Julia in town. Went through the laborous making of hamburgers for her and these guys who always ask for hamburger nights. As Idrissou always says when we are together like this "on est en famille - we are with family." Not far off, while I have come to know a lot of people in town for the past year this is who I consider family here:).

When Cameroonians shake hands they end it by snapping their two middle fingers together. Not as easily done as you might think. It became my thing and known as my thing that after this snapping of fingers I make all my Cameroonian friends do a "pound-it/fist-bump." I love this picture because it I think it is a pretty accurate capture of our friendship.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Turning 25 in Africa went a little like this...

The weekend before made a special trip into Bertoua to celebrate with Michelle whose birthday was on the 8th. To her credit and my ever-growing opinion of her, she actually wore the birthday sash and pipe cleaner tiara I made her out and about in Bertoua! Though i've seen a lot of crazier things that nobody bats an eye at. This picture is not only to show you this, but also to proove to my mom that short of promising her to burn my jeans my 25th birthday present to myself bought in her honor was a pair that fit.

Was I a bit nostalgic for home? Naturally so. I did wonder what my first-world self would be doing for this particular milestone. Two birthdays away from home now and there are no complaints that the next one will be in America with friends and family there :). On the actual day organized a scavenger hunt with toys, candy, and dyed eggs for the kids of my muslim women friends. Had a wonderful evening with my friend Idrissou who came over to my house with food and presented me with an embroidered/traditional boubou!

For the handicapped youth that I work with i've expanded my lessons not just into english, but art and science as well. On this day it was our first art day so those present decorated nametags as to give me a glimpse of hope in learning all their names. Thanks to birthday packages was able to celebrate my birthday with them as well. Remnants of birthdays past and a birthday sign that has made its appearance at many parties of mine growing up will now be passed on to Batouri's next generation of kids. The young girl squatting in front is deaf and mute, and one of my favorites who has completely stolen my heart.

Waited until the weekend to have a dinner party so Jessica and Julia could both be there. The menu? Philly "cheese" steaks. Africans, at least Cameroonians, will tell you they don't feel its a meal unless there is meat. Being somebody who does not eat a lot of meat nor cooks it at home, I did give myself a mental high five for all the compliments I received for it. Woke up early to be at the meat market first thing in the morning waiting for the fresh meat to arrive and assure the best cut. Waiting for it to arrive, I perused the rest of the meat market. Meaning amusing myself perusing around to see that days daily selection of bush meat. Typical choses to choose among are viper, pangolin, rat, antelope, and bush cats (a.k.a. bushpussy -yes it amuses me too). Monkeys are not as common, but i've seen my fair share of them.

Right before everybody came electricity went out so immediately got the candles and kerosene lamp going. By this time it doesn't even make me skip a beat. Did not mind at all the ambiance of eating dinner with 12 guests in my house by candlelight - though still will be awhile before I think any romantic appeal for it is back!

Lights came back right in time for cake. Yeah for birthday packages, it was yummy! Blew out candles over the writing of Happy 25 J*Nell after being sung happy birthday to in English, French, and Fulfulde. Barka da Sallah to me!

Beautiful birthday bouquet.

Now for an amusing story of how I tried to make the best of male harrasment, but first a bit of a back story. So moved was I from a girl I knew and her, frankly, preventable death last month to malnutrition that I was inspired to search out projects in town that help in its fight. Now every Tuesday and Wednesday morning I am helping the Catholic Health Center in its malnutrition project. Tuesdays are vaccination day and Wednesdays they give out enriched flour and do some nutritional education. Both days the kids are weighed and their arms measured to be able to chart their progress.

Aaannndd now the story. So a man who thinks he is my friend showed up on my porch one afternoon. He wanted to call a photographer to take a picture of me and my hands and feet painted up, but by then it had all washed off. He persisted that he take me out for drink, but I informed him I was really "occupied" with my sister Jessica at the moment. Having to drag her out of my house to proove it. He then took out a 5,000 CFA bill ($10 USD) telling me to use it to buy myself a drink when I was free. One drink is 500 CFA($1 USD)! We argued over my refusal to take it for about 10 minutes on my porch. Me telling him I was uncomfortable about it and him telling me he was offended I didn't take it. The issue was resolved when I told him it would become a donation to a malnutrition project.

So thank you sir. Your derangement allowed me and Denise to buy food and for once not just talk about nutrition but have the ability to demonstrate in front of their eyes that a recipe with a lot of nutritious components is possible!

It was a one pot meal. Can't remember all that went in, but know some of it included the red (unprocessed and still somewhat nutrient rich) palm oil, dried fish, sweet potatoes, peanut butter, and then we cracked eggs in it at the very end. I promise you, it was tasty.

Knowing the back story makes this picture quite amusing to me.

A five month old being weighed. She is now in the care of her aunt because her mom died two weeks after giving birth to her and after her father ran off. Five months old, less than five kilos (12 lbs). She will be placed in the care of another family if this keeps up because her current track is not sustainable.

This boy was being readmitted. He had fallen back into malnutrition (seen by the circumference of his arm falling into the yellow/danger zone), a point the nurses definetly lectured his father on. With this photo you can see the ledger in which I was noting down weights, arm circumferences, etc.

When kids are admitted their height is measured and their extremities (feet in particular) looked at to evaluate if swollen and if so by what degree.

Update (10/1): Since I wrote about this earlier in my Health is Wealth post, thought to come back in to offer a quick update. Julia's 12 year old houseboy Abdul unfortunately continued to go downhill after leaving Batouri. As of this past Monday he is no longer with us. When taken to a better hospital in the CAR he was correctly diagnosed with hepatitis, but by then it was too late. While I can surely vent on my even more lowered opinion of hospitals here, despite everybody's best efforts - particularly mine and Julia's -nothing could be done.

I have found that these kind of things are something I wouldn't mind at all to remain innocent in. Nope, not one bit. In the way that when all is said and done, I think dealing with these situations will be the toughest part of my African adventure here because it's the part that is just not fun. Not fun because i've never been exposed to them in the way I am here, and what's more the hardest part I feel of my experience thus far to convey back to America. These kinds of situations just are not dealt with there or atleast one can find more proactive care. À la santé !