With my aptitude at expressing myself always, self-admittedly, being a work in progress let’s see how I can organize the recent happenings and my current jumble of thoughts into sentence form. Warning: one might end up kicking back and settling themselves in for some reading for this. Post is going really smoothly, though sometimes it seems sometimes I can make two huge leaps forward only to take one gigantic step back. But, such is life you say, no? So here is what you missed in Batouri.
International Women’s Day was March 8. Lots of women were out in the morning to march with their different groups/associations in a parade all wearing their women’s day pagne. This year’s theme in Cameroon, Women: Unavoidable Development Partners. Yes, I know, definitely not one of the more eloquent themes. While Jessica, Jackie, and I didn’t march we sat on the sidelines and watched. The festivities left (yawn) much to be desired, so we passed the time remarking on the different designs in which the women tailored their individual pagnes. If anything was actually done in the way of women empowerment I do not know, but true to form for a fête day in Batouri by the time I joined everybody again in town in the evening all the bars along the street were full of people drinking and dancing. Only difference this time women for once far outnumbered men.
On the home front, I feel very accomplished! From the time I first moved in till now I’ve put in a lot of time ameliorating my house. Unfortunately, now regret a bit not taking that before pic. Although at the time didn’t have fuzzy feelings for it as I was in the midst of deep cleansing, painting, or running away from the frequent spontaneous appearance of huge errant spiders. The last of the things on my original to do list that I saved for, and by no means the least important, was checked off in the purchase of a wardrobe for my clothes. Before all I inherited was a table in my bedroom where I organized my clothes into plastic storage bags. Dramatic difference now as I can actually see all the clothes I own and who knew one could underestimate how much closet organization can do for ones frame of mind at home (especially picking out what to wear) let alone the aesthetics to a room! I called Jessica (a.k.a. neighbor) over as she at the time was the only one who could appreciate it with me. The purchase in the same day of silverware that wouldn’t rust after two uses was only the icing on the cake.
If there is luck in this world, then where phones in Cameroon are considered I have none. Almost ten months in and I’m on five and counting. To put that in a little perspective, my post mates are still on their original phones and I just replaced my fourth a month and a half ago. My first had bad sound quality, second sadly stolen in the incident in Kribi, third screen cracked, and fourth screen just went white when I plugged it in. Permit me to vent a little more in this misfortune in that the last two phones broke in extremely similar situations. They both broke in the evening and I started off the very next morning flooding my kitchen by forgetting that I was filling up my water reserves. The first time this happened I had by the end of the morning one of the worst ones I have had a post yet. So by the time this happened again a month and a half later I made sure there were different outcomes. Frankly, that was not hard at all. The first go around did not start just with a broken phone and flooded kitchen, but also with a deluge of harassment in the form of Nassara/La Blanche (white person) one-liners (i.e. “take me to the states with you”, “I love you”, “give me money”, “you are my wife”, “you will have my kids”, etc.) while trying to eat breakfast at the omelet shack, a crazy person following me up and down the street yelling at me while trying to buy a phone, a group of guys making fun of my French while purchasing it, and a project that I worked hard on for two months literally fall apart in the span of an hour. I had by lunchtime vacated my town and thankfully there was electricity so I cheered myself up by barricading myself behind the compound walls where I get internet and connected with the world by talking with people back home :).
Most amusing for me as been, as the Anglophones say here, making sport. Last month I started running again after too long an absence. Knee so far is holding out! Talking about this at my bank inspired the accountant Abdoulaye to join me. Soon after that two other guys at my bank joined in. My director has even been known to drop by occasionally for a run around the track with us. It doesn’t stop there. Jessica even was convinced to join. So what started out one has now become a consistent five. Jackie runs too but prefers the solo trek. I’ve even become a bit lazy on the days when Abdoulaye can’t make the sport since he comes and picks Jessica & me up on his moto. After running, Abdoulaye now leads out in stretching & ab work, even members of the community join in with us occasionally since there are several people that run each morning at the track. Thus, ironically, unintended side project – getting my bank fit.
Speaking of keeping in touch, I have realized that at this stage of the game it has become very important, if nothing else but for my mentality and to abate any onset feelings of homesickness. When I joined the Peace Corps all I asked for was a francophone country. There was no control over being chosen for Cameroon and thus Batouri. Post lends itself to my personality well enough, however sometimes the East leaves me a bit frustrated. In this instant, the social access to people with a similar language and culture. Volunteers are very spread out and travel difficult. Picture a red dirt, dusty African road lined with the occasional small red mud brick villages along the route and that’s what I travel every time I leave post. 90k with public transportation takes me with luck a minimum of two and a half hours (record still stands at five and a half). We are eight here in the East. Three in Batouri, two in Bertoua (regional capital) then rest are scattered around by themselves in small villages. These difficulties have recently sometimes resulted in feelings of, what would that be…remoteness? Don’t get me wrong, I love the opportunity this gives me for integration, both culturally and linguistically. That’s why I came and I do put lots of effort into this. However, it’s the feelings of remoteness that come when there are sometimes now at almost ten months in when I just want to be well understood, being open and social without regard to cultural faux pas or potential nuisances from guys. To see the nearest volunteer is 90k to my right and 120k to my left. I have two post mates, but yet, I have only those two post mates. Fortunate to have them for they will in the end be the only ones who truly understand it here and we get along well. I’m closest with the volunteers that are four hours on either side of me.
So what am I going to do about it? I’ve decided to save for an internet key so I can get internet from home at any time. All that is required is battery power on my computer. I’m living out day to day in this rural community and it’s nice to be connected with the outside occasionally. I have been getting it for free and was very inclined to continue this from an American who owns a tobacco company here; however, electricity for the last month and a half has been cutting almost every morning and coming back every night. Great that I can charge things at night, but it ruins any chance at internet. Most stable internet is towards the end of each month when I head to Bertoua for banking and picking up supplies. Once a week at internet guaranteed, twice lucky, three times is virtually unheard of. Just looking for some stability. Hek, sometimes I decide to squander the precious time and indulge myself by uploading photos to Facebook –1 & ½ hours for 5 photos! Besides grad schools applications are coming up soon—eek.
If I have not found a stable project outside of my bank yet, it is definitely not for lack of trying. The mentality of people here can be difficult to work with. I knew this from site-visit and was well-informed and encouraged by my director and other Cameroonians before moving to post. The most well-known characteristic/ of the local ethnic group that inhabits this area is their love of leisure time, or more bluntly, laziness. I’ve made countless attempts, however the feasibility of the project or the commitment level of the people has left me occasionally discouraged but my persistence is (crossing fingers) paying off in the way of an agroforesty/business venture. Logging is a huge industry in the east. We know the owner of one of the biggest logging companies who resides here in Batouri and he collaborates with a few NGO’s in a reforestation project. They are teaching me all about reforestation. Letting me come and spend time at their tree farm where they start as roots and going to their plantation to see how they are planted. I also am working with a few agricultural co-ops in writing a business plan so they can find the necessary financing for seed money to be able to grow crops at the tree plantation.
Home is on the horizon…56 days and counting! It will be a week full of wedding festivities, wonderful company, and delicious food. Then it’s on to three days of relaxation, sightseeing, and more yummy food in Zurich before heading back to Cameroon and the start of my second year!
P.S. Well I tried for internet earlier this week to post this, and I was about upload it when I fell victim to a massive power surge. That’s right power cord is fried! A new one is already on its way but until then no power cord means no computer means no internet. Sure I wanted to cry as I saw it going up in smoke, but really I’m laughing now as I post this in Bertoua. I’m laughing mainly at the irony to which I was blogging about earlier! Oh well, whats done is done. Welcome to my African life, lol!