Sunday, May 22, 2011

Will Work For Sanity

After about another four months, i've again left the east and am now waiting in Yaounde for vacation to begin! All this has got me thinking of the past few months and I think i'll make this post a bit of a reflective one. Now that i'm a year in, I look back and organize it into different 3/4 month segments. My arrival and training in Bafia where I lived with a host family. Then my first few months pre-vacation/London at post adjusting to living on my own, the culture, language, etc. And, post-vacation/London finding work and pre-vacation/home. Confusing? If I could spend 24/7 induldging myself in cultural integration I would be just as happy but unforunately it doesn't work like that. So, I spent these last few months snuggling into post, expanding my friendships, and going on the hunt for work to help occupy my time. Coming in and being told by my predecessor that this wasn't a post where one could really find work and another volunteer was being transferred from the east because she apparently couldn't find work, well if you know me, you know just how much that challenge made me have to proove them wrong! And that was my past few months...

Being a more seasoned volunteer, I can advise any future volunteers to expect many projects to fail. I'm on four or five now. I knew this but its always the first one thats a bit hard, especially one with potential. It was a mango fruit-drying project with CAR refugees to give them some income to be able to not just sit around and wait for all these aid organizations to give them food. I realize now it probably was just a bit too ambitious for a lone PCV. Unfortunately, the timing of the service of a SED volunteer with mango season and the requirements for funding meant it couldn't qualify for any. Thus, if anybody wants to start one of the first fruit-drying projects in Eastern Cameroon there is a project proposal & buget awaiting them!

I gave my bank several ideas for projects, all of which were accepted. However, when I would go to start any my director/counterpart just kept switching them up on me and changing the ideas so that they became so watered down I got tired of it and decided to focus on looking around town for projects. Great idea but, in an area not known for its work ethic and me being a women, a bit of a challenge. Some lost interest when they found out they had to do work, I wasn't guaranteeing finance, or was not going to date any of them.

"Janelle, you can help me with my business?" Ok. For a couple days write down what you sell and buy so we can get an idea of your cash flow and then maybe a list of your expenses to get a rough idea if your even making a profit because your money in between stacks of fabric not the most accurate way. Coming back after a few days, it didn't suprise me to see nothing written down. "Ah, thats too much work, i've been operating this business for several years and been fine. Why should I write it down?" If I can't convince them, I try to just direct them places where they can focus on saving the money they do have.

"So, you're a small economic development volunteer, that means you come with money, right?" Enough said. Its become really easy for me to tell now the projects where people are just wanting money. I've seen $$$ signs going off in some heads and I've listened through several crazy project ideas because of it. Business isn't just how to get financing but also improving what you've already got.

" Are you married?" Yes sir, I am. Community people come into the bank all the time and I've come to know many people. While harrassment on the street i've grown accustomed to, having people pull me aside to talk about projects but in reality do nothing but the sort but tell me they love me, no thank you. No, me asking the ages of your five kids doesn't mean I want to hear that I please you. That even though your wife lives in the northwest would I go out with you. Or for that matter let you work with me just so I can take you to America. A recent aha moment, for a woman realizing best possible way to work...women & children.

In truth, its all about who you know. Not to be said arrogantly, but I did rely on my strength of networking. Knowing the head of a logging company put me in touch with a reforestation project. I've helped oversee the planting of about 9,000 trees there while helping the agricultural co-ops that work the land to find financing to plant in between the trees which turn apparently helps the soil. Lesson learned: living 4 degrees away from the equator means the sun is stronger than you think. Take every precaution necessary! Sad to have seen that all the trees couldn't be planted since we've not really experienced a true rainy season. Sigh, climate change.

I'm in town alot if not at the bank but hanging with friends. Sitting in my friend Baba's fabric store watching with others on TV the speech of the newly elected Benin President, I was explaining the concept of marketing to one of them. With this I realized that my french could hold out for a presentation. Now, I will be going into the meetings of the bank's associations that are made up of business people and presenting various business topics. Being in town also brought me in touch with dutch ex-pats visiting from Batouri's sister city in Holland. They introduced me to several of their projects, one of which is a lady who runs an orphanage for kids who are handicap (mentally or physically). They either have no parents or their parents don't want the responsibility of taking care of them. Teaching around 15-20 African kids english starting with the alphabet keeps me wholly entertained (since grammar is mostly excluded & games abound!), and i'm profiting from my sisters experience in child development to help me design activities for them.

Exploring Batouri, also put me in touch with the UN World Food Program there. Until recently I wasn't even aware it existed. I wasn't sure with the UN backing if it would be possible, but it was one of my easiest projects yet! It didn't take much to convince them, and upon returning from vacation wil, through the aid of an interpretor (me into french them french into fulfulde), try to teach the farmers of a program the WFP finances how they can market their products, make budgets, etc.

Well in a way, thats 3 1/2 months in a nutshell. It is also not to say oh look at me and my work, but for me to share my accomplishment of hard work and offer potential ideas for incoming SEDers! This is not to be said all these projects will work there is still a kernel of truth in the stereotype, however now a year in i'm comfortable at post, i've got some work...let the second year begin! Too those of you who've heard me vent the frustrations, just saying thanks. And now...vacation! How many days now? Wait, what? Is that a plane at the airport I see with a seat that has my name on it?????