Thursday, June 30, 2011

Homeward Bound

If I can only say all what I wish, but here goes...

So, what happens when you live in Africa and one of your best friends whom you have known since sixth grade gets married? No question, I go home! This couldn't be yet another one of those photo updates on facebook I constantly see that I wasn't apart of. The journey included an overnight flight to Zurich, a 12 hour flight to San Francisco, and then a hour flight into Ontario, CA. The dusty ruralness of Batouri to the crowded, organized metropolis of Southern California was an immense jump, but once your're home, it's home again immediately and it feels like you never left:). Cameroon seemed far away, although went through major deja vu for the first few days. Best moment on the trip home besides being welcomed by my entire family at the airport was going through customs in San Francisco and being greeted by scenic montages of the USA on tvs followed by random Americans on those same screens saying "welcome to the united states of America!"

As soon as I landed, things kicked off right away! First morning I was up at 3 am. Coming from Eastern Cameroon where the supply of food can be lacking in diversity, I went to entertain myself in those early morning hours by making some tea and rooting through the fridge. I opened the refrigerator a good 20 times getting excited over foods such as a bag of carrots, blueberries & strawberries, feta cheese, and cereal!

Though I was too happy to worry about any reverse culture shock, in the short time I was home I did notice I complained a lot less. Coming from a tropical climate with no air-conditioning, I never thought to complain of the heat and in fact found myself bundling up in restaurants or turning it down in the car. My sense of vanity has changed. My beauty regime is a very simple one. That of slathering on lotions to combat the sun and constantly having to wash some form of sweat or dirt off my body. For me feeling feminine is wearing a piece of jewelry and a dash of perfume. It doesn't really differ from that. Getting a mani/pedi, haircut, daily wearing some form of makeup, blowing drying my hair, and dressing in clothes I could never wear a post felt a bit of a luxury. Though on the other hand, being back in an environment where people were much more occupied with it than I'm used to was a bit of an adjustment. Also I had to constantly fight not to litter and feel terrible about it the first few months in Cameroon, but now the role reversal was I had to fight my first inclination to roll down the window and throw trash out!

I will feel regret if I do not mention how much I was impressed and overcome by the immense support I received from my family and friends while home, both from near and far. Although I may be tucked in a rural corner of the world, it was refreshing to know that I was not forgotten and in the short time home it seemed I was able to step right back into my life. Those fears were definetly quenched. There were many interesting questions and a lot of people asking for stories. Everybody was very encouraging and understanding that to live on her own for two years in Africa is just something crazy enough Janelle would do.

Two frequent questions I received: "Are you having fun/excited to go back?", and "would you do it all over again?" I was excited to go back. Refeshing to be home and to share my experience with friends and laugh and be teased about everything from coming home and finding my trash spread across my front yard, my inability to keep a camera, and even some of the harassment I receive. It made me realize that this really is all an adventure, so enjoy it as much as possible! Its not forever, a unique experience to see first-hand this way of life, and there is definelty stories to be told! Reconnecting with family and friends and receiving their support I know will help me through the most difficult part of this experience - the ruralness/isolation that living in Batouri can sometimes bring.

I have never regret coming. Not always a cakewalk, but overall enjoying myself. Great experience in life to have. Would I do it all over again? If I was going to be a new volunteer most definetly. However, I feel after my second year of this I will be ready to move on to something different. Something a bit less remote with an easier connection home. True fact, those grad school applications have been started!

And here is the awesome time that was home (unfortunately its a summary not everything. Loading pictures took more time than I had so I had to resort to pulling the lazy card. To see me salsa dancing, bachelorette partying it up, and with other friends out and about thats just have to be left for facebook) ...

Too many people to see, too little time! Hosted a dinner party and here are some of my wonderful friends who could make it who were in the area. My friend Andrea offered to bring dessert. Knowing her love of cooking delectable desserts didn't hesitate to accept the offer, but never imagined her showing up with these cakes!

Some of the thoughtful things I was welcomed home with. The cake toppers to the now deflated balloons that greeted me at the airport and a bouquet of flowers from Adeline. My mom once asked me to choose a charm that would make her think of me. I chose a U.S. passport.

The wedding was up in the mountains behind where I live. On the ten day forecast everyday was warm and sunny, save for the actual day of the wedding - cold and drizzly. Thus ceremony was moved indoors. Luckily things cleared up and the sun came out in time to take pictures. Gave it a try at curling my hair and wearing high heels for the first time in over a year! My parents were also in attendance.

Wedding, check! Time for relaxation, I think not. I passed the rest of my time at home making sure I got to eat what I wanted and see who I wanted. Not an easy task! I enjoyed a social life that was dramatically different then what I have been used to, but I was busy, busy, busy. Options to do in the evening?! Weird. I did make it to the beach :D Important things to notice in this picture besides the beach, the fact that I am wearing shorts and something white!

I miss having places to go to where I can chill out, study, read a book, etc. Places that aren't bars or a place that draws a lot of attention to me. Here I am with Menaka, one of my best friends, enjoying a long overdue catch up chat over coffee.

Then before I knew it, time to head back. Had with me some good food, supplies, and a replaced camera and computer! Geared up again for several long hours of travel, but was able to have enough of a layover in San Francisco and my Uncle Jeff free at the moment from work that he was able to pick me up and take me out for lunch. Right before another 12 hour overnight flight back to Frankfurt, on the Airbus 380 (largest passenger plane in the world!).

But, wait! Vacation wasn't over just yet. It being my fourth time passing through the Zurich airport, I decided what better time then the present to go out and explore the city. As you can imagine, in this experience Zurich will always hold special memories. Both going to London and home it was the first and last development I have seen. It was a good choice. Zurich was a fun time. For all that I have lived in Europe, I was happy to finally be seeing it in summer! Sightseeing, eating at outdoor cafes, lounging in parks, meeting a lot of people from all over the world, retail-therapy at my favorite European stores. Best place to meet people? At a pub wherever there is a football (soccer) game. This time it was Switzerland vs. England. Brought my camera out for a bit of the adventures.

Needed proof it was me taking the photos! Although at this point up 30 hours and counting and trying the technique of staying up and waiting till dark to sleep - well, I hit the pillow hard just a few hours after this was taken.

Then it was back to Cameroon. Not even an hour back in Yaounde and I made my way over to greet the new SED/ED training group who were staying at the exact same hotel I was a year ago when my training group first arrived. They were asking me a lot of questions and it was weird to seem the expert! My advice to the newcomers, keep a sense of humor, don't be too hard on yourself, and try your best to stick through the initial frustrations-they will pass. Now with a year under my belt the second year advice to myself is to get out of post, as much as possible. I feel accomplished and happy to have taken the first year to be at post learning french, becoming well integrated, and finding work so I can feel I have contributed and left something behind for Batouri. Fabulous. Cheers to hopefully the hardest part of this experience being behind me! Now when i'm at post I can benefit from all of that grunt work. However this experience is really what you make it, and now its time to experience more of Cameroon!

Happy Canada Day!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

So you want to join the Peace Corps...

The following link is to a video that has gone Peace Corps viral on volunteers facebooks all over, definetly so in Cameroon. I wanted to share this with you all, but as to not be yet another person who posts this on facebook, I will avoid that and go straight to the blog. Its entertaining because its pretty true. Many of you who I keep as regular contact as possible with will recognize some of these, uh, challenges/experiences, haha. Being sick, just wanting to help, keeping a journal for a bit,internet, making it through a day, projects going down! So I thought to share with you my lovely friends and family just how life can sometimes be in Cameroon for a Peace Corps Volunteer put to the words in a youtube videdo called "Poop in a Hole" by Pacific Love from Peace Corps Vanuatu. I myself have a toilet at my house (but have used many latrines) and it made the African homeowner in me very proud when I finally got a toilet seat that didn't break the first time I sat on it!

Because i've proven myself not technology savy and the slowness of internet against me, i will just post the links and see what happens. You might have to go search for it from the link given. So enjoy, and I hope you find it amusing as we do here in Cameroon!

Yep, life is not too different ;) ...

So on a random note, a Kenyan/Brit visiting Batouri while in town to see Ed's tobacco company awhile back gave me a phrase in terms of African colonization that I repeated to a volunteer today. That the English left an institution, France a language, Germans left buildings, and the Belgians...disaster. The Cameroonian among us agreed and it sparked quite interesting a discussion. So far from what i've learned/seen from living here where Cameroon as been colonized by three out of those four countries I can't disagree with that. So I promise more blogs coming soon than just the once a month! Summer travel is keeping me busy, but I am now equipped with a new computer and internet key :D