Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Shifting into Second Year

Well its just me at post for the moment. Kind of interesting and a little different to experience Batouri as if I was the only white person. Jessica is coming back from the States and Jackie has now left for good (a little earlier than anticipated having qualified for interrupted service - all because of a little crazy man, but more on that later...) Being back at post and now since having crossed the half-way point, it seems completely bizarre to be saying now that everything is down hill. Merde, how did I get here? Its made me reflect on the year that has been and for the first time go back and read all the blog posts I have written thus far. Its entertaining to especially read the first months where I was wide-eyed and trying to take in everything as it came. Most of that stuff hardly garners a second glance now, which takes a bit of the fun out of it (lol, but thats me saying this now)!

In one year I have moved continents, immediately had to adjust to living with an African host family and soak up a lot of information in ten weeks, moved myself out East, and adapted to the craziness that is travel here. I have worked my way through a million sorts of frustrations establishing myself in Batouri and being one of very few people white people, and dealt with more harrassment than I can mention. Made an African house a home, think a warm bucket bath is a treat when bathing, learned to live without stable electricity or running water, come to enjoy washing clothes by hand, and just accepted that internet might never be stable as I went the first few months without and the last few with having it more freqeuent but for only 10,20, tops 30 minutes at a time. I attempted at climbing a mountain, been robbed at gunpoint(for which a scar on my elbow will always pay permanent memorial to from a dive under a table)and lost my first camera, been to London,and became a brunette - sadly for only like two months, I kind of liked it. Apparently can now carry a conversation in French without needing a dictionary as a clutch, sufficiently gone through enough electronics, and may have pulled out more hair than necessary in the process but found some work, finally. Had my house broken into and lost a second camera, been home, been to Zurich, seen a lot of things I wish I hadn't, and some how along the way unwillingly became a little wiser in the matter of that thing that beats inside all of us and the lengths it takes us. No, never the funnest being the innocent one with the most to lose. Its only a nutshell but there is so much more I can write or can't think of since they don't faze me anymore. Its been a big year of adjustments, hard to believe it can be summarized in such few words.

What's more, i've also met some of the most open, wonderful,and loyal people who have given alot of themselves to welcome and help this stranger out without expecting anything in return. Been treated to the best hospitality, been fed lots of food at dinners until my sides hurt, never not been without protection or help when I needed it, and treated to some of the most nostalgic cultural experiences. One was sharing a hearty laugh with my muslim women friends as they asked me to show them how to tweeze their eyebrows. They laughed themselves silly until there were tears from seeing themselves for the first time in the magnififed side of a mirror. Another was dancing the night away with children who were teaching me African dance moves who also personally took on the task themselves of protecting me from male derangers. Anytime anybody now sees me in Dimako (a village in the East) i'm now referred to as "la femme blanche qui dance avec les enfants". The white women who dances with children.

Now i'm already into my second and final year. Started ticking off my list of "last things at post" with the recent start of Ramadan. Having now been through the big adjustments/ frustrations the feeling is not one of crossing a finish line, but that of letting go of a breath I didn't realize I was holding. Its refeshing to be more relaxed at post where you do things they way you want to do them and not because its what you feel a volunteer should be doing. Any volunteer could tell you this but we all agree one must find it for themselves.

And, i've already started back at work! Taught my first associations this past weekend. I would love to tell you all they were riveted and hanging on every word. Its going to be an interesting challenge trying to convince someone who sells braised fish on the side of the road the importance of knowing your strengths and weaknesses to better market yourself. Although a guy who sells used clothing did ask me what he can do if all he sees are the weaknesses of his business. It may have been a question out of discouragement, but to see me would have been to see me with a huge smile on my face doing an inner happy dance. Where, sir, have you been all this time!? The reaction may sound mean of me, but its a good step just knowing them. And hey that's what i'm here to help them improve on. Those kind of questions will keep me coming back!

In my abscence, one of the girls in the handicapped youth group underwent surgery. Was told that when coming out of the anesthesia this 5 year old girl started repeating some english I had taught them. Saying "Hi, my name is Janelle. What is your name?" or naming off the colors, even purple which was hard for them. How can that not make me proud or pull on my heartstrings. I think this is only the beginning of long and a fruitful relationship!

So I started this blog just as a personal record for myself, it didn't matter that anyone would read this. Although several months ago I added a ticker just to see if anybody was, and turns out someone was! I'm this far in and suprising myself sometimes that i'm still plugging away at this (thank you grandparents for the encouragement on that). Amazed that i've in certain ways come to kind of enjoy this and it turns out to be a big support that people keep tuning in. So thank you. You, you, and yes EVEN you are appreciated :). Whether you've held out since the beginning or joined in along the way, stay on because there are lots more adventures to come. The real fun is just beginning!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Life as of Late

Finally back to Batouri! Nice to be home and be settled. Although to get there was several days of deep cleansing. After an extended absence the outside of my house was like a jungle. Lots of grass in front of it and in the back the grass grown so tall and so thick that some of that vegetation was coming in through the windows! Inside was not as bad as expected but still lots of dust to wipe off and sweep out. Chose the height of termite season to take vacation apparently thus I had lots of sawdust from them munching on my wardrobe to clean up and several coats of liquid insect repellant to apply. Where does one begin to clean? Well if you're me it starts immediately with cleaning/re-filling the filter, washing sheets and towels, then turning on some music, grabbing a bucket and broom and going at it!

So why the extended vacation? Lots of things to do this summer! First, I was invited to be in a collaboration project with Renee another volunteer in the East before she left to go home to the States and a guy in her village who makes honey. We were to help with french translation and specifically me with business opportunities. The project was to take place in Kumbo in the Northwest region at Greencare the host institution of Patrick an agriculture volunteer. We spent two full days learning about the different techniques of beekeeping and proper maintenance of hives.

And here is the group shot. I have no shame in admitting at this point it had been two days without a shower. I take cold showers but with the humidity its refreshing, but here I was up in the mountains where the water is ice cold, brrr!

Was shown around Kumbo by this women who in edition for working for ELECAM (which organizes Cameroon's presidential elections)is the head of a women empowerment group/ngo. She spent the day taking me around to different women empowerment centers and to their meetings. Not even a week in the northwest and I could have had work! Go figure.

The northwest is a beautiful region. Very green, rolling hills, and on the drive up to Kumbo was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few waterfalls. Had a very nice relaxing afternoon outdoors getting to know friends of Jake, another SED volunteer from my training group I was staying with. No double takes necessary. Yes your eyes do not deceive you, that is me holding a baby [click to enlarge]. Never thought I could come to love children as much as I have African children!

Jake, his friend Mark, and I chilling after a long day of honey talk and French-English translation.

Other volunteers came in on the weekend and it was nice to see a lot since I don't see too many that often! Here I am with Liz an education volunteer up in the Extreme North and one of my closest friends here :).

Kelly, a fellow PCV friend, who is a volunteer that lives in Bamenda the Northwest regional capital also stopped by for a visit that weekend. She invited me to stay at her place for a few days to let me check out for myself the city other PCVs refer to as "Little America." For those of us other PCVS living out of the West,Southwest, or Northwest(which have a lot more noticeable development)we denote those volunteers of living in Posh Corps. Bamenda is situated in a valley of sorts and while out to dinner with others, the gaze can't help but drift to the scenery and some of the waterfalls off in the distance. By contrast to the East, the Northwest is one of the most populated. Most 30 of its volunteers live within a 2 hour radius of Bamenda. Was floored to find they had a coffee shop/espresso house! Didn't feel like I really was in Africa at all for the moment, but did leave sooner then expected once the place became too inundated with too many white people who were speaking English. It kind of weirds me out to see a lot of expats, even a lot of Americans in one place speaking English that aren't PCVS because i'm just not around that here. Exploring the market, I don't know if they were new to Kelly or not, but I hadn't yet come across Lychee's in this country. Bought some to try and because of their eccentric exterior, had to have some fun with them first!

This year's theme for the American Embassy's Fourth of July party was the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary. With this in mind 50 Peace Corps Volunteers were invited to attend the event. Julia and I were there representing the East. The Ambassador's speech explained our history, our purpose, and highlighted our work. Was quite proud when asked at one point to raise our hands if we were PCVs and was touched when everybody around me turned my way and offered their thanks for my service or service to their country. Afterwards us PCVs participated in a flash mob with a few other embassy workers dancing to Springsteen's "Born in the USA." Was definetly a different social circle socializing with a diplomatic crowd. It was fun just going about to random people and starting chats. Alot of them had never been to the East before or had images it was being mined of all its natural resources and rapidly deforested. It was this way that I met the Director of the British Council and his wife. They were so kind as to invite me to dinner the next day and serve me foods they knew I couldn't get out East.

With over 50 PCVs in Yaounde it was more than Peace Corps was able to host. Some workers at the Embassy opened their homes to us. Another volunteer and I were signed up together to stay at the Defense Attache's house. It was America. Since they can shop the embassy store, when I opened the fridge they had things like Cool-Whip, Tollhouse chocolate chips, and American cereal. They treated us extremely well and gave us tons of food for the two nights we stayed there. Here I am relaxing at their pool before getting ready and heading to the big fete.

While I do hate spending a lot of time in Yaounde, this go around was quite interesting to say the least. During routine medical check-ups got the all clear. No parasites or such! One day I was in PC meetings all morning to then be picked up by a car from the British Council and taken to lunch with four other british expats and then spent the rest of the day sipping tea and watching tv on a couch. The next I was at a World Bank NGO Fair with a another PCV supporting Jake as he was trying to help his NGO qualify for a grant of $10 million CFA. The World Bank is trying shift its image and focus alot more on NGO funding at the grassroot level. Then the next on the radio after a reporter followed me and another PCV around in Casino (largest supermarket in Yaounde)for a piece he was doing on expat purchasing habits. Yep, days can be really random and rather unpredictable at times here.

Before heading back East, decided to take the weekend to head back to visit my host family in Bafia for the weekend. They were very proud to host me. My mom is a very good cook and made all of my favorite foods I had while living there. Kim is the volunteer currently living there while training. Sitting in exactly the same spot I occupied a year earlier.