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.