Sunday, December 18, 2011

Walikonis Goes African

And then the parents came to Africa!

I remember when they were ready to purchase tickets as soon as I came to Cameroon to arrive for New Years only seven months later. Thats when we decided on London instead. Upon my insistence they waited to come. I told them many times over visiting towards the end of my service would be beneficial to us both. Me more established in every way, which in turn would help make their trip more enjoyable. Well as my service is fast approaching its close and almost being able to count the remainder of months on one hand, my parents did express after visiting me how they now understand why I made them wait. I can't encapsulate their decision to wait and my place/mentality/growth at post any other way then these two pictures.

Here is what they would have found...

but now is much more improved.

And now their visit in their own words (any added thoughts I have will be italicized)...

As Janelle promised, here is a blogpost from her parents following our trip to Cameroon.

We arrived in Yaounde on Nov 20. We did not rent a car, but Janelle hired a private driver for the duration of our stay. We were quite thankful for three reasons: 1) The only traffic law that we could observe was that cars drove on the right-hand side of the road. Other than that, it seemed that it was a free-for-all as respects how you got around, either on the road or in town. If there was room for your car to fit into a space, then you took that space. You just made a lane for yourself if that got you ahead. 2) the unpaved roads are horrible! There is no road maintenance and the ruts are deep, and 3) the busses are amazing for how many people are packed into a bus (three people in a two-person seat), and all the belongings are strapped to the top.

Welcome to Eastern Cameroon Parents! 10 K out of Batouri and they chanced upon their very own logging accident. The truck didn't gain enough momentum going up the hill. Where you see the car coming out is where our own car passed through moments later.

The bus company in Batouri full of "prison buses"

The first day of our visit we visited the Peace Corps office, meeting some of the staff and some volunteers who happened to be there. It is clear the staff take good care of the volunteers! While in Yaounde we stayed at the home of the Director of the British Council and his wife. Janelle made friends with them during the Embassy party this past summer. We spent that afternoon buying fabric to make clothes. We were impressed to see how noticeably improved Janelle's french has become when she was discussing prices. Even the Cameroonian friend showing us around Yaounde remarked how she was better than him at haggling!

The next day we headed to Janelle’s post in Batouri. This is in the eastern part of the country.

We spent four days in Batouri. The first day there we went with Janelle to her malnutrition project. Babies were weighed, arm circumference measurements taken, and some powdered meal prepared to send with the mothers. Some mothers were quite young, we figure perhaps 14 or 15. Janelle tried to ask their age, but their response was they didn’t know. Another mother’s child found a large beetle, so she took it home after breaking off the legs to feed her child there. Janelle shared that these beetles are commonly found in the market.

The following day we met everybody at the bank where Janelle has her official Peace Corps job. We dined at the accountant Abdoulaye's home that evening, sitting on the floor. Janelle shared this is something she does quite often in the evenings.

We were guests-of-honor for a celebration organized specifically for our visit one afternoon at the Batouri orphanage where Janelle has spent time with the children. They were quite excited to show us their living area and we spent time dancing with the kids. It was very touching to us both. They had also prepared some short theater sketches for us. Janelle did some english revision with them and we all sang as she led out in teaching them the hokey-pokey. A journalist was there to take pictures, who also interviewed us for the radio about our impressions.

We were excited to have a english nun, another anglophone, come to Batouri! In August, another nun approached me and informed me of her recent arrival and thought she would appreciate the visit. It was a blessing to us both. She shared then she had recently prayed she would like to speak english with somebody and I was not in any place to refuse the company!

We dined on local foods during the day, which appears to be a choice between washed leaves (bitter unless washed very well), legumes, rice, potatoes, plantains and fish. Janelle prepared the evening meals at her home.

Another of Janelle’s projects is to work in a joint effort with the World Food Program with some refugees from the Central African Republic. So Janelle took us into the bush about an hour’s drive from Batouri to meet with the refugees one morning. She discussed in length with them about the organization of a savings group she is starting with them. She spoke in french and her french was translated into fulfulde. During the meeting, men sat on one side and women the other. At the conclusion of this visit, one of the older refugees attempted a marriage proposal for Janelle since her parents were there to bargain with!

After those four days in Batouri, it was back to Yaounde for an overnight stay. We got into a small vehicular accident on the way, where our car sideswiped a van. No real damage was done, but it was interesting to observe the reactions of everyone. All the occupants in the van got out, as well as the five of us in our car. We were told by Janelle and the other PCV in the car with us that this was a typical reaction from Francophones. Everybody talks with big gestures, has something to say, and will say it to anybody listening. Once everyone had their say, we all got back into our respective vehicles and continued on our way. After Yaounde we were on our way to Bafia to meet her “host family.” This is the family she lived with the three months of her Peace Corps training period. We enjoyed more plantains there, spaghetti omletes, and being taken to some of their family where, since we lacked french, entertained ourselves with the children. That night we stayed in a local hotel. There was no water during our stay at the hotel.

The following day we were on the road again, this time to Buea, in the western part of the country. We stayed with Bill and Trixy, who Dawn knew from Loma Linda, CA and who Janelle has made friends with. It appears that this couple is also well known among the Peace Corps. We took a couple of hours one afternoon to the beach town of Limbe so Janelle could show us the black sand beaches. It was very picturesque with Mount Cameroon in the background and the water there was very warm. We enjoyed lunch at the local Wildlife Center where we could eat seated with a view of gorillas.

After a two-night stay in Buea, we drove back to Yaounde to meet the Peace Corps country director. The director was unavailable during our first visit to the Peace Corps office, so this was our chance to meet her. The following day, which was the last day there, we attended a ceremony at the Peace Corps headquarters where the end of service of some of the volunteers is acknowledged. Then off to the airport that evening for our flight home.

We flew on Swiss Airlines through Zurich to get to Cameroon. When we boarded the plane in Zurich on the return flight we noticed a flight attendant who was on our outbound Swiss flight on the 18th. Amazingly, when we passed by him, he told us that he remembered us from the flight two weeks ago! Go figure…

Janelle is doing an awesome work as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She has gone beyond the expected to find projects that help improve the lives of the local population. It was quite impressive to see her influence in the community.

Was very touched to receive this in an email a few days later when they shared with me their impressions of their visit...

We shared with grandpa and grandma that people are people no matter where you go. Everyone has hopes and dreams and wants to be successful.

Your malnutrition project showed us that mothers want their babies to be healthy, but they don't have the means nor perhaps the knowledge of what to do about their malnutrition.

Your World Food Program project showed us that people are willing to cooperate and take direction and the skills of planting crops are common to everyone.

Your involvement with the orphans showed us that even there someone (like Pauline) is willing to lead a program to take care of the orphans. And children there respond in the same way as children in North America; they want and enjoy the attention of others.

Idrissou, Abdoulaye, and your host family showed us that people are truly welcoming.

Your friends who wanted to share gifts with us showed us that your friends truly appreciate your kindnesses to them and wanted to show their kindness to us in return.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peace Corps: "Hardest Job You'll Ever Love"

Because i'm in Yaounde, said goodbye to the parents and am now have time to waste until I go teach the newest SED training group at their in-service training on the beach in Limbe (this was me last year in Kribi), was shown these by other volunteers, and in case you might still wonder what this whole Peace Corps thing is all about. These might help shed some light... Unfortunately only one link worked :(

Life is Calling. How far will you go?

For all the times I have told you this experience has not left me without stories! Seems I've collected quite a few, some very similar to this. Although, I guess i'll wait to see how interested people are to listen to them upon my return. Can you believe it already, just less than four months and i'm already up for my close of service conference! That is where my training group gets together for the last time and Peace Corps Admin starts preparing us to go home. Second year sure flies by.

And the article (you'll have to copy and paste).

5 Reasons Not To Join The Peace Corps: "...the biggest challenges and rewards come from the time spent at home, in the village, with members of the community. It may be impossible to change the world, but living in a tiny corner of it is a reminder that it is possible to change individuals, circumstances and ourselves."