Thursday, October 18, 2012

Epilogue: A Series of Adjustments

Upon inspiration, ok and a few requests, it was brought to my attention that I have never actually "finished" this blog. I'm thinking its only fitting for the consistent amount I wrote throughout this entire experience its time I did. And what an experience it was! As it always is, in hindsight it went by really fast. It seems sometimes, was I ever even there? Never until I was wrapping up my time in Batouri (my dear, remote town en brousse) and taking in what an eventful two years it gave me did I realize the enormous commitment of giving up friends, family, & life as one knows it to immerse myself in such a foreign environment. That, and to cross the finish line under the conditions I did. To put it in more eloquent terms here is an inspiring quote a friend sent me several months ago, " Anyone can give up, it's the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength." Batouri definitely was not love at first sight, but come to love it I did. Sigh, can you tell I'm immersed in nostalgia?
 So its been just over three months since I left Cameroon. Having visited the developed world three times during my stay, I wasn't immediately shocked by things. Although, this time it was about reassimilating back into the culture. Aside from readjusting to home. I didn't have to eat everything I could in a two week period or avoid technology. Everybody on touch screens became the norm, produce was clean, quadrupled in quantity, and doubled in size, and I could relearn some trust in the stability of electricity and running water. I could sit in a huge bucket of warm water and not use a cup to pour water over my head from a bucket.

Three months out, and I'm still waiting for the moment I will have to grab my dirty clothes, a bucket, and soap to wash my clothes by hand. There are menus at restaurants, reasonable customer service, and I can once again order water and drink from the tap. I can be friends with guys my age, have more in common with girls my age, and be expected and not argued that men and women should be treated as equal.

I found it humorous when friends would give me a ride in their cars and apologize if there was a thin layer of dust inside. Hey, if there was a working seatbelt, spacious room being one seat to one person, and no hole in the floor I was happy! Goodbye prison buses, goodbye bush taxis. Distance and time is a lot less mutually exclusive and a travel a lot more comfy. I'm loving having my anonymity back thank you, but finding the fact that this culture is, by nature, more reserved an adjustment. The biggest difference for me is language. Sometimes I have to conscientiously remember that people don't greet each other in Fulfulde, slipped sometimes and greeted friends in pidgin English (to laughter or blank stares), and on a few occasions talked to a waiter/waitress in French - once without realizing it. That's not even to mention that I've now thrown British English into the mix. If you were me, how would you answer the question "where are you from"?

So I wrapped up my post with goodbye celebrations, dinners, and endless goodbyes. Here are a few photos of my last few days at post, gonging-out ceremony in Yaounde, and my transition back into my first world self.

Goodbye ceremony with my handicapped and orphaned youth group. I as the group denoted La Mere des Enfants watched as acted out skits and danced for me.

During the ceremony, Pauline presented me with a Diplome d'Honneur (Diploma of Honor) in recognition of all my contributions to her youth group.

Last dinner of one of my favorites - Folere. Goodbye to eating dinner alot by hand.

Goodbye to making palm oil from scratch.

Goodbye to the man in the cowboy hat trying to sell me mystery meat.

                           Saddest goodbyes were to my closest friends.


My mission was to take a picture with a baby goat. Best I could do was this lamb.

My walk home every evening.

My house is just around the corner. In the background is the edge of Batouri and the start of the forest.

My new house that I moved into in February is behind that gate.

Cameroonians LOVE hamburgers, so it was only fitting I make it one last time for a farewell dinner.

Some of my closest Cameroonian friends, postmates, and friends from the Catholic Mission.

Business as usual. How I passed a lot of my two years. Abdoulaye (the accountant at my bank) working and me studying french.

Last time sorting through and organizing piles of money (CFA) brought to the bank!

The employees of the Bank and I at my farewell dinner with them.

Made it to my gonging out ceremony! Its a symbolic gesture from Peace Corps Admin to acknowledge the service of every Peace Corps Volunteer and officially mark the end of their service. When we are "gonged out", we then gain the title Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). It was a bitter sweet moment as one the last memories with mom & dad in country was sitting together viewing this ceremony with other PCVs months earlier.

James, my program director, had the duty to present to all participants a summary of my service. He himself was a volunteer in Eastern Cameroon back in the '80s. Afterwards, other PCVs and Admin present added their own thoughts before I got a word of thanks in myself.

LaHoma, country director, attaching a pin to my dress and presenting me with two certificates, one of my language and another from the Cameroonian government.

Officially gonged out!

Jacqueline an Education volunteer and I both gonged out together.

Can now finally sign the wall of fellow RPCVs!

Goal: look as African as possible when arriving home.

Batouri & Kentzou reunite. Surreal encountering our first-world selves.

My dog Wali :)

Lovely hanging out with friends.

A calm tranquil scene to greet me in Montana this time around.

Visit to grandpa's farm is not complete without feeding the lamb's (whose mother doesn't recognize them).

Celebrating my grandma's 85th in British Columbia.

The Rockies - such a scenery change compared to Eastern Cameroon!

And now, I find myself in Oxford, England and absorbed in the pursuit of a master's. Here is is where I will leave you and bid this blog adieu. Many thanks to my family & friends supporting me throughout this eventful adventure!!!

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Beginning of the End

Well there you have it. A Peace Corps service in a nutshell. This has definitely been an adventurous two years. My service is no longer down to months but weeks. Now that my last few projects are done, all that is left is goodbyes. This, between goodbye ceremonies/dinners and packing, will take up my last two weeks. It’s hard to say where my head is at. I’m sad to leave this place when I feel I’m finally mastering how to maneuver it. Not to mention it’s hard to say au revoir to friends. However, it’s time to move on. I’m proud to have finished what I started, but need some family time. I’m wrapping up things in Batouri and planning summer travel in the states. That and I just confirmed my housing arrangements in Oxford. Starting a master’s will be like night and day to where I am now. I’ve been thinking about brushing up on my English after speaking all this French!

It seems too much of a beast to try to summarize these past two years, unpredictable as they were. Talking with other volunteers we always get to talking about what we regret about our services/would have done differently. Learning Fulfulde, an ethnic language, which is spoken by the Muslims here, tops my list. My focus was always learning French, and now that I’m decent at it wish I had learned another. That being said, I’m not too stuck in regrets since this is such a crazy experience. My sage mom said it best. I did the best I could with what I was given, and, as Julia added, with whom I am as a person.

One thing I can’t put on a resume about this experience – how much I grew. I don’t even know where to start when describing the things it has taught me. It seems like nothing now to live, work, (and frankly) survive in a place like Batouri. I’ve established myself in my house, at work, and with many people in the community. I remember a conversation with my dad. I was asking him if he remembered me complaining a lot about constantly hitting brick walls when it came to finding work. In step with his calm demeanor, he slowly responded, “yep. I seem to recall a few conversations about that.” Well seek and ye shall find, and keep finding. That search opened many doors/blessings for me in what I’ve been able to do and the people I’ve met. I’m a business volunteer, but I’ve really done a bit of everything. I’ve been nicknamed the volunteer en general for my many varieties of projects. I have definitely not fit into the stereotypical PCV role that we sit around doing nothing.

It’s a two –year experience, but I feel my first year is so different then my second. My first year is defined so much by setting myself up and finding work. I had only seen three regions, had three visitors, and barely cooked. My second year is characterized by working on projects and enduring the realities of life in Africa. I have now seen all ten regions, cooked so much I, for African standards, have a gourmet kitchen, and will round out with just under twenty visitors this past year alone. It wasn’t until my year mark that I actually started really liking it.

What came easiest? Cultural integration. I’m social in nature and befriended some of the most warm, open, and generous people I’ve ever met. I will take away African hospitality and all that comes with it. My host mother always told me things that top a list for Africans and they will forever ask me are if you slept well, you ate well, and you are in good health. I’ve met many diverse people from a variety of social levels, ethnicities, and religions. My best friends, both men and women, are Muslims. Without this experience, I would not have had the chance to get to know the religion and its culture better.

What was hardest? Death. All other things, which at one time might have seemed a challenge, once you overcome them, seem like nothing. The images of death are the only enduring memory that seems to never leave my head. From seeing a gruesome accident, its resulting spectacle and subsequent disrespect for human life, seeing the grief of friends losing loved ones, taking care of a dying boy I knew in the hospital, witnessing the preventable death of a two-year old girl in her mother’s arms, and (most sadly) the tragedy of it arriving at the doorstep of one of my most beloved. My predecessor told me to see people you know pass away was one of the hardest things for him as well. I will leave this same advice for my replacement.

If I talk about myself before and myself after, the change is noticeable. This experience has changed me. If you’ve followed this blog since the beginning then you would notice this growth in the stories I’ve shared. If you’ve followed in pictures, well then I’m sure you’ve noticed I’m smaller in stature. This I predicted of myself before I even left. I know myself and my inability to cook for one. Cooking simple dinners for one from scratch and craving only cold drinks when immersed in humidity and I’ve slowly lost since I arrived. For once I let myself eat whatever I wanted during my trips outside of Cameroon knowing that gaining at least eight pounds in two weeks wouldn’t matter once I got back. And, save for most recent events, I am happy to have lost.

Hopefully it’s obvious. I will miss the hek out of this place.

Now to some photos already!

This is my training group.  We arrived in Cameroon together in June 2010.  We are gathering together for the last time to kick off our Close-of-Service (COS) Conference at our Director LaHoma's house.

Ha! In of all places to send us, who knew I would end up with somebody I went to university with.  Crystal, has been a close comrade.  We really do like each other...

My journey back to the East after COS conference.  Oh the East and its travel.  90k at the beginning of my service took me top three hours, now with public transport minimum five.  This is the first of two accidents during this trip. We all have to climb out and walk past to let the bus pass. Afterwards, wherever possible even if I pay double the price I've given into bush taxis.

Look at all those Easties! All are not even pictured. Since I have been in the East we have doubled in the number of volunteers.

A birds eye view 5 km out of Batouri.  This is a spiritual spot for a lot of people, or possibly sorcery for others.  This is looking in the direction of Batouri which is hidden by trees.  Its considered special for the inexplicable way of how it came to rest like that.

                  With Idrissou, one of my closest friends at post.

This month I was teaching the five senses to the kids.  For touch I traced their hands and then had them search out five different things they touched to glue on each finger.

Jess n'Jup!

One of my final projects was creating a world map at one of the local high schools.  Believe it or not, for all the projects i've been involved, this is the first one i've started myself from start to finish! Here we are with the kids that helped us with it.  For the step-by-step guide of how, i'll defer that to facebook.

                           My two homes: California and Cameroon.

Even if surrounded my development, I do live surrounded by great scenery.  I will miss days such as this.  Relaxing over an afternoon with friends and eating great food.

I have gained a new love of cooking and eating outside.

My new house!  On the other edge of Batouri, i'm literally only 50 metres to the forest. Stephanie inspired me with her quotes.

                                          My living room.



1st of May - Labor Day. It being a fete, they have a parade and then everybody eats and drinks, drinks, drinks. Having worn the same thing last year, not the biggest fan of the outfit the bank made me wear.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pressing Play

So I’ve finally forced myself to sit myself down and get out a long overdue blog post. Here is a quick synopsis of the happenings in Batouri over the past two months. Back to my third-world self…

Ever make a decision that was extremely tough to make, but knew in the end it was what in the long run would be best for you? I made that in my decision to continue on with my service. Though it hasn't been easy, having been blessed with wonderful family and friends and their support sure has helped! For good and for bad this experience has not in the least been uneventful. I picked up most projects where they were left off and realized just how much I’m going to miss my Cameroonian friends. My housing situation dramatically changed. When my security at my house was called into question, it became apparent moving houses immediately was the only option. I'm no longer living next to Jessica. In fact, I’m now living in a neighborhood in the opposite side of town. It's a Muslim neighborhood, which for the cultural experience I’m finding quite interesting. I will always miss walking home at sunset listening to the call to prayer.

I made yet another trip out to Kentzou to see Julia. This time she was not alone. Her new post mate Geoff, a Health volunteer, was there as well. Here we are walking to check out his garden.

The lovely Julia and I. To say it straight, I think she's pretty cool. A great support to have in the East.

Hanging with Julia’s friend, Abdoulaye, in the Kentzou market where he owns a pagne shop.

Peace Corps in Batouri! James, the patron of us business volunteers, stopped in for a site visit. I was able to show him and talk about my projects. James was a volunteer in Kentzou back in the 80’s. Last few days at this house. He was able to approve my new house, and thus I was very lucky it was just over a week from deciding to move to being able to be in my new house. Pictures of the new digs in the next post!

December brought two new volunteers to Batouri. Stephanie is a Youth Development Volunteer and Mike is and Agro Forestry Volunteer. Here we are eating one of our many gourmet family dinners. The ambiance of candlelight dinners is not foreign to any of us.

Took a trip with Mike to visit Mindourou, a village 100k southeast of Batouri, where he works with an association. The typical dusty, unpaved road of Eastern Cameroon that is such a necessary evil it has become the pain of my Peace Corps travel experiences!

Celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8 with Stephanie. This year’s theme was tolerable: Leading Women into Modernity.

For the Handicapped and Orphan Youth Group, last month’s theme was animals. For their art project those present made animal masks.

In this picture I am teaching (well, let’s be honest, when working with 20+ African children I’m actually yelling) different animal parts, i.e. whiskers, horns, tail.

To practice we did a spin on “pin the tail on the donkey”, but with the different animal parts. I’m going to let you guess what animal I’m holding so you don’t judge or laugh too much. Stephanie and I had an amusing time with our drawing skills.

With Pauline, center, the lady that runs the Youth Group and some of the older youth. Can you tell we are melting from the humidity?

For science this month, I chose to make the effort to talk about recycling. Everybody had bags and went around picking up trash. Then, I dumped them out in front of everybody so we could talk about the commonalities of what they found.

Malnutrition project is going smoothly. On this day, we were giving each mother a small amount of funds. They could decide either to start a small business with it or purchase seeds to grow food to sell. This woman chose to buy seeds.

Been in this place long enough to benefit from some development. We are about to enjoy a delicious dinner in Bertoua at a newly opened Lebanese restaurant. It’s on the second floor atop a nightclub and overlooking the city. Crazy.

Geoff and I donning standard travel attire of the Extreme Easties. Travel pictures never get old. If you zoom in closer I’m already sporting my orange glow.

For reasons you can appreciate, a well for my youth group has so far been one of my most meaningful projects. We did two dedications. Here the Catholic priest is reading out a blessing for when we began the well. Thank you to all who contributed, we are very blessed :D.

Here we are congregating together to again bless the well having finished it. Even the Sous-Prefet (local head of government – back, center) showed up! The local Adventist pastor did the blessing. We all agreed it was a real dedication since an hour after the blessing it started to rain and rained the rest of the day. One of the days I'll remember most from my Peace Corps Service.