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.