Monday, January 30, 2012

Family Visit




Well it has been way too long since I’ve updated my blog (sorry Mom!) so here is a rather brief update.

My parents and brother came for a three week long visit over the holidays- it was SO great to see them! We first went down to the beach at Kribi for a couple of days. There we stayed in this funky cottage along a stream and a couple minutes from the beach. We took a canoe ride to visit a pygmy village; the river was so beautiful. After that we had a memorable feast of fresh shrimp right along the sea and rode out to the Chutes des Lobes, one of the few waterfalls that go straight into the sea. We made our way up to my village and got to enjoy the experience of travelling in Africa (complete with 6 hour road blocks and stops by the police). We spent about 10 days in Bandrefam so had plenty of time to see my daily life there; laundry and getting water at the source, traditional foods, greeting the Chief and having a billion people come by my house to greet us. We visited the town of Foumban which is a hub of crafts and had a long but fun day of visiting workshops and bargaining for masks, copper bracelets and wooden bottle openers. We also visited a great museum in Baham- the docent there was so knowledgable and seemed thrilled to share her culture with us. Our final day trip in the West was to the waterfalls in Bafang; it was so beautiful there and we got to hike down to the bottom of the falls (of course I fell attempting to cross the stream and get closer to the falls!). After leaving village we went to the beach at Limbe for a couple of days. There we were able to relax and get the red dust from village off while soaking in the ocean. We again had fresh grilled fish right by the sea and also visited a great restaurant by the gorilla sanctuary (where we saw gorillas, drills, baboons etc). I had an amazing time with my family; it was great to see them again! I really loved sharing parts of my Cameroonian life with them, plus it was fun to play tourist here!

Right after my family left I went down to Yaounde for my Midservice, where we shared best practices and had medical check ups (I’m still healthy!). More importantly Midservice was a chance for me to catch up with friends, many of whom I haven’t seen since IST in April. It was great to see everyone and helped me to get over the inevitable home sickness after my family left. Plus it was fun to explore the big city of Yaounde.

To be honest it was a bit difficult for me to get back into the groove at post after all my travels and being with family and friends. But now I’m back into all of my daily tasks and work too. I’m still doing some work with tofu, my womens group and a high school health club. But right now my main focus is my library projects; a community library in Bandrefam and one at the Lycee de Batoufam. (Visit booksforcameroon.com, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsFviXAfqt0, or check it out on facebook). We are having French books donated and I am working to build up the capacities of our libraies; ensure that the spaces are secure, build shelves and train librarians on library management.

So basically its been a great couple of months and even with a little bump in the road (my ‘midservice crisis’) things are going really well here. I am loving my life in village and am trying to enjoy every moment of it!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Summer Camps

Since I’ve been back from Tanzania I have been keeping really busy- which has been great! Julie and I organized two three day long summer camps. The first was in nearby Bangafokam and was all girls. There were two adorable little 8 year olds but it was mainly girls 15 to 25. We covered HIV/AIDS, the immune system, the reproductive system, puberty and family planning. Instead of just lecture and having the girls take notes (we provided pens and notebooks so they could keep the information) we also did a lot a role playing and theater games. In one we have lions (opportunistic diseases) attack a baby elephant (the body) who is protected by mama elephants (the immune system). Another similar game shows how HIV attacks T4 cells and how you then develop AIDS; all of these games went over really well! We also played the Game of Life where the girls were given play money and could then buy anything (phone credit, beignets, healthy food, shoes etc), but sometimes they ‘got sick’ or had to unexpectedly spend money; all this was to help teach them about making smart choices when spending money and the importance of saving.

The second camp was in Bandrefam and this time it was for both girls and boys. The girls were for the most part really young, but eventually some older girls showed up too. The boys were in a separate classroom the first day and were together with the girls for the rest of the camp. I think next year I’ll keep it to just girls since they seemed a bit shy or embarrassed having boys around too. Also three days was barely enough time to cover everything…although I was so burnt out by the end! It was a really great experience for me and I loved the chance to get to know some of the youth a bit better. Oh and also we learned how to crochet little purses out of plastic bags (a fun activity and a chance to talk about recycling) and learned how to make soap- both of which are things I plan to show more people in village.

Last weekend the elites (their word, not mine) and the development committee had a meeting in village at the Chefferie. Julie and I set up a table to show them some of our work and to talk about what is Peace Corps. The GIC Paysans Plus sold all of their honey and the shea butter that women are making sold out too! It was a great opportunity for the elites to better understand my role here in Bandrefam. Also I got the chance to discuss the library project a bit. We have a tiny library now but are hoping to move it to the new technical school that is being built. Also we’re hoping to secure some more French books; another volunteer is working hard to get books donated and shipped here. I am asking the development committee for their support in this project; they would have to build bookshelves, get a librarian etc as part of the community contribution to the project. Anyway, we’ll see where that project goes!

That meeting kicked off a two week long festival in village. Every evening there is a soccer game and this tournament is a pretty big deal. Everyone dresses up a bit to watch the games, theres music and food too. I’ve received 40 free HIV tests and on Monday we’re giving them at the health center. I’ve been making announcements during the soccer matches and am really trying to target the youth. I’m a little worried that it’ll only be mamas showing up for a free test and that the younger people will be too scared or embarrassed to come, either way it should be an interesting day!



Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tanzania!

So a couple of months ago Tiffany proposed a perhaps outrageous idea, since she was going to be in Ethiopia why don’t we meet up in Tanzania to visit Anna?! Soon enough Amy was on board too and before I knew it I was leaving village to begin the adventure. It was a bit weird to be on a plane with elite Camerounians although I ended up meeting a man who is originally from Bandrefam and he thought that it was hilarious that I know a bit of the patois and that I actually enjoy living in a village. Anyway, I made it to Addis where I had a layover and then joined Tiffany for our flight to Dar es Salaam. I think I made a bit of a scene with my waterworks when seeing Tiff (and again later with Anna and with Amy). Finally all four of us were reunited and we made our way to a restaurant for yummy Indian food (I ended up going there three times, I recommend the kaddai paneer) and later back to the hotel, all the while catching up. That evening Tiffany and Anna gave me a much needed hair cut then we rested up before the next mornings ferry ride to Zanzibar.

Zanzibar was really beautiful and I loved the Islamic influence in everything from clothing to architecture. The first day Anna wasn’t feeling well so Amy, Tiffany and I braved the crooked streets on our own armed with the couple of Swahili words we knew. (Luckily this area was pretty touristy so getting by wasn’t a problem). The next morning we went off on a spice tour, which was a really fun time! We went for a walk to see how the spices (cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, tumeric, lemongrass, ginger and more…even a natural lipstick) are grown. Afterwards we were served a delicious curry then headed off to the beach. The Indian Ocean was beautiful and it felt really good to be in the water (while I love living in the mountains I definetly miss being by water). After the tour we continued beings tourists by spending the late afternoon at a beach bar drinking delicious mojitos and margaritas then a seafood dinner at a market by the water. The next morning we did a bit more souvenir shopping then jumped on the worst ferry boat ever! Two minutes after opening my book I decided it was absolutely necessary to get some fresh air out on the deck. Soon enough I’m grabbing for plastic bags and am sick off the back railing; no need to feel embarrassed though because everyone was sick and stumbling around and generally struggling. Finally the ferry docked and I made my way to dry land and where we spent the rest of the afternoon recovering…then out for more Indian food! The next morning we hopped on a bus to Mikumi National Park for a safari. Once we got to our lodge we grabbed some rice and beans (which were simple compared to Cameroonian rice and beans which is generally laced with msg and doused in palm oil, mmm!) then hit the trail! Immediately we saw animals: giraffes, elephants (including babies!), zebra, wildebeest, impalas, a warthog, crocodiles, hippo heads popping out of the water and many birds. In the middle of our chatting about how rare it is to see lions, especially during the day, our driver makes a turn and there are two lionesses just hanging out next to a zebra they’d killed the previous day! It was so great! The whole afternoon was fun and it was especially nice to be there around sunset.

The next day (after a fabulous English breakfast including coffee) we got on another bus to Mbeya, Annas banking town. Spent the day there buying food for village, eating pizza (!) then hanging out with some of Annas volunteer friends. The following morning we took a lorry up to Annas village, Ilembo, which is in the mountains. That afternoon we went to visit her counterparts, Nahasibu, village for his grandfathers funeral. Well he was already buried but we greeted all of the family that was there and then prayed with them at the grave. We greeted everyone in a mix of Kimalila (her tribal language) and Swahili…not sure how successful I was but greeting people is a really big part of the culture there. Even when Anna and I ran out to buy milk that turned into an hour long adventure as we had to great everyone. We then spent that evening eating yummy food at Annas house, really we spent much of our time in village cooking, baking and just hanging out- which was perfect! The next morning we went to help out with baby weighing. Now in Bandrefam this consists of maybe seven mamas who come to the health center for vaccines and to weigh their babies (to ensure that they are not malnourished). So I was not quite prepared for the hundreds (I really don’t think this is an exaggeration) of mamas and babies who were there. It started with Anna giving an animation about diarrhea where we all sang a song together (in Swahili) about diarrhea and the importance of clean water- the women loved it and I think the lesson was well received. We then spent the next few hours helping to get babies and kids into a harness to be weighed; some enjoyed it others really did not (me, I had fun!). While in village we also ate several traditional meals (ugali, which is basically cous cous) with Annas friends. The first was a party with her orphans group where they even killed a chiken and we got to watch the whole process; it was more fun than it maybe sounds! The following day we made ugali and beans with her friends which was a great experience and finally we ate…you guessed it Ugali!...with her widows group. All in all I think the time in village was a perfect balance of new cultural experiences and straight chilling with friends! When it was time to leave Ilembo we had to haul ourselves onto a 3.30 am bus…which wasn’t so bad especially because then we headed off to Utengule, a coffee plantation. We spent a nice morning drinking coffee and enjoying the scenery, although we may have had too much coffee as we were all feeling jittery or even slightly ill afterwards. Ah well, we finally wrapped up our last evening all together eating Indian food. Tiffany and I had a twelve hour bus ride the next day back to Dar, which surprisingly wasn’t too bad. Then we had more Indian food, obviously. Like coming over, all of my travels home went really well and I made it safely back home. I had such an amazing two weeks, it was so so great to see friends from home!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Parades and Tofu






Last friday, May 20th, was the Cameroonian national day to celebrate its unification. To celebrate I went to the mairie in Bayangam to watch the parade. People here parade every chance they get; Youth day, Womans day...they just love to parade! So I went down there with Julie and our friends Marjolie and Ma Suzy who brought about 200 skewers of tofu to sell. We found the Bandrefam traditional dancers and danced around the drum circle with them. School children and groups from the various political parties marched in the parade. There were also men from one of the secret societies who had rather creepy masks and long robes, I asked but they didn't even want me to take thier pictures.

The following day we went to another volunteers town, Bandjoun, for a tofu demonstration. This whole tofu thing has been really successful. Julie used another volunteers recipe which we eventually perfected with Suzy. I think the key to it was really having a Cameroonian women do the cooking, she could intuitively know when to take the soy milk off of the fire and several other little tricks. Basically you just soak the soy beans for about 10 hours then grind them at the wet mill. Add a liter of water for every cup of beans used then squeeze out the water. This gives a milk which is what you put on the fire, but make sure to save the remaining soy product to make a sauce for dinner (it really yields a lot of food!). Leave the milk on the fire until it boils, stirring occasionally so that it doesn't boil over, then take it off the fire and add a generous ladle of vinegar (I recommend Soliel rouge brand, it seems to have enough alcohol to work). Leave the lid on for a bit while the milk coagulates. Once its cool enough again squeeze out the water, at this point you can add grated onions, peppers and maggi cube for flavor. Put it all in a sack and stick a rock on it- even sit on it- to make sure that as much water as possible escapes and to solidify the block of tofu. Et voila, tofu! To make it especialy pleasing to the Cameroonian palate deep fry it in peanut or refined palm oil, put on raffia skewers with onions, add pimante sauce and enjoy!

Ma Suzy is really motivated and has been succesful in making tofu to sell in village for 100 cfa per skewer, or brochette. We've been teaching other women to make it too and really pushing the nutritional value of soy. Its great because its cheap to buy the beans or people can start to grow them. Within the culture here children basically never eat meat, fish or eggs. Meat is really just for men, its too expensive for the rest of the family. Many women and children fill up on starches but remain malnourished due to a lack of protien (and other nutrients), so hopefully women will learn and accept the importance of protien and will use soy in thier own cooking. Its also really rewarding to do these demonstrations, women are always amazed that you can make meat that tastes like chicken out of milk!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trip up North

After a 15 hour train ride I'd finally reached Ngoundere for a week of In Service Training. Stepping off the train I could already see how different the grand North is from the South; its hotter, flat, savannah and most people milling around are wearing traditional Muslim attire. I was really surprised by how much calmer it seemed up north, here in the south people are very loud and aggressive! The first part of the week was spent with our counterparts the rest was just us volunteers. It was a great opportunity for Serephin, my new counterpart, to get to know Peace Corps and to better understand my role here. And of course it was also so good to see everyone from stage again!

From Ngoundere I took a bus up to Maroua in the Extreme North with some friends for some vacation time. Maroua is a really pretty city with naam trees lining the streets, the shade is so nice! We visited the market (bought several varieties of mangoes!) and spent a couple of days just relaxing with other volunteers and eating really good food. There is a great artisinal market there where I found some pagne that can't be found here, a cotton blanket and some jewelry. I'd picked up a bit of Fulfulde and attempted to use it while negotiating prices which vendors thought was hilarious. Abdu is the 'PCV' leather guy, so I visited his shop and got a couple of totally free range, handmade wallets and also commissioned a purse- so much shopping, so much fun!

We took a day trip up to Waza national park which was only a couple of hours away. I saw warthogs, monkeys, lots of birds, antelopes, another antalope-esque animal, ostriches and GIRAFFES! I've always wanted to see a giraffe in the wild, I think their just hilarious animals, those necks crack me up.

We also made a trip out to Rhumsiki which is a tiny village in the mountains surrounded by these huge ancient volcanic plugs. We got to Mokolo late afternoon and still had to moto for over an hour to get there. Riding westwards at sunset in this incredible, almost lunar, landscape was really beautiful. For dinner we went to the amusingly named Vegitarian-Carnivore restaurant- it was delicious! The owner was really welcoming (“Bienvenue, Bienvenue” all night long) there was a guest book to sign filled with entries from other PCVs. The following morning we went on a guided hike down and around one of the large volcanic cores then to the village itself. There I spun some yarn with mamas and saw some intricately carved wooden figurines. While there I also had my fortune read by the feticheur; a sorcerer who told my fortune by watching the movements of a crab. Our guide acted as translator and I'm told that the crab “adored” me. Apparently I'll be contented by my time in Africa, will be very successful in work (more so than my husband), will have a boy and a girl and will not have any major health problems in my life. Needless to say I was happy with the experience!

By the end of the whole trip I was pretty exhausted and looking forward to getting back to Bandrefam. The train ride seemed even longer heading back but getting back to the dirty south felt pretty good!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Funeral and Rain

Last week my friends aunt passed away and yesterday I went to the internement. All week the family spent time at the house, staying with the body and waiting for family to come into village for the ceremony. Friday night everyone stayed up all night (well, I didn't last all night) to be with the body- which I think is a really nice tradition, people giving up so much of thier time to spend with a loved one for thier last night on earth. There was wailing and crying and singing, then a church service and afterwards more wailing and crying, and yes, singing too. There was a band complete with trombones, trumpets and snare drum so the mood wasn't too somber (although the wailing was a bit unnerving). The next morning I went back to the house before the body was moved to the church for another service. Then the band led us down by the fields for the internement, at her husbands home. I had a comfortable seat on a root by a bunch of mamas- comfortable that is until a man comes up, chuckles, and says 'Now you'll see some of our traditions' and puts two freshly cut goat legs onto a bamboo pole. I asked and was told that this is done so that future generations won't have the same problems as the one which just passed.

In other news- it rained today! I haven't seen rain since November so it was a surprise when I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of rain on my metal roof. The sound actually masked the noise of roosters and my neighbors radio so I was even able to sleep in a bit! The rain also helped to lessen the dust which made my walk to the market today much better.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

First weeks at post

I’m alive! Sorry its been a couple of months since I’ve posted a blog; not only has it been an ordeal getting internet at my house but also time is, surprisingly, flying by. The days seem long (roosters crowing around 6-- many of you know that I’m not much of a morning person!) but the weeks go by quickly. I can’t believe Januarys almost over!

So what have I been up to since swearing in? Well initially I was busy getting my house set up; fixing some cracks in the walls, adding bars to the windows, painting, getting a bed and kitchen stuff etc. I’ve ordered a dresser and bookshelf to be made of bamboo, unfortunatly they won’t be ready until March. But they’re made at this great center that provides room, board and physical therapy for disabled Cameroonians and in exchange they make furniture- seems like a great way to spend my PC stipend! It now really feels more like home, its so nice to have my own place! I also have a little veranda where I like to hang out with some tea watching the goats, the kids or the sunset.

The first month at post I spent a lot of time just walking around, getting to know the village. The holiday season was a good time to get to village in that kids were out of school and people weren’t working in the fields as much. I often eat dinner at Emmanuals house or with another neighbor, Mama Alice. She and I also have prepared koki together a few times, so far its my favorite local dish. People here are really generous with food; I'm often given gifts of avocados, squash, prepared dinners...to the point where its sometimes too much! Luckily I've made some friends who sometimes come over to make dinner at my house, or I can have them come by if I've been given too much cous cous!

The first couple of weeks I also spent just getting used to daily life and such. I get water just about everyday from a pipe in the forest, its a 20 minute round trip (did I mention that its uphill on the way back?). This is also where I do my laundry. The typical 20 litre bidons, plastic jugs, people use are just a bit too much for me to deal with so I use a 10 litre bidon and make a lot of jokes about how weak I am. There is a market in Kamna every eight days, I usually walk there (its about an hour) as its a nice walk and a good way to chat with people ('You walk in the dust just like us!). Two days before the Kamna market is Lietwe (mispronounced by me as letszo), which is the local market and meeting day. The market is mainly root vegetables, maybe some tomatoes and onions, but its good to just hand out there. There are also a bunch of meetings on Lietwe that I've been going to either alone or with the nurse, Simplice, to introduce myself.

In terms of work I initially did a fair amount of protocol with Emmanual and with my counterpart Annie; I met with the chef du village, the gendarmes, various ministres, prefets, and sous-prefets. I've spent a lot of time at my health center just hanging out to observe and chat with the nurses and anyone who comes by. The first week at post I did a vaccination campaign with Simplice which was a great way to see the village and to meet people. Emmanual belongs to a GIC (a government recognized community group) Paysan Plus, and I've been going to thier Sunday meetings. They're main projects are pig raising, bee keeping and general agricultural concerns. I went to the Club Sante at a nearby school before thier holiday break, I was really impressed with how organized and engaged the students were, but there won't be another meeting until sometime in February. Most of what I've been dong is just keeping my eyes and ears open; getting to know people, explaining my role here and listening to thier health concerns.

I've also been going en brousse with Adija, a Fulbe woman who lives in village, who has been helping to introduce me to the muslim families that live there. Its really pretty out there and the women (I have yet to meet any of the men besides Adijas husband, Ahmadou) are really nice and welcoming. Earlier this week we went to her friends house for a fetes des enfants; twins had been born last week--they were tiny! We ate rice and goat, then I hung out as they spoke in rapid fire Fulfulde, after prayer we ate more rice (in cous cous form) and goat, gave gifts and then I was given a ton of rice as we were leaving. Again, people are genrous with thier food! It was a great (but long) day!

Sorry this is such a quick (but too long) summary. Happy (belated) holidays!