Saturday, September 5, 2009

Yes, I'm Still Alive.

Hi everyone!

Sorry it has been awhile since I have last written. Things have been very busy these past few months. At the of May I went to Yaounde for training. We were getting ready for that new stagiares (or trainees) who arrived in June. I stayed in Yaounde for about two weeks preparing sessions and activities for the newbies with other volunteers and admin staff. While a lot of volunteers were together, we planned a Peace Corps prom with the theme of “Post Apocalyptic Winter Wasteland”. Everyone dressed up in costumes using whatever they could find which consisted of trash bags, large belts, dirt, up for grabs clothes, and random accessories acquired in the market. Needless to say, we all looked pretty fantastic. It was a lot of fun and it will have to be repeated next year.

After I finished in Yaounde, I packed my bags and got ready to go on vacation. First I went to Paris to visit my friend Jasmine who was teaching in Lyon. We explored the city and visited the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, an Andy Warhol exhibit and other museums, as well as countless metro lines. It was a lot of fun and I couldn’t get enough of the cheese and flushing toilets. It was strange to be in western culture again and have access to many wonderful amenities like clean sheets and hot water. I stayed in Paris for three days then boarded another plane for Austin.

Being back in Austin again was so wonderful but also a little strange because I was on vacation in the city I grew up in. It was so nice to see family and friends again after a year of being away. I had a relaxing few days in South Padre Island with my family and also traveled around to Houston to hang out with friends. I found it very strange that everyone has jobs in real world now. What’s that about? I miss college days where everyone lived in the same city and we could have late night dance parties and order pizza at 3 in the morning. While I was in Austin we also had fake Thanksgiving. Being in Cameroon, I missed out on all the good food you have at Thanksgiving so I had my family recreate the event for me in June complete with pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes with gravy. It was fabulous and I really don’t know why we don’t eat these delicious foods year round. I think when I move back to the States I’ll have Thanksgiving at least 3 times a year…

After a fun-filled 3 weeks of vacation, I traveled back to Cameroon to start my second year as a Peace Corps volunteer. It might seem strange, but I actually did miss Cameroon while I was living it up in the land of Ben and Jerry’s and reliable electricity. I have lots of projects going on here and a lot of good Cameroonian friends as well as a comfy house with a lazy cat who entertains me. I really have gotten used to living here. So, the rest of the summer went by pretty quickly. I spent a couple of weeks in Bangangte training the new volunteers and teaching in Model School. It was so weird to be back in Bangangte after a year and to be a trainer rather than a trainee. I saw my host family again which was really nice. They didn’t have another volunteer this year and they said it was because they couldn’t replace me (although I think it’s because they have a terrible rodent problem and no other volunteer wanted to live there…). It was good to catch up though and to speak better French than I did while I was living there. After training in Bangangte, I traveled back to Yaounde for Midservice which is when PC has you go through a bunch of medical exams to make sure you don’t have crazy tropical diseases and worms living in your intestines. It went well and I am free of scary illnesses. The rest of July there were smatterings of meetings and random events and it really wasn’t until August that I was able to come back to post and stay for awhile.

So, now I am just in Lewoh working on some secondary projects and waiting for school to start in September. I am working on getting electricity installed in the high school and some surrounding areas. It is slow going, mainly because the roads are so bad right now that it’s hard for people to travel and transport materials. Hopefully in a few weeks I will have the project posted on the Peace Corps website and all of you lovely people who are able to could donate towards a good cause! We are still working on the budget though, so it is not on the website yet. I am also working with Wendy Lee and a few other volunteers to bring libraries to several communities around Cameroon. Books for Africa is donating 22,000 books to Cameroon which is wonderful, but we have to raise the funds to cover the cost of shipping which will not be cheap. If you would like to donate to this project you can go to this website - http://tiny.cc/booksforcameroon . Most people in Cameroon do not read for enjoyment or know how to use books for research, or have even been inside a library, so creating these libraries will create amazing opportunities for a lot of communities. Thank you for your support!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Happy Easter! Here's a monkey...

Well, I just started back teaching after 2 weeks off for Spring Break. The break was wonderful and it was so nice to have a little time to relax and catch up with things. The first week, I traveled to the East Province to see a little more of Cameroon. We went to provincial capital, Bertoua, and got to visit with some other volunteers that are posted around that area. It took awhile to get there, about 2 days of traveling on a bush taxi…not the most fun, but it was nice to see new places along the way. Bertoua was a lot hotter than where I am posted in Lewoh (Southwest province). It is actually pretty cool where I am and I even have to wear a sweater in the morning and use blankets at night. In the east, I was sweating all the time and definitely did not need a blanket to sleep. We spent a lot of time at a pool in a hotel though, so the heat was not too bad. I had a lot of fun and it was so nice to catch up with volunteers I haven’t seen in awhile. I am sure I will visit again when I have more time and hopefully be able to see the other smaller, more rural villages too.

The second week I just spent time around my village. My friend Stanley told me about this place where you can hear water but you can’t see it and said we should go there. I told him that the hike to the waterfall a couple of months ago kicked me ass and I def could not do something like that again. He assured me that the hike was only 45 minutes and was nothing like the waterfall. He lied. The hike took about 2 hours and the terrain was pretty steep (again). It was definitely not as hard as the waterfall, but it wasn’t super easy either. I am glad I went though. The place was pretty cool. It was really just a river bed full of HUGE boulders. The water ran under the boulders so that is why you can’t see it. Apparently starting about the middle of the rainy season, the river bed fills up again. We are just at the very beginning of the rainy season so there bed was still pretty dry.

For Easter, Stanley and Rasking came over to my house for dinner. We made homemade egg rolls from scratch, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, and bunny cake. It was a very hodge podge Easter dinner, but delicious. They said they liked it better than my birthday dinner, so that’s good. I had an unusual visitor while we were preparing the food. A local hunter in the village came to my house and knocked at the door. He had a bag with him with something in it that was screaming. Then he pulls out a baby monkey and says he wants me to have it. “I dash you, I dash you!” he says. This means he just wants to give me this monkey as a gift. When I was little I did kind of fantasize about having a monkey as a pet, but I am older now and when he showed me the monkey, instead of having flashes of it sitting on my shoulder and helping me with chores, I had flashes of it giving me the Ebola virus. So, I said thank you very much for thinking of me, but I am going to have to pass on the monkey. Later, I retold the story to Rasking and he told me I should have taken it, he has always wanted a pet monkey…oh well. Next time.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rainy Days Are Here Again

This afternoon I sat on my front porch with some hot chocolate reading a good book and watching the rain and the clouds move in. It was very relaxing and at that moment I was really happy to be exactly where I was. I really enjoy the slow pace of life here and all the free time it allows me. I have had a lot of time to read, go on long walks, experiment with cooking, have long conversations with new friends, and to think about what I want to do after Peace Corps (as of now the jury is still out…). Of course there are a lot of things that are hard about living here, the unreliable availability of water and electricity, ice cold showers, washing clothes by hand, no meat or cheese (most of the time), roads made of mud – BUT now I am pretty used to all of these things and I don’t
(usually) think about things being hard anymore. I have ups and downs of course, but for the most part I am happy living here.

Well, not a lot has been going on lately. A few weeks ago we had our Southwest provincial project in Buea. For our project we set up a tent at the Mount Cameroon “Race of Hope” to talk to people about HIV/AIDS. This race is AMAZING. Participants in the race run to the top of Mount Cameroon and back down. This takes the average person 3 days to hike and the more experienced hiker 2 days. The winners of this race hike to the top of the mountain and back down in between 4 – 6 hours! It is crazy and I don’t really know how it is humanly possible. The winner gets 3 million CFA, so I guess that is pretty good motivator. That kind of money could totally change someone’s life here. I heard that a few years ago there was one woman who won the race SEVEN TIMES in a row. She said she wanted to win a race for each of her seven children. Like I said, amazing. So, anyways, this race of course brings loads of spectators that gather around the finish line so we sent up our tent there and talked to lots of people about HIV while the race was going on. We had a lot of interested people come by and ask questions. I am so glad that we are able to spread information like this, but at the same time it is kind of scary how little some people here know about HIV. There were some people that didn’t know how it was transmitted (they thought through mosquitoes) and others didn’t know that there was no cure and almost wouldn’t believe me when I told them there was not.

Other than that, I have just been busy teaching and finishing up grading for the 4th sequence. It’s pretty ridiculous how much work I have to do at the end of each sequence. I teach every single student at the high school either Biology or Computer Studies so that is close to 500 students. For each of these students I have to grade their exam and record their marks by hand in a big book of all their report cards. Then, at the end I have to do a bunch of statistics for each grade level. It takes a very long time and I definitely have much more respect for all of my teachers growing up. The good news is that we are already through with 2 semesters and there is only 1 more to go and then I will be free for summer vacation! Even though I am on the other end now and am no longer a student, I am still just as excited about summer vacation.

Speaking of summer vacation, I will be coming home in June! I am pretty sure I will be traveling around Europe a little June 6th – 13th, then I will head back to Austin and be there until around June 27th. I am so excited to see everyone again! Start making plans (mine already include fake Thanksgiving dinner, Chuy’s, and Barton Springs). After that I will come back to Cameroon to help out with the next group of trainees at Stage. That is going to be a little weird because it doesn’t seem like that long ago I was a lost little PCT in Bangangte. Oh how the time flies…

Quick shout out to the Irish! Happy (belated) St. Patty’s Day!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Waterfall Trekking and Birthday Celebrating

So, it has been a little while since I updated this…sorry kids. I will do my best to catch you up now:

About two weeks ago, a bunch of fellow volunteers came to Fontem to hike to the waterfall nearby. It is called Lebialem Falls and everyone has been telling me since I got here that I just HAVE to go and see it. A few of my good Cameroonian friends offered to be our guides so we picked a Saturday and went for it. Little did I know that this hike would be the single most physically challenging thing I have ever done in my entire life. Seriously. I am not overreacting. It took us about 3 hours to get to the waterfall. The first part wasn’t so bad, there was an actual road that we followed and the terrain wasn’t too steep. We did have to cross two pretty sketchy, Indiana Jones looking bridges though. One was made of metal cable that had single pieces of wood on the bottom to walk across. The other was a log, just a log. There was a smaller log a few feet above to hang on to but really, it was just a log. We hiked this part for about an hour then my friend Rasking (a Bob Marley loving, dreadlock wearing, flute playing as we are hiking, peace – loving artist from Lewoh) stops at a tiny entrance into the jungle and signals that now, this is where we will be going. I laugh because I think he is kidding, but no. So we enter the jungle and there is barely a trail and bush surrounding us. This wasn’t even too bad. What made the hike really crazy is that we have to hike down to the valley where the pool is where the waterfall falls into. The hike down the valley is incredibly steep. So steep in fact that we have to scoot down on our butts for some of it because if we walk upright we will go tumbling down the mountain. It was hard and all a lot of us were thinking about as we were scooting down this incredibly steep incline is, how the crap are we gonna get back up this? So, we make it down to the valley. Then we scale some huge boulders in the surrounding area to get to the waterfall. Now, once we got there, it was totally worth the hellacious climb down. The waterfall was beautiful, like something out of a dream. There was a nice, cool breeze and flowers surrounding the water streaming down into the pool. I was definitely glad we came. We stayed for about 2 hours or so, then we had to head back so we wouldn’t get caught out in the jungle after dark. We start to hike back and my legs are still so tired from the hike down, I know the journey back is going to be epic. The really steep incline we hiked to get down here seems even steeper when you are climbing up it instead of down. I felt like I was on a climbing wall for an hour that just wouldn’t end…and you can’t stop. It’s going to be dark soon and you are out in the middle of the bush where no motos or cars can get to you, you just have to keep going. We took breaks and trekked our way back to the top. When we finally made it, it was an awesome feeling. Then of course, to top it off, it started pouring down rain as soon as we made it to town so we walked back to the house completely soaked, completely dirty, and completely exhausted. All in all, I’m definitely glad I went…but I’m not doing it again any time soon.

In other news, I’m an old lady. I celebrated my birthday on January 27th and I am now 23…that is crazy to me. Am I an adult now? I certainly don’t feel like one. To celebrate Brad and a couple of my Cameroonian friends came by. There was Stanley, my carpenter and go-to Lewoh friend for pretty much anything I need and who also went to the waterfall with us, Rasking who I mentioned earlier, Sebastian who is Stanley’s brother and the student who gave me my cat I have now, my neighbor (her name is very Cameroonian and I don’t know how to spell it) and her sister. It was a nice little gathering of some of my good friends here. I made homemade rolls, imitation fetticini alfredo, and pumpkin pie. The Cameroonians nodded politely and smiled when I asked if they liked this American meal…but there were definitely a lot of leftovers.

More news, I am getting 6 more computers for my school! The Peace Corps got a donation of computers and I have told them that my school desperately needs them so they donated 6 of them to Lewoh. I am so excited to have more practicals with working computers. I am traveling to Yaounde this weekend to pick them up from the main office. It works out perfectly because the vice principal of my school is getting married in Yaounde the same weekend I am going to pick up the computers so a lot of the teachers are going to be there to help me get them back to Lewoh (through bush taxis and sketchy agencies…fun stuff).

Youth week is beginning which is kind of a big deal in Cameroonian schools. I am not really sure exactly what happens, there is a lot of talk about youth empowerment, dancing, poems, and presentations. As for me, I gave a seminar on HIV and AIDS to some interested students. It went surprisingly well. I first played a game with them where they had to identify different statements I made about HIV as myth or fact, like “I can get infected with HIV from hugging someone with HIV” (myth) or “Mothers with HIV can transmit the disease to their unborn children” (fact). They did pretty well at this and got most statements right which is great. Then we talked about transmission and prevention. At the end I had them divide into small groups to come up with challenges they face here that makes them at risk to get HIV. The group work went pretty well, they mentioned things like lack of parental support, poverty, and rape. A lot of students kept bringing up that girls are at risk because if they don’t have money, they go out and use sex to get men to support them. It really is a big problem here because women are still treated as inferior to men and there aren’t a lot of job opportunities for them. We talked about how getting an education and developing life skills like self esteem and independence will help combat these challenges, but there are still a lot of problems that need solutions.

Well, that’s all for now…more soon

Love all of you and missing Austin and Mexican food,
Connie

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ahlala! (Hello in the local language)

Wow, I have lived in Cameroon for over 7 months. I can’t believe how fast time is passing. Living here seems so normal now and I feel really comfortable in my village. I am planning on coming home to visit the States in June and that is going to be really weird. Going to grocery stores, riding in cars where I have my own seat, hot showers, washer and dryers, going to restaurants…I am so not used to it anymore. When I first arrived I used to miss those things but now I have adjusted to living without it and I don’t think about it as much. Only sometimes when I go to the market and they are out of eggs and I don’t have water for 2 days, then I think about America.
I went to this big celebration in my village this weekend. They were celebrating the life of this Italian woman, Chiara, who was the president of the Folkalarini which is a Catholic Italian organization who have donated a lot to this part of Cameroon (this area is called “Fontem”). They first came in the 1960’s and decided that they really wanted to help develop Fontem, so they came back and built a really nice hospital and Catholic school along with developing the roads and water supply. It is actually pretty amazing what they have done for this community. Chiara died in March, so to honor her Fontem had a huge funeral celebration. Most of the time funerals here are held long after the person actually died because of the all the preparations. There were a lot of speeches, traditional dances, food, and drinking. There were also a lot of Italians around for the celebration which was kind of strange when you aren’t used to seeing a lot of outsiders. It was a lot of fun and definitely an interesting thing to see.
I started back teaching last week after a much needed 3 weeks off for Christmas break. It started with In Service Training in Kribi with the other volunteers for a week, then I traveled to this village called Batie and spent Christmas with a few other volunteers. We made a delicious feast and just relaxed and it was wonderful. I spent New Year’s at post and that was also fun. I just hung out in the market with some of my Cameroonian friends, so it was definitely not a typical New Year’s in Austin but it was nice. Easing back into the old school schedule was relatively painless. I had 2 more practicals with my Lower and Upper Six classes. These are the highest 2 levels at the high school and the class sizes are smaller so the practicals went a little smoother. It is still hard though when not everyone can use their own computer. Most of these kids have never used a computer before, never. So they don’t know how to use a mouse or type and what they really need is a couple hours of practicing basic skills each week, but that just isn’t possible right now. Hopefully, by the time I leave I will be able to get some more computers for the school so the students can get more practice in.
Today in class I called on one of my students to answer a question and he got flustered and all of a sudden a small bird flew out of his pants. Apparently he was hiding it there because he wanted to bring it home with him. I told him take the bird outside and leave it there and he did…I thought. I was walking around the class later on and heard a squawking coming from his table. He had went outside and tried to hide it better inside his pants. I actually wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the situation but I held it in and sent him to the discipline master. Oh, Cameroon…

Monday, December 29, 2008

You know you're a PCV in Cameroon when...

1. "├ža va" becomes a regular part of your vocabulary
2. You don’t even flinch when you walk out your front door and a family of goats is grazing in your front yard.
3. Riding motos from place to place has become your primary mode of transportation.
4. Sitting 8 people in a bush taxi is normal and only 3 people in the back just seems like a waste of space.
5. Trips to the Frip (an outdoor market that sells used clothes which is kind of a like a big thrift store outside) has taken the place of the mall.
6. Casino/ Score (a supermarket in Yaounde) seems like a little bit of heaven on earth because it sells ice cream, pizza, and cinnamon.
7. DVDs with only one movie on them seem bizarre.
8. Cold showers have become routine and even refreshing.
9. Laundry has many levels of “clean”.
10. You stare just as much as the other Cameroonians when you see another white person in your village.
11. You have a stack of books lined up to read in the corner of your living room…and you are actually going to read all of them.
12. Soya and a Castel seems like the perfect antidote to a stressful day.
13. Texting has become your primary way of communicating.
14. Time has become relative…if someone says they will be somewhere at 5, you know that usually means 5:30 or later.
15. You’re a little tanner after traveling in a bush taxi because your skin is covered in a thin layer of dirt from all the dust.
16. You laugh when you are baking and the recipe says to “preheat the oven” (…because you don’t have an oven and you bake everything in a huge pot with only one temperature – HOT).
17. A spaghetti omelet and a steaming cup of Nescafe with sweetened condensed milk is the breakfast of champions.
18. A functioning toilet is a thing of the past.
19. You have developed cravings for kola nuts and burning fish.
20. At least one of your meals each week is a pineapple.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Victory is mine!

Kind of… I had my first practical today with my Form 4 students. We finally got 4 out of our 5 computers to actually work at the same time. There was a problem with low voltage but we now have a cable running from a greater power source to the school so we can use the computers at the same time. The fifth computer’s monitor is broken, so I’m trying to get a new one soon so then we’ll have all 5 working! Anyways, there are about 60 kids in Form 4 so I broke them up into small groups of three and only took 12 kids to the lab at a time. Each group got about 20 minutes on the computer because I had the class for 2 hours. Things went…ok. For a lot of them this was their first time using a computer so it took awhile for them to get the hand of moving the mouse and such. For half of the lesson I just told them to identify the different parts of a computer and point out the different parts of the desktop that I called out so they would become familiar with everything. Then their big task was to move an icon on the desktop. This was harder for them than it sounds and it took a little while for most people. So, there is still a lot of work to do but things are finally moving along.

So my cat I got during training died pretty soon after I arrived at post after it got in a fight and the wounds got infected. I was pretty sad about it and my Cameroonian friends said they would be on the lookout for another cat. I wasn’t really sure I wanted another cat and I didn’t actually think they were going to look for a cat for me, so my expectations were pretty low. Anyways, yesterday I was taking a nap and heard some knocking on my door and I groggily woke up and answered it. One of my students was standing there with a market bag and he said he had a cat for me. At first I wasn’t sure what he was saying but then he opened the bag and there was a tiny little kitten inside. Apparently he heard that my cat died and knew of a kitten in a small village nearby so he trekked for 2 hours to go get it for me. It was so nice and unexpected and reminded why I love living here so much. People just go out of their way to help you and make you feel at home. So, now I have a new kitten and I named him Milo. He is really cute and already litter box trained (I think 2 days might be a record).