Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer

I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! All of the trainees swore in as volunteers on August 22nd in Bangangté. The swearing – in ceremony was in the center of town and all of our host families attended as well as chiefs from other villages, the Mayor of Bangangté, the PC country director (James Ham), and all the training staff. It was quite an event, even the American Boy Scouts from the Embassy came to present the flags. All of the trainees introduced ourselves in the language of our choice (I chose Francais) and then we all recited the swearing-in pledge as a group. After the ceremony was over, we enjoyed a tasty lunch with our host families and the other new volunteers at a restaurant in town. After this I raced home to pack before the staff came to pick up our trunks and baggage from our houses to load onto the different vans. It was really surreal to be packing up all my stuff and to see my room looking so empty. When I first arrived to training in June, I thought it was never going to end but somewhere along the way time started going at lightening speed and I feel like I just blinked and now it is over. To celebrate (and because now that we are volunteers we don’t have curview), a group of us went dancing at a night club in Bangangté. It was a lot of fun and a good way to end our time in training and say goodbye to friends.
The next day, early in the morning, we were off to our posts. I headed off with the Southwest group to Dschang, the closest big city to Lewoh. It took about 2 hours to get to Dschang from Bangangté and another hour and half to get from Dschang to Lewoh. This ride usually is not that bad but this time I was traveling with a massive amount of baggage and my cat (oh…did I mention I bought a kitten a few weeks ago? At first I thought it was a girl and named it Lola but then I found out it is a boy. I decided to keep the name because in the song about Lola, the person is a transvestite and you never quite know if they are male or female…so it kind of fits my situation.) Anyway, I do not recommend traveling in bush taxis with a cat. It turns out they are not too fond of moving vehicles. I fashioned a crude cat leash out of pagne (scraps of fabric) and that actually worked pretty well in between cars when we got out in the different towns, but Lola was absolutely horrible at sitting in the car. Cameroonians already think it is weird that I pet my cat and give it a name but to put a leash on it and bring it inside the bush taxi with me sitting on my lap…let’s just say there was a lot of staring. Well, I finally arrived in Lewoh and Brad (the closest volunteer to me who lives 30 minutes away in Menji) and the my counterpart, the “Chief”, helped me carry all of my stuff up this mountain to my house. The Chief is an older man in his sixties but he raced up that mountain with half of my stuff like nobody’s business leaving Brad and I in his dust. It was ridiculous… hopefully by the time I leave here I will be able to get up the mountain that fast. We finally got my stuff to the house and then went to the only “restaurant” in town for lunch. It only serves one type of food a day and that day it was my least favorite meal of all time – fufu and porcupine. Fufu is this white gelatine looking substance that is made from corn. It basically has no taste and you eat it with your hands and dip it in a soup- like dish. I have given it a good try…believe me I have. My host family gave it to me all the time and I even helped make it once. It is very prominent in the Southwest and the Cameroonians love it and so it would be so much more convenient if I liked it, but I just don’t. It doesn’t have any taste (except maybe sour swiss cheese…) and doesn’t have any nutritional value. I like porcupine mildly better but I’m still a little bit leary of raging on any kind of bush meat. So, my first meal in Lewoh was not the greatest but I had high hopes for the future meals I would make myself with my gas stove.
So, over the next few days I cleaned my beyond disgusting house and unpacked. The former volunteer (Jesse) left over a year ago and no one had been in the house since so it was really dirty and full of creepy crawly friends. There was even a dead lizard in my sink (don’t worry…I took a picture to capture the moment). I went to Dschang to purchase some essentials and some things to make the house a little more homey – a stove, gas can, kitchen supplies, sheets, some rugs, etc. It is looking a lot better now and I am getting used to it, although at night it is still really creepy because there is not a lot of light and I kind of feel like I live in a garage because the floors are all cement. My dad will be proud that I successfully hooked up my stove and fixed my toilet that wouldn’t flush all by myself…it was bound to happen that some of that engineering would rub off. Everyone in the town has been really nice and inviting, they all say “you are welcome, you are welcome” whenever I meet a new person. Although the little kids just yell “White man! White man!” whenever I walk by. I am the only white person in the town and I guess I’m kind of spectacle whenever I walk into town. It is getting better as I meet people and the village gets used to seeing me around and it is not so new anymore. I am not the first volunteer to have come here…Jesse was here for 2 years a year ago before me. I like to call him “the ghost of Jesse” because I have never met him but I hear all of these crazy stories about. The Lewoh-ans loved him because he could speak Pidgin and their native language fluently, they even made him a noble in the town. Let’s just say, I have a lot to live up to.
I am almost finished with my first week of real Cameroonian teaching. I am teaching 10 hours of Computer Sciences to all different levels and 3 hours of Biology to Form 2 (~ 11 yrs old but some are older because they are behind). I really did not want to teach Computers because I came here as a Science teacher, but the school really needed a computer teacher and no one else had experience with computers. They are getting 5 computers mid-September (theoretically), so hopefully the students will be able to get a little practical experience. The office JUST got their first computer the same week I moved in and I helped them install the printer. They just thought I was amazing after I got it working and were so happy I was here. That made me feel good and useful but honestly…I’m a little nervous about teaching computers to hundreds of students with only 5 computers (that haven’t even arrived yet). Every student is not going to get a lot of time on the computers because there are just too many students and too little resources. I mean there is only so far you can go with a chalk and chalkboard talking about computers. It would make things so much easier if they could see what I was talking about as I was explaining…but alas, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. My Biology class is enormous and growing everyday. Right now there are about 60 kids and it is only the first week (as the weeks go by, more and more students start to come back to school but right now a lot of them are still working on the farms). Because it is a big class, they disturb a lot and I am trying to work on my mean teacher attitude but let’s face it – I’m just not very intimidating. I haven’t had to send anyone out of class yet, but I’m sure it’s coming. The schedule for this first week was really disorganized…there basically wasn’t a schedule and they just said to go to any one of the classes and teach and when you are finished, find another class to teach. It was ridiculous. Hopefully next week will be better when they have finished the time table. I’m not really sure why they can’t do the time table before school starts. I think it’s because all the teachers aren’t here so they don’t know what subjects they have teachers for and such. They really need to enforce that the teachers need to be here before the first day of school so that the time table can be finished and a schedule can be made before the first day of school. This is the way they have done it for years and years and I guess the staff is just used to the chaos on the first week.
Anyways, I have been at post for a little over 2 weeks and I have never felt more like I was on an emotional rollercoaster. Some days I am so completely happy I am here and totally taken aback by the beauty of this country and other days I can’t believe I agreed to live in Africa for 2 years. Living alone has definitely been a hard adjustment. I have always had roommates, I have never truly lived alone before and it is very different. After every little noise at night, I think someone is breaking in and I am not sleeping very well yet. I like cooking for myself but I don’t like not always having someone to share a meal with. I’m sure it will get better once I make some good friends in the village but right now it is very strange. Living alone in Africa does leave you with a lot of free time though. I have been reading a lot and going on little hikes…that part I really enjoy. I also see some projects on the horizon that I want to get involved in. After I get settled in more and actually feel like I am living here, I think the rollercoaster will become less bumpy.

Well, I’m off to wash my laundry out of a bucket. I love all of you and miss you!


PS: I will try to be better about updating this thing now that I have more time…