Monday, June 25, 2007

Quelque Chose Interessant

Today it really started. Each of the Small Enterprise Development (SED) Volunteers was assigned a small local business to pretty much consult. I met with them today and looked at their store. I am pretty scared to tell the truth. My french is not good! So they will start telling me about their accounts and the like and I won't really understand what they are talking about. I know that they don't expect me to turn them into Bill Gates or anything, but still I am really feeling the pressure of it all. Which is a good thing I guess.

Anyways, thus far my days are broken into segements of classes. I have language classes, technical classes , and cross-cultural communication classes. I find the X-Cultural classes especially interesting. The other day we had a conversation about Gender roles in Cameroon. Before we came and during our orientation in Yaounde we were told over and over again about the male-dominated culture that exists here in Cameroon. In my host family and while observing the social attitudes I have seen this. The men and women are definetly constrained to their perspective roles (for the most part, I can't say that for ALL Cameroonians). We were also told that as a women we may have hard time being taken seriously and respected in our workplaces. We did a little exercise taht taught me a lot about how women are viewed in Cameroon and/compared to how women are viewed in the U.S.

Our teacher broke us up into four groups all the American men in one group, the American women in another group, the Cameroonian men and the Cameroonian women. We all went to our respective flip charts. We were told to write the words th at come to our mind when we think of the word 'Woman'
This is what we all wrote (punctuation the same as well)

American Men:
legs!!!
feminism
smells good
manipulation
harder life
little feet
bra....lol
Victoria Secret
smile
strong
athletics
emotional

American Women:
the song "American Woman"
strong
organized
independent
undervalued
self-sufficent
liberated
mother
multi-tasking
tough
caretaker
friend
sexual object
vulnerable

Cameroonian Men:
Maternity/child bearing
beauty (physical)
sensitive
weak
tender
domestic chores
kitchen
sex(#1)
patient
respect
submissive
crying
faithfulness
artifical
demanding
materialistic

Cameroonian Female:
mother
beauty/elegance
education
protector
sensitive
fragile
maternelle
manager of the house
attentive
lots of babies
ambitious
feminist
shapes the childrens future

Okay, they wrote the last one in french so something might be lost in translation. But, you get the general idea. This is very interesting to me and disappointing at the same time. Look what the American men wrote! These are all educated and fairly mature men and they wrote about almost entirely sexual things and they said that they were tring to be politically correct! The only sexual thing that the Cameroonian men put on theirs was the word SEX. Alos intersting is the firs thing that they put was child bearing as where the american men put legs!
American women obviously think of themselves as very liberated but obviously the men don't seen to really think so. I think that it is interesting how the Cameroonian men and women have almost the same woman in mind. All around I thought that the Cameroonian men's depiction of a women was more kindly then the American men's. Why are the American men and women's view of women so different? Why do men in America think of Vicotira Secret when they think of women? What is wrong with that picture!? Of course this is not a conclusive study, but it is interesting to me.

This is becoming a very long post. I will try to keep you updated as I keep trekking on!

Yesterday I saw papa johns pizza in a commerical and almost tried to eat the TV screen! haha! The cravings are starting to kick in...

Anyways, au revoir!

Autumn

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ma Vie Camerounaise


Bonsoir!
I don't have much time so I have to make this post short. I just wanted to highlight a couple of moments I have had were it has really hit me that I am indeed living in Africa right now and just the amazingness of that fact.
Yesterday I played soccer on a red dirt field with both Cameroonians and other Peace Corps people. As we were playing I looked around myself and saw the scenery and all of the kids watching (and laughing at us, rightfully) and thought to myself, this is amazing, Here I am laughing with these people who in the normal course of things I would never had gotten to know. People from across the world. I just feel overwhelming grateful for the opprotunity to get to know them (especially my host family) and get the chance to try and see things from their perspective.
My next experience is more like an everyday experience. It is my french course. I sit in a field with my teacher, under a mango tree with chickens walking around my feet.
It is those moments that I know will be with me forever.
I dont have much time now, but stay tuned...next time I will write about a very interesting cross cultural session we had.
Bisous!
Autumn

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bienvenue a Bangante


I read over that last post and I want to apologize for the horrible spelling/grammer. I have to go really fast because it cost money.
So, I have arrived in Bangangte! I am now living with my host family and have started my training. Living with this family has really plunged me into the actual reality of what my life is going to be like for the next two years. My family came and picked me up and the city hall and one of the first things that they said to me was "was thought that you were going to be a boy" because I guess that Brown is the name of a boy here...anyways...so that was a bit awkward, coupled with the fact that my french is STILL atrocious it has been a bit difficult.
My family is really nice though. It is a mom, dad, 18 year old girl, 16 year old boy, and then a 4 year old girl and a 1 year old girl. My first night with the family was expecially interesting. Firstly, they put like an entire fish on my plate to eat, and I had to eat it becuase it was just for me. Only the dad and I ate it. It is kind of awkward because I have been eating different stuff then the rest of the family, which is nice of them, but it kind of makes me feel guilty.
When I went to bed the 18 year old came with me and killed the cricked for me that was making noise in my room and then a lizard ran across the wall and I left out a little yelp and agian the girl got up and killed it for me. She's a sweetheart. The 16 year old asks me a lot of questions about what it is like in America and is good about helping me with my French. The 4 year old is scared of me. She just sits and stares at me. My first night she even came over and hesitantly touched my arm. That was pretty funny.
Bangangte is beautiful. It is higher in the mountains so it is not has hot as Yaounde. The roads are all really red so the green plants look amazing in contrast. Also, it is a weird mix of palm trees and pine trees. I will try to post some pictures later.
I am really liking Bangangte and my host family. It is also interesting to watch the family dynamics, which I will try to talk about later. (I dont have a ton of time right now).
IT is a bit of a culture shock, but I am adjusting. I am getting used to the cold showers or the cold bucket baths, the strange smell of my mosquito net and the food.
Bisous et au revoir,

Autumn

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Corps de la Paix

Tomorrow is the big day where we leave Yaounde and go to live with our host families. I am really excited, but some of the things the instructors were telling us have me a bit apprehensive. Firstly they gave us a huge lesson on boiling water, not eating unwashed/peeled vegatables and rabid pets (including monkeys!) that we may incounter in our homestay. Secondly, my thoughts of losing weight in Africa have gone out the window as they assured us that they will feed us really well because gaining weight is a good sign and they won't want anyone to think that we haven't been happy/well-fed. So, I will write more about my homestay experience later, but I am writing now because I don't know when the next time I will have access to internet will be.

Most of our instructors are Cameroonian and today we have a Cross-Cultural section that was VERY interesting. Some of my observations, and some of the things I have learned so far (that were a little more than a little strange to me at first) include:

Men holding hands: Ok, it is illegal to be homosexual in Cameroon so when I saw my first pair of men holding hands in the street while they walked I thought....ummm...aren't they scared of being arrested? But, as I talked to some people I learned that guy friends hold hands. Not for really long durations, but when walking a short distance together or while talking.

No visible traffic laws: Little cabs toyota camery cabs are crammed with like 7 people. The driver stops and picks up more people regardless of who is already in the car. And traffic laws are more like suggestions.

"The 11th province": In Cameroon where you are born is where you are from not matter what. One of my teachers was saying that he lived in Yaounde for as long as he remembers, but nobody considers him from Yaounde because he was born somewhere else. There are 10 provinces in Cameroon so someone who was born in one province then moved to another is said to be from the 11th province. There are two anglophone provinces and my teacher was telling me that in Cameroon there is a strong Anglophone seperatism movement (maybe that is too strong, at least autonomy movement) is going on and when Paul Biya (current leader of Cameroon) came to power he wanted to squelch this movement so he started moving francophones to anglophone provinces and visa-versa. My teacher was a francophone who ended up in anglophone. This is kind of where that 11th province idea came into being.

Cameroon has about 230 languages.

I was talking to one Cameroonian here that said that in African languages there are not words for colors...like Green, Yellow, Blue, etc. They only have Black (the absence of light), White (light), and Red (I don't know why Red). I looked at him skeptically so he brought over one by one each of the Cameroonian staff (who each speak several languages and each a different mother African language) and he asked them how you would say a certain color in their African langauge. He pointed at some plants and said "How would you say that color in ----?" She thought and she said "Red." All colors are red and each of the other staff said the exact same thing...they called the Bananas red too. They don't use colors to describe things. They use size or they said "The color of the leaves, etc." I thought this was fascinating and hard to comprehend at the same time.

There is no saying really for "That is not fair" or that idea is not articulated. "This isn't fair" is a very American, or Western mind set. In Cameroon saying "This is not Fair" would not really make sense. I think this might have to do with the Rule of Law not being as developed and a cultural appreciation and respect for authority. If someone is in authoriy then "this is not fair" is irrelevant.

Overall Cameroonians are very open and friendly. Peace Corps have been in Cameroon since 1962 so it has a well (and well established) reputation here and is generally respected. I am really excited to move on to training although it is extremely rigorous. For example, in a couple of weeks I will be going to local businesses and MFIs (Microfinance Institutions) and trying to help them formulate business strategies and learn from them...IN FRENCH!

The best things in life are oftentimes the most difficult, so I will keep that in mind as I get through the next couple of months of language, culture and technical training!

Lots of love and Bisous,

Autumn

Monday, June 11, 2007

Les Premiers Jours


I have arrived in Cameroon safely after a very, very long flight!
(and for the Francophones, I am sorry if I spelled that title wrong...eeks!)

Before coming I had a three day orientation in Philadelphia where I met all the other volunteers coming over with me, and got my first set of shots. The other volunteers are really cool, as a group. Then came the two 8 hour flights (To Paris then Yaounde) and then I arrived. Yippee! It is AMAZING! We had a quick stop in Douala, which is the biggest city in Cameroon but not the Capital, so my first impressions were made there. It is beautiful. The Guns and Roses song "Welcome to the Jungle" was stuck in my head when we landed because it looked like a Jungle. Right off the runway you couldn't really see any houses, just the vast amounts of greenery. From the runway I could see the kids playing and even a funeral going on close by. We then arrived in Yaounde. Every country has its own distinct smell and I think, although others have their own interpretations, that Cameroon smells like a mixture between woodsmoke and cornmeal (not unpleasant at all). While collecting our baggage the power went off in the airport, but I guess during the rainy season (now) that is a common occurance, so we had to wait awhile to pick up our bags. Afterwards we went a boarded a huge old bus and made the hour trip from the airport to Yaounde where we came to our hotel and immediately went to sleep. Sunday was a free day and most of us spent the day just catching up on sleep. In the evening a couple of us decided to take a walk to a stadium we saw in the distance (Cameroonians LOVE soccer). It was being reconstructed (via a gift donation from Japan....interesting) and there we met a nice worker named Andre who gave us a tour. My french needs A LOT of work, but I was ok enough to ask some simple questions about the place. People seem friendly but we do stick out like sore thumbs.
The hotel is nice, but the bathrooms are....different. But in the eating area we can see a Banana tree with bananas on it and it overlooks Yaounde. Which is pretty cool.
The food is DELICIOUS! We went to the Peace Corps Country Directors House for dinner and it was all delicious. I am very glad that I like the food. The fruit...oh my goodness. The watermelon, pineapple, everything. It is all very exciting right now.
We are going to be in training for the next couple of months and at the end of the week we move into a Host Family house in a different city a couple of hours outside of Yaounde. During all of our training we will be living with this host family, and although I am excited to finally move out of my suitcase, I am nervous too.Today we got some more shots and had our language test.
I really can't wait to be able to speak well enough to really communicate with people on the streets. I want to ask them so many questions, just about life and politics in Cameroon, what they think of the U.S., ect. That may take a while, but I am determined to get there.
There is a lot of poverty everywhere you go, but I don't really look at it and think "these people are so poor." They live how they live. It is very different then what I am used to, but all the same I don't think it is fair for me to critize their housing, ect. Most seem happy and curious. And notwithstanding the negative side, I think that there is something to living a kind of simple life that brings a different kind of fulfillment.
Anyways, I didn't cover all of my thoughts/feelings ect. but I am on a shared computer now so I must make it short.
In brief, so far so good. I really like it here actually. It may sound odd but when I woke up for that first morning and looked out my window it just felt so great. Coming to Africa kind of feels like coming home somehow. As cheesy as that sounds. A lot of people seem to say that though, so I think that there is just something about Africa that captures people, which right now includes me. In two weeks I may be writing about how frustrated I am or how I miss such-and-such food. But, for right now I am loving all of it.
I hope that everyone is doing well and I do want to hear from each of you and I will reply. It is just that for the purpose of mass dissemination a blog seems to work.
Bisous,
Autumn