Monday, October 27, 2008
It all started a month ago when I was robbed for the second time. I got home and opened my door, oblivious to what had happened, and as I pulled back the curtain to go to the back end of my house I saw that someone had broken down the boards that make up my ceiling. I had locked my bedroom and my spare room before leaving the house, so they had crawled through the ceiling and broke down the ceiling in those rooms as well. My house was ripped apart because they had been looking for money. The two rooms were destroyed and disgusting as years of dirt from the “attic” area were in my room…including dead mice. I just started crying! I felt so betrayed and violated. Twice in one month. I know it is just the little thieves in the neighborhood. 14 year old boys who don’t have enough parental supervision and want to make some quick money.
After seeing my house like that I just left without saying goodbye to anyone. I went to a nearby volunteer’s house, I contacted the Peace Corps and they told me to come to Yaounde to talk about it. I filed some reports and the director told me he thought it was a good idea if I switched posts. So that and other work related problems had me in searching for a new place to live.
This was a depressing time. I had spent a year in Kekem and now, halfway through my service, was preparing to switch posts. I narrowed it down to two potential posts. Manjo and another post in the south-west province (Anglophone!) called Fontem. I traveled to Fontem, which is an one and a half hour motorcycle ride outside of the nearest town and stayed with another volunteer there for a few days. It is beautiful there and everyone was extremely nice. It was a really hard choice, but in the end I chose Manjo. Manjo is not too far from Kekem and I would like to continue some of the work that I started there. Especially my business club, as they will be doing a project together soon.
Last week I moved to Manjo. I am working with another MC2 (same microfinance chain) and so far it is going really well! My new counterpart is a real go-getter and understands my role as a Peace Corps volunteer. This last week we went out to all of these little villages around Manjo. The government just gave the MC2 money to give out specifically for loans to help agricultural projects. So we went out to these little villages to meet with a bunch of different groups and talk to them about how they could benefit from these loans.
When working with people who live out in the small villages oftentimes they don’t speak French. Also the local languages vary a lot because the area is very cosmopolitian, but the one language that can be used anywhere here is Pidgin! I love it! I am going to try and learn. My counterpart speaks it often when we met with groups he would go off into Pidgin. It is like a simplified English with the rhythum of a local language.
Examples (although I haven’t learned to write it so I am sure the spelling is all wrong):
Ay done go fo farm (I went to the farm)
Ay b tired, ay done walka plenty (I am tired, I walked a lot)
We also visited the farms of people who were currently taking out loans. Just to make sure that they were actually investing the money like they said they would. We spent about an hour hiking through one pineapple field. The farmer stopped and said “this looks ripe!” and cut off, peeled and cut in half a pineapple with his machete and gave me a half. It still had the stem so it was like a big lollipop. It was the best pineapple I ever had! The juice dripped down my elbows!
We went to one little village that was about an hour ride on my counterpart’s motorcycle on a small dirt road and just went to the market and asked people if they knew how a bank worked and why it is important to save money. Some people followed me around because they’d never seen a white person before.
We were on one small dirt road walking to a nearby farm and the farmer I was with explained that the road we were on was, fifty year ago, the national highway! It was so strange to think that only fifty years ago the national highway was a small dirt road!
In each village my counterpart explained to the groups that I was available to help them with managing their activities--like budgeting, feasibility studies, marketing and accounting. I think the message passed well and that I will be busy soon!
My house here in Manjo is way too nice for a Peace Corps volunteer. It has tiles on the floor! I feel a little guilty to be living in such a nice house, but before I left Kekem I found baby mice under my mattress, so I feel like I’d be OK in a nicer place.
I am in the middle of town on the second story so I can see a lot of the town. It is nice! The Mosque is not far away so at 5:30 every morning the call to prayer serves as my alarm clock. The people here in general are just really nice. Manjo is bigger than Kekem, ethnic group mix is a little different, and it is more developed in general, which might all explain why people seem nicer.
I had a good experience in Kekem and I am glad that I didn’t decide to move too far away so that I can continue to work there. Yet, I am also glad for the opportunity to live and work here in Manjo. To be able to start anew knowing all that I know now! It is a great opportunity and I think that my second year is going to be even better than my first!
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Lately I have taken an interest in learning the local language. Although my French is still nothing to write home about I feel as though there is a huge part of the culture I will never understand if I don’t learn the local language. As I have described before, the village where I am living is a mix of several different tribes and therefore languages. The most prominent is Bafang (in Bafang: Féefé). I learned simple greetings during my first month at post, but now I am determined to leave here with the ability to carry on a simple conversation in Bafang.
Already the local language has opened my eyes to new cultural insights. For example the other week I was teaching an English class and we were learning family vocabulary. After class I started talking to one of my students who explained to me that in Bafang there is no word for cousin, aunt, uncle or even sister! There is a word for mother, father and everyone else is your “brother” and the word for brother is the same for sister. People do not make the distinction between a brother and a cousin in the local language! It made me realize that the solidarity reached a level that I had never understood. It is clear to me now why everyone is referring to everyone else as “my brother” or “my sister” in French. I was visiting a volunteer in another village, where a different language is spoken, and started to talk to a friend about family vocabulary. He explained to me that it was the same in their local language. That a long time ago people from the same tribe all lived in the same area and “brother” in the local language refers to anyone who has a blood tie with you regardless of their parentage or actual relationship to you.
I understand a little better now why everyone is my class thought it was so weird that we “white men” have words like “half brother, step brother, first cousin vs. second cousin, sister-in-law great aunt, etc.” because in the local language those distinctions are not made, they are just all your “brother” or your blood relations. It made me realize how much we, and I use “we” to refer generally to all occidental cultures, have categorized every relationship, perhaps in a way to distinguish varying levels of relational importance. When I tell people that I have cousins whose names I don’t even know, they are shocked. But if I thought of my cousins as my brothers, then would it be different? Also in American culture we travel so much and a large percentage of people end up “settling down” somewhere far from where they grew up. Perhaps to think of all extended family as your close relations is unfeasible. I have seven siblings and it takes a lot of energy to keep in touch with all of them, so to think of trying to sustain that kind of relationship with all my extended family is exhausting. Maybe if we all lived in the same village it would be possible.
So here in Cameroon everyone is family, but what I learned is that you still should not tell people when you travel and keep your house firmly locked. Yes, I got robbed. I went away for a few days and came back to a practically empty house! They even took the mattresses off my beds! After this I learned what kind of precautions everyone else takes. 1) never tell anyone when you travel, 2) never leave your house empty. I know that it didn’t happen to me because I’m white. It happens to almost everyone. Also I feel safe because I know that they people who came to rob me came because I wasn’t there. My neighbor across the street has a house here although his family lives in a neighboring village. So he travels a lot. A little boy, of about 13, kept breaking into his house and was just taking whatever is lying around and eating his food. They found the boy and he explained that he came from a ways away to go to school and was just hungry. So he would break into the man’s house and eat something between his classes. Young people don’t have money of their own and as a result often have to fend for themselves. Unemployment among youth is pervasive. Young people between the ages of 12-21 work out in the farms with their parents in order to help their parents make a living and eat. They have no income for themselves and no occupation in general to keep them busy. With a complete lack of work opportunities crime is the way to get some income.
The experience of getting my house broken into left me feeling discouraged, betrayed, violated and angry. At the same time it has reiterated to me the importance of trying to reach out to youth. The decisions that young people make now will resonate into the future, whether for good or not. Perhaps I can’t provide work opportunities but I can point young people to other options and help them learn some of the skills needed in order to pursue honest occupations.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
I have been meaning to learn how to make Koki for a long time now. I kept mentioning that I wanted to learn to a friend of mine who makes some wicked good Koki. So this last Saturday she came by my house early in the morning so that we could go to the market together and buy everything needed to make Koki.
You need the koki beans, l’huile rouge (a thick sludgy red palm oil—its what makes Koki so good for you…NOT!), and some salt. I have piment growing in my yard so we spiced it with that. You soak the beans, remove the skin, mush it into a paste with the piment and oil, add some water and salt, put it in a banana tree leaf (also found in my yard) tie it up and boil it in a big pot over a fire for a couple hours. YUM!
It may sound easy but it is about 5 hours of work all together! African women are so incredibly strong. The woman making it with me would open the pot with her bare hands (no hot pads here!) and while I was coughing and crying from the smoke from the fire she as rocking her baby to sleep and curing the leaves at the same time!
I was pretty exhausted afterwards and I didn’t even do most of the work. But for about $3.25 and five hours of work I made enough Koki to feed myself and two other families! And now when I buy Koki I have a new appreciation for all of the work it takes to make it!
Thursday, May 8, 2008
The Best Of….
The Bush Taxi Rides
As much as I whine about the cramped, bumpy and loud bush taxis some of my best stories come from these rides.
Luckily for me bush taxi rides are never as excruciating as for some volunteers who live en brouse. Kekem is situated conveniently on one of Cameroon’s biggest and busiest highways. After the main highways were built people moved to be close to them; for the economic opportunities but also security. Kekem as a town didn’t exist until the main highway was built.
Outside the window of the taxis there is always a lot of activity going on. You can see houses and people going about their daily lives. Children with the water on their heads and old women with the hoe across their shoulders as they come back from the fields. Wherever the car stops people run up to the windows and try to sell their goods. Some policeman will create a stop with a two-by-four with nails sticking out of it in order to stop cars and get money, but the entrepreneurs are benefiting from the situation too. That is what they sit and as car stops the sell them there products. Fruits, peanuts, and baton de manioc are always common. This trip I had someone come up to my window trying to sell two dead monkeys! I said “non, merci”.
If the bus isn’t full when leaving it will stop on the side of the road to pick up people who are coming out of the little villages to travel to the bigger towns to sell their goods. During my last trip to Yaounde the car stopped and picked up this old woman. She was wearing an old worn Kaba (a mumu type dress) and the conductor had to help her up into the bus because her knees didn’t seem to bend very well anymore. She didn’t speak a word of French so she would speak in her local language and someone else who understood would translate for the driver. Like much of the older generations this signifies that she lives way out au village and hasn’t had any formal education. She was traveling to a bigger city to sell her various crops. She sat diagonally from me and I noticed her hands. They were huge and callused, almost as if her skin was 2 inches thick all around.
Halfway through the trip the car stops in a town so that the passengers can stretch their legs and get something to eat. I got out and just bought some water then got back into the bus. I was feeling tired and grumpy and didn’t want to deal with the vendors yelling at me to buy their goods. A little after me came the old woman. She hobbled back to the bus and then had a young guy help her get back into her seat. I was sitting and waiting when I felt the old woman’s hand on my shoulder. I turned around and she was offering me her roasted plantain. I accepted and smiled at her trying to say thank you. She said something that I didn’t understand. But the whole rest of the trip my heart just felt full and grateful that this old woman who, in the material sense, has nothing would share with my what she has. She was welcoming me and although we don’t have much in common, for a while we shared and car and a plantain. It was the best tasting plantain I have ever had.
…Runner up in Best of Bush Taxi
I traveled up to Bamenda to help out with an In-Service Training and on the way up I sat next to the cutest little girl. At first she was kind of scared of me, but her mom forced her to shake my hand and say hello so that she wouldn’t be scared anymore. Towards the end of the trip the little girl takes my hand and puts a 50 CFA piece in it. This is the equivalent of maybe 10 cents. I said thanks, but that she should keep it. She turned away shyly and said something to her mom. Her mom laughed then told me that the girl wants me to have the money. She said that the little girl noticed that in the car everyone had a brother or sister but me. That I was all alone and therefore needed it. We laughed and I tried to give the money back but the little girl wouldn’t have it. So I took it.
There is a large central market in Yaounde that I went to with a fellow volunteer the other day. Kind of a long story (he tried to sell me to a guy for 150 goats) but I heard the BEST pick-up line yet:
"Our child could be the next Barak Obama"
How good is that? I laughed so hard! How clever! But I still didn’t give him my number (he wasn’t willing to pay the 150 goats)
“Ouaiii!” Pronounced: Waaaayh. = Depending on how the sound is made—high or low—its an exclamation of disbelief like “oh my goodness!”or of frustration like “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“Je dit que….”= I said that… the que at the end is pronouced like “kay” at the end you have to lower your voice a couple of octaves to get the whole effect. People say this when they are going to repeat something you may not have understood the first time or they something want to put extra emphasize on.
“Ooh…Aisha.” =Oh, I’m sorry! Hang in there!
“Tu es malade?!” =Are you sick? /Real Translation: Are you crazy? People say this to anyone who does something that they don’t really like or agree with. Mostly between young people.
“Petit! Viens!” (see #6 below)
“ Waikay!” I believe this is a Bassa phrase. It is when someone hears something they think is crazy or something startling happens. It is astonishment. Similar to “Ouaiiii” Example: “Waikay!! You don’t eat piment in the United States!?!”
“Tu m’as gardé quoi?” =What did you keep for me? When you travel you are supposed to “garde” or get something for the people who are close to you. So when you get back from traveling people will ask you this. Which can make the newcomer feel very awkward. I finally found the perfect response “Est-ce que je ne suffis pas?”=Am I not enough?
The other day was a milestone for me. Everytime I walk down the street I hear someone say “Look! La Blanche!” I get called “la blanche” or the white. But the other day I walked down the street searching for a pineapple, when I heard some say to their friends, “Regardez! Notre blanche!” or Look! Our white! I went from The White to Our White!! Hopefully by the time I will leave I will be “Autumn”, but it is really hard to pronouce so I’ll settle for Brown.
A couple of things I love about Cameroon(ians)
If there is music, you dance. Sometimes this means that you are sitting in a bar with some of your Cameroonian friends and some music that they like starts playing and they randomly get up and start dancing. It isn’t awkward though. Whenever you sit in a bar there is someone up dancing, even if it’s by themselves. Nobody stares because it’s just normal.
You never eat a meal alone. When I first got here people would come over to my house and ask “What did you cook?” I would tell them and then they would expect “their part”. It made me feel uncomfortable, because I would just make enough for me and eat it. Now I realize that if you cook, you cook a lot and you give some to whoever happens by. That no meal should be so small that it just feeds one.
Everyone has “ma part” (their part). If there is extra you give it to someone else. I learned this principle when seeing a man returning from the fields with a bunch of sugar cane on his back and as he walked someone would say “where is my part?” and he would stop and give some. He probably did that just until “his part” was left. Sharing is necessary. My neighbor will often come over with a plate of food and tell me that it is “my part”.
Children are, in a way, everyone’s children. Sometimes when riding in a bus the person next to you will just put their child on your lap. When this happens, there is no annoyance involved. People just play and talk with the child as if it was their own, even if its for the entire 2hr ride.
Everyone falls into one of the following the categories of “Mon frere, ma soeur, mon pere, or ma mere.” At first I thought that it was based upon age, and it is to some extent, but it is also a sign of respect. If you are called “my mother” or “my father” it is more respectful then “little sister” for example. Sometimes an old man will call a toddler “my father”. But I always like it when strangers say Hi to me by calling me “my sister” or “the mother”.
“Petit! Viens!” Little! Come here! All young children are at the mercy of adults. It is like some unwritten law that children have to do whatever an adult tells them. So you will often here that phrase “Petit! Viens!” Then the child will come and do what the adult tells them. Often then the adult will give 100 CFA or something. I have even gotten to the point where if I want something but don’t feel like going to get it I can just yell at some petit to do it. The other day I had some of my students come over to “mow” my grass. (they use a machete) and I just told them to do it and they did. But, I did let them take my sugar cane when they left so they were happy.
Koki, Mangoes, and the omelet shack. My favorite foods here. Koki is black-eyed pea type beans smashed up, mixed with a thick palm oil and piment then put into a leaf and boiled so that it has the consistency of tofu. Delicious with boiled green bananas! Mangoes here are AMAZING! If I am depressed, eating a mango makes me forget all of my worries for all of three minutes as the juice runs down my elbows. There are a lot of little boutiques that have a table and chair set out and then a mama will make omelets for people. There is one by my house and she makes a wicked good bean omelet.
Putting the “Fun” into “Funeral”. Death is something that is viewed differently. In many ways it is out in the open. And funerals are huge celebrations! Well at least the ones that happen years after the actual deaths. There is no party like a funeral though. They go for days and the eating and dancing doesn’t stop!
Pagne. This is the brightly colored and patterned cloth and everyone buys and makes their different outfits with. I’ve become addicted to the stuff! I love buying some, and then taking it to a tailor who will make whatever you want out of it.
Holding Hands. When you are walking down the street with a friend you often hold hands. When I first arrived I remember seeing grown men walking and holding hands and I found it extremely odd. Now as I hold hands with friends when talking with them or walking I realize how much we have made hand-holding solely romantic or boyfriend-girlfriend oriented in the U.S. Holding hands is friendly and should be practiced as such.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Many of you may have already heard about the recent riots and unrest happening in Cameroon, but if you haven't let me fill you in...
Starting Monday all the taxi cab drivers around Cameroon went on strike to protest the rise in fuel prices, and the strike grew as people started to protest the general rise in prices across the country. The cost of general products such as palm oil and eggs has risen in recent months which has been hurting the standard of living of Cameroonians. So the Taxicab strike spread to civil unrest. Especially in the larger cities of Douala, Yaoundé, Bamenda and Kumba there were riots, lootings and burning of public and private buildings, and also some causalities.
Monday I was in the middle of teaching my english class when I was awakened to the reality that the riots and stikes were in no way limited to Douala and Yaoundé. As I was teaching I was startled by a loud banging noise coming from the gate of our school's compound. Next thing I knew my students were screaming and running to the back of the classroom. I looked over and the gate to the school was being burst open by a group of young men with big sticks and machetees. I have never been so scared in my life! My students by this point had broken down the wooden barrier seperating our classroom from the next one and were running away. Seeing that the men will at any moment break through, as the gate is being shaken violently back and forth, I grab my cell phone and run out following my students, thinking frantically about who I might be able to call for help. The first thought I had was that they were coming for me, kind of egotistical i know, but not knowing that they were going to all the schools I figured that they were coming to take the white girl as an example or something. Luckily there was another teacher who was pretty calm and I stayed next to her and hid myself. The P.E. teacher and another male teacher went tentatively to the gate to ask the guys what they wanted. They said they wanted school to be stopped immediately and for all the students to be sent home. The teacher said, Ok we will open the gate and let the students out if you promise not to hurt them. So the gate was opened and all the students rushed out and then the gang moved on to shut down the next school as well. The other teachers and I stay around for a while talking. We were all really frightened, but I think I was the only one who actually ran. One teacher explained to me that in Cameroon the government controls the prices of a lot of the staple products and so when the prices are risen without salaries being risen it obviously creates a lot of unhappy people.
After this incident I went home a bit shaken up, but feeling safe as I knew that the agressors weren't hurting anyone and just wanted to close everything down. All the boutiques and schools had been visited by the same group and everything had been closed. The next day schools tried to reopen but the agressors came back and frightened everyone into closing again.
For about 4 days the whole town was shut down. No cars passed on the main road so there was kind of an eery silence as everyone waited. At first I feared I might run out of food, but I soon found that you can still buy stuff at boutiques, you just have to go through the back door.
My boss told me to stay in my house and keep a low profile so I did. Thursday night the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya adressed the nation in a short speech that condemned violence and lectured the agressors. He also hinted that the youth doing the rioting were being manipulated by the opposition party. He highlighted that Cameroon, unlike many of its neighboring countries, is a country of peace. Which has been true and something that Cameroonians are very proud of. This was the most instability the country has seen in a very long time.
That night after the speech the sous-préfecture (which is like governments representative for the city) of Kékem was burnt to the ground by the rioters. Some neighbor kids came by my house and told me to look, and sure enough up there on the hill was the sous-préfecture building in flames. Rumors were they were going to light up the brigade next, but an increase in police presence around the town calmed things down. All around the country and especially in big cities there has been an increase in police and military presence which hads helped stop the violence. In cities around the country government buildings were burnt to the ground. So I assume that for many the speech wasn't taken very well.
As of yesterday boutiques started opening again and cars are passing. People tell me that the strike is over and that the gas prices have been lowered (which was the inital cause of the unrest). I hope it is over! Monday school will start up again. I only hope that the real problems that the people are experiencing here in Cameroon can be resolved without violence.
Here is an article I found on bbc:
Friday, February 22, 2008
At another funeral I sat down to eat and there was chicken! Which is a treat in Kekem because it is expensive. Also I never eat it because it would mean killing and cleaning the chicken myself, which I am not prepared to do! So I sit down and I start eating this delicious fried chicken. I pick up a second piece, which is kind of round but I just assume it is some big meaty piece. I bit into it and to my surprise found that it was hard. I looked down and I saw the chicken HEAD! Closed eyes, beak, yuck!
I also ate what I am pretty sure was monkey. When you ask someone what kind of meat something is they always say “meat” and if you press everything is “beef”. But this definetly wasn't beef, and I have seen people selling dead monkeys on the side of the road.
The night before I went to a burial, which is different than the funeral. It was for a neighbor who had died. I had never met him, but I was assured that as a neighbor I should go. I felt kind of awkward at first, but I know his son and after a while it wasn’t awkward. Mostly because it wasn’t like anyother burial I have ever been to. There were 2 marching type bands (ie the trumpets, tuba, trombones, etc) and a church choir…all playing at ONCE, different songs! People danced and the widow cried a bit. The coffin sat in the middle of the living room on the inside of the house while we all sat outside the house. People would go in to view the body and they would sing and dance around it while the musicians played music literally right into the dead man’s ears. I should note though that this was a very old man and with younger people the funerals are much more solemn.
Life is going well in general. I am really coming to love it here in Kekem. I’ve learned how to navigate the culture and have made friends. Sometimes I just think what a huge mistake I would be making to be taking this experience for granted while it is here. Someday I am going to want to be back really bad and crave me some Koki and boiled green bananas! I also started a business club at the high school which I really love doing. There are 20 kids. I am starting off with a ten week class and then they are going to do a project together (although I plan to split them up for a project because I don’t know how much experience each kid would get in a group of 20). The vice-principal of the school is kind of auditing the class and he is great. He chases away the kids who gather around the windows to stare at me and helps me out with the French. The class is also super quiet and attentive with him there. If only he could come sit in my English class as well!
Last week was the “International Youth Day”. The kids all march down the street in their school uniforms and sing some song or hold their school plaque. It was cute to watch all of the kids, but I was annoyed because the students don’t just take the day off they take a week off before to PRACTICE the march and then another 3 days afterwards to get back into school. I kept going to find no one there or only about a fourth of the class.
I am still working at the bank, but that kind of hit a wall and I back pedaled. But I started working more with one of the administrators who is SUPER helpful so hopefully that will start moving again soon.
Life is good. It is just SUPER hot here now as we are in the height of the dry season. I got a sunburn waiting for a bush taxi in Nkongsamba and that was painful. Not only the sunburn but people asking me for days, “Why are you all red?”
How everything is going well aux Etats-Unis! I always like hearing news via email! So send me one once in a while!
Lots of Love!
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Il fait longtemps. Sorry! Over Christmas I got to vacation in France with some of the family. It was AMAZING! It was so good to see them to to spend time with them. I don't have a lot of time now, but I just wanted to share some thoughts/experiences I had on my vacation. The first big difference I noticed on the plane was how people baby there children! On the plane I saw a four year old with a binky. Here in Cameroon I will often see two year olds walking to school by themselves, four year olds with a huge pail of water on their heads and six year olds with a huge pail of water on their heads and a baby on their back.
Then I got off the plane and everything was so new and clean and organized! I went into a supermarket and my jaw almost hit the floor with the selection and overall cleanliness of each box.
I had 10 days of hot showers, and all the delicious foods I could get my hands on! I think my parents thought I was a little crazy, because things like carpet were exciting me.
It was great though and I am glad I had the chance. Coming back was a little difficult. It is the dry season and dust from the sahara blows down and makes the air gritty, which isn't fun, but as I came back there were a lot of people who were really excited to see me back and that made me feel better. I was especially excited to go to my english class. My mom brought a bunch of kids books that women from church donated and I read some to my class, which they really liked. Next week I am starting a Business Club at the high school. EEKS! I am nervous! I will be teaching budgeting, feasibility studies, etc. IN FRENCH! Well, here we go!
I will try to blog more often for those of you who still check it out de temps en temps.
Lots of Love!