Monday, October 27, 2008

Little Elephant

Surprise! I moved! No, I am still in Cameroon, but I changed posts! I now live about an hour south of Kekem in a town called Manjo, which in the local language, Mbo, means “Little Elephant”.

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!