The View from Rabat, Morocco

Kasbah de Oudaïa
I apologize for the large break in communication throughout January and February; I was on ‘med-hold’ in Yaoundé for the entirety of January, as local doctors attempted to decipher my 10-month-long mysterious malaise. When my health problems boggled every specialist in existence in Yaoundé, Peace Corps decided it was best to send me to our regional medical office in Rabat, Morocco, to see if they might have any idea what has been plaguing my right arm for half the year.

So, with a mix of trepidation and excitement, I flew to Rabat in early February. Since I arrived in Cameroon, I haven’t left the country and nobody has visited me, and I didn’t have a trip planned either; so needless to say, this trip to Morocco was quite unexpected and nerve-wracking.

Why nerve-wracking? Well, after 17 months of no interaction with the outside world, one can become a bit…villegeois. For example, back September I had my first interaction with an elevator in over a year, and do you know what happened? I got lost…in an elevator for goodness sakes! In my defense, it was all very confusing given that the buttons were located on the outside of the elevator, so what ensued was me joyriding on the elevator for a good 5 minutes before I realized I had to get out, select a floor, and then step in. Needless to say, after an experience like that, I was very concerned about what would happen when I stepped back into the outside world.

Thankfully, my travels weren’t too eventful. I was terrified of the flight, as always, but I only made one faux pas on the plane ride when attempting to order coffee. I got only temporarily lost in the Casablanca airport before the security officers in the international departures terminal turned me around and redirected me to the arrivals terminal (but not before I already had made it through security). A local driver holding a sign with my name on it greeted me and as soon as I made eye contact, he was off running in the direction of the car. Baggage laden, I jogged behind him and it began to set in that I’m not in Cameroon anymore.

If it hadn’t set in at the airport, it sure set in during the car ride from Casablanca to Rabat, Morocco’s capital. First of all, the air was crisp and cool and instead of heavy,
humid, and hot; everything in sight was clean and trimmed; the road was full of nice Peugeots instead of agence de voyages buses; well-fed European-looking cattle grazed in the fields accompanied by horses and donkeys; electricity was everywhere; there appeared to be traffic laws; and there was absence of goats and street-side credit vendors and beignet mamas. While Morocco is on continental Africa, it really couldn’t feel any further away from the Africa that I’ve come to know after years in Cameroon and Sierra Leone.

I immediately went to the Peace Corps Morocco office, which is a million times more beautiful and modern than the Cameroon office, and was sent directly to three different medical consults with various specialists. I was poked, prodded, MRI-ed, bloddied, and questioned, and finally in the evening I was released to eat and relax. I met up with some Morocco PCVs and we went out for Chinese food and gelato. We spent hours talking about the differences between their Peace Corps experience and mine, and the two could not be any more different.

Polychrome Fountain in the Kasbah
Unlike PC-Cameroon, PC-Morocco has several PST training sites of just a few volunteers at each site, rather than our large 50-something person joint PST. Morocco has only one section (Youth Development), and all volunteers live in relatively large cities, and all have electricity, and most have running water and wifi, and every post is accessible by train or paved road (what?!) - even in the Sahara, and fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant everywhere (grapes, passion fruit, persimmons, figs, mandarins, dates, nuts, eggplants etc). While Morocco is leaps and bounds more developed than Cameroon, the volunteers still struggle with many of the same issues as Cameroon PCVs. Lack of work and/or sense of fulfillment seems to be a common thread amongst all PCVs, regardless of the country. 

Morocco Female PCVs also claim to deal with a good deal of (sexual or verbal) harassment, although after telling them some stories from my life in Cameroon, it seems as if Grand South female PCVs in Cameroon face a bit more harassment. After a week and a half in Rabat, I only had one harassment incident, and it was a 12-year-old grabbing by butt as I walked off the train - which is unacceptable, but also quite minimal compared to what I deal with in Cameroon (for example, today in Yaoundé I had a taxi man ask me if my vagina was small, claiming that was the fact he wanted to have sex with me). If I spent the same amount of time out and about in Yaoundé alone as I have this past week and a half in Rabat, I would’ve experience men groping me, reaching their hand up my skirt, general derangment, and incessant comments such as: “Go back to where you came from” or “I want to have sex and make mixed babies with you”. Thankfully, Rabat has none of that, but from what it sounds like based on female PCVs, the harassment gets worse outside of Rabat. I’ll say it once and I’ll say it a million times again, life as a female PCV can be extremely rough, both physical and mentally. However, Rabat has felt like a paradise compared to Cameroon, and I’m quite grateful to have a mental/psychological break from the wears of Cameroon.

While Morocco is more developed, and some might say ‘Posh Corps’, that means the volunteers have a whole new set of problems to deal with during their service: doing development work in a pretty well-developed country, and also attempting to have a ‘typical peace corps experience’ while also having amenities such as wifi, electricity, and running water. Many volunteers I spoke with said they love having electricity and access to internet, but it also distracts them from work and becoming integrated, which is hard enough for many females. While I look at their experience in complete envy of all they have and by the fact they live in such a beautiful and diverse country, they look at my experience and say that they wish there experience was more ‘typical’ by living in a small village with no amenities. I guess the grass is always greener…

When not in doctors offices waiting for my next consult, I‘ve been getting in a fair bit of sightseeing and food tasting. Man oh man, I have been starved and deprived for far to long in Cameroon. Right before I left for Morocco, all that there was to eat in Ngatt was corn couscous (a big blob of mashed and balled corn, mind you), oil for a sauce, and weird bottom-feeder fish occasionally. I don’t know about you, but that is not my definition of healthy or delicious. And while Yaoundé has some international food options (Pizza, Chinese, Lebanese), the pickings are slim.  Rabat, on the other hand, has ever international cuisine known to Earth (Thai, Syrian, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, etc), not to mention an overabundance of all fresh produce. Fresh-squeezed juice bars are on nearly ever street and there are fruit and yogurt stands for crying out loud!

And as a former barista, I believe good quality coffee and tea are necessary for a properly functioning body, and besides chai, Cameroon offers little decent coffee or tea. In Rabat, however, cafés line every street and men (and some women) sit, sipping their mint tea, sage tea, or espresso while reading the newspaper and watching people pass by. I’ve been heavily caffeinated ever since my arrival, and I’ve enjoyed every last sugary sip of the mint tea, or whip cream top cappuccino, almond/date/avocado smoothie, or strawberry orange juice. That will all be hard to give up to Cameroon.

Rabat’s café culture is not the only thing that is reminiscent of Europe. In fact, one of the things I appreciate and love most about Rabat is that it is a wonderful mélange of European, (North) African, and Middle Eastern. The European influence is strong, evident in the ubiquitous cafes, large plazzas, creperies, and large boulevards and tiny winding side streets. Moroccan Arabic (Darija), the smells of the spice markets, the plentiful date vendors, and the daily call to prayers are some of the many reminders that you are indeed in the Islamic world. And a venture outside at night reminds you that yes, you are still in Africa, as the Senegalese and Malian street venders come out selling their pagne, masks, phones, and other knickknacks. Turkey is often cited as being the crossroads of the East and West, but I think Morocco is the under-appreciated intersection between the East, West, and South. It’s an interested and beautiful mélange of cultures.

But if you are tricked for too long into forgetting that you are indeed in Africa by the timeliness of everything, the friendly customer service (or just it’s mere existence), and by the clean streets, you are reminded when the Sub-Saharan migrants and/or refugees emerge in the afternoons and evenings and sell their merchandise. For being a part of Africa, Morocco is severely racist against Sub-Saharan Africans. I was immediately confronted with the racism against Sub-Saharan Africans in my taxi from Casablanca when my driver and I had a conversation that went as follows:
Taxi driver: “So in Cameroon there are only Africans?”
Me: “I don’t understand…yes, Cameroon is part of Africa…so everyone is African”
Taxi driver: “No, I mean, is it full of blacks? You know, Africans. They aren‘t white like us.”
Me: “Oh, um…yes, I suppose so.”
Taxi driver: “Oh, sorry. They are barbaric”

And so it continued. This conversation was then repeated on several other occasions with coffee shop waiters, scarf salesmen, etc. I hate to remind Moroccans that they too are African, seeing as they seem to pride their white skin and close proximity to Europe as a carte blanche for being better civilized. One man in the Medina told me, “Africans are barbarians. You should leave Cameroon and move to Morocco. We are more civilized because were are next to Europe. Those Africans in Cameroon are just too barbaric because they are too far from Europe”. All in all, the racism is pretty evident, and Moroccans don’t really attempt to hide their thoughts and feelings towards sub-Saharan immigrants.

My two weeks in Morocco were refreshing, on all levels. While I still frustratingly remain a medical mystery, I’m grateful that I got the chance to visit such a wonderful city. Since my 3am return to Cameroon, I was rudely reminded of the challenges this country poses. But I have 10 months left and I’m determined to stay healthy and be productive in the time I have left. My trip to Morocco reminded me just how diverse both Africa and Peace Corps service can be depending on where you are posted. Overall, I found Rabat to be diverse, welcoming, and relaxed - in the next post, inch'allah, I'll be sure to updated on some of the sites I was able to see throughout my trip.


The Soundtrack to Peace Corps Life

Many of my most memorable moments in Cameroon have occurred with the backdrop of some popular Cameroonian or Nigerian song. Car rides to and from post, laying on the beach in Kribi, sitting at shack-like bar, on the train to and from Yaounde - no matter where you are in Cameroon, there's always music playing. 2014 had some 'unique' songs and some really great hits. To give you a glimpse into what's usually playing on the radio here in Cameroon, I've compiled a list of what I believe to be the top/most-played songs of 2014 here. But if you aren't satisfied with these few songs, check check out the Top 10 Cameroon songs of 2014 over at OkayAfrica, and also the Top 10 Urban Artists to Watch Out For. WIth no further ado...

Mani Bella's song "Pala Pala" was probably the most played song in Cameroon this year, without a doubt. While she was a huge hit in the Grand South, she was even quite popular up in the Adamawa - so much so that I often catch my neighborhood girls singing "Pala Pala" while fetching water. 

Rapper Stanley Enow's song“Hein Père" was released in 2013, but it was still a huge hit in 2014. He even gave a concert in Lomie! His song was so popular, that now shirts, t-shirts, and motos are branded with the phrase "Hein Pere".

Coco Argentée's “Fallait Pas” enjoyed much radio play this year, much to Cameroonian's pleasure. Sadly, I found this song highly obnoxious, and I hated it even more when I got punched in the face while this song was playing on the car ride back to Lomie one night, which was the incident that forced me to be evacuated from my village. But, despite that, it is still a much loved song of 2014.

Okay, okay. Chidinma is Nigeria, but part of Cameroon is practically Nigeria, so let's just consider her one of our own. I think this song is super catchy, and the video quite adorable. 

Again, Davido is Nigerian, but his songs are well-loved in Anglophone Cameroon and in Douala and Yaounde. "Skelewu" is most definitely one of my favorites of 2014.

  "Aye" is another Davido song, but it was an often played song at the end of 2014, and once again - one of my favorites.


"Dorobucci" is a collaborative song among various popular Nigerian artists. The song gets much airplay in the Grand South of Cameroon. The word 'Dorobucci' means "anything that is fun, cool, awesome, or fantastic", according to Don Jazzy.

And I can't talk about Cameroonian music without repping the entire Grand North of Cameroon - whose music is drastically different than the Grand South. Pretty much all Fulfulde music sounds exactly the same - it's all extremely auto-tuned, all high pitched, and nearly all music videos are the same, which feature weddings and people sticking money on performers' foreheads. The song above is your stereotypical Fulfulde song that plays constantly on the phones of all Northerners.


A Visit to the Modibo

Modibo Sali's Compound
Last week, Ishmael, dressed in a nice boubou with a Saudi scarf draped around his shoulders and another wrapped around his face and head like a mummy, walked me down Ngatt’s main road amidst the early morning dew and cold. We slowly ambled along the side of the road, drinking in the brisk air and the rising 6:00am sun as men began taking their cows out of their concessions to let them graze on the roadside herbs. Ismael and I were heading to a man I had wanted to have a one-on-one chat with for a while: Modibo Sali. 

Modibo Sali is a regionally well-known Islamic scholar who has seen me out and about Ngatt on many occasions. A few weeks ago he walked me home one afternoon merely so he had time to converse with me in my limited Fulfulde. As he dropped me off at my home he told me, “Now I know where you live, so you have to come visit my house soon”. I figured he was just a kind, wizened Fulbe man who wanted to be hospitable, which is not uncommon in Ngatt. But a few days later, I passed him again, and Ishmael and Oumarou informed me he was a well-known Islamic scholar, and the most prominent person in Ngatt. Another few days passed and I saw Modibo Sali sitting on a roadside log with my landlord, conversing in rapid Fulfulde and watching cars pass (one of the most preferred pastimes in Ngatt). When I approached, he exclaimed to me in Fulfulde, “You still haven’t been to my house!”. I laughed and joked with him a bit, and then we arranged a meeting for me to come to visit him. “Does 6:00am tomorrow work for you?”. Sure! I was so excited to finally have a meeting with Modibo Sali. Given that I'm aiming at getting a Ph.D. focused on insurgency and terrorism, getting a better handle on Islam is definitely of interest to me - not to mention I knew Sali is Nigerian, so I was interested in getting his take on Boko Haram. I spent the night prepping questions should the conversation turn in that direction. I’m such a nerd. 

So there Ishmael and I were, walking to Modibo Sali’s house, which is fairly close to my house at the edge of Ngatt. We approached outside the greeting room/Quran study room. As we neared the doorway, Ismael and I greeted with “A-Salaam Alaikum!”, emphasizing the last syllable while bringing our right feet forward to meet our left foot and stomping it lightly against the dirt and sand floor. We took our shoes off and entered the small hut and settled down on the fuzzy prayer mats with pictures of Mecca’s Grand Mosque on them. After a few minutes, Modibo invited us into his home/bedroom where it was less drafty. 

We migrated to his other house/room, took our shoes off again, and sat cross-legged on the floor as one of Modibo Sali’s kids brought in a pot of burning charcoal for us to cozy up next to. We put our hands out over the charcoal to warm up and began getting to know each other, as BBC Hausa played on the small radio in the corner. 

Besides being an incredibly genial man, Modibo Sali is also knowledgeable and interesting. Modibo is from Yola, Adamawa, Nigeria - a town menaced by Boko Haram. Modibo Sali looked into the burning embers with his arms outstretched in front of him as he shook his head in sorrow and said in Fulfulde, “Boko Haram are bad, and they threaten my dear home”. In his youth, Modibo Sali moved to Kano, Nigeria (another town frequently the victim of Boko Haram attacks) to study Islam under Imam Ibrahim Niass’ family. 

Imam Ibrahim Niass is the leader of the Tareeqa al-Tijaniyya al-Ibrahimiyya branch of the Tijānī Sufi order within the Sunni sect of Islam. Ibran Niass is from Senegal, but his branch of Islam has spread past the borders of the senegambia and throughout North and West Africa. On one of his trips to Mecca, the Emir of Kano Nigeria at the time, Alhaji Abdullahi Bayero, decided to become a disciple to Niass. At this time, Imam Niass gained a huge following in Northern Nigeria that has since spread throughout the Grand North of Cameroon. Now his picture with his bushy white chinstrap beard is posted on stickers in nearly every taxi in the Adamawa. 

Thirty years ago, after studying under Imam Nass’ family for a decade, all the while learning Hausa and Arabic, Modibo Sali decided to travel to Cameroon. He traveled around the Tibati area and realized there was no Modibo (Islamic scholar) in western Adamawa. When he visited Ngatt, he fell in love with the village and decided to stay. Now Modibo Sali is the most prominent Islamic scholar in western Adamawa, and all the Imams come to him if they have questions. In Ngatt, Modibo Sali has the largest Quranic school and our mosque’s Imam studies under him.
Modibo's Compound

Time was running short before his Quranic class began, so Modibo Sali and I didn’t talk as long as I wanted (which would have been all day), but he invited me back for more tea and discussion when I return after the holidays. Even though our discussion on Boko Haram was kept short this time, he told me a bit about the micro-level response to Boko Haram where he’s from in Northeastern Nigeria. He explained to me the about the dambanga, who are the traditional vigilante forces in Northestern Nigeria and the Grand North of Cameroon. 

In Ngatt we have the chief dambanga of all western Adamawa, who coordinates the vigilante response to any security threats. In Ngatt the Dambanga survey the town at night, making sure no mischief is occurring, they take care of the road bandits, and they make note of foreigners in Ngatt. If anyone arrives in Ngatt that looks like they are outside of the Tibati area, the dambanga alert the sous-prefet. The dambanga were created a little over a decade ago when road banditry was at its apex, and now that banditry is less common, they now deal more with thievery and protecting from Boko Haram and any problems the CAR refugees bring with them.
The dambanga in Ngatt are nearly the same thing as the vigilantes fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria. Where the government falls short in terms of security and protection, the village responds by sending out the dambanga. Given that the Nigerian government and military are both severely lacking and under equipped, the vigilantes step in. 

While it’s a bit strange that the military isn’t effective in protecting against Boko Haram despite their guns, tanks and what have you, the dambanga have what they believe to be a more effective weapon: blendé. Blendé is a traditional witchcraft-y ‘remedy’ that is found in the forest, which the dambanga collect and rub all over their body, smoke, and grind to drink. This ‘remedy’ supposedly makes the dambanga ‘invinsible’. During the bandity days of Ngatt the bandits would drop their weapons and surrender at the mere sight of the blendé-protected dambanga. My landlord and friends argue they’ve seen knives bend when someone tries to stab a dambanga. Bullets, grenades, knives - all these are supposedly useless against the dambanga, or so all the villagers say. 

Modibo Sali explained this all to me, and how this is making the dambanga “effective” in combating Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria - at least when compared to the government army. He also explained to me that it is a common belief among both Cameroonians and Nigerians that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathnan is behind Boko Haram in order to induce chaos in the North to discourage voter turnout in order to turn the election in his favor. They claim Jonathan fears stability and development in northern Nigeria because it would threaten his hold on power and his interests, and while Jonathan might not like Boko Haram’s ideology, he is using them opportunistically to secure the February election. 

While the validity on all that is debatable, although not absurd, it was interesting to hear a local interpretation on the root causes of the conflict. Modibo Sali explained to me that “President Jonathan, poverty, lack of education and misinterpretations of the Quran” are at fault for the creation and strength of Boko Haram. Modibo Sali is a treasure trove of information and opinions, and he was enthusiastic to share his knowledge with me. Around 7:30 children began filtering in the study room with their small chalkboards with Arabic written on them, and they began to sing verses of the Quran. We took that as our cue to leave and bid our goodbyes to Modibo. 

I look forward to the next 9 months I have to pick Modibo’s brain and to learn about Islam and Nigeria. The more time I spend in Ngatt, the more and more I learn that while it is a small village, it has a cast of very interesting characters.


Post-War Sierra Leone and Ebola: The Perfect Storm?

Level of Urbanization in Freetown, Sierra Leone April 6, 1985 (left) and February 9, 2011 (right)
The Pink Areas Signify 'Urbanized'/'Built-Up' Terrain and the Green Represents Forested Terrain
The rate of urbanization in the developing world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is increasing rapidly. Urbanization is defined as changes in land-cover and land use of a predefined area from being considered ‘underdeveloped’ to ‘developed’ or ‘built-up’. One of the drivers of this rapid urbanization is the fact that many people who once inhabited rural areas are now migrating to the cities for (perceived) better pay and more opportunities.

In 2008, half of the world’s population was living in towns identified as being ‘urban‘, and it's estimated that between 2000 and 2030, urban populations will grow by at least 175%. Furthermore, although this rapid urbanization is occurring worldwide, the fastest rates of urbanization are occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. Statistics show that in the 1950s, Africa’s urban population grew 15%, while in the 1990s it grew 32%, and it is projected that by 2030 between 54% and 60% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population will live in urban areas.

Urbanization has many benefits for those seeking better living  standards and increased access to income generating opportunities, but as the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has shown us, increased urbanization also has significant risks and drawbacks. In the area of public health, increased urbanization aggravates existing health problems and increases chances of contamination of contagious diseases. In small villages, contagions can be quarantined and controlled, but in urbanized areas, disease is much more difficult to control.

I’ve been reading up on the West Africa Ebola outbreak over the past year, not only because it’s the biggest public health problem of the day, but also because I lived and worked in Sierra Leone on 4 different occasions and I still feel connected with the country that sparked by interest in Africa. Ebola has significantly changed Sierra Leone from the country that I knew during my most recent visit 3 years ago. Since the Ebola outbreak, my Sierra Leonean friends have changed their lifestyles, lost loved ones, and in the case of my friend Bella Baldeh, changed occupations from being a maternity nurse to owning an Ebola care and supply center in Bo, Southern Province.

It seems as if Sierra Leone makes the news only when misfortune hits. For those who don’t know much about the tiny West African country, it has a population smaller than New York and a landmass smaller than the state of South Carolina. The capital is Freetown and it sits on the Western Area peninsula.  Sierra Leone suffered from a decade long civil war, which ended in 2002. Both during and after the bloody civil war, many people fled their villages to Freetown in order to escape their destroyed villages and in order to have increased access to more opportunities in the capital. 

Most Affected Provinces in West Africa via CDC
However, Freetown's urbanization was hasty, which resulted in the development of shoddy permanent residences and a plethora of of decrepit slums. For public health, rapid and haphazard urbanization results in poor health and unsanitary conditions, which makes it difficult to control contagious diseases, as evidenced in the 2012 cholera outbreak during my last visit to the country and the current Ebola outbreak.

After the end of the civil war, Freetown’s population continued to steadily rise and so did it’s level of urbanization. But how has this urbanization affected the Ebola outbreak? Sierra Leone is now the West African nation with the most number of Ebola cases (over 10,000 and counting), and Freetown (the Western Area) is the hardest hit area of Sierra Leone in terms of confirmed cases. So it begs to be asked: if the civil war didn’t encourage such hasty urbanization, would Sierra Leone have fared better in this epidemic?

While many geographers are concerned with urban sprawl in the developing world, few, if any, have studied Freetown, Sierra Leone. Back in college, I chose this case study to explore, which showed significant increase in urban sprawl and built-up areas between each set of dates, particularly in the post-war period between 2000 and 2011. For example, between 1985 and 2000, the city built the peninsular road, which runs along the western coast of the Peninsula and is evident in the image to the left as the green line extending along the coast. Also between 1985 and 2000, there has been significant development in the Lumley area of Freetown, which can be seen in image to the left as a large green swath depicting positive change in the upper center of the peninsula. The area of growth and development is estimated to be around 995,029 square meters.

Between 2000 and 2011 there was a significant increase in developed settlements on the interior of the peninsula, in the area known as Hill Station and New Freetown. This change is shown in image to the left as the large blue area of change in the upper center of the peninsula, which is next to the development in Lumley discussed in the previous paragraph. The area of this recently built-up portion of the city is estimated to be around 5,832,076 square meters – in other words nearly five times the size of the built-up area of Lumley that occurred between 1985 and 2000.
Freetown Urbanization 1985-2011

It should be noted that both of these settlements and much of the large land changes that occurred did so along the periphery of the city limits, often being built on formerly forested land. It can be assumed that land is being built-up on the periphery because the interior of the city is already densely inhabited. Furthermore, the hilly terrain of the capital makes building in many areas dangerous, especially with landslides. The built-up areas that developed in Lumley and Hill Station have encroached on the forested mountains of the interior of the peninsula, encroaching closer to natural landmarks like the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. It can be argued that if Freetown’s urban sprawl continues as it has in the past three decades, then in the coming decades, some of the peninsula’s biodiversity may be lost or in danger from development and the conversion of forest and mountainous areas to built-up areas.

As a result of urbanization and urban migration, Freetown is being pushed to the limits, both in terms of physical size and in population. The ever increasing population hastens construction and creates unsanitary living conditions, which aggravates contagious disease. I'm sure that even if the war never occurred, Freetown's population would have nonetheless increased. However, due to the mass arrival of people in the post-war period, construction in Freetown is lackluster and the city planning is poor. Had Freetown's population growth been better planned and at a slower pace, perhaps the city would be cleaner and better developed, which would arguably mean that Ebola would not have been so easily spread. Unfortunately, this didn't happen. Let this serve as a warning to other cities experiencing rapid urbanization in the developing world. One of the many lessons the current Ebola epidemic teaches us is that urbanization and city planning need to be taking seriously in public health. If further neglected, this may not be the last unnecessary public health tragedy.


Have Yourself a Very Kribi Christmas

Happy holidays from Cameroon! I'm writing from my lovely beach side hotel in the coastal town of Kribi, South Region as the waves crash against the shore and the air is filled with the scent of salt water. Oh, I love it! I'm one of the few (only?) volunteers who isn't traveling out of Cameroon during their service and won't have family or friends come to visit me either. I'll be the first to admit that it is very hard. I'm homesick, miss my friends and family, and also just get a bit tired of the same old same old here in Cameroon. Seeing as I've also been completely stationary at my posts besides traveling for banking or my beekeeping conference last August - I haven't traveled around Cameroon at all! 

So as a Christmas and New Years present to myself, I decided to chop a lot of money and spend the holiday season sipping tequila sunrises on the beach with a good book and surrounded by a few of my closest friends. I deserve it after the year I've had! While I could wax poetic about the garlic curry shrimp and French cheese pizza I ate, or the colorful cocktails I drank, or how warm the ocean water was, I'll save my breath and instead focus on doing mostly a photo post for this one. 

On one of the beaches there was this cute little spot to eat fried breadfruit, drink coconut water out of the coconut, and eat freshly caught shrimp. After drinking a sufficient amount of boxed white wine on the beach all day, we decided it was best to hydrate and go for the coconuts. Hot damn, nothing tastes as good as that - and if you needed proof, just check out Liz in the corner of this picture with her face stuffed in her coconut.

Our Kribi Christmas group. That's Brian, who is in Ngaoundal, Liz in Danfili, and I. We represent half of the best cluster in Cameroon (perhaps I'm biased). I couldn't ask for better friends or clustermates - I'm so lucky! If one needed proof as to how amazing my cluster is - when I got stung by a jellyfish on Christmas day (what more of a Christmas present could I have expected given that I always have some health problem here), Liz immediately cracked open the box of wine and melted dark chocolate for my immediate consumption, knowing that was the best remedy, and Brian offered to pee on my leg, not once, but several times. Seriously, what better friends could one ask for?!

Brian led us on a shoreline hike from our beach to Lobe falls. Along the way we found neatly decorated ship.

Kribi is the tourist hub of Cameroon now that the Extreme North isn't safe. As a result, there's an abundance of art and handicrafts for sale. While they're all knockoffs, the African art history nerd in me was eating up the visual feast while impressing the vendors about my knowledge of Benin bronzes, Yoruba twin figures, and Congolese headrests.

This warrants a bit of a story. This ship is from Lagos, Nigeria and was pirated by Nigerian pirates off the coast of Cameroon. Sadly, the boat was already in bad shape, so the pirates were easily caught and brought ashore. Liz and I went to go take some photos of the boat, and after about 5 minutes of taking pictures in front of a gendarme, he decided only as we were walking away to tell us that taking pictures is 'forbidden' - as if the fact that I was taking pictures would be the only proof there is piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Ha, he wishes.

Some nearby Cameroonians chewed the self-important gendarme out, and I whipped out my now rusty East Region sass (which was aided by the half a box of wine Liz and I shared shortly beforehand) and I gave the gendarmes a piece of my mind. He wasn't pleased. He made me open my camera and delete all the pictures, but I was sneaky and kept this one. The next day, there was no gendarmes patrolling the abandoned ship, go figure. 

A beautiful view of Lobe Falls, which are far more beautiful when I saw them last dry season. A perfect end of the Christmas portion of the trip. Up next: Kribi New Years with Pax and Amy!