4.06.2014

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes


Time flies here in Cameroon – I can’t believe I’ve been here nearly 7 months already. I left America when my Senior year of college at DePaul would’ve been starting and if I were still in Chicago, I’d be starting my last quarter of classes right now. Seriously, where has the time gone? I never anticipated my time here to go by this quickly, and it’s making me sad – I don’t want this experience to come to an end, even despite the hardships that come with living here.

The other day I Skyped with a friend back home who laughed at how much I had changed. According to him I’ve transformed from being very timid and indecisive to being outgoing and more entertaining. At times I don’t feel like I’ve changed too much, but when I talk with those back home it makes me realize just how much I have indeed been transformed by this experience.

While I was quite unsure of my initial reasons for joining the Peace Corps (and still am to some extent), I knew that I wanted to discover more about myself through this process and hopefully change for the better. So, here are the changes that I’ve noticed in myself over the past 7 months.

I’ve become...
·         More patient (waiting for a bus for 5 hours, no problem)
·         More easily amused (let’s watch goats play for two hours)
·         Better educated
·         More well-read (currently reading all the Game of Thrones series)
·         More knowledge hungry
·         More driven
·         More domestic (I sweep and mop every day)
·         More in love with animals
·         More outdoors-y (I would've never fathomed hiking for 5 days in the rainforest)
·         More appreciative of nature and natural beauty
·         More curious
·         More adventurous
·         More appreciative of change
·         More appreciative of family
·         More confident I want to try living in a new city once returning to the US (West coast? East coast?)
·         More travel-hungry
·         A better French speaker
·         A worse English speaker
·         A fake Fulfulde speaker
·         More tolerant of insects and rodents
·         Less patient with rude, derange-y men ("Je suis une FEMME!" I am a WOMAN!)
·         More likely to physically harm a derange-y man (I've punched my fair share of men in Lomie)
·         Better at ignoring people
·         Better at confronting people
·         A proficient hisser
·         More outspoken
·         More sarcastic
·         More accustomed to lack of persona space in terms of travel (sure, let's fit 8 people in a single row of this taxi!)
·         Convinced that an 8 hour drive is a ‘quick’ trip
·         More certain that the best foods come from nature
·         More of a coffee/tea fiend (hint...great care package ideas - just sayin')
·         Certain that the quality of friends trumps quantity
·         More decisive (I think…?)
·         More of a nester
·         Less trustworthy of strangers
·         More of a star gazer (I have a star gazing iPhone app to prove it)
·         More self-confident
·         Less self-conscious
·         Less afraid to dance in public (especially if alcohol is involved)
·         A worse dancer (especially if alcohol is involved)
·         Appreciative of normal bowel movements
·         Grateful for food variety
·         Thankful for decent mattresses
·         More optimistic
·         More cynical
·         A morning person (especially with coffee)
·         Better at sticking up and advocating for myself
·         More independent
·         Less certain what I want to do with my life
·         Content with simplicity
·         Thankful for the little things
·         Certain that to be happy in life, it isn’t about what I’m doing, but rather who I’m surrounded by

4.03.2014

I've a Feeling We're Not in Lomie Anymore

Badjouma-Centre // aka, the free petting zoo of Cameroon
I write this post in Garoua as tears well in my eyes as the bus I was suppose to leave Garoua for Bertoua on pulls away…without me on it. But that’s not why I’m crying. In fact, I couldn’t care less that I’m stuck at this bus station in Garoua for a few hours more as someone else sits in the seat that I reserved on that luxurious VIP bus – it gives me a few more hours to enjoy the Northern heat and its succulent mangoes before I head back down to Yaoundé for medhold (I gave the Dja Rainforest 5 days of my life and my blood, sweat and tears – literally – and all it gave me was MRSA and a few large boils). I’m crying because for the first time in five weeks, I won’t be traveling with Spencer, and for the first time in nearly a week and a half, I’ll be leaving the hospitable and welcoming North region that has shown me nothing but kindness, love, and hospitality.

It’s been an exciting, adventure –filled and busy month of travels and it’s coming to an end with a 24 hour bus ride and medhold for the 3rd time in 6 months. Where to begin on my Northern escapades?! Spencer and I took the bus from Lomié to Bertoua on the 20th and the trip rendered us looking like victims of the world’s worst spray tan due to the dirt along the road. I showed Spencer around the tiny regional capital of Bertoua and together we enjoyed some Chadian biftek, smoothies, and pizza while reminiscing over the highlights and lowlights of camping in the rainforest.

The next morning, after waiting for our bus to leave for nearly 3 hours, we finally left and began the 7-8 hour journey from Bertoua to Ngoundere. The landscape outside the window quickly changed from the typical forested landscape and red mud houses to a more Adamawa-esque appearance with sparse trees and brown mud houses. At the Central African Republic border crossing in the village of Garoua-Boulaï, Spencer and I were kicked off the bus for ‘law infringement’ – our crime: traveling with outdated citizenship cards by 1 day. After some yelling, bickering, and persuading, Spencer and I talked our way back on the bus – much to our relief. The bus continued onward through Rachel’s post of Lokoti and Colleen’s post of Meiganga. After our brief stop in Meiganga and after half the bus emptied out, we continued. Not long after the bus started moving an old man began kicking a young lady in the same row as him but the woman’s young son got the brunt of the abuse. Sadly the guy chose the wrong moment to physically abuse this woman because there were about 5 gendarmes outside who then boarded the bus, yelled at the man, and dragged him to the last row as we held back laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

We arrived in Ngoundere a bit too late to travel to Garoua, so we headed to the case, unloaded our things, enjoyed some shawarma, beer, and chai and then collapsed back at the case – exhausted after an all day bus ride. The next morning we took an early bus to Garoua and over the next 5 hours I saw the landscape change once again from the brown Adamawa dirt to the tan Northern sands and the horizon speckled with mountains. It was beautiful…and HOT. Not riding the bus with the windows open made for very hot and stagnant air, but riding with the windows open can only be compared to having a blow-dryer blow hot air at your face. Neither is ideal.

Cattle Market in Pitoa

Two days were spent lounging around in Garoua, swimming at Hotel Benoue, enjoying good food, and spending time with the North volunteers. Sunday afternoon was spent at Cody, Kate, and Clare’s post of Pitoa looking around the market, pretending to buy cows from the wealthy Fulani cattle herders, and enjoying some great folérè sauce and chai.

On Monday we headed to Badjouma-Centre and were greeted by Spencer’s village with cheers, clapping, and shouts of ‘Bien arrive!’ After unpacking, Moussa Dala, Spencer’s jovial counterpart, led us to the weekly market and bought us a bucket (yes, a bucket) of bilibili – millet beer. The bilibili was actually quite tasty despite being warm and resembling vomit before it is mixed. After several calabashes of beer we headed to Spencer’s landlord’s house for dinner. We enjoyed folérè with rice couscous balls and when we were finished we laid back on the prayer mats in silence and watched the stars as our food settled. This nightly routine of enjoying food with Sali and star gazing in his compound was likely one of my favorite aspects of the trip.

Bilibili
Every day followed somewhat of a routine. We always went to eat breakfast with Medina, a larger than life woman who makes corn beignets, potatoes, and hamham – a soup-like mixture with peanut butter balls mixed in. Breakfast with Medina, star gazing dinners with Sali, and lunches were always 40 cents worth of market tofu or beef. Oh, and did I mention that it’s mango season?! Oh those succulent mangoes were perhaps one of the highlights of the North as well.

Medina's beignets, potatos and hamham

Up North it is currently hot season…and really, it’s hot. By hot I mean it was 122 during the day and 90s at night. We made our beds outside given that the house merely collected heat during the day. Afternoons were unbearable so they were usually spent reading in what little shade we could find. Other points in the day we’d walk around village and pet small animals such as goats, sheep, and donkeys and in the afternoon we'd stand at the compound door and watch as dozens of large cows were herded right past Spencer's door. Badjouma-Centre has more animals than a zoo and all are free to pet. Needless to say, I picked up and cuddled my fair share of baby goats.

Cute Baby Goats
Wednesday we took a moto to Mbé, a village 15 minutes away, to walk around their market and visit the Lamido. On our way to Mbé, several of Badjouma’s ‘traditional guards’ were boarding motos with their bows and arrows to head to the dry riverbed – what they are protecting Badjouma against with bow and arrows is quite unclear. Mbé is known for having the largest bilibili market, with hundreds of people gathered under a single large tree, all sipping on their warm beer ensemble. We went to visit the Lamido, but were told by Spencer’s landlord who is also the Lamido’s brother, that the Lamido was busy. Actually, his exact words were 'The Lamido is busy doing...traditional practices', but the Lamido confessed days later that he was indeed napping, as we suspected! But visiting Mbé was nice and it was fun to see other villages up North.

The rest of the week was spent cleaning Spencer’s – ahem – dirty house. Hundreds of spider’s had made their homes in every corner of the house, thousands of small dead maggots were trapped behind a trunk and provided food for hundreds of termites. Spencer screamed like a girl at the sight of the termites feasting on the dead maggots, but he really had nobody to blame but himself since he killed the maggots with spray months ago but never cleaned them up. I seized the opportunity to scare Spencer on several occasions given his already skittish behavior by screaming and pretending like I found large insects in various corners of his house – to which he always responded by screaming and running out into his yard. While it may be cruel to take advantage of his skittishness, I considered it my reward for cleaning his place.

Mbe's Bilibili market
The rest of the days were spent with either one of us being sick – me with a cold for a few days, then 
Spencer with some mystery illness, and then me again with MRSA and boils. Fun times. Regardless of our medical mishaps, the time spent up North was beautiful, relaxing, and a much needed refresher from the derange-y and harassing Grand South. I shall miss the traditional guards, the goats, the sheep, and the very squeaky wamday (donkey in Fulfulde) that lived outside of Spencer’s compound. More than anything, I’ll miss the kindness that everyone showed me, the politeness of the North (I got called Madam and not a prostitute like in the East!), the hospitality, and all the new friends I made in Badjouma-Centre. I can’t wait to visit again.

3.20.2014

5 Day Hike in the Heart of the Congo River Basin Rainforest

Kid on a Pirogue with a Dead Otter
I’m still here, I promise! Wow, where to begin!? Spencer and I have jumped between the furthest reaches and climatic variants of Cameroon. From the chilly, mountainous highlands of the Northwest, to the waterfall-spotted beaches of Kribi (where I had an unfortunate case of being the victim of theft but which nonetheless did nothing to spoil the beauty of the beach), to the humid rainforests of the East, and tomorrow, to the hot, dry deserts of the North – yippie! It’s been a crazy month but it has been amazing and will only continue to be filled with laughter, fun, and adventure.

Spencer and I just got back from our sojourn in Lomié, which thankfully got power back so smoothies were enjoyed on every possible occasion. We didn’t spend much time in Lomié itself - just long enough to eat chicken and fried plantains at Plaza (whose night club burned down while I was at IST – c’est domage!), to eat some of the best carp and grilled baton in country, and to enjoy home-cooked chili, black bean burgers, smoothies, and my secret popcorn recipe while chilling with my cats who have been far too neglected (Cameroonians apparently thought my cats could live off bread alone while I was at IST…I’m thankful they aren’t dead).

After Kribi, Spencer had the wonderful opportunity to experience the hell that is the road to Lomié. We went from Yaoundé to Abong Mbang no problem, but ended up spending 5 hours waiting for a bus to Lomié, which then took an additional 6 hours to get to Lomié due to getting stuck in the mud, general poor road conditions, and an endless caravan of logging trucks. On top of it all, the entire bus was filled with the rowdiest bunch of Easterners alive, who apparently were attempting to make it a party bus. When the bus got stuck in the mud, Spencer chipped in like a champ and helped push the bus out of the mud pit in which we were trapped. After the bus was pushed out, it zoomed off about 1.5 km and we were left to walk in the pitch darkness under the stars to wherever the bus sped off to. Spencer said he underestimated the horrid road conditions, but he stuck it out. He said that the roads won’t prevent him from visiting again, but they will make him feel like a “bad ass” every time he visits. I’m glad I have a post that gives everyone “bad ass” street cred.

Hiking - Day 1

After spending a day recovering in Lomié, Spencer and I packed yet again and headed off in a bush taxi for the village of Medjoh, about 45 km and 2 hours from Lomié, to begin our 5 day hike into the Dja Rainforest. On the way we had the pleasure of watching several Cameroonians buy live baby pangolins, whom they held by the tail and whacked on the ground repeatedly until they curled up in a ball. I cried into Spencer's shoulders as the Cameroonians laughed at my concern for animals. We were dumped street side in Medjoh without a clue where to go or who to meet. We walked down the street and were pointed in the direction of the end of town where we met Bossis, the man who would be our piroguier (canoe rower) for our trip. Bossis led us into his nice house and introduced us to our Baka pygmy guide, whose name was too long for me to remember. We sat and waited…then waited…and hey, we waited a few hours more while we watched our Baka guide pound down countless sachets of alcohol. It doesn’t need to be 5:00 anywhere for the Bakas to drink.
 
Bossis in the back, then Maturain, then Kopo (Oh, Kopo!) and Spencer

Finally at 1 pm, Maturain, our MINFOF Ecoguard, showed up ready to get us into the rainforest. Spencer and I gathered our things and began walking out of town behind Maturain, Bossis, our Baka guide, and Kopo, our Baka guide’s 12-year-old younger brother in tow carrying our carton of eggs. As we walked out of Medjoh, a village fou wielding not one, but two machetes and a knife chased us and our guides. He screamed about following us into the forest and killing us. He kept yelling about his intent to murder us as he slashed his machetes back and forth menacingly. After a few minutes of ignoring him and holding back laughs, the crazy village fou ran up and slammed his machete into the sack that Kopo was carrying on his back. Poor Kopo! After a minor scuffle, Spencer and I picked up our pace and continued to laugh at the craziness of the situation. The crazy man was finally shooed away and we continued with our trek. After about 30 minutes of walking roadside, we finally turned off into the nearby farms.

We walked through the various manioc farms for about 15 minutes and then took a break so that the Bakas could collect manioc because, as Maturain explained to us, there are four things the Baka love in this world: alcohol, smoking, the forest, and manioc. As we waited for Kopo to collect manioc, the older Baka guide sang songs at the top of his lungs as he smoked some mystery substance. After a few minutes, the guide started laughing so hard he fell over into the underbrush of the forest, in which he rolled around laughing for the next 10 minutes while playing dangerously with his hatchet.

When Kopo returned laden with manioc, the older Baka gathered himself, got up from the thicket (still covered in leaves and twigs) and continued leading us past the farms and into the forest all the while stumbling about drunkenly and singing at the top of his lungs. After an hour we finally passed the entrance point of the Dja Reserve, and one hour after that we arrived at the Dja river which we would take to our campsite.
 
Poor Crock...

On the way to the Dja river we passed a few poachers, one of whom carried a live crocodile that we got to touch. The poor thing was probably dinner a few hours later! We also passed many other Baka hunters and farmers who followed in our trail for some time, all the while giving more smoking substances to our Baka guide who couldn’t have been happier. We arrived at the Dja river and Bossis and Kopo set out to search for 2 pirogues we could take to our campsite. While Spencer and I waited, munched on peanuts, and lamented our lack of water, our Baka guide smoked and started joyously hacking at some trees with his hatchet.

Finally Kopo and Bossis arrived with two pirogues.  We piled our belongings in the pirogues which are made from hallowed out trees. The boats sank dangerously close to the water and appeared close to capsizing. When Spencer and I climbed in, the boat sank even further and I started to panic and think of how I might die in this boat. Spencer was able to convince me after several minutes that I would not be dying in a pirogue that day, and with that, we set off for our campsite. 

As the sun set, we rowed through the thick forest on the very slow Dja river, which ends up falling into Lake Victoria in the DRC. Exotic birds flew over us and made noises that sounded prehistoric. While there were no monkey sightings along the river as promised, it was no letdown for bird watching. 
 
Pirogue-ing

We arrived at our campsite, which had a small little hut for the guides to sleep in, and we set up our tent. Our dinner of fish, peanut sauce and rice was put on the fire and we waited as our stomachs growled and our mouths were parched. As we waited, Maturain rushed us into the forest and out of the clearing. He pointed up in the trees and whispered "monkeys!". Sadly, I was too busy tripping and stumbling over weeds to catch a glimpse, but Spencer saw them! After a few minutes we returned to camp and waited for our food. We gorged ourselves with all the food we could eat since it had been over 12 hours since we ate. We still had nothing to drink and had to command the guards to boil river water for us to drink in the morning. Spencer and I headed to bed to avoid the mosquitoes. As we laid there, I heard Spencer groan and mumble 'Oh no...' and rush out of the tent. For the next 10 minutes, Spencer puked up his guts as I tried to calm him down and get him freshly boiled river water to re-hydrate him. Needless to say, that experience ruined peanut sauce and rice for him for the next couple days, but thankfully he was better by morning! We headed back to the tent for night one of four sleepless nights on the very hard, cold, and rocky forest floor.

Boating - Day 2

Pirogue Naps
We woke up a bit later than anticipated on day 2 as a result of the night's puking incident. Maturain made us a very large omelet with fresh coffee before we headed back down to our pirogues. We boarded the canoes and rolled down the Dja river for the next two hours. The experience was insanely tranquil. We reminded ourselves that we are likely the only foreigners to have boated on this section of the Dja over the last half century, which is a pretty crazy thought! There were still no monkey sightings along the river (and thankfully no hungry crocodile sightings), but again there were many beautiful birds and lots of natural beauty. Spencer, still not feeling in tip-top shape, reclined throughout the whole ride as I did what I do best: take endless pictures.

After two hours of boating we pulled up to a fishing spot and walked a bit inland to find about 7 villagers using various fishing methods in the muddy ground. Some people were busy pumping water into little ponds to look for carp, others constructed dams with fish-catching baskets, and others caught fish by chopping them from above with a machete. We watched the process take place for a while and saw the life cycle of the carp that we so often love to eat. The fishermen gifted us about 20 fresh carp and we headed on our way to camp, not far down the river. We arrived at the camp, which was already occupied by all the fisherman, so we continued a bit further and ended up at another quaint little camp with another small fishing hut. We set up our tents, enjoyed lunch, and we reclined in my hammock and read until the hottest part of the day past. 
 
Fishing

At about 3 pm Maturain said we were going on a hike to look for a good monkey watching spot. I was prepared for a 30 minute hike, especially since we again had no water. Oh boy, no, I was quite wrong. We hiked for 1 hour on a trail-less path among extremely thorny branches, random holes in the ground covered by freshly fallen leaves, muddy pits and wide streams. After an hour of struggling, we finally arrived at our monkey watching spot. Our drunken Baka guide passed out among the trees and Spencer and I found comfortable spots among the tree trunks and waited...and waited...and waited for an hour. No monkeys. Maturain hissed at the Baka guide and asked him if he knew how to call monkeys. "Yes, of course", the Baka said. "Well call them!" Maturain exclaimed. "No," Baka guide said flatly. Looks like luck wasn't on our side. 
 
Camp Day 2 (We Had a Tent - The Guides Had the House)

After an hour of bad luck, I woke Spencer up from his nap among the leaves on the rainforest floor and we began our long hike back. Nearly back at camp, our Baka guide put his hand up in the air signaling us to halt. We waited and Maturain said he sensed a snake. No snakes in sight though, thank goodness! We continued not too far before the Baka guide halted us again, but this time pointing to the trees. Then I heard it, the sound of monkeys playing, fighting, and communicating. We waited with our heads craned upwards towards the tree tops. After what seemed like forever, I finally saw the monkeys, but this time, Spencer wasn't as lucky. Nonetheless, it was our second monkey sighting of our two days. We also had the fortune of finding a tree that produces fresh, clean, cold water when you cut its vines – so Spencer and I indulged given the fact it had been hours since our last sip of water.

When we arrived at camp my legs were scratched, bloodied, and my body was covered in bug bites. We ate our dinner of fresh carp in tomato sauce and retired to our tent for me to get my butt-whipped by Spencer in various card games before heading to bed. This was night two of four sleepless nights on the very hard, cold, and rocky forest floor.

I'm Not in Civilization Anymore - Day 3

Day 3 was rough...really rough. While the other days had been split nicely between hiking and lounging on a pirogue, day 3 was all hiking - and not just any hiking, this was hiking among the dense primary forest with no clear path and with endless thorny trees waiting to rip my arms and legs open. After breakfast I strapped on our 25 pound backpack and we headed along the same route we took the day before. After an hour we passed our 'monkey watching' spot from the previous night and we continued another hour further until we finally reached a stream. At this point, my legs were covered in blood, I had fallen into a tree with 3 inch thorns spaced 1 inch apart which pierced 4 large holes into my hand, and had twisted my ankle countless times. As I hobbled about with the backpack squishing me, we decided to set up camp alongside the small creek. We unpacked, set up camp, played some card games in the tent as we waited for the heat to subside, cleaned off our bloody bodies and boiled some river water to drink.


We didn't anticipate hiking further given that our bodies were near the point of collapsing and surrendering to death (or at least mine was, I'm not sure about Spencer) - but sure enough, Maturain peaked his head in our tent and asked "Ready to go hiking?!" I cursed him under my breath but didn't say no because I didn't want to give up the chance of seeing monkeys. We walked 1 hour into an even denser part of the rainforest. We got caught all up in mud puddles and ponds and we became bloodied and filthy again in no time flat. The Baka guide held his hand up at one point and made us listen - and there it was, the sound of chimps banging their chests. We sat and listened for some time, amazed at the sheer volume of the chest banging. We continued a bit further and sat among the trees. After another 30 minutes of no monkey sightings, we almost gave up hope, but then Bossis pointed to far trees that were moving. As we waited, sure enough, monkeys drew nearer. Two troops of monkeys in fact! They jumped from tree to tree and ate and played around with the other monkeys. Spencer and I watched with our heads bent high. We watched the monkeys for the next 30 minutes before they moved on and so did we. On the way back Maturain found me a beautiful large royal blue tail feather of the Bannerman's Turaco.

The night was spent again eating fish in peanut sauce (much to Spencer's displeasure). During dinner we all heard Kopo accidentally fall into the steam, this coming not long after he tripped and broke half our carton of eggs. The series of incidents did nothing to help Kopo's reputation of being clumsy. The rest of the evening was spent getting beaten once again by Spencer at various card games until we (or at least I) spent the third sleepless night on the only slightly more padded rainforest floor.

Are We There Yet? - Day 4

My ankle barely had time to heal before we had to turn from our new campsite and return to day 1's campsite. We hiked back through the impossibly far stretch of forest we did the day before only to get further scratched, bloodied, and bruised. Bossis explained that we wouldn't be camping at our favorite campsite (camp 2) because the water was getting lower on the river and if we waited another day, the river would be impassable due to debris; therefore, we needed to boat back to camp 1 that night. We got in the pirogues and relaxed as they took us the two hours back to campsite 1. Along the way the river was definitely harder to pass, not only because we were going upstream, but also because bamboo branches became lodged across the river due to the falling river level. While we spotted no monkeys, we did spot an adorable (but dead) otter in a pirogue manned by a small little boy.

We arrived back at campsite 1, made dinner, relaxed in the hammock once more, and got the worst night sleep yet given our tents position on a rock-filled slope during a heavy thunderstorm.
 
Kopo and Maturain

Le Retour – Day 5

And so it came to a close. We woke up to a breakfast of a mushroom sauté from freshly picked mushrooms that the Baka guide had foraged the day before (they were non-poisonous and non-hallucinogenic, might I add). While on day 1 we took a pirogue for 30 minutes from a trail near Medjoh to the campsite, on day 5 we instead walked what we had canoed five days previously. For an hour we again stumbled our way through pretty dense primary forest until our Baka guide halted us again and pointed us to the trees for what would be our last monkey sighting. There they were, small little monkeys jumping from tree to tree! While I got no pictures of them, you’ll have to believe me, they were pretty cute.

We continued walking, thinking that we weren’t too far from Medjoh – but wrong we were! It would be another 2.5 hours of hiking before we reached the road to Medjoh. When we arrived, Spencer and I let out a sigh of relief – sunlight! No biting horseflies!  We said our goodbyes to our guides, had one more laugh at the expense of Kopo and his clumsiness, and hitchhiked our way back to Lomié. While we lucked out finding a car in which we each had our own seat, the driver was adamant about not opening the windows. On a 100 degree day, that car came near boiling point and the driver was going at a pace of about 15 km per hour, making the trip back to Lomié take about 3.5 hours. When Spencer and I arrived in Lomié, we collapsed out of the car drenched not only in buckets of sweat but also 5 days of forest dirt and grime. We headed back to my place, showered, and felt like humans again. We went over to Plaza so Spencer could enjoy chicken. While I ordered fish on account of there only being one plate of chicken left, I ended up with more than I bargained for – not with your regular old fish like bass or carp – but with what was either crocodile or barracuda. We joked about the last curve ball Lomié was throwing at us.

Overall the camping and hiking trip was amazing. While we were a bit disappointed not to have seen gorillas and elephants like we were promised, we nonetheless saw many monkeys and had the opportunity to go around 25 km into the rainforest and boat up the Dja – all of which are experiences that few people will have the opportunity to do. Not only did I get to do all that, but I got to experience it all with Spencer – the only person I could’ve imagined doing such a trip with. Now that the rainforest is under our belt, we are off to the North for nothing short of a polar opposite experience when compared to Lomié. 

3.07.2014

IST Recap

Well, IST came and went in a blink of an eye – as has all my time here. It was a week spent much like PST: hanging out with my close friends, drinking, and not paying attention in training sessions. Oh, and did I mention, much of the time was spent being endlessly teased by Spencer and having many of my belongings tagged by Spencer with either pictures of penguins or the words ‘l’eau pour table’. So as you can see, not much has changed between PST and IST. We are still a bunch of immature goofballs. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Before IST I traveled to Yaoundé and met up with the North crew, with whom I attended my first Hilton Happy Hour and a round of house shots at Route 66 bar. It was unbelievably refreshing to see Spencer, Rachel, Liz, Cody, Ampson, Hannah, and Alexi and my other friends up in the grand North. While in Yaoundé, Spencer and I spent time in Western-style grocery stores and eating poisson braiser. After just a few days in Yaounde, the group rented out a bus to Bamenda where we each got 2 seats to ourselves – quite the luxurious travel experience, especially for me.

On the first night in Bamenda we had a welcome dinner and ceremony with our counterparts. Most of us had not eaten that well since America. So much food – so much variety! The rest of the first week was spent sitting in on endlessly boring sessions about stuff we had already learned, but which was new for our counterparts. I always sat with Sylvie, my counterpart, Spencer, and Moussa, who is Spencer’s counterpart. While Spencer and I would surf the internet and goof off all session, our counterparts would be diligently taking detailed notes. At one point, Sylvie leaned over to me, hit my thigh and asked me ‘Are you going to pay attention?!’ Shocked that my counterpart had the balls to put me in line, I paid attention for the rest of that session. I also spent many of the sessions translating for Spencer, since he couldn’t understand some of what his counterpart said – but I must say, Spencer’s French has greatly improved from the ‘viche viche’ days of PST. Moussa at one point told me ‘You must come North and give Spencer French lessons for a month’. Unfortunately, I think Moussa greatly overestimates my French abilities and greatly underestimates Spencer’s French skills.
Spencer and I at Hilton Happy Hour

On Saturday our counterparts left, which means the next week our sessions were spent in the larger 
group of my stage, or broken down by sector. Sessions ranged from applying for grants, applying for committees, and on best practices for projects. Spencer and I are both applying for the Food Security Committee and are just about guaranteed to be accepted because 2 people are accepted per sector, and only 3 of us applied, one of whom (Alexi) doesn’t really want to be on the FS Committee – so yay!
Art Shopping at Handicraft

When not in sessions, evenings were spent watching movies, playing cards, eating (a lot!), and drinking either at the hotel or at local bars, many of which are super nice in Bamenda/Bamerica (Hello, one even had flat screen TVs and a firepit!). The internet access, albeit unbelievably slow, allowed me to FaceTime and Skype with friends and family, and also with people who practically feel like family, such as Spencer’s parents (don’t worry mama Judy, I made sure Spencer ate a lot). I also spent a few days at Pres-café eating Greek salads (with real feta cheese!), carrot cake and sipping on real cappuccinos, or at Pres-craft for Handicraft buying new home décor for chez moi.

IST also provided me the time to really think about my project ideas for the next two years. I solidified my moringa project with the Agro PM, who is coming to Lomié to give me 200 seeds in a few weeks, and to create a new project at the persistence of Sylvie to test and educate people in Lomie for HIV/AIDS and then to start a secretive People Living with HIV/AIDS Club for those we diagnose as HIV+. We also plan on gathering local prostitutes and those at-risk for prostitution and teaching them income generating activities so they no longer have to prostitute. Lastly, I plan on making care groups in my community, where each quartier will have one health representative whom I and Sylvie will train in various health topics and who will then return to their quartier to teach those living there. We’ve got many project ideas and a lot of work to do before we launch the HIV club in December. Time to get started!
Welcome Masquarade in Bamenda
Overall, IST was great, but honestly, also quite stressful. With a group of 53, it’s impossible to know and be best friends with everyone. Most of my stagemates (particularly those not in health) I haven’t talked to since PST, so seeing them was weird. We all get along, but at times, we are all reminded about how we are all really mere strangers. There are even those in health who I haven’t talked to since PST, not because we don’t get along, but because there is either no reception in their village or just because life gets in the way. But for those I stayed in contact with, my close friends, we rebounded immediately and it was like things have never changed. IST reminded me that it’s better to have a solid core group of close friends than be mere acquaintances with all my stage. While I didn’t get time to talk with everyone at IST, I was able to have real quality time with those who I consider to be my best friends in country. I even got to know a few new people from other sectors as well, whom I’d never really had the chance to get to know during PST. So all in all, IST gave me the chance to really invest time with my closest friends, it also gave me the opportunity to better know some others.
New Yaounde Case
Now IST is over, I’m back in Yaoundé, and already missing those I left behind. I’ve decided that though I love Lomié, I will be henceforth taking 1 week trips to visit others every month for mental sanity reasons. I love my village, don’t get me wrong, but I’m one of the most isolated volunteers and I live in some pretty rough conditions. I didn’t really realize the effect all that was having on me until I arrived in Yaoundé and compared my mannerisms with the Cameroonians around me and I realized I’ve become a pretty defensive and ‘don’t-mess-with-me’ type of person. Being with friends and being in new scenery allowed me to let go and relax. For the first time in three months, I was able to go a week without having to knee a guy in the balls for grabbing me from behind and trapping me, and I was able to understand all that was being said around me, and I was able to make jokes in my own language again and be the goof that I am. It was liberating and much overdue. I want to continue to love Lomié, because there is so much to love, but I realize that for my own well-being, I need to get out in regular intervals. I want to do a lot of effective work in Lomié, so I plan on dedicating 3 weeks per month to hard work, and 1 week per month to recoup my enthusiasm and remind myself that I am myself. But first, I’m spending the next 1.5 months traveling, because, well, I deserve it after all the things I’ve been through the past three months!

So here’s to the next month-worth of adventures with Spencer – we are spending a few days beachside in Kribi, then trekking in the rainforest for 5 days, then headed up North. It’ll be a hectic, but fun time. I’ll do my best to keep you posted, internet permitting.

Oh, and by the way, if you are only interested in photos and don't care about reading what I'm up to, feel free to check out my new, photo-only blog here: http://saidbyredphotos.wordpress.com/

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