4.21.2014

Life in Limbo

I'll Miss My Goofy Postmate Brothers

Well, I’ve been off med-hold for about a week now (whoop! – let’s hope it’ll be a few more months till I’m back on med-hold). My boils are all nearly gone, but unfortunately one is still hanging around for the good time. The bus back to Lomié went all wrong – as it usually does. I showed up to the early bus out of Yaoundé, which was, only naturally, delayed about 3 hours. Once we departed, we sailed out of Yaoundé, only to collide with a semi-truck an hour later, to which our driver claimed ‘he didn’t see it coming’ – because, you know, those semi-trucks are quite small, especially when turning right out in front of you. While we remained stranded roadside, passengers got in fights among themselves over which driver’s fault the accident was – I suppose these fights and heated debates were a result of sheer boredom or the typical Eastern need to constantly yell and bicker. After being stranded for far too long, we continued with our journey, only to receive a flat tire an hour later, which on a bus as large as this one, sounds like a grenade going off below you. Needless to say, I’m glad my bladder was empty, otherwise I’m sure I would’ve peed my pants.

This is a very simple roadblock en route to Lomie
We rolled into Abong Mbang far later than anticipated. When I arrived, no buses were going to Lomié that day so I was left to look for a bush taxi, which, as fate would have it, the last ticket for the bush taxi was sold to the person in front of me in line. So I waited, peed in a hidden nearby sink (I gotta do what I gotta do when they lock the toilets up and people are hanging out in my usual pee spot near the garbage pile), and ate about 10 guavas to pass the time. Finally a bush taxi rolled in and I feigned illness to get the back window seat so that I didn’t need to sit on the stick shift, where all the passengers wanted me to sit.

This driver was feeling particularly cruel this afternoon and decided to cram 4 fat men in the back with me and 4 in the front with Danny for the next 6 hours to Lomié in order to make an extra buck. Not to mention, the windows didn't work so we slow roasted over those 6 hours - I think we were pretty well-done by the end of our slow roasting. Not long after pulling out of the cesspool that is Abong Mbang, some random guy ran up beside our taxi and sat on the trunk as we drove along. After about 15 minutes of the trunk man hanging on for dear life as we bumped along the road, I asked the man next to me why this dude was riding on our trunk, to which he responded “funerals and wakes make people do crazy things”. I nodded and said “Oh, of course”, as if I knew what the hell that was supposed to mean, because that definitely did not answer my question as to why this man was riding on our trunk. Apparently said trunk man got bored of hanging on, and decided to climb inside the trunk with our bags, and shut the trunk door – a quite stuffy ride I can only imagine, but probably more spacious than my seat on top of a fat man’s lap with his arm draped around me stroking my shoulders. My first thought was ‘Why is this man now riding inside our trunk?’ but Danny’s first reaction was ‘I hope he isn’t stealing the 12 deodorant bottles I brought from Miami!’.

As the sun set, we finally passed the ‘Welcome to Lomié’ sign 2km outside of town and the driver decided to pull over. Danny and I demand he drop us off at the gare, as is customary. The driver refused. We then demanded the 3$ that we were each owed and the driver responded with “I have no money”. After a few minutes of Danny demanding our reimbursements we were owed from overpaying for our tickets, I then jumped in and ripped the driver a new one. The 4 fat men in the back slowly turned their heads and looked at me, I think out of shock that I would dare stand up to the driver, and also perhaps because I miraculously recovered from my ‘illness’. One of the fat men said, “Look, the little redhead says nothing all journey but with the topic of money, then she talks!” Damn right I talk when you are stealing 3$ from me! That’s three days worth of food! Long story short, after yelling enough in front of the gendarmes, the driver took us to the gare but still refused to repay us, claiming that we are white and don’t need the money. Danny and I let the man have it again, and explained that we don’t make much money and that his perception of whites being rich was a very villageois mentality. Ashamed to be called villageois, he forked up the money – looks like he had the money all along. If he would’ve just repaid us in the first place, he could’ve saved himself from some redheaded wrath by the girl far too fed up with the shenanigans of Easterners.

Fishing Ponds at La Raffia Hotel in Lomie

Speaking of shenanigans of Easterners, I guess I have some news that’s a long time coming. I’ve been the victim of far too many shenanigans (the sexual harassment kind) recently and I will be moving to a new post. Surprise! I love Lomié; the nature here is beautiful, the rainforest is stunning, the variety of food is a blessing, and the occasional electricity is marvelous – but unfortunately one too many men have grabbed my butt, grabbed hold of me from behind and refused to let me go, done the ‘I-want-to-have-sex-with-you’ hand motion (once not even on my hand, but rather in a place a bit more forward), and one too many men have peed on me (and by one too many, I mean one). 

There isn’t much health-related work to be done in Lomié either. The District Hospital is in disrepair and there is nothing I can do to help it; and the Catholic Hospital is far too well-staffed and well-run to warrant the help of a volunteer. The little work I did have in Lomié has since fallen to pieces. The mushroom group fell apart at the seams since each person wanted their own kickbacks and ‘motivation’ (bribes) to keep the project running. I’ve stopped going to the high school health club I was a part of ever since one of the teachers stood butt naked in the doorway of his house (on school property) and insisted that I come and share dinner with him alone in his house (he was baffled when I declined). Between these incidents, the lack of integration due to the sprawled out, diverse, large Lomié population, the attempted break-in a few months ago, and the danger of me taking the only bus out of Lomié at 3am alone to leave village only to get trapped on the road for hours (or days), Sylvie decided it was best that I move.
Fishing Pond in Lomie 

It’ll be sad to leave Lomié. My postmates are great and I will miss the few Cameroonians in Lomié that are kind, have treated me well, and who have been welcoming. But, the move is for the better and I think I will be a more effective and happy volunteer elsewhere. The stress of the harassment was affecting me so much that there would be days I wouldn’t leave my house, and that won’t make me a successful PCV. In Lomié, I found myself getting too angry too fast, having constant headaches and being far too stressed out and lacking motivation to work. When I was in the Grand North, people welcomed me, invited me over for food, had discussions that didn’t involve me marrying them, and I didn’t get touched by a single man! During my brief trip in the Grand North, I was happy, had ideas for projects, wanted to integrate, I didn’t get angry, and had no headaches – it was a reminder of how I’m supposed to feel here in Cameroon and made me realize that I shouldn’t stay in Lomié if it’s having a negative impact on me health and well-being.

So, on to better and brighter horizons! While I’m not sure where I’ll go yet, I’m pushing for the Adamawa (and plan on only settling for the Adamawa) given the much kinder, less harassing culture there. Furthermore, being posted in the Adamawa will let me begin the food security-related projects that I plan on starting. Unfortunately with the closure of the West Adamawa, there are not posts open in the East Adamawa right now, so I wait…and wait until a new post is found. There is one possible post that has been found and that I’m crossing my fingers for, but it has to be agreed upon by Sylvie and a house needs to be found, so it’ll still be some time before I am able to move. Until then, I pass my days learning Fulfulde in my house with Metis, playing board games with my postmates, reading for hours on end while the rainy season storms pound down outside, and drinking chai in the calm, Fulfulde omelet shack by my house in Lomié.


While now I’m presented with the hassle of moving (both logistically and financially), I believe it’ll all be for the better. So now I wait (and push a bit) for a new, welcoming, quaint village in the Adamawa to be named my new home. Until then, I’ll try to enjoy the challenges that Lomié deals me daily - which for the past week and a half has included a nice worm infestation going on in my intestines…use your imagination to figure out how I found out I have worms…

Food Security Committee and Eating in Yaoundé

While I was in Yaoundé on med-hold, I had my first meeting for Food Security Committee, which I was selected to be a part of a few weeks back. Members on Food Security from my stage include me, Spencer, Sarah Edwards, Alizabeth Potluck, and Will Godfrey. The meeting lasted all day and we discussed ways to encourage food security-related projects, successful past PCV projects related to food security, and how to better incorporate food security training in PST for the incoming stages. Oh, and during our meeting we found out that a new post got closed – Guider, in the North – now Spencer is the furthest north volunteer as more and more volunteers get Boko’d, as my friend Jack delicately puts it.

The Food Security meeting was awesome. I had turned down HIV/AIDS committee to be a part of Food Security given my longtime interest in all things related to food. I had no idea what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. The small group of PCVs that are a part of the committee are hardworking, good-humored, inspiring, and with a wealth of knowledge. The topics we discussed, ranged from tofu promotion, to at-home plumpy’nut creation, to moringa growing, and beekeeping – and I want to dabble in all of them!

At the end of the meeting, we had elections and I got elected as Vice Chairperson and Spencer got elected to Webmaster with Will being elected as our new Chairperson. To celebrate our new positions, Spencer and I celebrated by spending the rest of our time in Yaoundé securing our own food needs – including eating Chinese, Lebanese, Turkish, gelato, burgers, fresh salads, and a few real cocktails to seal the deal. While I sincerely hate Yaoundé, namely the hectic-ness and expensive taxi rides, I cannot deny that I love going to Hilton Happy Hour and eating out at the many delicious, Westernized restaurants, especially now that so many of them are close to our new case.

While eating out in Yaoundé is never cheap (most of it is equivalent to American pricing), it is often a well-deserved treat, especially after perhaps starving in village for a bit too long and lacking necessary nutrients (or should I say, lacking all nutrients) – or sometimes just lacking decent alcohol. On Saturday, a large group of us went to a new Labanese place, owned by a really cool Lebanese-American, for drinks, falafel, and hummus and to have a bit of fun in the hours before Val, a fellow health PCV from my stage, left permanently for America. We drank, ate, and laughed with Val as she drank an impressive amount of margaritas while working up her excitement for all things American she was about to re-encounter.

After our Food Security meeting finished and after I was released off med-hold, it was time for me to leave Yaoundé and all its glorious food options and to go back to the limited food options in my village. Our next committee meeting is in August and I can’t wait to see what projects and ideas everyone has come up with. I know I’m looking forward to using the vast wealth of information to create a few meaningful projects, especially given a recent change of events which will let me focus more on food-scarce populations…but I’ll leave that explanation for my next blog post. 

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. 

ShareThis