8.23.2014

Village of the Apes



Life as a IDPCV (internally displaced Peace Corps Volunteer) is quite dull, so much so that I am inventing stupid acronyms to describe my situation (such as IDPCV) and having long drawn out meowing conversations with my cat, whom I just reacquired last week after him being trapped in Lomié for a month. I spend my days in a very routine fashion - getting up, doing an hour of yoga, doing a bit of Insanity, eating breakfast, cleaning the case, and then sitting on the computer (electricity and internet permitting). It has almost been a month since I was evacuated from Lomié, and I’ll tell ya, a month of doing nothing can get insanely mundane. Not to mention, I've got worms (again), so I've been feeling pretty darn crappy lately (hence the lack of blog posts). Good news though is that my house in Ngatt apparently now has walls!

Since life in Bertoua has settled down and the novelty of internet is wearing off, I decided to check out the Sanaga-Yang Chimpanzee Rescue Center near Bertoua last week. Spencer was visiting Bertoua, since he too was evacuated a few weeks ago. Deciding that it was time we had some fun, we took the 90 minute bus to Bélabo and then an hour long moto ride through the forest to the free Sanaga-Yang Chimp Rescue.

After the butt-numbing moto ride, we arrived at the Chimp Rescue (which I accidentally kept calling the ’Chimp Farm’). Nobody was at the front gate so we continued on our way and made it to the camp. A German woman named Agnes, who oversees the reserve, greeted us. She explained that there were no guides because there was an ‘emergency’ today. I’m not sure what emergency there could possibly be, besides all the chimps escaping, which I don’t think happened. "We will find someone to take you around", Agnes said. She disappeared and a few minutes later came back with a volunteer from Nice, France. This girl was previously a secretary for the French government, but decided she wanted a break. She has spent 3 months volunteering at the Chimp Rescue and has 3 months remaining. Apparently the French government has some program where if you agree to work 10 years for the government, you can take up to 3 unpaid years off to do as you please and come back and have your job waiting for you. 

The Dominant Male

She led us around and showed us the first chimp area which had 15 chimps between the ages of 6 and 12. The dominant male of the group came charging up to us to check us out as the other chimps gathered around and played on the playground. This was by far the closest I’ve ever been to chimps before and in such a private environment. The girls explained to us about the chimps in this area, and told us about Milou, one of the chimps they rescued after his mother was killed for the illegal ape-trade and after he was taken in as a pet. After two years at Sanaga-Yang, he fell from a tree and a branch poked him in the eye, causing him to loose his eye.

As we walked to see the young chimps, one of the chimps in the area we had just seen started following us. Spencer looked at the chimp and asked, “Um, are those rocks in his hand?”. I responded, “I don’t know. What does it matter?”. Our guide said, “Yeah, I think those are rocks…” Just then, the chimp stood up, took the rocks one-by-one and began launching them at Spencer, and only Spencer. Nothing is quite as amusing as seeing a chimp chuck rocks at someone.

Milou, the Chimp who lost his Eye
The second area we saw were the caged area where the young chimps were introduced to the friendliest old chimps in hopes they would accept the young ones into their group. The young chimps would stay in this holding area until an older chimp accepts him. Adorable doesn’t even begin to describe these chimps! They were so rambunctious, loud, and playful. They swung all over their holding area, communicated with us, and did flips and tricks to impress us. After falling in love with the young chimps, we headed over to an observation tower to see the oldest and most aggressive chimps from above. When we got to the top of the observation tower, it was time for feeding the chimps. A worker came to their enclosure, called the chimps over, and gave them all baton de manioc. It was perfectly timed, not only did we get to see feeding time but we also got to see the majority of the 73 chimps at the reserve. We got a good laugh at the chimps eating baton de manioc - they eat just like all Cameroonians. I made sure to recommend to the chimps that they grill their baton to make it taste better. The chimps went crazy over the baton and a few even stock-piled their baton in their fat pockets, while other chimps wore their extra baton like necklaces.
Young Chimps

Our guide explained to us that the Sanaga-Yang Rescue Center takes in chimps whose parents have been killed or who were intended to be smuggled out of Cameroon to be sold as pets or tourist attractions in North Africa or Asia. Many of the chimps in the Rescue were found as infants, while others were rescued later in life after being locked up for years. Once the chimps are at the Sanaga-Yang Rescue, they are there for life, since reintroducing them back into the wild would mean their likely death. At the Sanaga-Yang Center, the chimps are slowly introduced to other chimps until they are adopted into an exising social group. There are 6  fenced enclosures over 2 square kilometers of land for the 73 chimps, and each enclosure has natural forest habitat which make the chimps feel as if they are in the real forest.  I was extremely impressed by the Sanaga-Yang Rescue Center, especially since they are mostly volunteer-run and sustained mostly by outside donations. In addition to the rescue and rehabilitation of chimps, the Sanaga-Yang center also works in community development by employing mostly local Cameroonians, does conservation work with the Cameroonian government, and raises awareness of the necessity to protect chimps with the nearby villages. That’s a hell of a lot of work.
Enjoying baton de manioc

On the bus ride home, I was amazed at the successful work the center had done thus far, especially in an area were the bush meat trade is so embedded in local culture and cuisine. It made me realize that my work here can be successful too, despite all the obstacles I perceive as blocking my way. Changing habits often feels impossible here in Cameroon when people do things merely because that’s how they’ve always been done. But one of the things the Sanaga-Yang Rescue center taught me is that behavior change is possible, even if it takes an impossibly long time. Another thing it taught me is that chimps are probably the cutest things ever. Seriously.

If you want to learn more about the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center or financially support their work by donating to help the upkeep of the camp, then check out their website. You can also donate items on their Wish List by mailing them to their office in Oregon, or you can also sponsor a chimp. Thanks for the support!

8.10.2014

Busy as a Bee

My Counterparts and I - The Lomié Beekeeping Trifecta! (Jean-Paul Gouffo, Yacouba Oussmanou Njindiymoun, and I)


**Warning: A few bees and PCVs were harmed in the making of this conference

I’ve had a lot going on the last few weeks, what with being called in on medhold, evacuated, moving, settling into Bertoua etc., it has been, to put it simply, exhausting, draining, and somewhat depressing. While I know the move was necessary and far overdue, it doesn’t make it any easier to leave behind good friends and projects. Needless to say, I needed a big ole pick-me-up to renew my enthusiasm and inspiration. Thankfully, this week I got just that! I headed to Bafoussam on August 5th for a 3-day conference on beekeeping. It was a very busy three days, but it was awesome! I’ll try to summarize with not too much boring detail and I’ll try to keep my oozing excitement over the conference at a minimum.

Before I was evacuated from Lomié, I had applied for a $4,000 Feed the Future grant for beekeeping with the Baka, as I described in a previous post a while ago. My counterparts for the project were Yacouba Ousmanou Njindiyimoun (the artisan who made my bamboo furniture and who often works with art among the Baka) and Martin Atangana, a local pastor and beekeeper. For this beekeeping conference, I brought Yacouba, since he was going to be the driving force behind the project and because he has accepted me and the Peace Corps with open arms. Since I was in charge of scheduling and programming this beekeeping conference, I was also in charge of bringing someone to train on ’best practices’ in beekeeping, so I brought Pastor Jean-Paul Gouffo, who has practiced beekeeping with the Baka of the Nomedjoh encampment, which is ~20km north of Lomié, over the past 18 years. With these two extremely motivated and hardworking men, I’m confident that this Baka beekeeping project near Lomié will succeed without me needing to be present.
Kim and I Working on Our Beehive


I got to Yaoundé on Monday afternoon and on Tuesday I went to the agence de voyages to travel to Bafoussam with Yacouba. I arrived and called Yacouba who told me “J’arrive!” - I’m coming! He claimed he was in a taxi and almost at the agence, so I got in the very long line to buy my ticket, assuming that Yacouba would arrive momentarily. In typical Cameroonian fashion, he was very late. I had already bought my ticket, loaded my luggage, and was sitting on the bus when the bus tickets sold out. It was then that Yacouba arrived. My bus pulled away, but thankfully Yacouba left on another bus just 15 minutes after mine along with a CED PCV (Brian Campos) and his counterpart Mohammad, both of whom are in Ngaoundal, which is near to my new village of Ngatt.

We arrived in Bafoussam and I met up with Kim, my fellow East Regionmate, and everyone met in the dining hall for dinner. Oh man, the West is quite abundant with food that I haven’t seen for a year! It was crazy, delicious, and probably added an inch to my waistline (thank God I’m moving to the Adamawa soon). Kim had just arrived from America and I had traveled from the East, so after dinner we were both pretty exhausted and decided to catch up and then catch some ZZZs since sessions started at 7am the next morning.

After stuffing my face at breakfast and having it be filmed by some random camera man, we finally started with the sessions. Day 1 was mostly theory and other information such as history of beekeeping, health benefits, beehive designs etc. While I already knew a lot on the basics of beekeeping, I also learned quite a bit as well, such as that African bees are the most aggressive type of bees. While my counterparts, other counterparts and I disagreed with the health information being disseminated (the PCV trainer was trying to claim that honey has the same nutrient value as white sugar - wrong!), it was overall an enlightening morning.

Extracting the Combs
At the end of Day 1, everyone headed over to a local economic community-based organization who dabbles in beekeeping. Someone taught us how to make a Kenyan top-bar beehive. After watching him make one, it was all of our turns. Unfortunately, since Lomi
é is so dang far and the road is nearly impassable at this time of the year, Yacouba and Jean-Paul decided it was better to just bring the disassembled pieces of our hive to Lomié and build it there, rather than attempting to transport it. Since we weren’t building our own, Yacouba, Jean-Paul and I walked around to help others. I paired up with Kim and her counterpart from Batouri, Pascal, and we finished with success!

Day 2 of the conference was mostly practical training on how to monitor hives, extract honey, and make wax, wax candles, and wax soap. In the morning we went to a local bee farm and watched the process of checking hives, making sure everything was in order, and taking out combs whose honey was ready to be harvested. Everyone donned their long pants and shirts and their homemade bee hats. Yacouba made him and I artisan rattan hats and together we constructed the veil out of the drapes from my house in Lomi
é. I was so excited to watch the process of checking the hives. I snapped away blindly with my camera (it was impossible to see the photos through the veil, so all the photos I took were a complete surprise). There were bees all around but none had any reason to sting…yet. Tiki, the Program Manager of the Agribusiness program, didn’t have any protective clothes on and he also has a huge fear of bees. Once the bees started exiting the hives, Tiki ran away as if he was being chased by Boko Haram.

Making Wax Body Soap
We all watched the honey extraction process for a while, and at the last hive, I decided to get up nice and close to see things better. As my fate would have it, this was the time that one of the beekeepers tilted the top-bar at too much of an angle and dropped the entire comb, causing a swarm of angry bees to gather. Kim and I started backing away slowly trying to stay calm (because bees can sense fear), as we made our way out of the hive area, we picked up the pace. Just when I thought we were in the clear, a bee entered under my veil. I remained calm and shook it out, but it then decided to enter my shirt…along with another bee. I then stopped, tried to stupidly shake my shirt to get the bee to leave, but that just ended up angering him (duh, Karen), so he bit me, and then soon after another bit me on my neck. It didn’t hurt too bad, especially for being only the 2nd and 3rd stings of my life and by apparently the most aggressive bees in the world. I removed the stingers and quickly ran out of the area. While I did get bit (which resulted in the death of those two bees), the whole experience of seeing honey extraction was completely worth the pain!

In the afternoon we headed to a beekeeping cooperative and watched the process of transforming honey (I.e. removing the honey from the comb), creative wax blocks, fabricating wax candles and wax starter sheets for beehives, and finally how to make wax body soap. It ended with us sucking on fresh honey combs, which might just well have been the highlight of the conference - and almost caused a riot over who got the last few bites of the leftover comb.

The morning of Day 3 involved another field trip to yet another bee farm. We watched as homemade melted wax was spread on beehives to attract bees, and then we watched the beehive get placed up in a tree (which apparently is better than placing it on the ground). After that we all headed down to see a series of beehives. We weren’t allowed to talk and we had to go see them in groups of 7 so as not to anger the bees. When we went down, bees landed all over us, but it was awesome because all the hives were super productive and well-populated. After many photo ops with my counterparts posing among the bees and pretending to work, we left the area. When I thought I was in the clear, I lifted the veil on my hat so I could see better. And yet again, with my awesome luck, I wasn’t in the clear and another bee came up and landed right under my lip. I tried not to move and waited for it to leave, but it wouldn’t. Then, again, I dumbly tried to get under it and flick it away - and of course, it stung me, as I should've foreseen. I ripped the stinger out as I felt the throbbing arrive to my lips. At least that would be the last sting of the conference!

Brian, Kim, Mohammad, and I (and some random dude)

Finished!
When we were back at the hotel and conference hall, my counterpart and invitee Jean-Paul did a presentation on his beekeeping project with the Baka in Nomedjoh. He showed videos of Bakas climbing 50 meter tall trees in the rain forest to find honey and a few other videos showing the miraculous healing capabilities of apitherapy. He also shared his experiences and successes and struggles of doing beekeeping with the Baka. Everyone loved his presentation and learned quite a lot about beekeeping in the East and about traditional Baka methods of honey foraging.

The day ended with all the counterparts and PCVs receiving certificates for attending and completing the conference. We all gathered for one large 'family' photo and then dispersed for dinner. After sessions let out, a few PCVs and I and Mohammed (the counterpart from Ngaoundal) went to the local frip to see what we could find. After walking around the market for a while and munching on some scrumptious popcorn, Kim and Pascal (Batouri), Brian and Mohammad (Ngoundal) and I and Yacouba all headed out for some shawarma. We were the trifecta team from the East and Adamawa. Pascal, Kim’s counterpart, was extremely nice and knowledgeable, already having worked in beekeeping for some time already. Mohammad is hands-down the funniest and friendliest Cameroonian I have ever met - I’ve never known a Cameroonian to have such a great sense of humor, lively personality, nor have I known any other Muslim who goes to the night clubs and ends up dancing longer than any American. Yacouba loved hanging out with all of us, and we introduced him to his first shawarma ever. The evening was great. We joked, talked about the conference, shared our ideas on future projects, and enjoyed each others company. We all decided that we are going to work on organizing an East and Adamawa region-specific beekeeping conference that will be more specific on the climatic and local needs of our regions, and at this conference (perhaps to be held early next year), our counterparts will be the trainers. We are all really looking forward to it.

Saturday morning was spent enjoying the last of the free hotel food before everyone split off in their own directions. Yacouba was going to Foumban to visit his family, Jean-Paul was going to Mbouda to visit his mom, and Kim and I were headed to Yaounde. Thankfully, Mohammad accompanied us on the extremely long bus ride back to Yaoundé - and if it were not for his humor, the bus ride would have felt a whole lot longer. It was a jam-packed three days full of endless activity (which was overwhelming) and seeing a lot of other PCVs that I haven’t seen in a while (which was also overwhelming), but it was an amazing experience. Sadly, the freezing climate of the West gave me a bad cold which lasted the entire conference and which I’m still trying to recover from, but the whole conference experience was definitely one of my best Peace Corps experiences thus far. While learning about beekeeping was amazing, I think the highlight of the entire conference was meeting Pascal and Mohammad and getting to better know Yacouba and Jean-Paul. They are such fantastic, hardworking, and motivated individuals who are so excited to start beekeeping projects and collaborate with one another in the future. It was that aspect that has renewed my enthusiasm in my work here and gave me a much needed reminder that everything is going to be OK!



8.03.2014

I Ngatt a New Village!


Google Spells My Village Incorrectly. Curse you, Google!

Living in limbo in Bertoua is only bearable because...dun dun duuun... I've finally got a new village: Ngatt (pronounced like in-GOT). Get it? I Ngatt a new village? Ha ha! I know, it's not that funny, but please, just placate me and laugh at my cheesy jokes and blame my mom for that awful trait.

I'm extremely excited for my new post (note: I tried to avoid using about 8 exclaimation marks after this sentence). I know little about it other than the fact that I'll be its first Peace Corps Volunteer ever. Ngatt is located in the central Adamawa, 30 minutes from the somewhat big-ish village of Tibati, which is now the furthest west Peace Corps post since the Banyo cluster was evacuated in March due to a Boko Haram threat. Therefore, I'll be part of the tiny Tibati cluster, which currently consists of my best friend Liz in Danfili, another health PCV named Dale in Mbakaou (who seems pretty awesome from his blog), and a new YD PCV that will soon move to Tibati. We are few, but I'm sure the cluster is awesome. Ngatt is 30 minutes east of Tibati, and just another 30 minutes east of me is Liz in Danfili (yay for future girl's weekends!). About an hour and a half from me will be a YD from my stage named Pax, who is also wonderful. Pax is in Ngaoundal, which is where I'll take the train anytime I need to go to Ngaoundere for internet or to bank. And then just on the other side of Ngaoundal is Alexi in Dir! Most of my favorite people will all be along my road! Life couldn't be better!

So here I moved from being 6ish hours from the nearest PCV and having 2 postmates who were sometimes there, to living alone in village, which I think I will like much better and will allow me to integrate much better, and being within a half hour to a few hours of most of my favorite people in country.

As for the house - it is under construction, which is precisely why I will be living in limbo in Bertoua for the foreseeable future. My future home still needs cement, painting etc, but from what I hear, it'll consist of a living room, bedroom, kitchen, indoor latrine (which I'll probably only shower in since it's attached to my bedroom), and an outdoor latrine (which is probably where I'll do my #1s and #2s, if you catch my drift). In other words - my house is way larger than I anticipated! I'll live in a stick-fenced compound with a family, whose size, ages, sexes, and (more importantly) number of household sheep
 I don't not yet know.

My village is estimated to be between 1,000-3,000 people, so very small and very tight-knit. It doesn't have any stores, which is one thing I'll miss about Lomie, and Ngatt doesn't really have a market...so there really won't be any food (umm...yay, weight loss?!). But thankfully, Tibati is just a 30 minute ride away for the times my body really needs a fresh...tomato. Additionally, my village is primarily Fulbe, so I'll be learning more Fulfulde, which I'm so very thrilled about. And rumor has it (Djouberou told me), that lots of honey comes from Tibati - so, beekeeping project continuation? We shall see!

The main industry of the area is fishing, since Tibati sits along the Mbakaou lake (check out Dale's pictures here). The area is ruled by the traditional Muslim leader, the Lamido, who is centered in Tibati. Apparently there is also a large missionary hospital in Ngaoubela (15km from Tibati), which oversees the medical needs of the region and has a constant stream of American and European ex-pats rolling through. But of course, I'll be paired with the local centre de sante integre of Ngatt for my host organization.

It appears as if my future village will be quite the opposite of my old village: I'm trading Baka pygmies for Mbororo herdsmen; I'll be trading Nzime for Fulfulde; I'll be going from having electricity usually to never having electricity; I'll be trading my well-stocked daily market for a once-weekly market with only manioc; I'll be trading my isolation for a bit more social interaction; and I'll be trading the humid rainforest for the cool savannah and hills of the Adamawa. I think this 180 degree change is exactly what I need and I'm looking forward to seeing what challenges and excitement Ngatt will offer. I Ngatt high hopes! (I had to end with another cheesy play on words - I make no apologies.)



I Can't Wait for Some Awesome Fantasias in Tibati!

Closure

A Depressing Line of Logging Trucks

Sometimes life deals you a few surprises and challenges. Lately, I feel like my life has been an endless series of unexpected events and challenges. Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 3:00pm, the universe dealt me another unanticipated challenge: I was emergency evacuated from Lomié

As I previously mentioned, Peace Corps has decided to move me out of Lomié due to security issues, but I was told to return to Lomié and wait until a new village and house were found for me. They told me that I'd be in Lomié for the next month to month and a half, which was fine by me. Regardless of the daily struggles I deal with in Lomié, I enjoyed my friends and I was dedicated to my food security work there. Having a month to wrap things up sounded good to me. A month would give me time to enjoy some final get-togethers with my friends, set up a sustainability plan for my soy and beekeeping project with Yacouba, and make a few final memories. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. Instead, I received a call telling me I had to pack my house and leave within 18 hours.

I guess you are wondering, 'Why the sudden change?!'. The quick evacuation was definitely not anticipated, but it came about due to a hellish car ride back to Lomié after my brief time in Yaoundé. So what happened? Let me tell you.

The Event
Friday, July 26th, I got to Abong Mbang at noon and found a private car that was going to Lomié. Once the car filled up, the driver moved me from the car and put me in an empty car as he pulled out with the car full of Cameroonians. 'Okay, fine, I'll wait for this new car to fill up,'  I thought. But once the next car got filled, I was once again moved to a new empty car. Repeat this several times, and you can probably understand my frustration. I argued with the drivers and asked why I keep getting shafted. "Oh no, your car will leave right now, don't worry, just sit down", they reassured me. Of course, this was all a sack full of lies. 
The Wonderful Road

Finally, 5pm rolled around and dusk began to arrive. I felt uneasy about taking the road at night, especially since rains have been more frequent and it was likely that I'd get stuck on the road. I thought about staying in Abong Mbang overnight with Matt, but Matt was training the new stage in Ebolowa. I thought about going to Bertoua, but I had already spent the last of my money on my non-refundable car ticket to Lomié. In the end, I was left with no other choice but to leave when the car left. 

Finally at 6pm, the car was full and we pulled out. It was smooth sailing and we reached Mindarou, the halfway point at about 8pm. The passengers got out, had dinner, and a few of them drank. Me and the older, Muslim lady beside me stayed in the car since both of us were anxious to get home. After about 40 minutes, everyone finally piled back in. We set back out on the road but pulled over not too long after at another tiny village bar. Everyone but me and the Muslim lady got out and drank some more. The driver pulled one of the young women in the car to a nearby building for an hour, where the other young, male passenger claimed they were having sex. The other 5 passengers of the car were busy getting wasted from sachets at the bar. When the driver and the girl finished, they too went to the bar and drank for a while. Finally, about an hour after stopping, we got back on the road.

At this point, I knew the driver had been drinking a lot, which didn't make me feel safe, but I had no choice but to stay in the car because I was along a road where there was no cellphone reception for the next several hours and where no other cars were coming or going. Another few kilometers further, we stopped again and all the passengers bought more sachets. We stopped and waited for an hour as the men pounded their drinks and the girls danced in the road in the headlights of the car. 

By this time, the Muslim woman and I were completely fed up. The car music was on full blast and the entire village was beginning to wake up. The Muslim lady had been fasting all day and just wanted to get home, and I was tired and ready to sleep, but with the blaring music, neither of us could sleep in the car, even with my earplugs. One of the young men came back to the car, roaring drunk, and asked me to have sex with him in a nearby abandoned building. I flat out denied and pretended to ignore him. He then told me that since I was not going willingly, he would follow me home in Lomié, wait outside, break in to my house, and then "get into my bed and have sex with me". I guess to him, the only logical option was to resort to rape when someone doesn't go willingly. Thankfully, the rest of the people soon got in the car, so I no longer had to deal with him.

Another few kilometers further, the car stopped again at yet another bar. Sachets were pounded, the girls danced in the road, and me and the Muslim woman were on the verge of screaming in frustration. The two young girls at this point were completely wasted and after an hour they stumbled back into the car. The young girl next to me tripped and knocked over her bucket full of water and dead fish, dispersing the fish across the floor at our feet. The car pulled away the the young girl next to me began yelling at the driver, with whom she had sex with two stops previously. She was yelling at him to turn up the music, which would not go up any further. After about 5 minutes of her screaming, the Muslim lady told her to shut up and that the music get turned down. The girl turned furiously to the mama and went to slap her in the face. I was appalled and put my arms up (since I was sitting between them) so that the old woman wouldn't get a beating. At this, the young girl became furious at me for interrupting. Something must've snapped inside this girl, because before I knew it, the girl pulled back her fisted hand and punched me straight in the side of the nose. 

The driver abruptly stopped the car, the mama started screaming at the young girl, and I was crying with my fingers pinching my gushing bloody nose. One of the other male passengers opened the door and told the girl to get out. She refused and then began kicking the mama and I in the knees and legs and whipping her arms about and continuously slapping us more in the face. At this point, the other man dragged the girl out and slammed her against the side of the car. While he berated the girl and kept hitting her to get her to calm down, inside the car the old mama was yelling at the other drunk passengers. This carried on for an hour - the girl outside was still hysterical and the man kept beating her, and inside the car, everyone was yelling about respect and seniority etc. When the girl somewhat calmed down, she was told to get back into the car but she refused. After several refusals, we all agreed that we should just leave without her, but at this point, she finally got back in. When she sat back next to me with my bleeding nose, she didn't apologize, but instead she kept weakly trying to slap the mama and I. The man next to her grabbed her hands in his and restrained her for the rest of the ride.
A Very Useful Mirror...

The driver said, "No more stopping for drinks!", but go figure, 10 minutes later we had stopped again. It was now 1am and the driver was becoming increasingly inebriated. After 30 minutes or so of everyone drinking, we continued home. The driver was driving like a maniac - swerving in the middle of the road and speeding at what I could only assume to be near 100 mph on the bumpy, muddy, dirt path. At one point I saw my life flash before my eyes as we barreled around a curve and came out almost hitting a logging truck head on. 

When we got back to Lomié at 3am, I grabbed my things and headed home, continuously watching behind me to make sure that the one young man wasn't going to follow through with his threat. When I got home, I tried to clean my still bleeding nose and waited for it to stop. I took pain pills to help with the severe pain and went to bed. 

The next morning I woke at noon, dazed, confused, and not entirely sure if what I had experienced the night before was a dream or reality. When I came to my senses and could feel my nose throbbing, I knew that it had been no dream. I looked in the mirror and saw my swollen, red nose and decided to call PCMO to see if they think it might be broken. I also reported the whole incident and told my Program Manager that no girl should be sent to Lomie. After going to the hospital to get my nose checked out and briefly talking to the Safety and Security Manager, I tried to relax the rest of the day.

The Phone Call
I went around town over the next day and told people that I'd be moving in about a month and a half. Everyone was sad but agreed that it was necessary for my safety. After celebrating the end of the Ramadan on Monday, I went to go see Yacouba at his boutique on Tuesday. It was at his boutique that I received a phone call from my Program Manager. 

The conversation started with "Where are you?". "In Lomié...", I replied. Then she said "Karen, you are being emergency evacuated from Lomié. We didn't call you yesterday because it was a holiday, but after discussing with PCMO and Safety and Security, we all agree that you cannot stay in Lomié any longer and risk your safety. Pack a suitcase and leave Lomié immediately. Don't say goodbye to anyone and don't tell anyone you are moving, just act like you are going to Bertoua. Leave everything at your house and in the future I will see if a Peace Corps car can go and collect a few of your things..."
3am - Packed

I stood outside Yacouba's boutique in shock. I could feel myself beginning to cry, and my brain couldn't manage to understand the reality of what I was being told. I told her that it was absolutely impossible for me to leave Lomié that day, as it was already 3pm and the only bus leaves at 3am, and to rent a private car, I would've needed to find out hours earlier. I also was not thrilled with the idea of saying  no goodbyes and leaving like a coward like that. I also didn't trust Peace Corps to go and collect my things in my house, so I begged that I be given until the next morning to pack and say goodbyes and find a means of transportation. Sylvie agreed, and said that I was to be on a car out of Lomié at 10am the next morning.

I hung up the phone and immediately started bawling as the reality of it all set in. Yacouba wasn't in his boutique, but Carlos was there weaving our rattan veiled hats for the beekeeping conference. I told him that I had to leave Lomié the next day and he too started crying. He came up to me and bear hugged me as we cried together. "This is impossible! This can't be happening - you are my family!" Carlos kept repeating. I told him I had to get home and start packing, and he agreed to help me in any way he could. I walked back to my house, bought a few bags to pack in at the market, talked to a merchant and asked him to ask one of his chauffeur friends to arrange a car for me in the morning, and I went home to break the news to my landlady and neighbors. 

I was never a huge fan of my landlady, nor were we very close, but she started crying uncontrollably at the news of my sudden departure. She agreed to buy my plates, cooking pots, fridge and bed, but then proceeded to ask for a lot of free stuff from my house as well. Didja was furiously upset when I broke the news to her, and her husband was in disbelief. I went to my house and began frantically packing and taking down all my decorations (I used so much tape that it was near impossible to get some things off my walls!). Yacouba showed up with a pousse and together we loaded my wardrobe, living room set, and kitchen table and chairs on the pousse and had them wheeled to his boutique so he can sell them all for me. I continued to pack and my house began to look like the day I moved in. 

For the first time in a month, it started to storm. I called Yacouba and asked if he and Carlos would like to go to a farwell dinner on me, and he agreed. I sloshed over in my rain boots and rain jacket in the storm to Yacouba's boutique and we waited for the rain to settle a bit. When it did we went and slipped and slid through the mud on the way to Restaurant Le Sawa where we enjoyed some cold potatoes and cabbage while sitting next to a life size wooden statue that our Baka friend Remy had sculpted a week earlier. The dinner was filled with a lot of silence as we all tried to avoid the sadness of it all. When we finished dinner, Yacouba and Carlos (who linked his arm in mine) walked me home and bid me goodnight. I continued packing vigorously until 3am as Metis ran frantically around the house, utterly confused at what was happening. I collapsed on my bed and woke back up at 6am to finish the final packing, which involved wrapping up my mattress in plastic, folding it, and getting everything by the door.
Metis Wondering Why HIS Bed is Wrapped Up
I sat in my empty living on the cold floor as Metis ran around on my rolled up matress. I looked around my house which now looked as though I had never lived in it, with the exception of the world map and Cameroonian map I had painted on the walls. I thought of all the good memories that I made in that house and the wonderful friend I had made next door. I began to cry, but I was saved from more wallowing in my self-pity when Didja and Claudia, my other neighbor, showed up bearing chai and rice covered in red palm oil for our last shared breakfast together. We ate and waited for the car to show up. I gave Didja and Claudia gifts (things that I didn't want to bring and/or couldn't bring, such as clothes, buckets, jerry cans, etc). They were thrilled, but still saddened at my departure. Claudia is considering moving into the house, and she said that she would always be reminded of me and my tattoo when she looks at the map.

Finally, the car arrived. When the driver stepped out of the car, I realized it was the same man who drove me to Lomié on December 1st of last year. Oh, sometimes life is so cyclical. I moved to Lomié December 1st with my things packed up in Aboubakar's car, and now it was nearly August 1st and I was repacking Aboubakar's car to leave Lomié. This offered some emotional closure to the physical closure of my post.

Everything fit surprisingly well in the car, and after just 10 minutes of packing, I was ready to go. I began weeping as I hugged my landlady, Claudia and Didja. I reached my hand out to Didja's husband to show some respect, but he opened his arms and wrapped me in a big, tight hug and said, "You've helped me so much with the recipes and ideas for the patisserie, thank you! And thank you for befriending Didja. Our friendship will continue, always, and we will visit you!" I gave Metis a big hug and then I ran to the car and broke down. 

Leaving was about 100 times more impossible that I thought it would be, and I didn't even say goodbye to the majority of the people - only the most necessary! Everyone waved goodbye and the car pulled out. I asked him to stop once more at Yacouba's boutique, where Carlos was again in tears with me, giving me big hugs, squeezing my shoulder, and saying that he will never forget me - his daughter. They walked me to the car and Yacouba got in the driver seat as the driver was out buying some bushmeat. Yacouba shut the door, turned to me and told me:

"Karen, stop crying, you will give yourself a headache and there is nothing to be sad about, you have a bright future ahead of you. Don't be sad about leaving me, you will see me in a week and we will continue working together. I have family in Banyo, it isn't far from your new village, so I will visit you and I also will be working in Banyo next year. If you ever need help on a project, I'm only a call away and I can be at your new village with just a few days notice. Karen, I know you are worried about getting work done in your new village and leaving our soy and beekeeping project, but you can do the same work in your new village. You are the only hardworking Peace Corps Volunteer that I know, that is what drew me to you! You never stop working and you have so much passion and many ideas, so that is why I know you will succeed in your new village. You have a year left, which is plenty of time to do good work, but even if you had 2 months left, I know you would make the best of it. While I am loosing a great work partner and a true friend, this is not goodbye, this is merely like you going for a trip to Bertoua. I will see you soon and we will continue working together as long as you are in Cameroon. So please, don't cry. I'm so proud of you and I look forward to continuing our friendship and partnership."

When he finished, I was just a ball of tears and so completely touched by his parting words. Yacouba is so sweet and the best counterpart I could've ever asked for - there will be no replacing him. But I am confident that our work together will continue, especially since he is planning on working on a soy and beekeeping project in Banyo next year, which is just a stone throw away from Tibati, where he says he will come and help me with beekeeping, soy, and other projects. 

Yacouba squeezed my hand and then opened the car door to get out and let the driver in. As we pulled out into the road, Yacouba and Carlos stood side-by-side, waving to me like sad, but hopeful parents as their child moves off to college.

The Move
The car was jam packed with my things and we left Lomié. 15km out of town there was a huge bourbier (translation: quagmire!) in the road. Cars and logging trucks were trying to get through but always needed to be pulled out. Screaming villagers were helping push cars out and were demanding 10$ per car pulled out of the quagmire. Children walked around selling alcohol sachets from cardboard boxes. When your car is stuck in the mud, I guess a good shot of a whiskey would take some of the pain away.
Rainy Season Bliss

When it was finally our turn to go through the quagmire, Aboubakar got out and surveyed the area, trying to calculate where the best point of entry would be, how deep the water goes, and how best to position his vehicle. After 15 minutes of surveying while villagers scream "You'll get stuck! You have to pay us 10$!", we finally tried. Of course, the second the front of the car reached the deepest point, we get stuck and the wheels spun and just dig us deeper.  The villagers kept demanding 10$ to push us out, but Aboubakar was reluctant to pay. All the villagers starting calling him names, calling him cheap, and dissing his ethnic group - the Bamouns. After 20 minutes of all his ideas failing, he shelled out the 10$ to get everyone to push...which didn't work. By this time, there was about 30 logging trucks lined up in front of us, so Aboubakar went to one and asked him to tow us out, which he agreed to if I paid him 10$. Having no other choice, I handed over the 10$ and we were pulled out. 

Even though we were finally out of the quagmire, we still couldn't set out on the road because now all the logging trucks ahead of us were parked in the middle of the road, blocking our exit. A big forklift-like truck that is used to lift the big tree trunks onto the logging trucks tried to cross the bourbier - only to get the big forklift things stuck into the ground. Now the road was really blocked. Logging trucks tried to tow him out, but since he was heavier than a logging truck, all the attempts failed and now everyone was trapped. (**24 hours later, it was still stuck there).

It took about an hour of maneuvering all the 40-some odd logging trucks that were now lined up to get them over to the side of the road so that we could pass but finally at about 4pm (6 hours later), we were finally on our way. The rain the night before was the first rain of this new rainy season, but regardless of it being the first rain, that boubier and others along the road will likely make the Lomié road impassable a month from now. I couldn't be more relieved that I won't be forced to take that road again.

Aboubakar Surveying the Mud
We got to Abong Mbang late and moved all my luggage (which includes a bike, mattress, gas tank, gas stove, and about 12 bags) from our car to a new car that has the proper papers to drive into Bertoua. Finally, long after dark, I arrived at the Bertoua case. I felt more emotionally drained than I can remember. I was tired, physically exhausted from the road, and sad to have finally shut that chapter of my service. 

The next morning I woke up not sure where I was or what had happened. When I came to my senses, Didja called to tell me she missed me, and Yacouba had sent me a text message the night before making sure I had arrived safely. Everything began to settle in. While I was still extremely sad, now the excitement for what the future holds is beginning to set in. It's hard to balance the sadness and excitement, and I tend to go from feeling one to the other in the span of no time. Each day that passes becomes a bit easier and I begin to look back at my time in Lomié with not so much sadness, but rather with happiness of the good memories that I had made, and I begin to look to the future in my new village with anticipation and determination. 

While I gave Lomié two chances, it was time for me to close that chapter. Now, I'll live in a brief intermission period as I live out of the Bertoua case and wait for a new village and home. Then, I'll begin a new chapter of my service, which hopefully is filled with great projects, new friends, new memories, lots of fun, and hopefully a few my best friends from my previous chapter.

7.31.2014

Barka de Sallah / Fête de Ramadan (aka Eating Till Your Belly Explodes)

Me ( exhausted and full in an oversized random
Muslim-ish dress I got for free in up for grabs),
Didja, Djouberoua, Yaya and Oumi
Monday was a big celebration here in Cameroon - at least for us in regions with Muslim populations. Monday marked the end of Ramadan, during which Muslims worldwide fasted for a month and refrained from eating, drinking, and sexual relations. I asked one of my Muslim friends who owns an omelet shack near my house if drinking his spit is allowed, to which he replied “No, nothing can pass your uvula”. Good to know! 


I was planning on partaking in the fast the last week of Ramadan in solidarity with my Muslims friends in Lomié (my only friends in Lomié), but given that I was in Yaoundé and had the temptation of all sorts of American food, I just couldn’t torture myself like that.

Regardless of my month of non-fasting, I wanted to partake in the Ramadan festival. Early in the morning I got a call from Yacouba, my beekeeping counterpart, who is a Muslim from Foumban, West Cameroon. Given that cell reception is sketchy in my house, the only things I heard when he called me was “Hello…good?…celebration today…Foumban…Ramadan…today…with me…if you have time….see you there”. He hung up and I realized I had clearly missed all the important parts of the phone conversation. I got dressed and walked over to his boutique to find that he had already left…probably to the party that I assumed he invited me to. Carlos, a kind old gentleman, rambled on in rapid French in an inaudible tone about how Yacouba ordered him to send me to the party. He linked my arm in his and led me to the motos and sent me on my way. I arrived at the location and found nobody there so I decided to make my way home while stopping by some other Muslim friends to greet them. It turns out that I was indeed in the right vicinity, but Yacouba was hiding behind some abandoned house - so I just barely missed his party! As I turned away, a kind old imam from Maroua, with whom I had previously talked with and shared bouille and chai with after several of my morning jogs approached me.

He took me to his house and introduced me to his wife, who was feverishly making croquettes - mini fried dough balls. He sat me down in his big, empty living room across from a lady who was clearly not Muslim and quite evidently bored of the whole celebration. As a TV blared in the background playing Fulfulde and Arabic music videos, I introduced myself to the lady across from me, Madeleine, and we made small talk. I found out she is from Ebolowa and works in Mbalmayo and she knows all about the Peace Corps. Alhadji Issa brought me chai, croquettes, rice with oil (how tasty…not), and some chicken. I ate it all and then he brought me more, to which I couldn’t refuse and risk being perceived as impolite. I continued to make small talk with Madeleine as my stomach protested me continuing to shoved food into it. After spending two hours chit chatting, having an open invitation to visit Madeleine in Mbalmayo whenever I want, and having my stomach near bursting point, I made my way home.

I arrived home and Djouberoua, Didja’s husband, informed me that there was a party at my house at 8pm…I’m glad I was the last to know! With that in mind, I decided it was time to take a nap, since normally I’m asleep by 8pm. At 8pm, Didja, Oumi, and Yaya came over bringing pots and pans full of dishes. Djouberou later headed over bearing various sodas. Grant then came over and the feast started. Didja spent all day in her kitchen preparing dinner, which consisted of fried baquette bread (literally just sliced bread, fried, and all oily), croquettes (fried dough), rice in oil, liver biftek, chicken, meatball-ish things, and egg salad (which was prepared on the inside lid of my garbage bin…gross). We ate, talked, and then Didja forced me to eat a second round! I felt near ready to explode, and tired!

At 10pm everyone headed home and I fell into another food coma. Fête de Ramadan reminded me a bit of Thanksgiving, but with more food and with food ALL DAY. And much like Thanksgiving, after the f
ête, everyone enjoys leftovers for days on end. Muslims fasted for a month and then ate a month worth’s of food in one day - for me, I ate a month’s worth of food and now I’ll have to fast for a month! 

It was a food-filled and fun-filled day. Sadly, I had no idea that I would receive a call the next day informing me that I was being emergency evacuated from Lomié, and that that would be my last night in Lomié.

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