Life Recently

The East Region Group!!! Matt and Myra in back and Lauren, Kim and Me in Front
 As I lay in bed tonight listening to the likes of Stromae’s Papaoutai blast from the living room and as I watch the five mosquitoes who are suffering in their last moments of life on top of the mosquito graveyard on my mosquito net, I thought about how I haven’t updated much on my day-to-day life here. And for that, I apologize!

 Life recently has been both uneventful and eventful at the same time. The things that once made each day interesting have no faded into the background of daily life here. Things that once seemed new and interesting have now become habitual. I’ve always hated when I reach a point when I start to feel too comfortable in any given place, be it Chicago or Bo, Sierra Leone. I guess I like the novelty of new locations and moving around. However, becoming acclimated to life here in Bokito is somewhat of a relief. While I hated Bokito in the beginning of my stay, I have gotten used to its quirks, its quaitness, and its charm. That’s not to say I would want to spend any more time here than I will be, but I’ve gotten quite used to things here.

Here are just some examples: Everyday after lunch my sweet tooth rears its awful head, so I’ve become quite an addict to these caramel covered (really just very sugary) peanuts that are sold in fist-sized balls. Not the most healthiest treats on earth, but I like to think that the peanuts are providing me with much needed protein that I am confident I’m lacking. Every day there is a new person selling the caramel peanuts in front of the boutique I frequent, but apparently the owner of the shop, who I guess is always inside, noticed my daily pilgrimage to her storefront. Just this past Sunday I decided to venture out of my room for the first time that day and go for my daily peanuts. When I reached her shop I paid the usual 50 CFA for my peanuts to the little girl in front when the 30-something year old owner peaked her head covered in purple braids out of the doorway and exclaimed in French “Oh my friend! My sister! It’s you! I’ve been waiting for you today!” then she turned to the young girl who was choosing the peanut ball to stick in plastic and give to me and she said “No, no, today give her the two biggest balls of the batch! She gets one for free for being a frequent customer - I see her every day!”. While I was somewhat ashamed of my daily visit for sugared peanuts, what shame I had soon disappeared into bliss as I got two the best peanut balls of the day’s batch. I walked away feeling special that a lady who I’ve never spoken to before, nor seen before, recognized that I was a regular to her small boutique and showed appreciation to me rather than asking me for something, as is so often the case here.

Other things that once struck me as odd, interesting, and as a novelty were the exclamations of encouragement on my runs. I’m still adjusting to running in this new climate and new elevation and with mountains (the flatness of Chicago had its advantages!), but despite my daily struggle to run up the series of hills on the main road out of Bokito to Bafia for 5km everyday, I nevertheless receive countless thumbs up, clapping hands from passersby‘s, and shouts of “Du courage!” from passing cars and motos. I’ve gotten used to saying ‘Bonjour maman’ to all the ladies I pass along my run who carry incomprehensible loads on their heads and see huge grins spread across their faces as they tell me ‘Bonsoir ma filles! Bon appetite’ (the response of ‘good appetite’ still befuddles me).

As I said, I’m beginning to get acclimated here in Bokito. While normally this the point I’d start to hate it a bit more, I am in fact loving it - although I’m still unbelievable excited to move to Lomie).

Besides getting habituated to life here, classes at the training center are getting more interesting, although one might not be able to tell this from the fact that I fall asleep daily in all my classes. Everyone has been taking extra language classes now that most are taking a second language of either Pidgeon or Fulfulde. Only 3 of the 19 health stagiers continue taking only French - and I’m one of them. I fill my extra hours of French classes with independent study, which I usually end up spending reading Harry Potter in French or working on my IEP presentation that I have in a week. Our tech classes are getting more interesting now that they have started. So far we have had sessions on malaria, family planning, soy/moringa, HIV/AIDS, and monitoring and evaluation.

In order to get us used to leading health groups, we recently have had to lead two sessions (with one more to come in two weeks) to local woman’s health groups. 5 other health stagiers and myself are in charge of leading 1.5 hour health sessions to a woman’s health club in Bokito. The first meeting can be called a disaster at best. Only 2 of the 15 woman showed up (I won’t count the lady who showed up after our session was finished) and only 1 of the 2 ladies spoke. That session was on the health needs of the community so we could better decide what topic would be useful to discuss in detail for our second meeting. It was supposed to be a community needs assessment of sorts. Unfortunately the lady in our group who did all the speaking did not give us any useful information. To her the biggest health problem is infidelity - something that I alone cannot tackle nor can we lead a 1.5 hour informational session on it, even if it is a large problem here. The only other health problem according to the lady was the distance of the health center, which is a bit far for those living on the outskirts of town, but nonetheless reachable. While the inconvienience of the health center is a problem, it again was not an issue we could lead an informational session on in the next meeting. Counting our losses, we as a group decided to pick HIV/AIDS as the topic for our next meeting. I left that meeting and immediately headed to the bar for a much needed drink.

The second meeting, however, was a much welcomed success! The reason for this largely being is that we got a new group of women (the woman we had the previous week showed up an hour late and were pawned off on the other health stagiers). Around 13 woman and 1 man showed up for our second meeting and all were very engaged! Us stagiers participated in a role play on how to talk to your kids about HIV, then I handed out a true/false quiz about HIV/AIDS, then we did a small informational session on HIV/AIDS, and then we had scenarios that the woman had to create role plays for and perform for us. We concluded the session with a discussion that was actually enlightening and useful. Overall it was a great meeting!
Partying it Up at Le Cordon Bleu. Yeah, Travis!
Other than that, life has been the usual minus the small bout of malaria that I had over the weekend nd the intestinal issues I had last night (worms, amoebas, or food poisoning the doctors say). Last Saturday as I was on day 1 of my malaria treatment medicine, around 15 stagiers from Bafia came to party the day away in Bokito at the lovely Cordon Bleu bar we so often frequent. While I spent the day sleeping my malaria away, I made sure to stop by. On the way I ran into some folks that were headed for spaghetti omelets so I joined them and afterward did some shopping around town for ingredients for dinner. I then stopped by the Cordon Bleu which was more lively than I’d ever seen it with 30 some white folks there. I went in and watch the group dance their hearts out to American music in the club as a group of 10 Cameroonians watched from afar and laughed at how poposterous and sweaty everyone looked. After a good 30 minutes of me being entertained by everyone, I headed home to begin preparing the salsa for the night’s party.

After all the Bafia people got driven home at 6pm, us Bokito people got our 7pm curfew extended until 10pm. We planned on having a big communal meal together at the training center and then watching a movie. On the menu was fake mac-and-cheese made with Laughing Cow, pasta with tomatoes and onions, guacamole with baguette bread, and my addition of casamanga salsa with baguette bread. Back home in Chicago my family was addicted to my mango salsa. Given that it isn’t mango season yet here, I had to make substitutions, so instead of mangos I used casamanga, and instead of cilantro I had to use parsley. Despite the substitutions and lack of spices at my disposal, the salsa turned out surprisingly good and nearly everyone said it amazing - Elijah even said it was the best salsa he’s ever had. After stuffing our faces with somewhat familiar food, we laid down on mattresses and curled up in chairs and watched The Birdcadge and an episode of Community before a storm hit in conjunction with our curfew. Despite getting drenched on the ride home and feeling really sick from the malaria medicine, it was an awesome night filled with good food, dancing, and memories.

Well, for life being relatively boring, I still somehow managed to write a lot, which I suppose is typical of me. As we begin the home stretch of PST, things are only bound to get more interesting and event-filled. I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted.


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