10.05.2013

Why I'd Kill for the East

Lomie is right on the edge of the4 Dja Reserve
While this statement may be a bit of a hyperbole, my love for the Eastern region of Cameroon is ever increasing - and for some reason this is occurring even while I have yet to ever step foot in the rain forested region. My strange obsession with this brousse-y and scarcely populated region is somewhat of a mystery. My fascination is strikingly familiar with my odd fixation on going to college in Canada 5 years back. I’ve never been to Canada, but I was convinced I’d love it (in hindsight, I likely would have frozen to death).

Moral of the story is: My love for the East has very little basis, but I open and frequently declare my love for it.

The Peace Corps places all of the volunteers in the same town (or in our case, near the same town) during pre-service training (PST), but after the three months of PST (in which I’m about halfway through right now), we all move to our own respective cities in 9 of the 10 regions in Cameroon. Our stage is the first that is using a new pilot bidding system. Normally site placements were based upon language proficiency and at the hands of our program coordinator, but this year, we got a packet with a relatively detailed explanation of the city, host health institution, and duties to which we would be assigned for each post. It is then up to us to rank our top three choices and our bottom three choices.

For those who know me even the slightest, you likely know I’m the most indecisive gal in the world; therefore, this process has been worse than receiving all the pre-medical clearance vaccinations. The weight of choosing a post where I will spend two years of my life has given me extreme anxiety. With a random site placement, I could blame everyone but myself if I hated my post. If I receive one of my top three choices in this method of site placements, I really have nobody to blame but myself! Seeing as I usually like to be on good terms with myself, the threat of me screwing myself over has resulted in several sleepless nights.

Fortunately, I already feel I have matured because I actually made decisions - 6 to be exact. I chose with ease the three posts I definitely didn’t want: all of which were located in the Southwest region (talk about a whole hell of a lot of rain!) and all without electricity and cell phone service. If I wanted to live without communication for 2 years, I would’ve picked up by bags and moved to Siberia, but alas, that is not what I want - so the sites without electricity and cell phone service (aka, hell) were quickly marked down as my least favorite options.

Choosing my favorites, on the other hand, were a bit harder. I spent hours reading over the 21 site placement descriptions, meticulously nothing the pros and cons of each as any over-achiever would do. I then whipped out my very large map of Cameroon and tried to identify the location of each site and measured with my fingers to the nearest large town (aka, civilization, oatmeal, coffee, internet…etc). This process took about an hour with an additional hour merely spent me crouched over the map ogling over its detail (yes, it should  be quite apparent I love maps by my tattoo).

Much to my dismay, the East, my preferred region, only has one placement. Thankfully, however, the site seems like it was truly made for me! The site is in Lomié, which is a semi-rural city located along the edge of the Dja Rainforest Reserve  - a UNESCO World Heritage site. If this ends up being my post, I’ll be the first health volunteer to work there, although there are already two current volunteers placed there: one in agriculture and the other in the community economic development program. Yay, I’d have immediate friends (I hope)! The host instituion is a district hospital which serves Lomié as well as nine surrounding villages: Adjela, Djenou, Djomoja, Nomedjo, Mintoum, Bapile, Payo, Abakoum, and Esienghor.

Also quite perfectly, the site has cellphone service as well as electricity, wells and forages for water! As icing on the cake, my duties at the district hospital would include training mothers, family members and health agents appropriate water treatment methods (yeah, WASH/WATSAN!); preparing mothers for deliveries (I did want to be a midwife years ago - dreams rekindled?); training mothers on the importance of using health facilities for their pre-natal care; organizing trainings on pregnant mother to child transmission of HIV (PMTCT); and organizing sensitization and health talks on HIV/AIDS, STIs, hygiene, pre-natal care, food preparation, and good nutrition (the health nut in me can have fun with that one!). Quite frankly, all these duties are exactly what I wanted to be working on. As the cherry on top of the cake, rumor mill has it that all the coolest PCVs live in the East - a fact of which I already have ample evidence - so naturally, I should be able to fit in quite well. Not to mention, a really awesome fellow Chicagoan lives in the East, so I feel it is really only natural that I end up there as well so solidify Chicago’s representation in the best region of Cameroon. While I still have yet to be placed in Lomié, I find myself already day dreaming about celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas with the volunteers currently there. This dream better come true!
Nobody else seems to really want to be placed in the East - in fact, it is notoriously one of the bottom choices for many volunteers due to its toughness and remoteness - mind you, it is part of the Congo River Basin. So I’m crossing my fingers that my placement there should really be no problem at all.

My two backup choices include two posts in the West region: one in Bapi, a village of 8,000, at an integrated health center working in mother and child health, HIV/AIDS, and malaria. My third choices is Baleng, a town of 5,000 just outside the regional capital of Bafoussam. Baleng’s site works with an integrated health center in HIV/AIDS, health education, outreach, and woman’s groups.

Other placements include sites in the Anglophone regions of the Southwest and Northwest and in the Francophone regions of the North and Adamawa. I’m quite intent on the East. In fact, I have taken great lengths to discourage anyone in health who might consider the East so that I limit my competition. I have also made it quite clear that I will cause physical harm to those who stand in my way. Thus far, only my good friend Spencer has expressed any interest in the East. While I am not one for injuring friends, desperate times call for desperate measures. Given that redheads are often discriminated against in life in general (at least that is my philosophy), I think that I should receive the Lomié placement by default. This girl’s gotta win at some point in her life!

Anyways, I turn in my ranking sheet on Monday to my program director, Sylvie, who I have tried desperately hard to suck up to and to express my severe passion for the East to her every time we meet. I have another meeting with her on Monday during which I will grovel, and perhaps partake in the very Cameroonian way of dealing with problems - bribery (just kidding, I won’t bribe…probably). I just hope my charm can win her over.

In other news, life is going well, actually, dare I say darn near perfect?! Please excuse my over enthusiasm - a recent series of events has made me extremely happy and I can’t seem to tune it down., even in the slightest. Our favorite bar - Baby Bar - in Bokito is slowly being replaced by our new favorite, Le Cordon Bleu (clever, right?), which offers ice cold whiskey colas daily. Le Cordon Bleu also doubles as a night club in the evenings - fully furnished with stained cloth couches and mood lightening - and triples as a quasi-brothel, as we found out tonight by the prostitute transactions occurring in front of us in broad daylight at 5pm.
On the way to the Bafia training center
Today our Bokito group is attending something called Cultural Open Doors where we practice our French in role-play situations, such as at the market, for four hours. After finishing at noon we are all going to another volunteers house for lunch - yes, all 55 of us - and then, of course, heading to the bar to reunite with our long-lost Bafian fellow stagiers. Next week on Wednesday, Spencer, Alexi, Alec, Val, and I are taking a mini-vacay to the Littoral region to the large city of Nkongsamba to spend four days at a current volunteer’s site to see what life is like. Needless to say, Spencer, Val, Alexi and I are quite looking forward to the nightlife that awaits us. Hopefully this trip will take my mind off the post announcements which will occur the following Wednesday. It’s quite scary and exciting that in less than two weeks I’ll know where I’ll be living for two years!

Oddly enough, it has been nearly a month since arriving in Cameroon. It has felt like I’ve been here a year already. With each passing day I am growing more and more attached and I feel ever more at home. Yeah, there has plenty that has gone awry over the past few weeks (my homestay being the largest), but everything is slowly improving and even the biggest problems are overshadowed by the simple pleasures of everyday life. The more I get to know about this place and the other volunteers, the more I fall in love. I’m currently so happy about everything that has been happening and I can’t wait to see what lies in the future!

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