1.15.2014

Working Hard, Playing Harder

Métis, My Kitten, On His Throne (aka My Largest Sofa)
January 3rd was a glorious day as I left Yaoundé with a smile on my face, happy to no longer be on med-hold. I returned to Lomié with a not-too awful bus ride (only 8 hours!) back to village. The only hitch was that my driver was roaring drunk and nearly tipped our camion over 5 times before we were even 1 hour outside of Abong Mbang (after each of which he would turn around a wink at me, as if it were all some game to him). But needless to say, I made it back alive and with a very dark dust tan.

Life in Lomié was the same as I had left it. Power cuts were back every night and when I arrived back in my house, I had noticed that during my two week absence nearly all God’s creatures had the audacity to move in – some of which included hairy worm things, mice, spiders, roaches, and one particularly large lizard which I had to enlist the help of Alfred to get out of my house.

After an hour of de-animaling my house, I was able to take a nice look at my newly tiled living room and bedroom. It’s rare in Cameroon that someone follows through with doing something they promised you, so I was particularly surprised my house was actually tiled. The only downside is that my walls I had spent a week painting are now coated in dents and cement splotches given that customer service and satisfaction are non-existent here. I also noticed that out in my garbage hole there are about 10 empty Heineken cans, so I guess the technician got nice and drunk while tiling my house, which may or may not explain the condition of my walls. The technician also ran out of cement for finishing my hallway, so now I have dirt/concrete mixture for a hallway which makes my house look a bit like a construction zone and which my new kitten, Métis, has deemed a natural litterbox. It’s a hassle and it’s messy, but I know it’ll get cemented and tiled tomorrow/demain (which doesn’t actually mean tomorrow, but just means not today and sometime in the future.) As for the rest of my house, it’ll be tiled when other people pay their rent…which basically means sometime in the future and not anytime too soon. I asked my landlady to confirm that she is still planning on buying paint for my hallway walls and spare bedroom, to which she responded with a laugh and a sharp “no.” Looks like it’s up to me to buy that paint. Until then, I’m covering my walls with any sort of decorations I can to cover the chalky paint that is currently on the walls. All in all, as some things move in the right direction, other things halt or reverse. But as they say, petite a petite. Little by little.

Life in Lomié just got better with the arrival with my postmates, Danny and Grant. Grant lives in the house attached to mine and Danny lives just a 3 minute walk away. We have gotten in the wonderful routine of occasionally gathering for breakfast at the best spag-avo-omelet shack in village, gather in the extremely hot afternoon for fresh fruit smoothies and a few games of either Carcasonne or Agricola, and then meeting again for our rotating dinners. Each night either me, Danny, Grant, or Gustavo, the Colombian VSO volunteer, takes responsibility for hosting and cooking for the others. We switch houses each night and enjoy dinner and games for hours after the power is cut.

Grant told me that he wrote in his journal one day that I gave off the vibe of being a good cook by the way I carry myself in the kitchen and answer questions about food and cooking. When it was my turn to do dinner, he said it was my test. When the told the boys I was making a lentil salad, I got a few skeptical looks. The pressure was on for my lentil salad to win the hearts of manly men. I busted my butt in the kitchen and made the best substitutions I could to adapt my famous recipe to fit ingredients available in Lomié. When we gathered around the table by candlelight at night, everyone took their first bite and I held my breath. Danny and Grant exclaimed in unison “This is fantastic!”. Danny confessed that when he heard ‘lentil salad’ he was highly skeptical, but he said I greatly surprised him.  Everyone went back for 5th helpings and I was overjoyed. When we finished licking the last bits off our plates, Grant told me “Tonight I am going to confirm in my journal that my suspicions are correct, you are a great cook!”.

Danny and Grant also keep telling me how thankful they are that I am their postmate. They said there are dozens of PCVs in country they could never live in the same town with, much less be close friends with, so they said they are lucky they got me, who fits in perfectly with the two of them. They are thankful that I like to do outdoorsy things, like camping in the rainforest (which we are doing before rainy season begins in April), I like to cook, I like to play board games, and I’m apparently not high-maintenance. I feel the same about them. I think the three of us were made to be postmates. I honestly could not have asked for better postmates to spend the next year/two years with. Life is perfect with them and they are such a fantastic and inspiring support team.

Now that the bulk of my hard housework is done, I’m finally able to start working, which I guess is the second reason I am here in Cameroon (the first reason I’m here is to make smoothies and play board games with the postmates). I went to the hospital the other day and met with my counterpart, who thankfully doesn’t have outrageous expectations of me and gives me my space. He suggested that the best way to spend the next month before IST will be to attend the pre-natal consultations every Tuesday and Friday morning. So from now to IST I will go to the hospital, observe a bit, and hold educational sessions on maternal health topics.
Mushrooms!

Additional work includes helping at the mushroom project that Grant started a month ago. A small group of about 12 people have begun cultivating mushrooms to sell in village. The mushrooms are now ready for the first cultivation this week. Since Grant isn’t here this week, he left me in charge of leading the next meeting, which is tomorrow. We are heading to the mushroom house to cultivate and then we will hike over to my house where I will prepare some food with the mushrooms so we can all know what they taste like. In the future we are planning on holding an exposition in town to sample out the recipes that I make, to educate people on the work this mushroom group is doing, and to raise awareness of the health benefits of incorporating mushrooms into local cuisine. I’m really excited about being a part of this project and adding my health spin to it. It’s something I would have never thought I would get involved in, but that’s the joy of the Peace Corps – you do things you never thought you would! I just hope everyone likes my cooking tomorrow – yikes!

Since I’m still in my first three months at post, I’m not supposed to be working much, just merely getting used to life here. But that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about projects I can start in the future. Yackouba, the hardworking man who makes all my rattan furniture, told me that he works with the Baka pygmies in the nearby encampments and that if I want to do work with them, then he will help me. The Baka are by far the most underserved population of the region. I don’t notice too many health needs of the general Lomié population given that this town is somewhat large with a population of 5,000 and it has a sizeable ‘middle-class’. The Baka, however, are far poorer and none give birth at the hospitals. I think working with the Baka in the future would be a great opportunity.
Grant also reminded me the other day that the best volunteers are those who do the least amount of work. ‘Work smart, not work hard’, he says. While it may seem counter-intuitive, he is right. He suggested that I hold health info sessions at the hospital once a month and invite health center representatives from the district health centers in far villages to come and learn from the monthly health topic. They then would return to their village and hold a similar information session with their village population. Eventually I would hand over the responsibility of teaching these health representatives to a health professional at the district hospital and I would just sit back and monitor. Little work, big impact. That’s what it’s about here.

Danny (left) and Grant (right) at my Birthday Dinner

My birthday was on the 12th and it was OK. On the 11th, before Grant left, they made me a nice Mexican feast at Danny’s house. We made homemade tortillas, guacamole, veggies, and I made my famous pineapple salsa while the boys bought and cooked up some fantastic beef (all beef here is grass-fed and free-range…in other words, it’s heaven in your mouth…and that’s coming from a vegetarian!). It was a fantastic meal and Grant surprised me with a chocolate cake he made with a ‘K’ spelled out in peanuts. It was a wonderful surprise. My actually birthday though was honestly the second worst day in country (the first being Christmas). I’m not here to lie and say every day is the best day on Earth and all things are hunkey-dorey. I’m here to be honest with you and myself. My birthday itself kinda sucked. It passed largely without notice and just like any other day, as I expected, and I was pretty homesick. But now that it is over and there are no more holidays for a while, things are looking up. IST is in a month and I am really looking forward to seeing my friends and traveling a lot afterwards. But until then, the little things are keeping me sane and happy, such as games, dinners and smoothies with my postmates, talking to my kitten like a crazy cat lady, and my daily conversations with Spencer, which always make me thankful that I have food in my village, unlike him up in Badjouma.


Overall life is good and work is picking up. While life here inevitably has its highs and lows, I’m thankful to say that I have infinitely more highs than lows (which is why I’m always able to joke with Spencer about ETing while not being the least bit serious about it). One high will for sure be the fried rice I’m cooking tonight, and hopefully kicking Danny’s butt at a game of Monopoly while watching Métis and Snaps (Métis’ brother) battle it out in my living room.

3 comments:

  1. Wish I could have stayed on the phone with you all day on your birthday! Holidays away from home are hard but you will appreciate them at home all the more when you return. I miss playing games with you. My loss is Danny and Grants gain. Your getting tons of practice and I am getting rusty...this does not bode well for me upon your return. Good thing I play for the fun and not the victory.

    ReplyDelete
  2. judy snyder16.1.14

    Please make sure Spencer gets alot of good food when you guys get together for IST.
    He told me he has lost some weight and I encourage him to eat as much as possible.
    I'm sure the bout with diarrhea didn't help matters either! Stay safe!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mama Judy,
      I for sure will! The Peace Corps feeds/pays for all our meals at IST so hopefully we will all eat well! I've already told him that I will cook anything he wants when he comes to Lomie and that I'll bring him fresh produce when I go up North. Yes, he did tell me about his weight changes. I told him that having diarrhea, running, and not eating would cause that. I'll be sure to look out for him, don't worry!

      Delete

Hello there! Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment! I moderate and approve all comments just to make sure they aren't spam, because let's face it, we get enough spam in our lives as it is. So as long as you're a human being, you should see your comment up here in a few hours along with a response. Cheers!