3.07.2014

IST Recap

Well, IST came and went in a blink of an eye – as has all my time here. It was a week spent much like PST: hanging out with my close friends, drinking, and not paying attention in training sessions. Oh, and did I mention, much of the time was spent being endlessly teased by Spencer and having many of my belongings tagged by Spencer with either pictures of penguins or the words ‘l’eau pour table’. So as you can see, not much has changed between PST and IST. We are still a bunch of immature goofballs. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Before IST I traveled to Yaoundé and met up with the North crew, with whom I attended my first Hilton Happy Hour and a round of house shots at Route 66 bar. It was unbelievably refreshing to see Spencer, Rachel, Liz, Cody, Ampson, Hannah, and Alexi and my other friends up in the grand North. While in Yaoundé, Spencer and I spent time in Western-style grocery stores and eating poisson braiser. After just a few days in Yaounde, the group rented out a bus to Bamenda where we each got 2 seats to ourselves – quite the luxurious travel experience, especially for me.

On the first night in Bamenda we had a welcome dinner and ceremony with our counterparts. Most of us had not eaten that well since America. So much food – so much variety! The rest of the first week was spent sitting in on endlessly boring sessions about stuff we had already learned, but which was new for our counterparts. I always sat with Sylvie, my counterpart, Spencer, and Moussa, who is Spencer’s counterpart. While Spencer and I would surf the internet and goof off all session, our counterparts would be diligently taking detailed notes. At one point, Sylvie leaned over to me, hit my thigh and asked me ‘Are you going to pay attention?!’ Shocked that my counterpart had the balls to put me in line, I paid attention for the rest of that session. I also spent many of the sessions translating for Spencer, since he couldn’t understand some of what his counterpart said – but I must say, Spencer’s French has greatly improved from the ‘viche viche’ days of PST. Moussa at one point told me ‘You must come North and give Spencer French lessons for a month’. Unfortunately, I think Moussa greatly overestimates my French abilities and greatly underestimates Spencer’s French skills.
Spencer and I at Hilton Happy Hour

On Saturday our counterparts left, which means the next week our sessions were spent in the larger 
group of my stage, or broken down by sector. Sessions ranged from applying for grants, applying for committees, and on best practices for projects. Spencer and I are both applying for the Food Security Committee and are just about guaranteed to be accepted because 2 people are accepted per sector, and only 3 of us applied, one of whom (Alexi) doesn’t really want to be on the FS Committee – so yay!
Art Shopping at Handicraft

When not in sessions, evenings were spent watching movies, playing cards, eating (a lot!), and drinking either at the hotel or at local bars, many of which are super nice in Bamenda/Bamerica (Hello, one even had flat screen TVs and a firepit!). The internet access, albeit unbelievably slow, allowed me to FaceTime and Skype with friends and family, and also with people who practically feel like family, such as Spencer’s parents (don’t worry mama Judy, I made sure Spencer ate a lot). I also spent a few days at Pres-café eating Greek salads (with real feta cheese!), carrot cake and sipping on real cappuccinos, or at Pres-craft for Handicraft buying new home décor for chez moi.

IST also provided me the time to really think about my project ideas for the next two years. I solidified my moringa project with the Agro PM, who is coming to Lomié to give me 200 seeds in a few weeks, and to create a new project at the persistence of Sylvie to test and educate people in Lomie for HIV/AIDS and then to start a secretive People Living with HIV/AIDS Club for those we diagnose as HIV+. We also plan on gathering local prostitutes and those at-risk for prostitution and teaching them income generating activities so they no longer have to prostitute. Lastly, I plan on making care groups in my community, where each quartier will have one health representative whom I and Sylvie will train in various health topics and who will then return to their quartier to teach those living there. We’ve got many project ideas and a lot of work to do before we launch the HIV club in December. Time to get started!
Welcome Masquarade in Bamenda
Overall, IST was great, but honestly, also quite stressful. With a group of 53, it’s impossible to know and be best friends with everyone. Most of my stagemates (particularly those not in health) I haven’t talked to since PST, so seeing them was weird. We all get along, but at times, we are all reminded about how we are all really mere strangers. There are even those in health who I haven’t talked to since PST, not because we don’t get along, but because there is either no reception in their village or just because life gets in the way. But for those I stayed in contact with, my close friends, we rebounded immediately and it was like things have never changed. IST reminded me that it’s better to have a solid core group of close friends than be mere acquaintances with all my stage. While I didn’t get time to talk with everyone at IST, I was able to have real quality time with those who I consider to be my best friends in country. I even got to know a few new people from other sectors as well, whom I’d never really had the chance to get to know during PST. So all in all, IST gave me the chance to really invest time with my closest friends, it also gave me the opportunity to better know some others.
New Yaounde Case
Now IST is over, I’m back in Yaoundé, and already missing those I left behind. I’ve decided that though I love Lomié, I will be henceforth taking 1 week trips to visit others every month for mental sanity reasons. I love my village, don’t get me wrong, but I’m one of the most isolated volunteers and I live in some pretty rough conditions. I didn’t really realize the effect all that was having on me until I arrived in Yaoundé and compared my mannerisms with the Cameroonians around me and I realized I’ve become a pretty defensive and ‘don’t-mess-with-me’ type of person. Being with friends and being in new scenery allowed me to let go and relax. For the first time in three months, I was able to go a week without having to knee a guy in the balls for grabbing me from behind and trapping me, and I was able to understand all that was being said around me, and I was able to make jokes in my own language again and be the goof that I am. It was liberating and much overdue. I want to continue to love Lomié, because there is so much to love, but I realize that for my own well-being, I need to get out in regular intervals. I want to do a lot of effective work in Lomié, so I plan on dedicating 3 weeks per month to hard work, and 1 week per month to recoup my enthusiasm and remind myself that I am myself. But first, I’m spending the next 1.5 months traveling, because, well, I deserve it after all the things I’ve been through the past three months!

So here’s to the next month-worth of adventures with Spencer – we are spending a few days beachside in Kribi, then trekking in the rainforest for 5 days, then headed up North. It’ll be a hectic, but fun time. I’ll do my best to keep you posted, internet permitting.

Oh, and by the way, if you are only interested in photos and don't care about reading what I'm up to, feel free to check out my new, photo-only blog here: http://saidbyredphotos.wordpress.com/

1 comment:

  1. judy snyder8.3.14

    I'm so glad you were able to make it through the last two weeks without having to knee and guy in the privates!! I guess we are now going to have to put you on the payroll as head chef and language tutor! I'm glad to hear his French is improving. His high school French teacher called to congratulate him this week! I'm glad that IST is an opportunity for you guys to compare notes and war stories and sounds like the counterparts do as well! I think all the PCVS from the isolated villages
    should get to be on the Food Scarcity Committee! Hopefully, things will improve there!
    You guys have fun and be careful!

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