A Year In, A Year Out

Motoing from Makongoya Baka Encampent, Near Lomie
Somehow, and somewhat to my own surprise, I’ve officially spent survived 365 days on Cameroon's blood red soil. When I accepted my Peace Corps application, I knew there were going to be ups and downs - I guess I didn’t anticipate just how high those ‘ups’ can be, and just how low those ‘downs’ could be. While I knew I’d face obstacles, I partly felt like the whole experience would be somewhat of a piece of cake - well, this year has proved otherwise. While we are each prepared during PST for the ‘emotional rollercoaster’ that every PCV rides for 27 months, I sometimes feel like my rollercoaster is a bit more intense than it appeared before I got on it, and there are many days where I’d rather trade in my rollercoaster for something more tame…like those fun Disney World spinning teacups minus the motion sickness.

This year has been filled with many unanticipated events. When they tell you to enter the Peace Corps with no expectations, that is really the best advice that one can recieve. Even the things that seem predictable cannot really be properly anticipated and prepared for. This past year has been one I’ll never forget (although I’d wish I could forget some things!). There have been many tear-filled days where I’ve thought about throwing in the towel - this past Wednesday being one of them, when I found out PC-Cameroon has no money to finish my house in Ngatt, which means that I’ll be living in the Bertoua case for the next 2+(?) months. Or, take days like yesterday, when  I found out that two other PCVs are moving into the tiny Bertoua case with me, which now means my hours of personal/alone time per day goes from 6 hours to 0 hours. Quite honestly, many days lately it’s hard to see the positive side of things. And the timing couldn’t have been worse - it is happening during the three days that mark the 1 year anniversary of leaving Chicago and arriving in Cameroon. What should be a time celebrating being a year into service and a year from being out of service is instead spent anxiety-ridden, stressed, claustrophobic, and feeling useless. Between eating guavas, drinking endless mugs of tea and coffee, and bouts of tears, I have thought ‘It’s been a year - and what am I doing here?!’. I try to make the best of things - like seeing if I can help at any nearby health centers as I wait to move to Ngatt, but only find that my calls and visits are being ignored. 

Despite the fact that it seems like I have far too many days where I’ve felt like throwing in the towel, something is making me stay - and that’s the hope that eventually I’ll move and my new village and future work will be more amazing than I can anticipate and will make up for 1 year of unfortunate luck. As I reflect on the past year, I’m reminded of the hard times, the good times, the times I’ve felt successful, and the times where things were just too outrageous, rediculous and funny that it was hard to believe I was experiencing it. In honor of barely keeping my sanity for the past year, here is a brief recap, in no particular order:

The Best of Times 

  • Meeting my stagemates and new friends
    4th of July in Makongoya
  • Decorating my first home!
  • Adopting my cat and falling madly in love with his adorable-ness
  • Working alongside my amazingly hardworking counterpart, Yacouba
  • English and Fulfulde lessons with Didja
  • Having afternoon baking lessons turn into an IGA for Didja’s husband
  • Seeing villagers unsuspectingly eating vegan black bean carrot brownies
  • Being the only non-Northern PCV from my stage to visit the North before it closed
  • Drinking bilbil with Spencer and Moussa in Badjouma-Centre
  • Laying in the sand and stargazing after dinners at Sali’s house in Badjouma-Centre
  • Eating fresh dates in Bertoua, Ngaoundere, and Garoua (I love dates!)
  • Introducing vegetable and fruit smoothies to Didja and Oumi and finding that they love them!
  • Teaching Minlo and the women’s group of Lomié how to make tofu, soy milk, and soy couscous
  • Camping 5 days with Spencer in the Congo River Basin/Dja Rainforest Reserve and surviving to tell the tale
  • Seeing monkeys in the Dja and hearing the cry and pounding of gorillas and chimpanzees
  • Seeing rescued chimps at the Sanaga Yang Rescue Center in Bélabo
  • Soaking up the sun beachside with Spencer at Kribi
  • Learning beekeeping and attending the beekeeping conference in Bafoussam
  • Spending the 4th of July with the Makongoya Baka pygmy encampment - population 28
  • Celebrating the end of Ramadan with Didja and her family
  • Falling in love with passionfruit and guava
  • Completing the Lomié HIV/AIDS sensitization mural
  • Starting the Baka beekeeping and soy production project at the Adjela, Makongoya and Pollidor encampments
  • Listening to traditional Baka music on homemade instruments at Yacouba’s boutique with Carlos and Remy
  • Getting sworn in as a PCV
  • Seeing the Ekom Nkam waterfalls in Nkongsamba
Beekeeping Conference

The Worst of Times

  • Every trip to and from Lomié on that awful road
  • Sleeping roadside and being grabbed during an 18 hour trip to Lomié during the rainy season
  • Rape threats
  • Being punched in the face by a crazy woman
  • Gender Inequality
  • Getting malaria far too often
  • Getting worms about every 2 weeks
  • Getting boils
  • Being alone or on med-hold during every holiday
  • Living in a very challenging village, and the most remote PC-Cameroon post
  • Getting evacuated from Lomié
  • Discovering that I will be homeless for 3+ months
  • Telling Yacouba, Carlos and Didja that I’m being forced to leave Lomié
  • Having my house broken into on several occasions by a cocaine addict
  • Listening to my neighbor beat her husband and children
  • Having my electronics stolen in Kribi
  • Being on consolidation and not having alone time
  • Having my kitten during PST die (his name was Sauvage or Pascale, depending on who you ask).
  • Having a really bad homestay experience
  • Having my landlady in Lomié threaten to eat my cat
  • Seeing dead monkeys on a daily basis
  • Seeing pangolins and other wild animals be beaten alive
  • Having the majority of PC-Cameroon admin be unsupportive and unreliable
  • Being sick, 90% of the time
  • Having little nourishing food to eat
  • Not pooping for 10 weeks
  • People not showing up to my meetings and projects
    Ekom Nkam Falls
The Funny Times 

  • The times I had intestinal/stomach worms, and when the worms that I’d pass would climb out of my latrine and invade my bathroom - which led to a 2am mission to exterminate all worms.
  • The time I saw my cat on the roof of my house jumping at large birds twice his size
  • Spencer’s ‘striptease’ for me in Nkongsamba to the song ‘Call me Maybe’
  • Yacouba rewarding people with candy for having malaria at my malaria education meeting
  • Getting a kangaroo pouch/pocket on one of my pagne dresses
  • Co-owning a pangalin for a day
  • Getting offered money for someone to buy and eat Métis
  • Being told, “Drink a Guinness! It gives you power!” every time I’m sick
  • Confronting the butt naked Lomié fou
  • Coming face-to-face with the Abong-Mbang fou who is covered in sharp objects and has a machine gun made of barbed wire
  • Me cutting my hand open while chopping up a guava for Spencer and I on the way back from Nkongsamba, having him laugh because he thought I was joking, me holding my bloody hand up for the remaining 2 hours of the bus ride, and then getting 4 stitches.
  • Kopo, our Baka guide, always falling (in rivers, on trails, and breaking our basket of eggs) while hiking in the Dja
  • The women who traveled with only a large bundle of sticks on the bus to Ngaoundéré bus
  • Elections for the board of the Baka Culture Group
  • Killing and eating a 90$ turkey on Thanksgiving
  • Having to hand scoop out poop from my latrine on so many occasions that I lost count

The Things I Miss 

  • Whole Foods
  • Raw food
  • Kale smoothies
  • Family and friends, duh
  • Decent coffee
  • Listening to music on Spotify
  • Delicious dark chocolate
  • Endless varieties of food
  • Scenic parts of America
  • Beaches
  • Sunny days in Chicago
  • Sitting by a fireplace during winter
  • Studying and researching and being in college courses
  • Eating out
  • Going to the movies
  • Gelato
  • Running/Gyms
  • Salads
  • Christmastime traditions

The Things I Look Forward To The Next Year 

  • Moving to my new house
  • Living close to Liz - one of my best friends!
  • Living near reported hippos
  • Living near the Lake where the best fresh fish comes from
  • Spending Fete de Mouton with Kim in Batouri
  • Eventually seeing fantasias in the Adamawa
  • Living in a majority-Muslim community (yay, less harassment and hopefully no ass-grabbing!)
  • Learning Fulfuldé
  • Living the simple life without electricity
  • Having my own space and privacy
  • Sharing another year with my adorable cat
  • A possible vacation with Spencer out of and far, far away from Cameroon
  • Seeing more of Cameroon
  • Making new friends in Ngatt
  • Getting back to work and creating projects
  • Leading the East and Adamawa Beekeeping Conference in January (the planning stage is complete!)
  • Climbing Mt. Cameroon, eventually
  • Gonging out next October and becoming an RPCV


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