10.11.2014

New Beginnings



The move to Ngatt went surprisingly smooth by Cameroonian standards. I took all my belongings to the bus station the night before I moved; throwing all caution to the wind and crossing my fingers that all my electronics wouldn't get stolen. The next morning I headed to the bus station with my cat, checked to make sure all my belongings were accounted for and then watched as they loaded everything I owned on top of the coaster. Shortly thereafter, I began the 7 hour trip to Meiganga.

Despite the rain, the ride was smooth and scenic, and it helped that I sat next to a really kind young man who held my full length mirror the entire trip. When I arrived in Meiganga, the landlord of another PCV was there to greet me with a car. We unloaded my things off the bus just to reload them into the car. I was slightly skeptical it was all going to fit, but as is always the case with Cameroon, it all worked out. All my things were stuffed in the backseat and trunk and Métis and I squeezed in the little space left in the back seat. I was under the impression that this landlord was going to drive, but no, he was just along for the ride. It was his car but he had a driver. In addition to the two of them in the front seat there was a "petite" who wasn't so petite and at least thirty. I'm not sure what his purpose was...but I'm quite positive he was merely there for the free drive to see the Tibati area, as none of these people had been that far west before. So there we were, 4 adults, a cat, and all my earthly possessions. 


Not long after departing, various bags started toppling over on me, so we pulled over to rearrange them...and for Salisou to buy some squash. We departed once gain, but not long after we arrived in Meidougou and stopped again for the driver to eat dinner. Salisou enthusiastically asked me, "Don't you want to see Emily? Let's see Emily!" Emily is an ED volunteer I think I've met once. Rather than visiting Emily I would have rather been on the road, since we had already killed and hour and the sun was already setting and we still had at least 4 hours ahead of us.
Neighbor

After quickly 'visiting Emily' while the driver ate, we finally got on our way, and I hoped we wouldn't stop again. The road was scenic and I passed the two other villages that they talked about sending me to, both of which are far less remote. We stopped in one village so the driver could chat with a friend, and I got out to stretch my legs. Immediately, an elderly, probably drunk, man came up to me and began talking about how he wanted to marry me. I placated him and said I would only marry him if he would be my 4th husband. He smiled and agreed. After less than 5 minutes of banter, we were back on the road. Salisou turned back to me and said, "Wow, you have patience! If that were any other female volunteer, they would've screamed at that man!". If that was what derangement in the Adamawa looked liked, it seemed as if life here would be a piece of cake.

The sun set and we arrived in Ngaoundal, only half way to Ngatt. We took off again after fueling the car and made our way to the dirt road, which continues for about an hour and a half until the pavement reappears 2km before Ngatt. While Salisou lamented the horrid condition of the road, I slept like a baby in the back seat, since this road was nothing compared to the Lomie road. Finally, at 10pm, we appeared in what we believed to be Ngatt.

It was dark (no electricity, ever, in Ngatt), and I had no idea where my house was. Thankfully, the village is so small that the options were limited. Soon, we caught sight of a man running alongside our car and pointing forward. He ran in front of our car and directed us, until we neared the end of village, when he signaled to stop. I got out and everyone swarmed the car to help carry the luggage. I got out and tried to catch a first glimpse of the village but to no avail. An older man approached me and introduced himself as Oumarou, my landlord. 

He directed me to my house, which is perhaps a 1 minute walk from the main road - a perfect location. He opened the doors to my house and gave me the walking tour - or should I say, the shifting your gaze tour, as the house really isn't that big. I stood in what would now be my new house and gazed around at my new, fresh start with my landlord as a group brought in all my baggage. The group carrying my bags seemed so large that I thought it was the whole village, but I later found out that no, that was just my landlord's family - yikes! 

As I stood there with anxiety, anticipation, exhaustion, apprehension, excitement, and determination, I felt overwhelmed, especially as everyone around me was rapidly rambling in Fulfulde. I asked a few people some questions in French and they returned only blank stares. "Oh, people here don't speak French," my landlord clarified. Oh, great.

After all my things were brought in, I said goodbye to Salisou and everyone else and decided I needed to sleep. I let Métis out and he anxiously wandered the house, probably in utter confusion at why he was being moved for the fourth time in his life. I unraveled my bad, laid my sheets down and passed out.
The Cooking House in my Concession

The next morning I woke up relatively early in order to check out the village. Immediately after showering, my landlord's 13-year-old niece showed up at my door. She grew up in Douala so she speaks French, thankfully, and her mom sent her to Ngatt in order to experience village life for a few years. Rugai, the niece, walked me to the market, which took all of 2 minutes. I asked what food there was to eat here, and she replied with "beignets and bouille" - so with that, I bought a beignet the size of my head a 10 cent bowl of the best bouille ever and headed home to eat and unpack. 

As soon as I took my last sip of bouille, everyone began showing up at my door...and I mean everyone. I'm the first foreigner to ever live in Ngatt, and one of only 2 foreigners to have ever visited Ngatt, so naturally everyone was curious. Curiosity here though reaches a whole new level. People didn't just come to say "Sannu" and peak in my doors - no, they came and rifled through all my bags, many of whom began taking gifts for themselves. Before I knew it, I had 25 women and children going through my bags, taking scarves, all my chewing gum, opening and drinking whole MIO liquid water enhancers (nasty), and even opening up tampons and asking what they are used for. The situation was out of control and I had no idea what to do - as all of these people spoke only Fulfulde. I stood in the middle of my living room motionless, not knowing what to do. Finally, Housseini, one of my concession-mates and also a hospital employee, came and told everyone to get out. I surveyed the damage - thankfully nothing I loved too much was taken as a 'gift'.

This scene would repeat itself throughout the day. Women and children would come, go through my house and look in the rooms and in all my bags, perhaps take a few 'gifts', touch all my belongings and do a deep throat clicking, which I have since assumed to mean 'wow'. Between the dozen or so women speaking Fulfulde at once and the 2 dozen children screaming, I soon had a headache and Métis was frightened so much that he ran outside, climbed into the ceiling of my outdoor latrine, and got himself stuck surrounded by dozens of sharp nails. The process of getting him down took several hours, pulling his tail, and much hair loss on his end.

When Oumarou finally explained to everyone that I need to have quiet, I finally gave up on the futile task of unpacking (what good is it to unpack when you have nowhere to put things?), and decided instead to look around the village and try to find some food. Little did I know that Ngatt has no food. Literally, besides the occasional pile of fresh fish, and the ever present beignets and bouille, there is no food - not even onions, which I had previously thought were found everywhere. Rugai made me buy the $1 pile of small, odd looking fish, and having no other food options, I agreed. She cooked up rice and a tomato paste fish sauce that was actually surprisingly tasty.

The first day in Ngatt was a blur, but thankfully, each day after has become more of a routine as I've settled into my home and work and taken the time to discover more about the village. While I could go on and on explaining the weird quirks of Ngatt, I'll save that for another day, and instead just briefly describe the basics, since time is short and I am getting back on the 8 hour bus to Ngatt tomorrow.
My Landlord and I as he Sells his Cattle

Ngatt is super tiny - perhaps 800 or so - and is mainly Peul (Fulbe's who are Muslim) but with perhaps a 10% Gbaya representation (who are usually Christian and who speak Gbaya). There are also Mbororos (formerly nomadic cattle herdsmen), and CAR refugees. Most of the village, however, is Peul/Fulbe, and I live in the Fulbe quartier, which makes learning Fulfulde an absolute must if I wish do get any meaningful work done. Thankfully, I've caught on surprisingly fast to Fulfulde and can now have a very basic conversation and say the basics - and this week I'm beginning 3 hours of Fulfulde lessons per week.

Ngatt has very little in terms of food and amenities, but that only adds to its charm. Here you can't find fruit or really any vegetables for that matter. What you can find though, are beignets and bread! I learned soon enough that even toilet paper doesn't exist here - so I must travel to Tibati to buy it, which I plan on only going to Tibati once every few weeks. There is, however, a market every Thursday, which is when vendors from Ngaoundal to Tibati show up in Ngatt to sell everything from solar lamps, to rugs, to pagne, to perfume - but alas, not to sell food. While the food options may be lacking, at least the walk around town on market day provides good conversation and a lot of interesting 'window shopping'!

People in Ngatt are mostly cattle herders, farmers, or fishermen. The cows are everywhere and often block the road and make it impassible to passing cars. My landlord is one such cattle herder, and he promises to take me out en brousse one day to herd the cattle and to milk and vaccinate them. The other day he took me to the cattle market where perhaps 150 cows were for sale and where wealthy Cameroonians come from all over to buy cows to bring to Yaounde to butcher and sell. A single cow can cost anywhere between $400 and $1,000 - and by the end of the day, around 80 cows were sold. Ngatt is the village you go to to buy a cow in the area, so the herders clearly make a good living!

The hospital is fantastic - it's a private Protestant hospital, directed and overseen by a larger Protestant hospital in Ngaoubela, which is right outside of Tibati. The Ngaoubela hospital is headed by an old Austrian doctor, and there are usually three young Austrians there on service trips at any given time. I went to the hospital my first Sunday in Ngatt to attend a People Living with HIV/AIDS Care Group - this group meets once every other Sunday to talk about their needs and how best to live a healthy life while also sensitizing the community about the disease. This group also pays for the education of all the children to the affected members of the group, so that their children are not kept out of school because of the parent's high medical fees. I'll be working closely with this group over the next year.

The hospital in Ngatt is small, but will soon get larger. Currently it has three rooms for hospitalization, which are almost always occupied, a consultation room, a lab/pharmacy and a payment room. But just recently an addition was added which includes further surgical rooms and more consultation rooms. The hospital staff is small - it features Dr. Moussa, Housseini, my neighbor and fill-in quasi-doctor, and two nurses. I go to the hospital daily for about 4 hours to observe and prepare for the sensitizations I'll give in the coming weeks during the pre-natal consultations and child vaccination days.

Besides just taking care of the people of Ngatt, the hospital also oversees 8 villages en brousse as well as some Mbororo encampments. Each month I will visit each one of these villages and do sensitizations based on their needs. It seems, however, that the main health problems are malaria, anemia, malnutrition, hygiene, and HIV/AIDS. We are already talking about doing a large HIV testing campaign in February, as people in Ngatt are very proactive and always like knowing what their status is, but the hospital lacks the resources to provide all those who want HIV tests, with the test.
Hospital Sign

There is so much to tell about my new village, but alas, time is short, I'm tired, and I've got to save some stuff for later. All in all, Ngatt is the complete opposite of Lomie, and I'm extremely happy. People greet me with huge smiles as I walk around town and fumble with my Fulfulde. I'm pummeled with hugs and women shouting 'Jabbama!' as I walk to my house, and I have my mama who cooks me breakfast, lunch and dinner for free (but I always make sure to repay her with cake!). I'm always approached by people asking what my work is and how they can help. Since Ngatt is known in the region as the town with the best social organization and cohesion, I'm really looking forward to seeing how everyone mobilizes for my projects. Word is already spreading about the first couple projects I'm unrolling next week, and people seem pretty dang excited. Everyone says they want me to stay for 10 years, and who knows, if this hospitality keeps up, I might just have to.

0 comments:

Post a Comment

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!