Thursday, March 14, 2013

Always tredding water; life of a PCV in Cameroon

It’s been so long since I last updated my blog that I really don’t know where to begin.  I know many fellow volunteers experience the same writers block during their services but how are we supposed to put into words the experiences that we are having without discounting them.  I haven’t written since August and though I have sat down promising myself I would crank out a post on numerous occasions, I just couldn’t find a place to start.  Soooo here is my attempt…
September, October and November came and went faster than a blink of an eye.  I work diligently on my projects, trying to really sew the fruits of my labor.  I had my agricultural school up and running like a well-oiled machine.  Every two weeks Justin and I facilitated presentations on agroforestry topics that would spark the attention of the community with the intended purpose of building local capacity.  Even with a well-oiled machine, that is Justin and I, without an audience our work would amount to nothing.  The first few presentations were depressing to say the least, maybe 5 or 6 people showing but over time and through words of mouth we now presently have anywhere from 13 to 17 in attendance.  Yah so that number might seem small but I am proud of my students drive to learn and implement new techniques into their farming practices. 
During these months, alongside my school, I was able to plan a project that would construct a youth center in my community, apply for a partnership agreement with Peace Corps, attend the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Peace Corps in Cameroon, meet the first lady Madame Biya, plan a Christmas extravaganza to Uganda with my two best girlfriends, co-facilitate numerous presentations on better business practices, receive a visit from a close PCV who lives in Senegal and travel on public transport to Yaounde 3 times, Bamenda once, Bafoussam 2 times all in a 3 month period.  Little to say, I had a crazy and packed fall.  Then came December.
My three week trip to Uganda began with a white water rafting trip down the Nile, where I nearly DIED because my dumbass fell out of the raft prior to the category 4 rapid. I wish I could say I gracefully floated down the rapid with thrill and excitement but that was definitely not the case.  I looked like a cat that had been thrown into a pool.  The rafting trip was definitely a wild adventure where we got to experience the wonders of the Nile and the fury of Mother Nature all at the same time.  Following this adventure in Jinja we made our way back to Kampala (the capital) for a few nights of reggae dancing, delicious Mexican, Ethiopian, English and American cuisine, new friends and hot showers before we moved onto the impenetrable forest. 
The trip to the impenetrable forest was 14 hours public transportation on small dirt roads, sardine packed into a bus.  After 15 months in Cameroon, taking public transport every day, you would think we would be pros however not the case when you are hung over, cramped and your iPod battery only lasted 5 hours.  Once we arrived in the little village called Buhoma which is surrounded by the beautiful Bwindi forest our 14 hours of travel seemed to fade into the past.   I felt like I was in a Nat Geo magazine, exploring the beauty of a forest which has existed since before man.  We took the night to relax for the following day we would venture into the impenetrable forest, in search of the mountain gorilla.  A magnificent primate that lives in only three countries bordering this forest: Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo.  With only 700 of these amazing animals left in the world, it was the excursion Alissa, Laura and I had come to Uganda for – to trek through the forest in search of the gorillas in their natural habitat, not fenced in but free.  We woke up to a gloomy sky and the excitement of little children heading to Disneyland for the first time.  As soon as we began our trek on foot it began to pour and would continue for the next few miles until we were 15 minutes away from the gorillas.  This must have been luck on our sides because the entire family (all 15 including the silverback, 2 week old baby and all the others) ventured out in the clearing to bask in the sun.  We got to experience a mother breast feeding her baby, little ones rolling around playing and the silverback lounging all from 5 feet away.  It was one of the most amazing experiences I have been blessed to see.  We left Buhoma and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest high on adventure and thanks to a new friend we were able to get a private car back to Kampala.   
Kampala was amazing and we went into serious culture shock for there were malls, movie theaters, paved roads, fast food, milkshakes, CUSTOMER SERVICE and margaritas.  We hung out for a day and then were swept away on a 3 day safari in Murchinson Falls.  The 3 days consisted of visiting a magnificent waterfall, 2 day game ride where we saw lions, giraffes, monkeys, antelope, elephants, hippos and so many more species, a sunset boat cruise and finally another trip to a waterfall.  I took some great game photos and had my first safari experience, definitely not my last.  Since the first week was packed with adventures we spent the rest of our trip relaxing and taking in the sites, even went to a P-square concert. 
Spending Christmas away from loved ones is hard but thankfully we had a chance to meet some great people and enjoy a traditional xmas expat style with children opening presents, bloody marys flowing, delicious stinky cheese, 50 year old port and a game of cricket.  It was truly a Christmas I will never forget.  We were welcomed home to Cameroon by the airport losing our bags and 3 case of bronchitis where I unfortunately pulled both of my rib muscles.  OUCH!
The craziness of December had my head spinning then came January.  Mid-service, medical checks and malaise followed by a few days at the beach and good friends. After all the fun I was having it was back to work I go and my agricultural school picked up where we left it.  Back to the grind many would say and February was no different.  I helped coordinate an HIV awareness event where we reached out to over 5000 people at the Race of Hope Marathon.  Myself along with 10 other PCVs and a Cameroonian ONG handed out 2000 flyers, over 4000 condoms, and did over 200 condom demonstrations.  Overall the event was a huge success, an exhausting success.   Back at post for a week or so, only enough time to plan a summer camp and visit a prison before I was off again to help train the newbies at IST. 
Here we are now in March and finally my schedule has slowed down a bit.  Slow enough to help throw a bridal shower for a fellow PCV who is getting married at the end of the month and enjoy some family dinners with my postmates.  I officially am in my 18th month of service soon to be 19th on the 22nd and have so many projects still left on my plate.  It is nerve racking but thrilling to see the time pass so quickly.  I have truly enjoyed my experiences here in Cameroon but am also getting excited to finish.  Thank you all for your constant support and love.  I couldn’t have gotten through the past 18 months without you!
If anyone wants to donate to my youth development project feel free to follow the link below with more information on my funding project if you are interested.  Please donate J
“Le Centre D’Animation des Jeunes pour un Développement Durable was proposed by Groupelma with an intended purpose of providing opportunities and resources to the community of Poola in hopes of enhancing personal and professional development.  This project will restore a current center in Poola with electricity, chairs, tables, computer/printer, new blackboards, new roof, handicap accessible entrances, fresh paint, new book shelves and more.  The center will provide a much needed space for those who are motivated to integrate innovative technology and information by the means of up to date literature and resources through a public library.   The center can also be used to host seminars and a place for students to work on homework and study without interruptions.  By providing support, guidance and resources to the community, focusing mainly on youth, the center will be able to build the local capacity of its adolescents and continue future sustainable development.  Therefore, the objective of the project is to enhance the quality of life of the community by restoring/constructing a resource center for development.                              
Poola is a small quartier in Nkongsamba with 1000 residents located in the Littoral Region of Cameroon.  The community was formed over 60 years ago because of a thriving cattle ranch that provided sufficient work and income to all the inhabitants.  By the drive of this work opportunity and the very fertile, volcanic soil, Poola expanded.  However, after the cattle ranch closed in the 70’s, many laborers were without work and turned to farming on an already scarce land to feed their families.  Today, the population thrives solely on subsistence farming.  With the lack of funds and education, the overall moral in the village is low.  There is one public school that provides education opportunities to the youth of the village, but is not utilized by all. Though the youth in Poola have the opportunity of gaining an education, there is no library, nor does the community have a health center or market.  There are little resources available to adolescents outside of Poola because transportation to Nkongsamba is difficult due to the lack of adequate, quality roads.
Groupelma, the sole association in Poola, currently works with the promotion of youth development by providing information, education and guidance on agroforestry techniques, animal husbandry and health/ HIV and AIDS.   However, Groupelma does not have the facility or resources to provide satisfactory guidance and support to the entire community.   
Poola has a need for a project focusing on youth development because the community is hurting from the low morale and mentality of its youth population.  Due to the lack of motivation to change, most children in village do not make it through primary school and are unaware of the opportunities for growth because they have never had suitable resources.  A large percentage of Poola’s adolescents work in the rock quarry and spend most of their days breaking their backs while they forgo education that could provide for a better future. They do not see the benefits in the long run or have hopes and dreams for a better future.  I hope the center can change the youth’s predicament and help promote a better quality of life by introducing up to date resources, mentorship programs and a safe place to learn.   Without the center, I believe the community will continue on the same path of stagnate development and the youth will not be motivated to change.”                                                                                                                            

Sunday, August 19, 2012

High on life... more like drugged up on antibiotics

I really cannot believe it is already the middle of August.  Like I say in almost every blog I write; “Where the hell did the time fly away too”.  I have been back in Cameroon for three months and what a rollercoaster it has been.  Let’s begin this epic journey into my past three months with June…
June started out with a bang.  I did a 10day life skills camp with a few other volunteers and 60 of the darling children at the Ntolo Social Center.  Some of the children are orphans, some come from broken homes, some are at-risk, some have aids but all are very lucky to be a part of the Center.  It’s a big family; the big kids take care of the littles.  I haven’t ever really seen family dynamics like that but it warms my heart that in a world of struggle and loss, these kids can find such a place and call it home.  During the camp, all the volunteers did presentations; HIV and AIDS, gender roles, sports, reproductive health, business, savings, income generating activities…. Sooo much more.  I got to do presentations on recycling, deforestation, environment friendly practices, the marine ecosystem and teach the little tots how to play world cuppies… which by the way they LOVED.  Brought back warm memories of coaching the Gator Girls with Lyndsay Pollock!  We had Malaria No More come and present, which they brought along a famous singer and mosquito nets for every bed.  A special treat for all the kids! Then to top off the already successful week, we ended up taking all the kids to the beach and wildlife center in Limbe.  This by far was the most special day I have experienced here in Cameroon.  Most of the kids have never seen the ocean or swam.  There little eyes bulged with excitement when we arrived and it was like pulling teeth to leave.  The 10days was a huge success and my mind is reeling with ideas for next year’s Joie de Vivre Colonie de Vacance.   Thanks to everyone who donated!!! We couldn’t have done it without you. 
Well the rest of the month was slow.  Spent most with my counterpart planning out for future projects but it was the start of the heavy rains and the motivation in village was running low.   Gave out some information on Soy and Tofu, taught my closest friend in village how to prepare spaghetti (American style) with the parmesan cheese and all, and did allot of networking for the agriculture school I was planning.  Needless to say, June was full of excitement and actually seeing the fruits of my labor. 
Then came July.  I had to be in Yaoundé for the beginning of the month for PSN training and meetings with administration.  It just so worked out that I would be there for the 4th of July.  What a way to celebrate America in a foreign world with 60 fellow PCV’s drinking tequila, eating burgers and dogs while listening to good ol’ Country music.  Too much fun and much needed.  Sometimes we need a little “Whiteman” overload.  I decided since the heavy rains of July were coming, to take a vacation to the Extreme North to visit some close friends, see their projects and experience the beautiful northern/Muslim culture.  It has got to be one of the most beautiful regions in Cameroon.  The first couple days were spent in Rhumsiki, a real heavenly place.  We went bareback horseback riding, which I thought was really going to kill me.  The horses were way underfed and their spines were shoved in a very sensitive place for far too long (3 ½ hours).  I was pretty damn vocal, as only it seemed necessary.  We had these adorable children as guides (child labor anyone?) where they walked the many miles we trekked.  My guides name was Olivier… or I like to say Olivia.  He definitely had ADHD and would get distracted so easily.  The ongoing joke with my friends now are yelling “Olivia vien ici, maintenant!” which could probably be heard from all in a 10 mile radius, as I kept getting led into torn bushes.  After the painstaking 3 ½ hours, bums hurting, sunburnt to crisps and dying of thirst (we only brought one bottle water for 10ppl—aka dumbasses) we made it back to the hotel, only after the kids took turned riding my back like their own personal horses.  I guess I couldn’t turn them down since after all they did walk like 6 miles for us.  The next day we visited the crap sorcerer.  You ask a question and he speaks to a live crab then places it in the bowl, which the crab then moves some wood around and gives the sorcerer the answer.  Pretty crazy experience!  Rhumsiki was amazing, the ride to and from is breathtaking and takes about 2 hours on a motorcycle.  Unfortunately, we cannot control the weather and were many times during the journey there and back forced to stop and take over villager’s houses, all 10 white people, crammed into a room no bigger than 8ft by 11ft with 20 other Cameroonians.  Overall, it was an adventure of a lifetime.  I got to visit a bunch of other volunteer’s posts and hike mount Maroua.  My weeks’ vacation coming to a close, I could feel myself getting sad to leave but my body felt even worse.  I woke on the day I was supposed to traveling back down to my post with a 102 fever and body aches.  I decided to head to the hospital instead, which was an excellent choice on my part because I had malaria and a cyst of amoebas.  Lovely right?  Well… I guess Maria hadn’t gotten the last of me.  PCMO made me stay on medical hold in Maroua for another week until I would be able to travel.  Finally off medical hold I made the 4 hour trek to Garoua in the North.  I planned on splitting up the 30 hour trip back to the South into a few days, but upon arriving in Garoua my body decided to fight me again.  I headed once again to the hospital, and voila… I still had the amoebas.  I pumped more antibiotics into my body for the second week in a row.  Spent a couple painful days in Garoua, but got to see some volunteers that were passing through which made the time fly.  Finally I got back to Yaoundé, around 2 weeks after my intended return date only to be sent to the lab again and told I had another type of parasite and malaria again….. REALLY? WTF is this.  I pumped more and more antibiotics into my system and remained on med hold until the 1st of August when FINALLY I got to go back to post.  I missed my house, my community, my friends and my counterpart!  Sooo now are in August…
The beginning was not so pleasant since I was still getting over Malaria but I powered through!!  Started back up with my projects and prepared for the Girl’s Empowerment Forum that fellow volunteers were planning in Kribi.  I got to bring two counterparts, which was truly special since a. they deserve a vacation b. are motivated to make a difference in women’s rights and empowerment and c. have never swam before, in their LIFE.   The forum was extremely well done, many great presentation and great food.  I gathered many new ideas and my counterparts and I got a spark to get projects rolling for a big girl’s empowerment movement in Poola we want to start.  Now it brings me up to date.  This past weekend I began my l’ecole des agriculteurs, which I had been planning for at least a month.  We started off with a session on Les Pesticides Naturel and planned to meet every two weeks to discuss a new topic.  Next topic is Moringa!  It was sooo great, I got 15ppl to come and partake.  I am hoping for more in the next session.  By the end of the year these students will be able to teach about; raising rabbits, canerat, pigs, goats, bees, ducks, making soap, aloe, natural pesticides, tofu, growing Moringa, medicinal plants, soy, agroforestry techniques, composting, tree planting and more.  I let them come up with some ideas and they get to pick the next sessions topics and agree on a date.  I think it’s going to be a success.  As for the girl’s empowerment, my counterpart and I are starting “Big Sisters” or grand soeurs at the local public school.  I have 5 or 6 girls which attending high school that are willing to mentor younger girls.   I am going to train the older girls on topics such as; building goals, income generating activities to pay school fees, sexual education, peer pressure, alcohol and drug abuse etc.  (All things out of my life skills manual).  I think that project is going to be my baby. 
So here I am today… excited about the next few months to come, getting all my projects going on the fast track and enjoying the cultural experiences.  September will be not only my birthday month but the completion of my first year in Peace Corps Cameroon.  It’s been really a rollercoaster of a ride, especially with administration but I love my time here and all the amazing people I am meeting every day. 
 I can only hope to be even more successful in all my projects and make many more amazing friends and memories. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm back... in Cameroon that is

It’s just your usual Sunday night in Cameroon; the thunderstorms which welcomed me home from California have been quite persistent.  “Yes, mother nature I understand that it is the wet season here in Cameroon.”  She is not pleased that I ventured off to California to enjoy the beautiful sunshine, and once again I am reminded of her fury.  Thunder and lightning have become my nighttime lullaby.  Wasn’t it just a few months ago I was praying for rain? Its funny how the things you want more than anything come back to bite you.  I will remember that next dry season.  I am learning (slowly) to enjoy the present.  Hard for someone who used to be a planner?
Anyways, I am slowly getting back to a routine here in Cameroon.  Although, the time change really took a number on my body.  I seem to be sore and aching for more sleep when I wake each morning, which leads to me sleeping into the mid-afternoon.  Yikes, I guess I need to be a little more forceful with myself.  The 30 hours of travel to get here were not pleasant - an upgrade to first class, is that so hard to ask for Air France… come on, throw a girl a bone. 
Tuesday, I found myself at the airport in Douala, overcome by humidity, when I received a pleasant call from a fellow volunteer surprising me at the airport.  I mean, I asked a few if they would be available but was unable to check my email to confirm with anyone.  This definitely was such an amazing surprise because Douala airport is not so forgiving.  Thanking my lucky stars, we made it out of the city with my bags in tack before dark!  Success… but this Cameroon, come on“Surely you have some crazy story about the unforgivable city” you may be asking and wait “why yes, I do”.  I bumped into yet another fellow volunteer in the airport who was also flying in and we were able to get into her private car which took us to location where my lifesaver and I hunted down another car to take up back to village life.   This private car is like finding a needle in a haystack.  Seriously, it really never happens and when it does, boy do you feel like you’ve just won the lottery.  Once we got to our desired location, we were swarmed by Cameroonians pestering us about everything and anything.  One gentleman approached us speaking in English that he was not from here and looking for a ride to our destination but was didn’t know the pricing.  He tried to persuade us to go with him to find a car, but I was caught off guard by another bystander yelling at us in French that he was a thief and was planning on robbing us.  We were immediately surrounded by angry men and women who were pushing the men away.Cameroonians willing to stand up for foreigners, it’s a pleasant and rare sight.  Also a nice welcome home gift, we left with our pride in tacked.It’s always an adventure, right?
The rest of the week seemed to fly by.  I was welcomed back with such warmth from my villagers who LOVED my gifts of photographs taken prior to my trip and printed in the states.  I have never seen happier faces and heard such fits of giggles.  They must of laughed for an hour.  I was reacquainted with my counterpart Justin who could disarm anyone with his kindness.  He truly is such a remarkable, fatherly figure in my life here.  Smiling from ear to ear, Justin accepted his gifts and our conversations flowed as if I hadn’t spent three weeks at home speaking only English.  The weekend came, and I was off to celebrate my home coming with my post mate.  We treated ourselves to the usual Marie Poulet, the one and really only restaurant in Nkongsamba.  We have become regulars.  Overcome once again by Mother Nature, we had to become resilient and find a car.  Motos were not going to cut it in the tropical storm we seemed to be caught in.  You could feel the uneasiness in our eyes, but thankfully a good Cameroonian Samaritan walked through the doors picking up his freshly slaughtered and deep fried chicken to go and offered us his services. 
Well, now  it’s been a whole week since I left California and I am sitting, musing on my laptop, whilst relaxing under my “oh so romantic” mosquito net thanking my lucky stars that I put it up a few weeks past because of the growing graveyard of creepy crawlies pleasantly spread above me like the night stars.   The mosquito net has been treated if you are asking yourself why there’s a graveyard.  I have come accustom to sharing my room with my little roommates, I give them their space and they give me mine, sometimes.  I always dislike waking up to a few new bites, wondering just how they managed to get under my nifty net tucking job the night before.  The mice, cockroaches and other crawlies don’t bother me much, but the eight legged spawns of Satan make me uneasy, especially the steroid sized ones that have taken to my bright blue walls. Being away for three weeks meant that they no longer had to share, and I was very unpleasantly welcomed home.   I don’t think 2 years in Africa will overcome my distain for spiders. 
Even with the humidity, creepy crawlies, the constant stares and the fact I am like 5000 miles away from my family, I cannot help my smile.  The adventure and constant, endless challenges of everyday life make me grateful for everything I have in life.  It was sure hard leaving the comforts of home in California and my brother’s beautiful baby girl who was born two days before my departure back to my Cameroonian life, but I am thankful I pushed through.  Once back in Cameroon, I became at ease again with my decision to do the Peace Corps and regain focus on my goals and projects here in village.  Now that my nice little vacation back to the states is over and I have already passed my 8 month mark in service, I am anxiously awaiting the next year and a half. 
C’est mon vie en Afrique.
As always, until next time; thank you for your constant support and love.  I love you all.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Joie de Vivre - Please donate!

Happy Mothers Day family and friends, I, along with 6 other Peace Corps Volunteers, are facilitating a 10 day Life-Skills summer camp, Joie de Vivre (Joy of Life), at an Orphanage in our region in June 2012. We are doing our own fund raising and trying to raise funds here in Cameroon and abroad. Our budget is about $2,000 and this is needed to maximize the fun and learning during these 10 days for 50 campers. It cost $40 to sponsor one camper and we know these campers will not be able to pay. There is no pressure but if you would like to sponsor a child.

Check out the link to my postmates blog with photos of last years camp.

All donations matter even if its $25 USD.  Help provide love and support to these orphans but sending in a small gift today.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The adventures of an American girl in a foreign world.

March came and went, and rapidly April is fading away as my countdown dwindles.   I will be home with my family in less than two weeks, which gives me goosebumps to think about. All the Thai food and margaritas I can get my hands on. Anyways, here is a recap of the past two months in village.
Well March started out with all the volunteers throughout the Littoral coming together for our very first ever regional meeting.  It was Peace Corps business as usual, which included an exciting trip to the Ekom waterfalls and a few nights of fun games and cold beers in Nkongsamba.   In total, there are 7 volunteers in the Littoral, which is pretty small compared to all the other regions but we make a well rounded bunch.  There is 3 Agroforestry, 1 Health, 2 Business and 1 Education volunteer and hopefully more to add to this after the next stage.  We even had some volunteers from the west and one from the south crash the party. 
With all these volunteers in the area, Poola (my village) got its fair share of visitors to my counterparts excitement as well as mine.  It’s really starting to feel like home with all the new furniture I got made and photos cluttering the walls.  I even hung my mosquito net, finally.  Took being eaten up a few nights in a row to realise I was being a complete idiot. As rainy season approaches I have a strong feeling I will be looking like I have chicken pocks. Mosquito's seem to love my blood, as well as the damn moot moots.  I am taking extra precaution because A. Malaria is not on my bucket list and B. I really don't want anymore damn scars. 
Following the meeting and my new pad updates, I was off to Yaounde for a few days to fill out some lingering paperwork and hang out with my lovely Agro girls, which means shopping at Casino and Hilton Happy Hour! Yaounde just can’t get enough of me.  Thankfully the city will have to wait til my next visit, in July when I get to go for training as a PSN (Peer Support Network) Volunteer. 
Next on the agenda was March 8th, or to everyone else in the world (except us Americans) International Women’s Day.  Having gone to the International Youth Day in Nkongsamba in February, I was a little terrified of what I might encounter.  Youth Day was by far the scariest day I have experienced in Nsamba.  Kids were running around, taking over the city and without any chaperons which relates to me getting the hell out of there as fast as I could.  However, Women’s Day I prayed would be different and have some sense of structure, and thankfully it was.  It was nice to see all the women, dressed in women's day matching pagne and hats, parading around the city as if they owned the place. I unfortunately didn't have enough time to get an outfit made out of the fabric until after the fete, and therefore was harassed by numerous men asking where my women's day pride was.  I offered as delicate as physically possible for me "Where the f is your women's day pride and pagne?" followed by an evil glare which made all the women cheer.  It is sad to think that women only feel empowered one day of the year here but that’s another story I don’t want to get into. There was an assortment of delicious surprises at every corner and so much happiness filling the streets, one couldn't be anything but happy.  The day of festivities was followed by an evening of dancing and drinking at a fellow volunteers post.  We went out and celebrated with all the women in her village till the wee hours of the morning, only to wake to a ghost town.   A true sign of a good night here in Cameroon.  The entire fete redeemed the frightful Youth Day, and left me excited for the next.
Exhausted from all the fun and excitement in Cameroon, there was not much more I could do with March by the means of working, as IST (in-service training) was just around the corner.  From the moment we swore in as volunteers, we were all excited for the next opportunity our stage would all be together again and IST could not come sooner.  IST was held in Bamenda, which meant a whole 10 days speaking English, well an interesting version of English.  We had such an amazing time, with hot showers, catered meals and the nights to enjoy with friends we hadn’t seen in 3 months. Unfortunately our group of 19 Agro volunteers turned into 13, which meant I had to face reality that 6 of my close friends from stage were gone.  After 3 months of PST being constantly together with these agro cats, it was a breath of fresh air to be able to spend time together again as well as rekindle friendships .  I made it back to post following IST  an being surrounded by Americans allot of March gave me a few setbacks in the language sector as well as my integration into village life. The first day back in my village, I began speaking Spanish to my counterpart. Oops.  However it feels good to be home again and back to being productive.  So long March, it's been swell…
Why hello April… The month approached faster than I could catch up and before I knew it, E and her friend from the states were at my door.  I remember in stage talking with E about her friends visit and all of a sudden it was here and gone.  Matt's visit was great because it let me experience Cameroon through a new set of eyes was invigorating and made me enthusiastic about what I am doing here. 
They went on their way to enjoy the rest of Cameroon, which meant one thing for me; all the fun and games were over with, and I found myself working at the farm every day.  My days were now packed with trainings on elevage (animal raising), feeding all the animals, giving them medicine, creating demostration plots (which I then used the new techniques I learned at IST), planting 100 moringa trees, building two nurseries, seeding over 500 acacia trees, and finally creating a budget for the Youth Development and Resource Center we are planning on building in Poola.  Having a packed schedule again really had me regretting not working out the past few months and sleeping in till 9 every day.  The first week kind of kicked my butt, bruises, sunburns and cuts to show for it. Battle wounds, I like to call them.  They are a badge of honor here in Cameroon.  I am no longer looked at as just an American girl, they see me now as the American girl with pig shit on her pants, mud under nails and in serious need of a shower. 
All this physical labor made me loose track of time and before I knew it, it was Easter.  I had to ask a little girl holding a palm leaf what day it was a week before (thinking I had missed the holiday) which was pretty amusing for the little girl.  It was palm sunday, not Easter... opps.  Which was good though because it gave me time to make plans for Easter.  I had a friend come and visit from the west, and my postmate joined in the festivities.  We made delicious pancakes and smoothies for breakfast and Mexican food for dinner.  I ate like a queen that day, better than my normal routine of beans and beignets or parle-g’s.  It’s nice to have people to cook for every once in a while.  However the dishes were murderous, especially when you don't have a sink.  Oh the life of a PCV.  I at least have running water and electricity pretty consistantly.  I'm living by the posh corps standard of living, and I am not complaining.
The following weekend I got invited to a fete by some neighbors, which was exciting for me since it was my first formal invitation from a Cameroonian in village.  It was at a church in Nkongsamba on a Saturday and I was happy to be attending because it was for a local boy in our community who was being promoted within the government.  I made it to the church right at 9 and could see a car full of delicious delicacies which they were about to set up.  I figured I was probably early since in Cameroon nothing really starts on time.  The fete was to commence at 9am… As to be expected it didn’t and instead we had to attend church which didn’t break till 1:30pm. Longest mass I have ever been to.  I was dying inside of boredom since everything was in French and there was no way of constantly translating in my brain, so I zoned out.  Not before they asked me to stand up in front of everyone and proceeded to tell the entire party about an American girl who found god in that very church, wish you could have seen my face during this.  It was a mix of confusion, denial and anger…this after being humiliated by being placed in the children’s bible study.  I of course made Justin and his wife sit with me as we were surrounded by 15 kids varying in age from 4 to probably 17.  I guess that part was pretty amusing.  I wasn’t the only one during mass having a hard time focusing; Justin my counterpart passed out and had to be woken up by the pastor himself.  I am going to be more cautious next time I get an invite or make sure I eat a LARGE breakfast before.  I was starved by the time we did eat at 2pm, but I did try canerat for the first time. Not to shabby.
Finally, this past weekend came.  I got to attend a march in Douala.  The forbidden city in PC Cameroon.  The city we as peace corps volunteers have to get approval to visit.  Well thankfully, it was a PC approved function and I got to help "Knock Out Malaria".  There was an 8 mile walk followed by a concert from 3-4 popular bands in Cameroon.  I got some great video and photos of the event.  I think it was the first time in Cameroon that I have seen an event run smoothly and efficiently.  It was a job well done in my eyes.  Until next week Douala, we shall meet again when I get to fly home to the states. 
It was a great March and April to say the least, but I have a feeling May is going to be even better with me being stateside for my sister’s wedding, niece’s birth, trip to Tahoe and Seattle and getting to see everyone I love.   Also means I will get to finally post some photos on here. 
Best regards,

Friday, February 10, 2012

Yaounde, Giardia and Chewing gum... oh my!

Happy New Year family and friends… better late than never, am I right? It’s February already and the weather here seems to get drier and drier each day.  It’s really feeling like Africa with the strong Sahel dust and hot gloomy afternoons.  I really can’t wait till raining season approaches.  I have a feeling I will be regretting that wish here in the next two months. 
All is well with me at the moment.  Went through what I like to call the true African experience with worms, giardia and unknown illnesses.  Of course everyone knew I would get sick, but me being stubborn… I tried to trick myself into thinking I was healthy and the life cycles I seemed to be experiencing were a figment of my imagination.  However, my body decided otherwise and off to Yaoundé (the capital) I traveled to see the PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer). I received some medication and after one HORRIBLE week, my body decided to kick the illnesses and I treated myself to endless amounts of delicious pizza, popcorn, ice cream… and oh did I mention margaritas.  Oh Yaoundé, you little minks, you.  I hope I don’t have to see you for a very, very long time. 
One good thing that came from my trip to Yaoundé (besides the AMMAAZZZING food and drinks) was all the time I got to Skype my loved ones.  It was so nice to see all my beautiful family and friend’s faces.  It made me super excited for my visit home in May.  That’s right ladies and gentlemen; I will be back in the sunny state of California for three whole weeks.   I will be attending my beautiful sister’s wedding, visiting family and friends and hopefully seeing the birth of my first niece.  She is due the day before I am to return back to my home here in Cameroon.  I am secretly (well not so secret now) hoping she comes a week early.  That way I get to see her!
The time away from my post made me realize how attached I already was becoming.  I felt extremely guilty being away for as long as I was and when I came back, was greeted so warmly by everyone.  I truly missed my village and my counterpart.
Speaking of my counterpart, I had the most interesting conversation with him the other day about gum.  He tells me that by chewing gum you are making yourself smarter, it somehow builds your intellect because it stimulates the mind.  I know that it can increase stimuli and concentration.  He told me he read it in a magazine once.  Note to self: Cameroonians seem to believe everything as long as they have read it somewhere printed or it has an official stamp.   This is true, which is why I am having an official stamp made with my name on it!!
After we finished our conversation about gum and beers, we made our schedule for the week.   I decided to tackle the disastrous darkness Justin (my counterpart) likes to call his bureau (office).  I had wanted to help him with his organizational skills but I didn’t really know what I was getting into until I was knee high in papers from the 1980’s.  That’s right, my counterpart is a hoarder.  I found papers and articles in his bureau from before I was born.  Some papers where you couldn’t even read what it said because of aging and then a billion phone numbers, he insisted on writing each down.  I think he is sick of me asking if and when he will ever look at this paper again, and then telling him to trash it.  Successfully he has thrown away some stuff, with praise by me of course, which I believe is to his delight.  Every time he finds something to throw away, he makes sure to rip it up in front of me so that he can get a celebratory smile or clap from me.   After 6 hours of constant struggle, we were able to finish his desk and a book shelf.  We still have the library to do.  I think I will take that one slowly. 
It’s been really nice being back in village.  I have had a chance to meet more important people, each eager to start projects with me and having me promise to involve them in my plans.  I tell them as volunteers for the Peace Corps, the first three months are for analyzing and assessing the needs of the community.  We are not to begin any projects.   But that doesn’t stop them from telling me about their individual problems or dreams.  You got to love the enthusiasm though.    My time here in Cameroon has been so rewarding already.  I can’t wait to see what the next two years will have in store for me.   
It’s going to be an exciting year for all of us.  Wish I could be in two places at once.  I miss you all dearly and wish you well.
By the way, thank you all for you letters and packages. 


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Officially a Peace Corps Volunteer :)

Leaving Bafia and the family I have built there was surprisingly difficult.  The impact that my family had on my life has changed me forever.  I mean I have only know these people for three months, but the fact that they opened their doors to a complete stranger, aided in all aspects of this foreign life and provided emotional support makes me grateful to know that there are genuinely good people in the world.  They will forever have a place in my heart and I wish them true happiness and health in the years to come.  Plus, I am going to miss coming home every day to my host brothers running down the muddied path to greet me with hugs and salutations or waking up to Cameroonian music blasting throughout the house.  I mean who wouldn’t miss getting tackled by four little brothers and or getting shocked out of sleep by another language blaring at 6am.  All in all, my stay in Bafia had to come to an end and it was time to begin the next chapter in my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon.  That’s right J I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer… no longer a trainee!
So Poola, here we are.  Just you and me this time.  Making the journey here was swift and easy, unlike what I envisioned of traveling with two years’ worth of stuff on Cameroonian public transportation would be like.   I have this theory that everything always tends to work out and therefore there is no point to stress, but like any normal human being, I stressed.  Of course I stressed… I mean my language is far from where it needs to be and I have still no idea what the hell I am doing here, and I think neither does my counterpart at the moment but as will the seeds that I plant, my understanding will grow too.  It’s been an interesting ride so far.  Having my own place and the independence that I soooo need in my life has refreshed me in this experience.  I am excited and anxious to get things started… my first step is making my home, my home.  I was fortunate to take over a post, which the PCV before me left furniture with all the amenities I would need to live.  But as you know, nesting is one of my favorite things and I can’t wait to let my creativity flow.    I will post photos when I get the chance… I bet you are all waiting anxiously to see.  In due time… you too will experience ma vie en Afrique. 
Anyways, next week is Christmas and then New Years.  Can it really be 2012… wow.  It’s crazy to think that I will be here for 2 more years.  Never worry family and friends… I won’t be alone for Christmas.  We are planning a little Christmas fete in Bafut, which is in the Northwest region and when I say we…I mean 9 of my closest friends in country and I.  We have the menu set and let me tell you… it is really going to feel like Christmas, especially with Ashleigh and Betsy cooking!!  All of the amazing people I have met here have become like family to me and knowing that we will be together to celebrate makes being away from loved ones back home not so unbearable.    
If you are planning on sending anything family and friends… here is my new address. 
Katelyn Witz
Volontaire Corps de la Paix
B.P. 15 Nkongsamba
Cameroun, Africa
Par Avion
I love you all and miss you dearly.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year…