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.”                                                                                                                            

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