Monday, November 26, 2012

Cuff, pants, and other phrases

Is it "I'm flying by the cuff of my pants"?  No, something about the seat of my... and the cuff of...  Right, so it has been awhile.  I've been busy.  Quite.  Incredibly even.  And this is not prepared.  A target of opportunity at best.  And yes the words appear a bit blurred at the moment.  Haven't the faintest idea why.

I'm a volunteer!  Official and sworn in and the like.  If you happen to have access to Cameroonian newspapers you can find my picture there.  AND the celebration even made the front page.  Mostly (entirely) due to the fact that a Mrs. Biya, aka the president's wife and most popular woman in this country, came to our swearing in.  If you have facebook, you have seen the photos of our matching blue shirts and my ascot to represent Sante (health for the layman).  It was a fun day.  We sang Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror".  They stuck me in the back far from the microphone; haven't the faintest idea why.

Busy, busy, busy.  That's all I can say.  I haven't had much time in front of a computer, much less with one that had internets.  We had tests and exams and celebrations.  Plus I've been on the road.  I am far north.  The EXTREME north now.  The capital called Maroua.  I thought that being in the Peace Corps made me far away from civilization, but now... Well first they stuck me on an overnight train that left Yaounde to Ngaoundere in the middle of the country.  Twelve hour ride.  It was a blast though as we just turned it into a last night going away party.  Got in trouble for the booze, the stowaway, and the fact we converted the beds to seats.  No one seemed to care about the kitten we brought though.  After that another nine hours in a bus before I finally arrived in my regional capital, Maroua.

I love it here.  Really.  Surprisingly, the weather is magnificent.  It's not the hot season yet, so the sun may yet kill me, but the weather has been better than Bafia/Bokito.  And this is a real city.  The market here is unimaginably huge.  Today I spent an hour wandering around the section with hardware.  It was like being lost in Lowes Home Improvement (though less power tools).  It's like a city.  Just alleys upon alleys of different sectors.  There was a place with 30 plus tailers working away in shops on sewing machines.  The point is this is a real city.  And they conveniently stuck the case or PC house on the main bar drag.  I've been enjoying it.  Oh, late night snacks?  They come to you.  Just hollar from your seat and, tada, munchies arrive.  Good meats.

Tomorrow is the big day.  I move to Bogo.  I see my house for the first time.  Well I think.  The negotiating a car to take me and my things there was... ambiguous.  I'm under the impression it will all work out for the decided upon price, but there was far too much confusion on what I actually wanted in the talk.  Language hurts, but culture too.  I have to explain why I want things that no other Cameroonian would ask for.  Why would I want a car all to myself and my things instead of just piling it in with a dozen other strangers?

I owe you many stories.  I owe myself more.  I've had trouble even keeping up the journal.  Life is moving too fast.  So much has occurred and I haven't had a moment to myself to capture it.  I've ideas of tales to tell and you will get them.  Soon enough, I hope.  I miss you guys.  And rest assured the next post will give you an address to send goodies.  I'll list the goodies you need to send too.  Much love.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bogo, Cameroon

Bogo, Cameroon.  My post.  My soon to be home.  My life for the next two years.

I know almost nothing about it.  I'll be the first health volunteer there though they have had an agricultural volunteer before.  It's a fairly large town compared with a lot of other posts.  I won't have water.  I should have electricity.  Might have internet.  It will be hotter than the blazes of hell, as in a high of 130 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the shade apparently.

It's really close to the capital of the region--the Extreme North--called Maroua.  You might actually be able to find information about that place.  Feel free to clue me in via email.  I won't actually see anything till I move there in two weeks.

I'ma have to learn another language on top of French called Fulfulde.  That should be fun.  And... yea.  Basically, from everything I can tell, all systems are go.  The plan is coming along nicely.

I should be an African cowboy before you can blink.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Differing Medical Opinions

Right, you remember how I was saying that I’m not particularly good at football?  SOCCER, I mean soccer.  Well, that was an understatement.  I’m atrocious.  I’m not even good at being bad.  This time when I went down, I was not as graceful as the last.

Do you know how sometimes when you are watching soccer someone randomly falls down even though no one is around?  Like they are trying to pull a foul?  Maybe it’s my Italian blood, but that’s exactly what happened to me.  I was trying to just jump in the air and change direction, but I landed horribly on my right foot.  Collapsed like a ton of bricks.  Which was technically a change of direction.  It hurt like hell.

But it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as when my good Cameroonian buddy came running over to try to help out.  First, there was a slight communication difficulty as to where I hurt myself.  He thought knee when I tried to convey ankle and manhandled the shit out of my foot trying to straighten my leg.  Somehow through the pain I was able to communicate ankle, unfortunately they have the practice here of trying to massage out the pain.  I spat out profanities faster than ever before in my life.  The French ones were sadly lacking in force and resigned to things like “shit”, “stop”, “go away” and the like.  I was more colorful with the English.  There were moments when he would stop and we’d stare at each other as I tried to catch my breath.  Then he’d start again.  I honestly thought about how nice it would be to pass out and exasperatedly yelled “will someone who knows French please kindly tell him to fuck off?”  He finally did and I lay panting on the ground with my head swimming.

So that was fun.

I’m not really knowledgeable when it comes to first aid.  I know you elevate and rest the area, but not really why.  Maybe massaging it immediately after could help.  Pretty much every Cameroonian who talked to me about it said that it should be massaged.  Course they also said that I probably wouldn’t walk for at least a month or two.  Luckily I was promptly carried to our training center porch and had Americans who do know first aid pamper me.  I was a most humorous patient laughing and cracking jokes between my yelps of pain.  And most of my demands were for things like chocolate.

I’ve since been to see our onsite nurse.  I’ve a nifty splint and some cream that stops it from hurting and may do something about swelling.  Though not much as it has been a day and my foot still kinda looks like a balloon.  We are all relatively convinced that it’s not broken.  Course the local X-ray machine is down and when told this the nurse followed up with “so, I hope it’s not fractured”.  Pretty sure from the way I fell and my current range of motion it was just some pulling muscles, ligaments, or other optional pieces.

Probably the most fun part was trying to deal with my family (and neighbors or just general people who happened to be walking by and came in to see the commotion).  They were not OK with me waiting to see our nurse in the morning.  They called the Peace Corps a couple times to argue with them and even tried to take me to the hospital themselves on the back of a motorcycle.  To plead our case, I tried to explain to them that while I could in fact walk on it, that was a bad idea and could make it worse.  I wasn’t actually sure I could walk on it, but I hoped that would be enough.  It wasn’t and in desperation I decided to try it out.  I managed a few steps well enough and felt confident enough to support my whole weight on it.  This is obviously stupid and you should not do this.  At this point though, they had me half terrified and I figured if I failed at least I’d have a good reason to be drug to the hospital.  Anyway, it worked out fine and they let me be.  Well, minus the talking to host pops still gave me about how mad he was I didn’t call him immediately.  It’s good to feel loved.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The North West

Or the north part of the west.  It’s a bit confusing.  Cameroon is kinda shaped like a chicken (seriously, go look at a map).  There is this whole western part where they speak English.  The northern part of it is called the North West and that makes sense except there are three other regions that are much farther north.
We had quite the adventure and left Monday afternoon and didn’t get back till Thursday.  This probably doesn’t seem like much, but when every second of every day is planned a bit of an escape seems damn near the most amazing thing ever.  I think we spent half the time in a bus and that was fantastic as far as I was concerned.  It was too bumpy to actually do work which leaves hanging out, listening to music, and drinking.  I’M JUST KIDDING.  The only person who’s allowed to drink on the bus is the driver.
There may come a point when my jokes no longer make sense to anyone other than Cameroonians and Peace Corps Volunteers.  Apologies, ye faithful need just bare with me.

Cultural note: No, they do not speak Spanish anywhere in Cameroon so I’ve no idea why it’s called the “Super Amigo”.
This was our first time out in a real city since Yaounde.  Sure we still had a curfew, but it was extended to 10 o’clock.  And besides, we all went to the same hotel.  That means we got to still be together as opposed to alone (or rather with families of people who don’t understand us linguistically or culturally).  It was fantastic.  PLUS we stayed in super nice hotels.  Or… well there was hot water!  And water pressure!  Yea, we shared a bed with another volunteer, but at this point we are just one giant family anyway.  And the food… it’s like they read my blog or something, because we ate so well.  We had, oh what’s the word in English, I think I’ve forgotten… OPTIONS.  I spent infinitely more money than they gave me to spend, but it doesn’t matter; I fattened myself up quite nicely and can just live on the reserves in the coming week (actually, I seem to be shedding pounds already and I barely can find the time to work out). 

I realize I haven’t bothered showing you pictures of things like the town I’m actually living in or my home...  You will happily take whatever I give you and I will not hear a single complaint.  Anyway, I’ve really wanted to try to explain to you what I’m looking at here every day.  It’s a strange unique beauty.  The contrast between the buildings and humanity with the monster here that is “nature” is so stark I can’t always wrap my head around it.  I have tried to take a number of pictures, but they are pale comparisons to what I’m looking at with my own eyes.  It’s massive, impressive, and somehow incomprehensible.  It’s like being atop one of the mountains of the Appalachian and staring over an expansive forest only you are in the middle of some run down village that feels plucked from an old western flick.  And the sky… if you’ve talked to anyone that’s been to Africa, they told you about how much bigger the sky is here.  I know that makes little sense.  It just can’t be bigger.  But I’ve seen it.  And it is.  I’ve seen the clouds here and I’ve seen storms roll in from the distance.  You don’t need an umbrella here; you just check the sky and walk home before the rain catches you.

In the other direction there is a waterfall cascading down those mountains.  Seriously.
I’ve tried to take pictures of the stars.  It should be mandatory that cities cut power for an hour during the night at least once a month so we can all go outside and see what is really up there.
We learned a lot on our trip.  I learned how to make tofu from soy.  And it was actually incredibly tasty unlike almost every other time I’ve eaten tofu.  I also learned how to make soap, though I couldn’t stop relating it to the book/movie Fight Club.  It was intended that we learn to make wine, but somehow that got cut.  Don’t worry, I’ll get that knowledge soon enough.  All these are sort of income generating projects we use to get to communities and have them fund other projects.  It makes for more sustainable development if we set up health projects along side income sources. 
We also experienced probably the best day yet.  A lot of time is spent learning how to do need assessments and different sorts of projects we can start.  The how we actually get people and communities involved and committed seems incredibly daunting and we hear about as many efforts from volunteers that fail as those that succeed.  Sometimes the tasks seem insurmountable (like those mountains in the distance; go ahead, give ‘em another look).  But we spent a day in the most welcoming community I could imagine.  All of us including the PC trainers were taken aback by their response to our arrival.  They organized welcoming parties, a feast, songs, a work demonstration, and had speeches prepared.  It was all a thank you for a successful water project that a volunteer helped get underway.  Basically harnessing a spring and pumping clean water to a village of 1,500 people.  I can’t really describe the response except to say it was unexpected and brought, what do you call them, emotions to the surface.  Strange watery droplets and such tried to form.  It was just a reaffirmation of why I came all this way.  Hope and a sense that things really can be accomplished.
On that note, don’t go expecting as much from me.  That volunteer had more positive energy than I have cynicism.  
That’s the best picture I’ve got of a ton of people digging out a trench for the water pipes.  They are just community members, not paid workers or anything of the sort.  I have a great video… but I’m barely overcoming the picture problem at the moment.
I’d like to go into more about how the actual project started and worked.  Both technically and organizationally.  I will see about getting that info and talking to the volunteer who actually did it.  Otherwise I’ll just go back to making jokes about my life in Africa.

Dale out.