Sunday, December 30, 2012


Let's chat. 

I have never been particularly good at language.  Even after living in Italy for six months, my proudest moments were the first five minutes of a conversation before any given person realized I wasn't Italian.  After about five minutes--when we exhausted the simple pleasantries--there was always that moment where it would dawn on them "hey, this guy isn't from around here".  I was proud of those first five minutes.  I'm not even anywhere near that; I've only been here for three months.  Of course, such a moment isn't even possible in Cameroon with me sticking out like a sore thumb, but you get the picture.  Oh right, I'm also learning two languages at once.

And here is a kicker: I am learning Fulfulbe THROUGH French.  It isn't as if I have an English speaking teacher.  No, when something is too complex to explain in Fulfulbe (at this point: everything), it is explained in French.  One of the strangest moments of my life was when I realized this.  In my frustration, it dawned on me that I couldn't understand the French that was supposed to explain the Fulfulbe.  Then the world felt like it was crumbling around me as I lost grip on reality and plummeted into hysterical laughter at the shear ridiculousness of my life.

So that's fun.

One more thing I didn't mention: everyone who speaks French here learned it as a second language.  Just like me.  That means two people are trying to communicate in languages that they learned later in life.  These are also the people I am learning French from.  To say my French needs polishing is a gross understatement.

It is hard to imagine.  I have trouble coming to terms with it and I live it every day.  There are people I just simply can't talk to that I see every day.  A whole lot of them.  Add a pinch of cultural misunderstanding and you could drive a man insane.

Luckily I have myself to talk to.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The River

My town is built along a river as many towns are.  I've yet to see the river, but I hear it is lovely.  You see, there just is absolutely no water at the moment.  It hasn't rained since I arrived and it apparently won't rain for another four months or so.  It's very odd to just leave things outside and know with absolute certainty that they won't get wet.

A view of the "river" from the main bride.
Apparently all of this fills up with the rains and more so.  A large area around the river floods yearly.  
Here you can see the bridge from the river basin.
Kids play down where the water run now and I actually gave a short little English lesson sitting in the sand.  Lots of the areas in my region feel like they could be the beach and the ocean is just hiding over the next hill.  I miss the ocean.

This is a "bridge" on the other side of town.
The above bridge washes away when the rains come and you have to go around to the bigger bridge to get a car or moto to the other side.  Personally, I look forward to taking one of the little boats to cross.

Suckers like these just wait for months before they get some use.
I will try to get some good pictures out on the water whenever the season comes so you can all see how different it gets.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

This one time in DC I went to a Johnny Walker tasting.  Black was my favorite.  Red was too spicy.  Gold was ok, but had an odd thickness.  Blue tasted like money.  You shouldn't taste money; that shit has been touched by far too many dirty hands.  I like it straight.  If you add water or ice it changes the taste for the worse.

Anyway, I found some nice Cameroonians to drink Johnny Walker Black with and bring in Christmas.  Somehow it seems very odd to come all this way to try to give to a community and then have them buying me drinks.  Shouldn't it be the other way around?  Suppose not everyone needs help.  It is Christmas though.  And it is delicious.

I often feel like an old man.  Only thing I can really compare myself to with any accuracy is a younger version of myself so I always seem old.  I may be old, but this happens to be my first Christmas away from family.  I had forgotten that till today.  Christmas really snuck up on me.  I blame the fact that I'm in a desert and my brain can't take the idea of Christmas even existing in this heat.

I raise another glass to you, America!  My friends and family.  Loved ones and strangers too around the globe.  Merry Christmas!

- Dale

The Hole

My life is strange now.  It isn't as if I hadn't mentally prepared myself.  I was expecting difficulties and hardship.  To be perfectly honest, I haven't run into any and it really has been quite easy.  The language thing is hard (seriously hard, we'll get into that later) and there are lots of cultural differences to get used to.  Also food, I really miss food.  BUT life is generally a piece of cake.  I mean there are twenty million people in this country doing it every day.  Still, it is often the simple things that surprise me.

I have a latrine.  It's a separate building in the back of my yard.  Basically a concrete box with a hole in it about the size of a cereal bowl.  I'm the only one who uses it and I shower there too so it gets a soapy cleaning every day and doesn't even smell.  Sometimes there are creatures in there, but they are harmless.  I have urinated on a lizard.  It's his fault, he was literally hanging on inside the hole.

The other day when I was finished, I mentally congratulated myself and said "congrats Dale, you shit perfectly into the hole."  A few steps later, I started laughing at how surreal that statement seemed to be.  It just never occurred to me that I might have that thought.  Ever.

Shitting in a hole is not easy.  This is particularly true for people who've had the luxury of toilets their whole lives.  First, there is the squat.  If you hang around Cameroon for awhile, you will notice that people are constantly squatting.  They squat to wash dishes or clothes, to prepare food, or just to talk.  And it is a specific squat.  It, sadly and surprisingly, takes a bit of practice to get the hang of.  Then there is aiming.  You have to aim both and the hole is simply not that big.  You'll miss, with one or the other, till you've had some practice.  And when you miss, you have to clean up.  Water and lots of toilet paper, I make sure to have plenty in stock.

Most of you probably didn't want to hear this.  It needed to be said.  You'll get the hang of it and it really isn't as bad as… the first time you make a mistake and stare trying to problem solve this shit.  It passes and you'll have another lovely life skill.  Just bring some water to clean your feet in the even of splatter.  Urine, I've yet to literally shit on myself.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Erin and Tchabawol

I have a post mate.  Her name is Erin and she's kinda awesome.  The best thing about her is that she and I approach the Peace Corps in much the same way.  Everyone here thinks the world of us and that we will revolutionize their lives.  Then they laugh at us when we propose the idea that maybe they should let women outside their compounds and effectively double their workforce.  "Haha, things are just different here".  Yes, yes they are.  We spend a lot of time talking about what exactly we can do or change and how exactly we can do it.  Then we realize that everything is incredibly daunting, nothing we do will really stop poverty or make an oasis in the desert, and we begin to question what the hell we are doing here in the first place.  After that we laugh, make lemonade, and go climb a tree.  When it comes down to it, we are just along for the ride and we are damn well going to enjoy it.

I kind of won the Peace Corps lottery.  Erin lives out in the sticks.  The proverbial one road town.  She miraculously has electricity and a forage nearby, but there the amenities end.  She doesn't even have a weekly market (mine is immense)  and can't really buy anything during the week (I can at least find lettuce, tomato, and onions every day… at the moment).  Not to mention that I am replacing a volunteer so my house was fully furnished.  She spent her moving-in money on a bed, stove, and other essentials.  I had shelves installed, because I don't like bending over and picking up my pots and pans off the floor.

Still, I love her village.  It has that quaint, everyone knows you feel.  Her Fulfulde has left mine in the dust in part because of her need since there really are only two or three people that speak any French in her town.  I've visited a number of villages since I've been here working with the health center and hers is definitely one of the nicer ones.  That owes a great deal to her chief who has worked hard to get electricity and a number of water sources built.  There is still plenty to be done with the agriculture and environment there of course, but she has a good place to work from.

There she is in a tree.  Poor thing won't see this for weeks.

We are making quite the team.  Not because we've collaborated or done any actual work together (that's just nonsense), but because we are both keeping each other sane.  Having someone to share war stories with--in God's own English, no less--on a weekly basis is a life saver.  For me at least.  She might just be visiting because my town has all the food.  Whatever, works for me.  Takes it where I gets it.

Monday, December 17, 2012


BAM!  Finally that moment you've all been waiting for…

Dale Wahl
BP 22 Bogo

Now you can all send me things!  A constant stream of American goodies.  *tears stream down my eyes*  Everything is going to be alright.

Isn't it adorably simple for how hideously long it took?  I do appreciate all the enthusiasm into getting my address and I hope that turns into boxes full of America.  You have to understand that addresses don't really exist here.  My house does not have a number.  My street does not have a name.  You could find me easy enough by coming to Bogo and asking for the white guy, but that's about it.  This is a place where everyone knows everyone else.  Actually, the post office lady is pretty awesome and you could probably write "White guy, Bogo, Cameroon" and it would get to me.  Let's not try that though; I like my presents.

Speaking of, insure the package.  For a dollar if you like, but insure it for something.  Insuring it means that Cameroon is responsible to the US if the package disappears.  Thus they are much less likely to disappear.  I've also heard putting bible quotes on it helps (probably quoting the Koran too).  They either don't want to piss off God or just don't care for more bibles.  If you do go this route, pick the most interesting quote you can find.  Let's make a game of it.  Winner gets an African prize.

Send food.  Delicious, delicious food.  Easy to make food that doesn't require me to add much more than the basics.  Sauce mixes, drink mixes, cheese mixes, bloody mary mixes.  Dried fruit and nuts!  (But not peanuts; I could fill boats with the amount of peanuts here.)  Make it interesting; I just want to taste America.  Candy is good.  I will construct an oven just to make cake if someone can get it to me (probably with instructions on how I can make icing).  Maybe your favorite spices and send easy recipes too.  Honestly, I don't even know what I want.  If I was in an American grocery store right now, I would probably just sit on the floor and cry.  And then eat all the cookies and chips and cheese.  Cheese Its.  What would happen if someone filled a box full of cheese and sent it?  We are going to have to stop talking about this before I actually do start crying.

Random things I can't really get here:  Deodorant, I'm an Old Spice man.  Good pens, remembering I write every day.  On that line, send journals as I've already killed one and am half way through the second.  Yes I write that much (Barnes and Nobles has some good cheap ones).  LED lights and decent knives make good gifts.  (I'm keeping a set of steak knives for myself, because I refuse to eat meat with a fork and spoon.  Heathens.)  Things like crayons or markers for kids.  Though the little shits are always asking for things so I am not sure they deserve it.  I gave one a paper clip today and they thought the world of it.  And I gave another one an empty Sprite bottle that had been used to store kerosene.  Because he asked.  This is a strange place.  Point is that you can improve the quality of my gift giving with ease.

Just surprise me.  I will be like a kid at Christmas every single time; I can promise you that.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

En Brousse

My counterpart took me out into Africa.  Proper Africa.  The part of Africa where there are long stretches of land interspersed with occasional trees.  Mostly just brush and bushes for are far as you can see.  You know what I’m talking about, it is the Lion King or National Geographic (back when it was worth a damn) and you are half expecting some beast to pounce on you from behind a bush.  There were three of us ridding a moto on narrow little footpaths, bouncing along and scrapping against the brush.  That’s what en brousse means by the way.  In the bush.

Pretty accurate depiction of the countryside.
I might add that our “moto” was of course basically a dirt bike.  That’s what they all are here. They are plentiful.  You can buy one for six hundred American dollars, which would be more tempting if they didn’t literally just kick a volunteer because he was caught riding without a helmet.  Dirt bikes are appropriate here.  This is the Sahel, which is not as deserty as I originally thought.  There are plenty of trees providing God’s gift of shade in this heat and they grow millet and strange gourd like things as well as random other crops like cotton.  But the ground is sand wherever there isn’t something alive.  The little footpath or game paths (I just can’t call them moto paths as it seems clear they are not meant to be) seem to me to be the growing desert.  It isn’t the sands just creeping in mass as the desert grows; no, the sands are webbing out as plants get uprooted or destroyed and creating islands of green to be later engulfed.

Cows, the road is not for you!
We went to seven different villages that day.  None of which were very large; the biggest had maybe twenty compounds.  That’s important too; families live on compounds with their extended families.  In the city that means concrete walls that surround a number of small, usually one room, buildings each with their nuclear family.  Part of that communal living really appeals to me, though I have my own compound and can hardly keep people out so the lack of privacy might prevent me from enjoying it too much.  These compounds might be small with only one family and some animals, but the larger ones could have over twenty people and dozens of animals.  Of course out in the bush, these families were poor.  Most places had maybe one shared well to drink from.  Everything seemed covered in dust.  Clothes were often tattered, though many women obviously took pride in their beautiful robes.  I do think people were happy though.  Or maybe just happy to see us.

We were there to examine kids for malnutrition.  This was actually the second round of visits for this program.  The first was before I arrived.  My counterpart is a volunteer with this Red Cross initiative.  She has been out to virtually every village in the Bogo area and checked as many children as possible.  Then the undernourished ones can travel into the city and receive free nutritional supplements: plumpy nut.  I’m actually incredibly pleased with the program and judging by the number of children we found, it seems to be working.  The test is relatively easy and just involves measuring children’s upper arm.  Feed, rinse, repeat.  The problem is of course how you pay to send someone out to all the villages and pay for all the food.   People out in the bush don’t know their kids are undernourished and they are not likely to just show up in town to check.  And what if they can’t afford to come into Bogo?  While out there we talked about a lot of other issues: pregnancy, malaria, vaccinations and the question is how you get that healthcare out to where it is really needed.  I met a small child who was semi-paralyzed on its left side.  They don’t know why; the family couldn’t afford to get back into town and make the visits to the hospital. 

It’s ok though cause that baby was super happy.  Just sitting there laughing its ass off.  Adorable, fat baby.  Some babies cried when they saw the strange white man.  Some stared, eyes wide.  That baby just laughed and pounded the ground with its hand.  In fact, I can happily say I only terrified one little girl.  She stopped dead, stared at me for a full minute, then screamed and ran away crying.  Everyone laughed.