Friday, December 27, 2013

A video of me talking! By the dam near Mbakaou, Cameroon.

You're welcome.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How I feel in America

I swear that exact song was stuck in my head about a week ago in Mbakaou with the premonition of returning to this crazy country.  Apparently that is a shared feeling as I was linked here.

In fact if you are curious about how I feel on anything, you might check out either of these two sites:

They accurately depict the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer in a most humorous fashion.  With pictures for those of you who complain my blog has too many words (no matter how funny they may be).

Yea, and here's the video:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dear America,


Only temporarily yes, but I will set foot on your precious soil in less than a month!  I come to eat your food, drink your beer, and see how many women swoon when I say “Name’s Dale.  I work at a health clinic in Africa.  Helping kids and stuff.  Look!  Here are some pictures of me with them that I had printed immediately upon landing.”  Prepare yourself!

I fly into DC, our beloved capital on the 13th.  I already feel giddy as a school girl.  Spend the weekend there and then head down to North Carolina afterwards.  Likely with a raging hangover.  In fact, there is a good chance I spend three weeks in either a food coma or drunken haze.  Hopefully both.  I just… I just can’t wait.  Tears of happiness are forming.

Until then, I’m doing some silly formation that Caitlin dragged me into.  Training people to be peer educators and spread knowledge about HIV/AIDS.  Work, pfft.  I’ll probably tell you about how it goes and stuff when it’s over.  First impression: very tiring.  And it’s hot.  Go away dry season…

Wait, I should buy a coat; it’s winter there, right?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Please stand by while we resolve some technical difficulties...

Right, so it has been a bad month for keeping you informed. Part of that I can happily blame on being ever so slightly busy including a weeklong conference in Yaounde with some lovely people that will be helping guide a new program called SMS for Life to Cameroon.  It could potentially greatly reduce supply chain problems of malaria meds and Peace Corps Cameroon will be helping to roll it out.  The other part of this lack of communication is simply that all technology I touch this week withers and dies in my hands (this laptop, graciously lent to me by Caitlin, is falling apart as I type).

It started with Caitlin’s camera (she’s clearly overly trusting and a bit of a gambler).  I smashed that thing up good and have little idea how.  I’m rough on cameras though.  Before going to Italy in ’07, my father bought me one that is water-proof, dust-proof, and shock-proof (the German section of the warranty literally says “dale-proof”).  Then my phone broke, another type of item which I have a history of destroying.  But it just powered off never to turn on again. As if I sucked the life out of it…  Finally, as you’ve likely guessed, my lovely laptop is no more.  It turns on still, but without a screen seems of little use.  Sigh.

On the bright side my old school use of pen and paper for journaling is validated!  Know what I do when a link in that system breaks?  Walk to a corner store and buy a new pen.  Or a notebook with Messi or some hot American singer on the front.

My God, I just resolved my other problem!  Thanks, Messi!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Television Confessions

Welp, I've been here for over a year and people keep asking me "what have you done with your time?"  A lot really.  Here, let's go through a little list.

Community - 4  I'm known in Peace Corps houses around the country for my laugh because of this show.
New Girl - 2  This one reminds me of my life in DC.  Also, I may be in love with Zooey Deschanel.  Sorry, Pete.
Happy Endings - 3  Another one that reminds me of life left behind.  Damn, I miss inexplicable shenanigans.  Also my friends.
The League - 2  As close as I can get to football.  And I crave a fantasy trophy I can never even see.
The Walking Dead - 1  Because I love zombies.
The Big Bang Theory- 5  American geek comedy.  I'm a geek, pure and simple. 
IT Crowd - 4  British geek comedy.  Continuing with the theme.
Elementary - 1  I have a relatively well known obsession with anything Sherlock Holmes.  And fell in love with Lucy Lu in Lucky Number Sleven.  Thus the perfect series.
Game of Thrones - 1  Fantastic books, fantastic show.  Tyrion is a personal idol of mine.
House of Cards - 1  Speaking with idols (and taking a dark turn).  I might kill a man if Kevin Spacy asked me to.
Deadwood - 3  Pretty sure given the time period and a shitty upbringing, I would be Al Swearengen.
Justified - 4  Timothy Olyphant's character Raylan Givens is everything that I want to be as a man.
True Blood - 1  And finally, everyone needs their guilty pleasures.

The numbers beside each show is how many season I've watched since I've gotten here.  Totaling… 32 seasons.  Yea, that's a lot of TV.  It appears I will NOT be totaling up the number of films I've seen.  Excuse me while I go introduce myself to my neighbors.  Knew I was neglecting something...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fête de Mouton

Trying to integrate myself into my community I bought a sheep.  Or, well, a ram.  Her... his name is Bessie.  Like a cow.  Cause I'm still American.

Meet Bessie!
 Of course, Bessie had to die.  For the Fête de Mouton!  It's a festaval to remember that time God was all like "Abraham, kill you son." and Abraham said, "Sure, sounds fun." and God said, "seriously?  That's weird, let's eat this ram instead."
Meet Al-hadji Awal.  My best friend.  He's happy with his knife.
So anyway, Al-hadji sharpens up his knife (no gross pics) and brings out his ram all hog-tied and sacrifice ready.

Hi nameless ram!
He went quietly which was nice.  Bessie turned out to be a fighter though.  Probably because we dragged her to a pool of blood where her buddy died.

Zoom in for fearful eyes.
In the end, they were both delicious.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Close your dog."

"Close your dog."


"I said, close your dog."

I, with the practiced calm of continuous confusion, look around for a dog.  I don't own a dog, but maybe there is one about I could… close.  Alas, can't even find a cat.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Your pants."

Well, there you have it, my zipper is wide open.  I close it up and thank the nice old man.  Later I will find that he was actually telling me to "close my chain".  That would be the slag here for zipper (chain and dog sound remarkably similar in French).  I'm not sure if that would have really helped, but I looked up the actual French word for zipper and it turns out to be "fermeture à glissière".  That basically means "sliding closure" and would have left me equally baffled.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Malaria/Evil Spirits Defeated!

It has been pointed out to me that I ought not leave you hanging when it involves life and death situations.  You will be happy to know that my friend's wife is currently much better.  She's walking and talking and cooking and cleaning.  Clearly she was suffering from a really bad case of malaria and the medicine made her better.  Or she was possessed by evil spirits and the shaman fixed that problem.  Possibly both.  I'm not qualified in either field.

Death is always a bit closer here.  So far no one I've known well has died, but pretty much everyone I know has lost someone.  In America, it is mostly the elderly who go.  Here a canoe turns over and three or more kids drown.  That can happen in the States of course, but it has happened twice since I got to Mbakaou.  People get sick with malaria or typhoid or something else and pass away.  Ask someone how old they are and you'll be surprised how young they are for how old they look.  You age quicker here and there aren't that many old folk to begin with.  It's a rough life without basic health and sanitation.  And food...

Right, but my friend's wife is fine!  So suck it, Death.

I'ma work on turning these a little more upbeat in the future.  Scout's honor.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sorcery: Up Close and Personal

Kids wake me up from a nap.  Someone's sick someplace and I'm supposed to follow them there.  I can never get much information from kids; our French levels rarely come to any agreement.  I follow them because this isn't the first time people have showed up at my place asking for my non-existent healing services.  On the way, I'm a little annoyed at myself for the reoccurring lack of credit on my phone.  Luckily these people know me and are familiar with my "I'm not actually a doctor" routine.  They just want my help finding the doctors.  A task I'm actually suited to: errand boy!

It turns out to be my best friend's pregnant wife who lives on my compound.  She was with some family and suddenly became feverish and very obviously sick.  I get my friend the nurse at the clinic who goes to get meds while I get her on a moto and take her home.  He thinks it is malaria.  It probably is malaria, but there is no real way to know aside from getting her on a moto to the nearest hospital an hour or so away.  He puts her on an IV, shoots her full of drugs, puts more in the IV, and leaves some pills for her to take after she calms a bit and isn't shaking.  She's delirious and pretty bad off, but there doesn't seem to be anything to do.  Her husband, my friend, is away from town for a few days.

An hour or so later they come and get me again.  I'm worried she's worse off and we're going to have to figure out how to get her to a hospital.  Instead my night gets really weird really quick.  They want me to take her off her IV and hold her down.  The hardest part about living in the mist of a foreign language is being unsure whether you don't understand the words or just the idea.  I think she's dead.  Eye's wide, she don't seem to be breathing, and she certainly isn't moving.  I'm about to check her pulse when an older man comes in and throws some strange herbs into some coals burning nearby.  It's African medicine time.

She was in a bad place before with the sort of fever that doesn't let you lay still; aching and burning up, muttering "help me".  This is different.  I watch this woman shoot straight up in her bed.  Men and women rush to grab her and hold her down.  She wretches and tries to break free, managing to get her IV out her own self.  I watch her eyes roll back into her head and listen to her speak loud and clear. 

I wish I knew what she was saying, though it was clear it wasn't in a language I understand.  She was not herself, she was not there.  I don't know what our medicine man was attempting, but it looked like an exorcism.  Eventually another woman… joined in and needed to be held down too.  They were separated and both made to breath in the smoke from the coals.  Eventually they both calmed and had to drink some mixture made with the burnt herbs.

I'm out of my element when it comes to modern day medicine and I certainly have no idea what I should have done there.  Should I have tried to stop them?  I don't even think I could have; they had already done… something to her before I even arrived.  In the moment, I felt nothing.  Awe perhaps.  Curiosity too, I won't lie.  But I was frozen without an inkling of an idea what to do.  I just watched and wondered.  Now I'm just sad and mad.  Basically I just spent an hour watching a drugged pregnant woman toss about.  One who was very sick and had her regular treatment stopped so that she could be put through lord knows what.

If she gets better, do you think they'll blame the medicine or the sorcery?  And if she doesn't get better, what gets the blame?  Worse, what the hell do I tell my friend, the husband and father to be?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Answers at the bottom of a bottle

Staring at a bottle of scotch.  It's Johnny Walker Red.  I prefer Black, but you can get a bottle of Red for the equivalent of 16 American dollars.  It is just me and the bottle though: no glass.  Drinking straight out of a bottle feels like a problem.  A glass would imply some sort of control over the situation.  Really though, it is just inconvenient to clean my one glass.  You have to go to the well, draw water, wash the glass by hand and then rinse and dry it or you end up with soapy tasting booze.  That's a lot of work when you don't really need the glass to begin with.

I haven't known what to write about for quite some time.  Lost the ability to express what I'm experiencing.  Mostly I'm just bored.

The little things people are always amazed that I deal with are really nothing.  To live an hour out on a dirt road from a town that is itself far off the beaten path.  To not have regular electricity (honestly, it is amazing I have any).  Water comes from a well.   Language, culture, isolation.  Food.  I live with an inordinate variety of animals.   You get used to it all.  It's not even hard after awhile.  Don't get me wrong: fuck cockroaches; I kill those on sight.  Flies too as they spread disease.  And I've poisoned a number of mice cause those bitches get into food that has been shipped specifically for me from America.  That's worthy of capital punishment in my book.  Ants, lizards, spiders, frogs, and the rest pretty much just passively exist in my home.  I don't care.  What gets you is when you ask yourself why you are putting up with all those things to being with.  And you don't have an answer.

Work is not going anywhere.  Everyone tries to tell you that it is the relationships you build, the individuals you touch and inspire, and the people who walk away empowered to change their lives.  That sounds all fantastic, but I don't give a damn.  Strange individuals?  Couldn't care less.  I care about friends and family, but strangers have never moved me in the slightest.  I want to change systems and create opportunities so that those who are actually worth a damn can move up.  I had amazing chances growing up mostly because of the hard work put in by my parents and theirs before them.  And because of our culture's idea that if you work hard you deserve to progress.  I have a debt to society and want to pay it by providing others with a chance too.  But not a handout.

Development is broken.  I could talk about it all day.  The Peace Corps was designed as a diplomacy organization and has just not sorted itself out to do development.  Virtually all the development organizations I have run into (and it is an extreme rarity) don't have people on the ground.  I may have already told this joke… Missionary sees an African in a hole trying to get out; he throws a bible to him and walks off.  NGO worker sees  an African in a hole trying to get out; he throws a bunch of money to him and walks off.  Peace Corps Volunteers sees an African in a hole trying to get out; he jumps in and asks him how he's doing.  "I really could just use a ladder."

I don't have an answer, but I'll keep looking.  I believe it might be at the bottom of this bottle.  If not, there are others to search.

Wait!  I just got it: the answer is "ladders"!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Good morning. How are you? Fine, thank you.

Cameroon is a bilingual country.  Supposedly.  Rumor is Paul Biya (the president since forever) added that Cameroonians, themselves, are not bilingual when asked about his own lack of English.  They teach some English pretty much everywhere, though it seems to never get beyond the introductive stuff.  I probably shouldn't talk much since I technically have a degree saying I speak Italian and the only thing left of that is a large amount of profanity.  All the same, I have only ever seem to have one conversation in English:

"Good morning."

"How are you?"

"Fine, thank you."

You cannot deviate from the script.  If I just say "morning", I've broken the rule and get to watch poor children's minds snap.  That probably says more about their lack of creativity than poor English skills, but it is painful.  (As to creativity, hand any kid crayons and tell them "Draw whatever you want!" and they will give you the Cameroonian flag.  It's patriotism bordering on fascism.) 

The Cameroonians that do speak English, speak what we might call Special English.  It is sort of a lowest common denominator version.  It is probably more about speaking slowly and clearly, but I hate it and can't bring myself to use it.  It is to the point that I'll switch to French even in an Anglophone area (that's right, I make people deal with my bad French rather than deal with their bad English; I'm a dick).  Occasionally Peace Corps Volunteers will drop into this Special English out of habit and I'm forced to hold back smacking them.  Honestly it sounds like how you'd speak to a child.  Or someone you are patronizing, hence the desire to smack.

I bring all this up because I ran into the weirdest guy today.  In the same way that I ignore people calling me "Le Blanc" or "Nasaara", I sort of just respond with the "How are you?" or "Goodmorning" and keep walking to the English routine (if you don't say my name, I don't stop).  This guy gave me a "What's up?" and a "Cool."  I can't recall hearing that even in English-speaking areas; in Mbakaou it was world-shattering.  He spoke English as if he had been to America.  Not even that silly Brit version of the language you occasionally run into!  Apparently he learned in Nigeria "from the streets".  I'm not super convinced he understood all of my own English, but I was still impressed.  The only weird part was that he sounded like he was a decade or two behind.  I felt like I was watching some film from my childhood.  Kept thinking of Marty McFly.  Still, even watching Cameroonian news in English isn't as easy as talking to my new friend, Marty.  It was heavy.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Traditional Medicine/Scary Witchcraft

There is a difference between traditional medicine and witchcraft.  But they both very much exist in my village.  I'd only every heard of it in passing while living in Bogo.  Here I actually tasted some concoction that could possibly cure every ailment ever to befall man (I made him and another bystander drink it before I'd try it.  He even washed out the glass between "patients", good on him!).

I've met a couple of traditional healers.  One of them actually comes into the clinic pretty regularly and has some basic knowledge of medicine.  Enough to refer people he can't help to us.  That a decent way to deal with these healers that are often pretty respected in the community.  Another one, who I talk to pretty regularly, is mostly a snake-oil salesman that sells some drink her makes out in the woods as a cure-all.  Everything from a cough to malaria.  That's less of a beneficial side to the coin.  They are both normal looking guys who just sell herbs and teas to folk.

They are nothing compared to the strange beliefs in sorcery here.  People take this dark magic very seriously here.  I didn't realize it at first.

I only know one sorcerer.  Honestly, he's not a bad guy.  I wish he's shower on the occasion, but other than that he seems harmless enough.  He walks around town blowing a horn to let people know he's coming around.  Children run terrified and hide.  Some adult women too.  They all hide around corners and such, because, while afraid, they really want to get a look at him.  Perhaps that's why we first bonded; children run terrified of me too.   

Meet our village sorcerer!  Terror of women and children both.
He wears different dirty clothes and ripped pants.  Never any shoes.  Horn and hatchet (in case any of those kiddies get close!) along with bag of assorted plants and animal bits.  Again, not the normal sort you run into stateside, but he could easily be a crazy homeless man.  He apparently can help people if they have been cursed or are suffering from someone who has cast a spell on them.  He can offer protection from curses and I've seen strange bags hanging over doors to keep your home safe.  I suppose he could help you curse someone else too, but he would not tell me if he did that.  I'm going with harmless enough.
Still, things crop up from time to time.  I ask where a road goes and am told it used to go to another village.  Wondering what happened, I am told that as an outsider I wouldn't understand.  I pressed and found out that people started dying there and were found drowned in the lake.  Many people moved; the rest died.  I walk by a burnt down house and am told a story about a sorcerer who killed children and used their bones to cast curses.  The community burned down his home and drove him out of the village.  There are more than one burned out house in town.  Recently, I've a few meetings in small villages cancelled;  people were afraid to go out.  Children were falling down in pain and crying out the name of their tormentor, a young man now branded sorcerer.  The Gendarme (sort of police) had to step in and hold him to protect the community.  What they told me is they were holding him for his own protection.  Mass hysteria or scared kids?

It is hard to reconcile these people's beliefs with reality.  My traditional healer friend really thinks his concoction heals people.  He's told me his grandfather knew a herb that could cure AIDS (told him to figure that one out fast and not only could we save lives, but probably get rich too).  The crazy sorcerer guy just wanted to take a picture with me because he wants to be friends.  Or possibly cast evil spells from a distance.  I don't know, but he SEEMED nice about it.  And also, I don't really want to piss him off.  Ya know, just in case.  But when these beliefs go deeper, they can really affect people's lives.  Villages disappear or people are driven out of the community for who knows what real reason. 

And most of all… I really hate having to reschedule so many damn meetings!  Already have to deal with the incessant rain…

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mon français

Bienvenue à le première post qui est complètement en français!  Vraiment je pense que ça sera le dernière post comme ça aussi, mais qui sais ?  J’ai pensé que ça serais une bonne idée d’essayer à écrire en français ; je ne pratique jamais en fait.   

D’abord, un grand « désolé » est en ordre, parce que mon français est un peu différent de tout le type qui existe déjà.  Mon français vient du français camerounais, mais c’est un français qui change beaucoup de place à place.  Et j’ai déjà habité partout.  Il y a une différence en générale comment on parle ici.  Par exemple, on peut dire « on va faire comment ? », mais en France on dit « qu’est-ce que on va faire ? ».  Un exemple semple, mais évident.  Aussi évident, quand je parle le français, je traduis vraiment d’anglais.  Donc ma grammaire est merde et mes phrases sont… aussi merde pour manque de un mot meilleure.  Ça, c’est un exemple.  Je n’ai pas une idée si un française dirais « manque de un mot meilleure » ou « je n’ai pas une idée » pour la question.  Il y a aussi le problème d’italien qui dérange mon accent.  En finale, je parle le français comme un américain qui a appris la langue au Cameroun et parle avec un accent italien inexplicable.   
Oh, le grande tour de français est à parler comme bâtard pompeux ; toutes les grandes paroles en anglais viennent de français.

Donnez un « merci » à spellcheck ou vous ne pouvez pas lire ceci.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I've got jokes! Cameroonian style.

Made a decent joke at my clinic today.  I make a lot of jokes naturally, but it is harder to do in French and in Cameroon.  As best I can reckon, their humor is about something bad happening to someone because they made a mistake.  Or possibly witchcraft.  They don't do sarcasm, which is unfortunate because I still use it endlessly.  They just believe me, poor souls, unless I state something so completely and obviously false they know I must be lying.

So the Chief of the Health Center walks into the clinic and, stating the obvious per Cameroon, says, "It's just us today; no sick people."  That's been incredibly common of late on account of a variety of reasons: Ramadan fasting means no meds allowed, fishing is out of season means no money, and rainy season means you might get wet (seriously, no movement allowed when it rains, but to be fair they are walking or riding on a motorcycle to go anywhere).  We've discussed these reasons ad nausium, but I blurt out, "Then we've done it!  We've cured all the diseases in Mbakaou.  Good job everyone; let's report to Tibati."   It took a moment for my strange statement to process and then endless laughter.  "Haha, there are no more sick in Mbakaou." 

I laughed too.  But a part of me felt suddenly sad.  They aren't here, because they are too poor.  They aren't here, because they are ignorant that they need to be.  They aren't here, because they have no faith in our help.  They aren't here, because we couldn't help them even if they were.  And they are all still sick.

Haha, you thought I was going to make you laugh, but then I made you feel feelings.  Suckers.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Electrocutions: How many are too many?

The mortality rate in Africa is much higher than in America.  While I've reduced some of my recklessness with age and no longer regularly chase and jump onto moving vehicles (something of a high school hobby), it was less than a year ago when I permanently scarred my hand by setting it on fire.  Over a matter of twenty dollars.  Still, I assumed that I was more likely to kick to bucket in Africa to some strange disease or a run in with gorillas (militant or otherwise).  But no, I've come to the third world to electrocute the shit out of myself.

I believe that I've been shocked at least nine times since I've gotten here.  That's a lot and just thinking about it makes my arm tingle.  I can blame a few on faulty wiring, but… well, most other volunteers don't seem to shock themselves at all.  Correlation is not causation, but this common denominator (me) is worth investigating.

The majority have been due to computers.  There was a computer in the Peace Corps office in Maroua that got me a couple of times and I think it happened once in Yaounde's office too.  Also pretty sure someone was stalking me with a particularly deadly external harddrive that zapped me a couple of times.  Oh and when they fixed my laptop it managed to shock me via a screw on the bottom.  We probably shouldn't be counting or we are going to get higher than nine.

Electrocution is a very distinct form of pain.  It doesn't hurt like being hit or burned, but it sends a jolt of pure terror through the body and blasts your system into overdrive with adrenaline.  None of these computer attacks were quite that bad, just the brief shock, jump back, and lingering dull pain causing you to remember the incident for a couple days.  I hate the lingering bit.  Not only does it remind you of the pain, but, often, of the stupidity.

The shock I deserve most has to be from the light-switch.  It was faulty and my light kept going out.  Being a self-proclaimed handyman, I set out to fix it myself.  I really need to stop doing that in a country where hospital distances are measured in hours not miles, but it is a hard habit to kick.  Anyway, I managed to zap myself pretty good with a screwdriver when putting it back together.  Normal electricians cut the breaker before working.  I realized my mistake, went to go cut it and get rubber gloves (sent by my father who understands his stupid son), but before doing either had a stroke of insight on repairing the problem and promptly shocked the shit out of myself again.  In the end, I did fix that fucking light switch.

The shock that terrified me the most also came from shitty wiring.  In this event I had someone less qualified than me but a actual paid professional (and from my perspective more expendable) put my fridge back together.  In rearranging the room back to it's glorious prior luster, I pushed my Peace Corps issued large metal container beside it.  I managed to send a current through the whole damn thing and the next time I touched it--a final kick with my big toe--I sent myself flying backwards and landing hard on my ass.  These two items are now kept on opposite sides of the room.

The shock that almost killed me was also likely deserved.  Someone introduced me into what we call a l'eau chaud.  It's a water heater.  It's an electric coil you plug in and drop into a bucket.  It looks exactly like what those pictures on toasters and hairdryers depict with big, red X's that stand for DON'T DO.  The one I bought worked fine and, being an idiot, I would always test it to see if the water was hot enough.  Then I'd mix it, also with my hand, to distribute the heat.  Never a problem, never a thought.  This was thus a question of eventuality.  That came one day at a friend's using her death-device.  Hers which had always been defective.  I dropped my hand all the way to the bottom and, yes, it is possible to feel your heart stop.  I spent the next ten minutes sitting on the floor panting.  This was a month ago and my arm still aches just thinking about it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Freedom at Last

Ah, I can finally rest easy.  It was nice while it lasted, strange African family, but I'm glad it is at an end.  We played together.  You managed to destroy every toy I let you lay your hands on (soccer ball, jump rope, cards, UNO, flashlights, death trap of a water heater, et cetera).  I translated all eight of the Harry Potter movies from English to French and learned that while baguettes might normally be loafs of bread, in Franceland they also refer to magical wands (don't even begin to talk to me about horcruxes).  A number of fantastical words were exchanged.  I'm sure they will prove useful later in my life.

Thank you Mama Alice, Amelie, Pitou, and Naomi for visiting.  It may go down as one of the weirdest and most unexpected parts of my African vacation.

Hey, Amelie, you remember that time we unexpectedly ran into that bush on a moto?  Man, drivers in this country.  Am I right?  I told you wearing a helmet was worthwhile.

Pitou was a pansy and terrified of falling off.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Picture Post! Lake Mbakaou

You've been a good bunch so today you are rewarded with a picture post!  Seriously though, I forgot to mention it, but we broke 10,000 page views a little while ago.  I mean half are me trying to see if it uploaded correctly and the other half I would assume are my lovely mother reloading constantly to see if I've updated(Mom, I'll teach you some tricks so that it will tell YOU when I've updated.)

I took a little tour of Lake Mbakaou.  I take walks there pretty regularly where I run into surprised Africans who ask me if I'm lost and then wonder at how I, the white man, walked there.  "But you aren't accustomed to walking!"  It's awesome.  Right now the whole thing is practically full since rainy season is in full swing (every. damn. day.).  Lots of my paths are flooded, but from atop the dam it's like looking at the ocean.

That's the view from the road.  You can see the path in the grass on the left.

All that is flooded at the moment.
This is the main creek that ran out to the river.
One of the sort of ponds that flows into the lake.
This is a pretty good view of the lake.  You can see a couple fishermen out on canoes.
One of their canoes locked up on a stump.

And finally a closeup of their canoes.

Monday, August 5, 2013

"I will literally drink your blood!"

Sometimes I find my work incredibly frustrating.  There are a lot of things that I could blame like poor/often non-existent educational system or the fact that most NGOs seem to just distribute free shit making that the assumed stereotype for foreigners in Africa.  However, like with most things, a bad day at work might just be the combination of a shitty night of sleep, French-fatigue, and REALLY loud children constantly underfoot (there is a reason Peace Corps Volunteers have a reputation for uncommonly locked doors… and excessive drinking whenever they make it to a big city).  And so, on this particular day these poor villagers were undeserving of my wrath.

I was tired and the whole presentation on HIV and AIDS just didn't go like I wanted.  I always give them in French and my counterpart translates them into Fulfulde or Biya or just possibly just random noises so that I'll think he's doing work.  As I've mentioned, I can usually at least follow the Fulfulde even if I make relatively little effort in trying to speak it myself.  That works well when my counterpart is on the same page as me, translating what I say, or at least following the general outline.  Le Gros recently went to get some special training on HIV/AIDS.  That's a good thing and his knowledge and skill at presenting is why I work with him.  But he was off on tangent after tangent and I was just lost at the presentation I was supposed to be giving.  It's hard to know what to say next when you don't know what was said last.  (In reality this isn't that big a deal; I can say whatever and he can decide whether it bears repeating.)  Not the end of the world, but I was feeling dead after an hour and a half of trying to keep up.

Then comes the questions.  These are always hit or miss.  Sometimes people just ask me to diagnose whatever random disease afflicts them and I'm left wondering if they were even listening to the topic.  That's a "go to the clinic/hospital; they need to do 'special' exams" which you'll of course realize means "fuck if I know".  Easy enough.  But that day…  A probably lovely old woman started to ask me where my medicine was and tell me how I need to bring it to her and give it out to everyone for free.  The fact that I understood this EXACTLY in Fulfulde goes a ways to show you that this is often a question.  I just snapped.  I told her that I didn't know her.  I asked her who she was that she though I should give her free things.  And then I asked why it wasn't enough that I left my country, my family, my friends, and my goddamn language to just try and educate her and her people.  (Note: I still can't actually use profanity in French, because they don't and I've missed out learning it.  It's super annoying.)  I'm guessing that my counterpart did not translate that exactly as her next demand was that I build a clinic in her village.  In a better mood I might try to kindly explain that not enough people even go to the clinic in Mbakaou to justify the salaries of the three people working there.  I ignored her.  Next question please.

Le Gros could tell I wasn't my best and clearly wanted to just get on the road.  Good of him.  But I wasn't done and was looking to see if anything I said had sunk in.  I did get to explain why having another Sexually Transmitted Infection makes it more likely to contract HIV, but then I was told that I was wrong and you couldn't get HIV if you weren't already infected with something else.  Now that's a myth that needs to be rectified (also, did you say that I'M WRONG?).  That got into another belief that condoms can give you HIV.  The argument went very much downhill from there with a man telling me I needed to buy condoms from the market and test them and me telling him I very much did not and would not.  Then there was me demanding to know where he heard this idea (I probably didn't need to ask where he read it or saw it in this tiny town with no electricity) and telling him that whatever whiteman that had told him this fact was a liar.  It ended with me stating, with conviction I don't actually have, that HIV could not live outside a human body and thus could never live inside a condom to infect anyone.  I told him that if he were to have HIV in his body right now and die, I could literally drink his blood after five minutes and be fine.  I would like to point out that this method of education and argument was not read from any Peace Corps provided book and thus a concoction of my own imagination.  And, finally, I left.

I would like to say that I have absolutely no idea how long HIV can live outside the human body.  Much less how long in a warm corpse.  I would never drink the blood of, well, anyone and definitely not someone I knew was infected.  And I'm pretty sure there is someone--someone who actually could reasonably answer questions like this--who could figure out a way to put HIV into a condom for people to contract.  I don't know why they would do this, but we humans are awfully smart.

That was the long.  The short of it is that sometimes being a Peace Corps Volunteer can be incredibly frustrating.  And also that thousands of miles away you can snap and come close to starting a headhunt for witches (seriously, don't tell people you'll drink their blood).  If told to another PCV, a story like this will invariably elicit a response like, "Yea, I have days where I want to do something like that too."  "Want" of course being the key word that differentiates my teaching style from those of my peers.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Goodbye Teej

C/O: God
Dear Teej,

Fuck.  Fucking… fuck.  I cannot even enunciate the growls and guttural sounds that are my best attempts at expressing myself.  Are you familiar with the stages of grief?  I seem trapped in a loop: Anger mixed with moments of extreme, honestly terrifying, sadness peppered with occasional bouts of denial.  I'm trying desperately to not direct all this at you, but you really haven't left too many other culpable parties.  Damnit, I just want to break things, burn things, and blow shit up.  And then run away (course when you've already made it to Bumfuck, Africa there isn't anywhere to go).

Then there are other moments.  Like earlier today when it was just me in the bush.  The wind, the endless trees and shrubs, and the sky big as it only seems to be when you there isn't a human soul in sight.  Beautiful and all mine.  It was a place you would have liked. A brief glimpse of something infinite.  It made me think of you and smile.

Of course like always here, the storms come.  That big sky goes dark and you rush to get home before the rains.  Sometimes you make it.  Other times the storm catches you and you are wet and cold and you want to hurry faster but the faster you go the more the drops seem to slice at your face.  Yet just as they come, all storms pass.  The sky parts and you see that ray of sunlight that never looked brighter because without that storm you'd have taken it for granted.

Fuck.  Why, Teej?

I'm not even sure if this is something I CAN write about.  Nothing I say sounds right and it all jumbles in my head.  But I'm not sure what else I can do to try and unravel it.  This is one of many trains of thought either written or ranted during those moments at night when there is nothing to distract me.

I miss you, Teej.  I already missed you, now I'll go on missing you.  You're a great friend.  You always have given more than you ever took.  You are a great person.  One who always strove to try to make this mess of a world better for all those involved.  Not a selfish bone in your body.  And so, though I am angry, I know I can't be angry with you.  I should probably change that to "shouldn't be angry with you" for accuracy's sake.

I hope you know how much our late night conversations meant to me.  The world is lacking now that your thoughts, ideas, and insights can no longer be heard.  And your dreams… those were good dreams.  I wish we could have one of those talks now.  I… but you already know the question I'd ask.  Though I know that no answer you could give would ever suffice.  If I could see but a moment through your eyes then maybe… but I can't.  And so I'm left in the dark.  One storm that will never pass.

I love you, Teej.  Always,


PS. You owe me a damn manuscript.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Turns out I'm not ready for it.  Who knew?

Ok, it really isn't that bad.  There are some surprising perks.  I'm getting really good at UNO for example.  I tell myself that it does a good job of teaching kids about numbers and colors and such.  The kids learn things about critical thinking and why it's not a good idea to hold three wilds to hope for a quick out.  150 points easy, little bitches.  And I make them add up my impossible scores to support their learning of arithmetic.  Actually, you know what?  Feel free to nominate me for father of the year.

We have exhausted my collection of American films in French.  Forrest Gump and The Pursuit of Happeyness held up well across cultures (though I had to explain all the cultural references in Gump).  Some of the other stuff like Gown Ups or Haunted by my Exes are just kind funny.  There are some random action flicks like Red or 300 that are good on rainy nights since you can't hear anything anyway.  I'm a bit afraid of the fact that I'm going to be re-watching these for the foreseeable future.  Perhaps it will help my French language skills.  They really lack when it comes to understanding the French of Frenchmen.  It is either that or introduce them to French cinema; I've a feeling that won't go over well…

The house is a bit livelier.  Their presence does embolden other children who normally are kept in fear of entering the white monster's sanctuary.  I found two of them in my living room today with no sight of Pitou and Naomi.  That's not a precedent I can allow.  I've suffered minor "lost" items, but nothing worrying and my kids are at least good at protecting everything.  This is mostly since it has all sort of become theirs too.  I wish they would fight less.  I'm a shitty arbitrator as I've no idea what they are complaining about.  Normal French is hard, but when they are both pouting and whining you can forget about it.  I've taken up a quick pop to the head as proper discipline.  That's what my mother did to me.  Mostly because I got in the habit of dropping to the floor as a defense any time she'd raise her hand.  I turned out alright, didn't I?  Anyway, turns out I'm for corporeal punishment, who could have guessed?