Monday, March 25, 2013

Have a holly, jolly Christmas; it's hotter than hell...

FINALLY!  Care packages!  The oldest was sent in November.  There were Christmas cards inside.  Apparently they've been sitting in some warehouse Lord knows where.  It matters not; they are here now and mine, all mine!

Now I don't suppose you can just sit in some Cameroonian prison and walk away with no scars.  Two of them sufferred attacks from mice (judging by the size of the holes, they were nothing like the rat demon that haunts my home).  Losses were minimal, but acute.
Found the cheese... Why, God?  Why?
I cannot express how awesome a day was this day.  So many delicious things.  Candies and cookies and sauces and shit I can bake into brownies and cakes!  CHEESE-ITS.  I'm going to have blueberry fucking muffins!  There are tears.  I cannot express this level of graditude.  CHIPS.

Look at all the loot!
There were probably other things of worth in that vast pile, but under the circumstances our more primitive nature surfaces.  Food.  I love you, food.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dale versus Rat

Cleanliness is next to godliness or so the saying goes.  If there is any truth to that, I've fallen quite a ways from the heights I was perched on back in the good ole US.  The sand is untamable.  I just can't keep it out.  The dust is literally in the air so it is a question of sand or locking myself into a hot box.  Breeze is life.  There are bugs too.  You get used to them.  You've got to clean up any trace of food or you'll be dealing with flies and cockroaches within the hour.  And obviously keeping yourself clean is a must.  I've been dreaming up a whole post describing shit I didn't expect in regards to simple skin care.  Sand, sweat, and swarms of insects.  These things can be dealt with and adapted to.

But rats?  No.

Just going to my kitchen to grab a late night handful of peanuts (basically my only snackable food) and I turned the lights on.  There is a scurry.  That's not odd; bugs scurry when you cut on the lights.  You learn to light the latrine up for a few seconds before entering.  Took me a couple seconds before it trickled in that cockroaches don't knock over glass bottles.

I look behind my little fridge and think I'm dealing with a snake.  But no, that's just a tail curving around to the far side.  I sneak to get a better look in the dark and honestly thought it must be some sort of possum-like creature.  I open the backdoor and prepare to throw things and scare it out.  A moment of clarity reminds me this is Africa and I don't actually know what I'm dealing with.  I grab a large heavy stick that is normally used to mash millet into mush (well by people who have time for such things; I've just sorta used it as a large mortal and pedestal for garlic).

The first few things I threw didn't seem to disturb him and just bounced off.  So I snuck up behind and smashed his tail with my stick.  Instead of running away toward freedom, the bastard came right at me.  It was a rat.  Eight to ten inches long not including it's equally long tail.  And I smashed him in the head and sent him sprawling.  Ha, didn't even see it coming.  Yea, man using tools; suck it other species.

I thought he might be dead as he was all unmoving and such.  And what do we do with dead things?  We poke them.  He was not dead, but still nicely dazed and just rolled around.  I thought about ending it for him there, but then I'd have to figure out what to do with a dead rat.  Beyond the poking.  So I just kept smacking him along the floor till he was out the door.  Close and lock.

Think I might get a dog.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

On Mental and Emotional Breakdowns

Catchy title?  Some of you have likely and rightfully assumed that I'm holding back.  I dish out the simple, the good, and the funny.  You might get a taste of bad if I can successfully wrap it in enough sarcasm and humor.  That's pretty much how things go with me on a normal basis unless it's one on one and I've had a sufficient amount of booze that I can later credibly blame. 

Here, in this public venue, the need to be cautious is doubly so.  First, my mother reads this.  While she's a strong woman and, lord knows, has already survived plenty raising a son like me, being oceans away I can't reassure her as quickly to my actual well-being and general survival.  Second, there is probably someone at the Peace Corps reading this and they are technically my employers (so stay tuned for the novelization when I'm no longer under their thumb… and wallet).  And finally, I've already had one chief walk up and tell me he found my blog.  Luckily, he is THE BEST CHIEF EVER.  I do question his English ability, but with technology like Google translate anyone in the world can get the gist.  All that as it is, I feel like I really need to say this.

I am incredibly lonely.  Lonelier than I've ever been in my life.  Even thinking back to blurry, mostly repressed days of my childhood before discovering friends, I can't remember feeling like this.  It comes in swings and at strange times.  Like after an episode of Community ends.  I can't even really explain the 'why'.  I'm never even actually alone!  I have to close all my doors and hide from the incessant knocking if I actually want to be alone for Christ's sake.

I know I'm the sort of person that requires constant interaction (and validation) from other people.  When discussing my placement I told them two things: that I want to learn French and that they cannot isolate me.  And they listened.  I see Erin at least once a week, actually have another volunteer in Bogo with the VSO, and am only an hour away from our regional capital with three Peace Corps Volunteers stationed there and more always in and out.  That's a lot of Americans with whom I can connect (technically the VSO is a Canadian, but, while culturally pre-developed, she's still smart and funny).  Not to mention that I just spent a month gallivanting around with 50 other Americans all going through the same thing.

So why the hell would I feel this way?  Is it homesickness?  Some of that to be sure.  Damn sure that I miss my friends and family.  I miss being around people that know me.  Or at least attempt to understand me.  It's freshman year of college where you just keep meeting new people, but have trouble actually connecting with anyone.  It is the late night conversations I miss; I'm rarely with just one person. If we foreigners are together, we are in groups.  There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle and I'm not even sure it can be sorted out or adequately described.  It's real but intangible.

I say all this because I think it is important for you to know.  Particularly anyone thinking about doing something similar.  It's not missing the food that is hard.  Or the latrines or the bucket baths.  It's not the bugs or the heat (it's 98 degrees as I write with a fan pointed at me and it is the middle of the night).  Even in this day in age with emails and cell phones, it's hard to walk away from everyone you know and love.

You should know I'm fine.  Minus a few strange outbursts and breakdowns to which this post owes its title.  I really am surrounded by great people here.  I've a whole network of friends and was once put on something called "the truth train".  Sometimes that honestly makes even acknowledging any of these feelings seem harder knowing all the support I do get. 

Really reaching for that lighthearted joke to dissipate all this seriousness…  I'ma have to follow this post up QUICK.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tony's Linguistic Lesson

The Boss, Tony, posted an interesting link about language the other day.  It was really about defining someone's age and it was something that hadn't crossed my mind.  You should check it out.  I'll wait.

Also, he's just a really good writer and makes a hilarious joke about "et cetera":

It struck me, because it is the same in French.  You "have" an age or number of years as opposed to "being" a certain age.  I am twenty-six (for at least a couple more weeks), but really I'm about to complete my twenty-seventh year.  I knocked off and have been toting around more than twenty-six years with every passing day of the last year.  The Italians do it the same way.  I kinda like that system.  I'll be saying "I have twenty-seven years" when I get back.  Well, by then I'll have finished twenty-eight of them...

In Fulfulde, in case you were wondering, they say "age how many?" and you respond "twenty-six".  Actually, they say "twenty five one".  Assuming you're as old as me of course.  No time for verbs here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Those of us whose relationship goes beyond this blog probably saw pictures fly up on Facebook.  You may have noticed that I'm pretty shitty about posting pictures.  Luckily not all the volunteers are so slack.  A grand thanks to Jaclyn who is responsible for eighty percent of what goes up online.  This does weight what you see toward our vacationing and partying.  I promise my life isn't like that the vast majority of the time…  It has just been that way from the past month.

After all that hard, hard work during training--all those late nights playing capture the flag and discovering a bar that actually had DRAFT BEER--I needed a little vacation.  It was actually slightly forced upon me as anyone who regularly reads  BBC might know.  All the same, I headed west to the closest ocean available: Kribi beach.
It was, as all oceans are, beautiful.  Plus westward oceans get sunsets!
 I spent four or so days there.  A whole mess of us went and basically took over a small resort there.  I stayed a bit farther away with a smaller group under the slightly pampered conditions of hot water, fresh towels, A/C, and a beach-side pool.  Regret nothing.  We had bonfires and drank wine on the beach under stars.  I ate pizza, spaghetti carabona, and the greatest shrimp ever (three separate times!).  The African sun is not something you toy with and the majority of us have grown pasty hiding from it.  We fried ourselves lounging on the beach.  It was a fantastic vacation.

Oh, one last awesome fact about Kribi: waterfalls.  They have waterfalls that flow right into the sea.  It's majestic and magical and all that.  Though it did feel a bit too touristy and I kinda prefer hiking to something more secluded.  Still swimming in the ocean near crashing waterfalls is a nice way to spend the day.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Training down south

It was called IST which is an acronym I should probably know.  Pretty sure the "t" stands for training though.  My whole training class got together for the first time since we first departed to posts.  It was, as one might imagine, a bit of a shit show.  Extreme isolation ending suddenly with being surrounded by a language and culture you actually understand can lead to… certain excesses.  A couple weeks of that can take it out of you.

The training itself was relatively useful.  We brought our counterparts from all over Cameroon.  It was incredibly interesting to just watch how different people from all over interacted with one and other.  Cameroon is bilingual too; everything had to be in both English and French.  This kind of draws everything out, but can be pretty useful to someone still learning French.  Actually, it got really interesting when we broke into groups and I found myself in the middle of anglophones and francophone translating.  The classes or subjects were a bit simplistic and I found that incredibly boring and frustrating till it was pointed out how much our counterparts were learning.  Honestly the main things we taught were different methods for critical thinking.  I did learn a lot by listening to other volunteers both in my group and who have been here longer.  We shared best practices and strategies and I think I gained some useful ideas to try out in Bogo.  I look forward to what might hopefully be some fruitful projects.

The rest of the training was fantastic.  It was lots of catching up with old friends and sharing Peace Corps stories.  We looked a lot at how people had changed.  What does Peace Corps really do to a person's personality?  I will say… well, it makes sense to feel alone at an isolated post, but it is a strange thing to feel alone amongst a group of people all who are supposed to be your friends.  Even amongst people you know, love, and will always call friends, you still find yourself alone, thinking of all the people at home who know you best.

Training was an interesting transition.  It was a goal we were striving for.  "Stay at post, tough it out, and wait till you are reunited" was the mantra for the first months at post.  Now it is over.  We have no short term, easy goals.  It is "return to post and make a difference."  We have to find our own way.  Wish me luck.