Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cockroaches: D-day

This is not for the squeamish or faint of heart for this is a tale of war.

In Bogo, I inherited a home passed down through three generations of Peace Corps Volunteers.  One thing this meant it was kept relatively clean and with relatively good upkeep.  Obviously any slob of an American could make that generalization null and void, but we do tend to come from higher standards of cleanliness.  This cleanliness extended to my latrine, which was always clean, used regularly by only one person, and well constructed.  It was disconnected from the main home and, categorized as an improved latrine, had a nifty exhaust allowing airflow above anyone's head.  Thus it never smelled.  My latrine inside my lovely new home did.  It reeked.  First task: remedy.

I'd been told of a few easy fixes.  Apparently you can put a decent amount of sawdust down the hole to help cover up the odor.  I also heard a liter of kerosene could do the job and had the benefit of killing off cockroaches.  I'd only noticed one or two--even in Bogo they would occasionally show their faces--but I'm all for destroying these disgusting, disease carriers.  Kerosene is easy to come buy as they use it for lamps when the power goes out, so I quickly tossed some down the hole.  It worked immediately in that my latrine now smelled of kerosene.  It was an improvement.  I was half tempted to throw a lit match down there and purge whatever lurked bellow, but I had a bad experience with a bug infestation of one of my large water clay pots in Bogo that ended in a fire burning for two hours.  I didn't think it would be a good idea to set my latrine aflame if it might last for days.  Plus I'm not sure what smell would follow that.  I now wish I had taken that chance.

I am not squeamish or faint of heart, but I detest cockroaches.  I can't tell you exactly why this is so, however it does seem a universal human truth.  My hatred does not manifest in fear, though if one gets on me I will surely flail about until they are flung far away.  No, I hunt them down, smash them, and then toss their corpses into the depth of shit lying down that hole (with tissue or something so that they can't touch my bare skin of course).  Were I to have killed a thousand cockroaches it could not have prepared me for what I saw when I opened my latrine that night.

Something happens to the brain when it is confronted by something too horrific to truly contemplate.  It's the difference between reading about one poor soul who lost his life in a tragic accident verses thousands in some freak storm.  The first we are truly sad about, the second is just too big for us to process emotionally.  I say this because I went numb with what I saw: cockroaches swarmed my latrine.  There were hundreds climbing the walls and ceiling.  The floor was, in the most literal and disgusting way, writhing.  All shapes and sizes could be accounted for; I'm not sure I had ever seen a baby cockroach before, but I have now seen thousands.  Emotionally dead and possessed with what could only have been morbid curiosity, I kicked off the latrine cover and too many more came crawling out over each others bodies.  I did not have the sense of mind to take a picture and even so only a video could have done it justice.  Of course, I'm not sure I could suffer you to watch it.

I purchased whatever can of death they sell here and without remorse I entered that hell and sprayed until my eyes watered and I could barely see.  Enraged and frenzied the bugs tried to escape and poured out into the room beyond.  I sprayed more, but the bastards wouldn't die.  I retreated further; blessed be the gods because my back door was right by the exit.  I stood there, broom in hand, sweeping them into the dark of night and pushing them back when they returned with a vengence.  I don't know how long this lasted or how I was ever able to sleep that night after what I had seen.  In the morning, there were corpses.  Many corpses… but... not enough.  I sent their remains back down the hole from wince they came that their friends may see it as a sign.  Still, I know not where the survivors lurk.  I know just that they will return.  Can I be ready?  I fear not.

They will inherit the earth; I have seen it. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

New Post: Mbakaou, Cameroon

Well, I've a new post.  A place to go.  It's called Mbakaou and, no, I can't pronounce it myself.  It's near a place called Tibati which is slightly easier to find on a map and also pronounce, but I've a tendency to mess that one up too.  I've spent a grand total of thirty minutes in a fly-by with the Peace Corps so I really don't have much to give you.  Course when has lack of knowledge ever shut me up?

The first noticeable feature is that is right beside a giant lake.  They built a hydroelectric damn and thus provide electricity to my tiny town.  Thus there is also a river nearby.  Moving from the desert to a forested, water wonderland is going to be an obvious change of pace.  I probably don't need to reiterate how much I like the water.  I am looking very much forward to living by it.

Now all this water apparently brings money to the village in the form of fish.  Oh joy.  Regular readers are also well aware of how much I enjoy eating fish every damn day.  Maybe I'll like it more nice and fresh.  I hear they can catch some pretty big ones too.  Brian, can I convince you, the fisherman, to come visit me?

Mbakaou is going to be small.  I'm on the fence about that.  I've a terrifying feeling French will be minimal and finding motivated individuals to work with may also be more difficult.  But I should be able to integrate a bit easier and I can sort of make my own rules as they aren't used to Peace Corps and white folk.  American or foreign folk I should say.  My political correctness and cultural sensitivity has taken a hit in this county, though they call us all "blancs" regardless of skin tone so it is kinda their fault.  I'll be the first volunteer to set foot there in quite a few years it seems.

The big damper to the affair is distance.  I had the luxury of being able to call my moto driver friend and be in Maroua in an hour.  This will not be the case.  By car it is around six or so hours of the regional capital, Ngaoundere.  If I use the train it can slice off a bit of that, but the train only runs once a day.  I'm going to be much more en brousse than ever before.  I'm mostly worried about mental stability when it comes to distance and connectivity, but it may have an effect on my ability to communicate with you.

All in all, it will be much more of a Peace Corpsy experience.  Though the deserts of Bogo seemed plenty to me...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mount Ngaoundere

Presented with some free time, I'm hiding out in the city of Ngaoundere.  Ngaoundere is the regional capital of the Adamawa region.  Quick geography lesson (pull out your handy Cameroonian map you likely keep beside your desk):  Cameroon is composed of ten regions.  The two western most regions Southwest and Northwest are "anglophone" which I put in quotes because I've never understood a word any anglophone has ever said to me.  Then you have the West, Littoral, and Centre all sort of in the middle with money and govenerment and such.  Next up we have the South, conveniently located in the south, and the East which is a huge rainforest complete with pigmies.  Finally, there is the Grand North, my home, consisting of the Adamawa, North, and Extreme North.

The Adamawa may be in the Grand North, but it doesn't resemble the Extreme in the least.  It is lush and green and cool and hilly and it rains a lot.  The North is at least arid and hot, if not as deserty as the Extreme (they cheat too and have working rivers).  This Adamawa thing is just a whole new world.

Look how green that is!
I'm staying around because it looks like I might be posted in this crazy new place.  I was rather enjoying being a cowboy in the dusty desert, but I think I could get used to this weather.  Though how you do laundry with it raining all the damn time is a mystery.  Yesterday a few of us went on a run through town and climbed Mount Ngaoundere.  I was a little sad that I never got to climb the big mountain in Maroua, so I'd be damned if I missed this one (from what I can tell every big city comes with a mountain here, though Maroua's stands on its own in a vast plain).  The view was breathtaking.  In part because it followed a run and a climb, but still.

This could be my new home base.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Extreme North Weeps at our Departure

Foiled again.  Quite possibly I'm just bad luck.  I have been less than forthcoming with information regarding the security situation in the Extreme North of Cameroon.  We are supposed to keep tight lipped about what we are doing and with good reason.  There are terrorists afoot.

Back in February a perfectly nice French family was kidnapped in the Extreme North of Cameroon by a terrorist organization called Boko Haram.  C'est l'Afrique.  The Peace Corps responded immediately and everyone consolidated into what were not bunkers but that sounds cool so let's just say that's what happened.  Complete with armed guards to wait out the storm (that part is true).  I was down south for training so I had it easy compared to the close quarters of those left behind.  You'll remember when I went to the beach and played in waterfalls.  Like ya do.  They did a security evaluation of the situation--the terrorists are based in Nigeria and the kidnapping took place right at the boarder--and decided that every volunteer near Nigeria, on the way to Nigeria, or with bad reception in the area was shut down.  That was it and I went home.

Fast forward to a week ago and all is happy go lucky.  It was sad to see about half the volunteers up here leave and so many people displaced, but things were moving on.  Quite a few of my friends ended up staying in Maroua, our regional capital, so I still got to see them, maybe even more often.  Some of my projects started up and I was really feeling integrated in Bogo.  All the little things that bothered me had pretty much turned into quaint quirks I was pleased enough with.  Then somebody decided to pay the terrorists off and release a few prisoners so the family could go home.  Good for them, bad for the rest of us.  Foreigners now have a going rate (four kids and three adults go for around 3 million USD).  That coupled with some rumors of other devious activity (well funded activity) and the whole Extreme North is shut down.

We're all gone now which is why I feel I can post this.  I only had two days to say my goodbyes.  It was emotional.  I think most people understood why we had to go for the most part, but no one was happy about it.  Bogo itself is really as safe as can be though and a lot of people felt cheated.  It's a good community and everyone always looked out for me.  My Lamido felt prudence was best and even gave me a beautiful parting gift.  I've been hearing a plenty of hate toward Boko Haram as causing all the foreigners to leave is going to shut down a lot of development programs here and leave tourism basically non existent (Waza, Rhumsiki, and Maga are all hot spots in the Extreme).  Hell a restaurant owner was almost in tears when we told him the news on the way out of Maroua.  There were far too many tears already in Bogo and Tchabawol.

Usually a laid back and in the moment person, I still find myself presented with an idea or thought for something I'd like to do in Bogo and have a flash of sadness or anger that I can't follow through. One of my first thoughts when hearing the news was that I'd never see the rainy season.  Well it rained the night I told everyone I was leaving.  And it stormed all day the next when all the volunteers came together to leave our home in mass.  The Extreme North wept.