Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Dam

Mbakaou is the site of a giant dam.  At first I thought my regular electricity was due to it since it is run by the electric company.  Turns out they use it to control the water flow for one of their dams downstream.  All they same; they have to keep it running and that means they keep me running.  Thanks guys!

This is the monster from the lake side.  Picture doesn't really do it credit.

That's one of our lovely fishermen out on the river.  It's probably the biggest thing I've seen in country.

Here is the river side from the top.  You can see my village off to the right.  Or some of the shiny metal roofs.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Monster in Me

She had been watching me through the crack in the courtyard door for some time.  What is this strange, pale creature?  It looks to be a man, but unlike any man before seen.  An older child enters and takes her by the hand to the back of the courtyard where the rest of the family lives.  I stop my reading on the porch and sit inside by the window to work.

Eventually she wanders back around front.  Alone and brave.  Curious to see where I had gone, she edges closer to my door.  Poor thing never sees my eyes peering out the window.  I press against the wall by the door and wait.  She cautiously steps over the threshold… I pounce in front of her on all fours letting out a low howl.  Screaming, she falls backwards.  Scrambles on all fours crying.

I laugh at our little game.  And so do the other children who now comfort her.  But she's not like to forgive me any time soon.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Work, work.

I've mentioned it before and I'll mention it again: it can be quite hard to figure out what exactly you are supposed to do as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Our mandate is vague to say the least.  Future volunteers should know that before signing up.  I was excited and enthusiastic about the freedom, but a lot of the time I find myself wishing I had more structure and support.  Having projects is a lot about luck; I fell into most of my projects in Bogo and I've had the good luck of falling into them here too.  (I think agricultural volunteers have the worst of it since they have to contend with planting seasons and weather on top of luck.  People at least have the decency to stay relatively unhealthy year round for us health folk.)

First thing a PCV is supposed to do is protocol.  That is to say, you have to introduce yourself to all the important people in the neighborhood.  Cameroonians tend to take protocol pretty seriously in general and it can be a bit of a slight if you don't come bye to say hi.  Above all this is a security measure to let government officials, gendarmes, and police all know you are in town and connect you with the people who can help your ass in a pinch.  I didn't take the big guys too seriously at first in Bogo (I wanted to be down to earth with the common man whom I all this way to help damnit!), but learned that they really do help you make all the connections you might need to the sorts of people who can help you get things done.  This time around, I've taken advantage of these little interviews by having them help me set up future ones with community members to talk about health issues in general.

I have officially visited each of the thirteen villages surrounding Mbakaou and introduced myself to their respective Djaros (Jawro) or cheifs.  At these little sit-downs, which are usually short and sweet, we've decided on a time when I could come back and address the village.  I've done that tour too, which usually starts with me asking everyone to talk about what sorts of health issues they have.  It always starts with malaria and other general diseases and then digresses down to people and their individual maladies or talking about how their backs hurt after a day in the field.  After that I talk about how people get sick generally, find out what sort of water sources they use, and give some basics on why they should use mosquito nets, wash their hands, or go to the clinic when ill.  I have to write up a report for the Corps that is basically a big needs assessment and this is a good way to sort of survey the population.

Currently, I've started going back and talking about specific things.  The health clinic has a large problem with pregnant women coming for neither prenatal consultations (or antenatal, I don't remember which term to use) nor to give birth.  I have a nice big presentation with pretty pictures that I borrowed from the clinic and I've been talking to both men and women about it.  The presentation talks about everything from how a woman gets pregnant to what the clinic can do for them.  It also goes over family planning if they are so inclined.  That topic is a bit taboo with some, but sorely needed.  I always find it odd that God would give someone so many kids, but not enough food to feed them.  Maybe he sent me to tell you to wrap it up, gents.

These meetings are going to be the backbone of whatever other projects come my way.  Right now I only have three or so groups in Mbakaou proper and would like to expand that.  The intention is to come up with different topics and presentations, then make the rounds.  Honestly, I've had great feedback so far.  It is eye-opening to see what people have never been exposed to that seems so basic to us.  Even the things they have heard are so far down the grapevine that it is impossible for them to sort out fact from fiction.  Just being here to answer questions and dispel rumors seems to be a boon to their spirits.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mbakaou: The End of the Beginning?

How about the town?  Well, what have I told you?  Apparently nothing.  I have a slight tendency to get who I've told what confused.  Responding to emails and even phone calls all get a little blurred as they really are all the same conversations about me and what the hell I'm doing.  From my point of view, the sad thing is that I only really care about what YOU are up to.  Next to English, the thing I miss most about being Stateside is a lack of information.  Ok, next to English and food.  And possibly the company of women.  ANYWAY.

Mbakaou is a village by American standards.  There are about 4000 people running about, which was the size of my undergraduate class at UNC.  I never thought of Chapel Hill as more than a town.  But here, Mbakaou is a town.  Also in my purview, or that of the health center's where I work, are another 13 villages amounting to about another 4000 folks.  Two of them have 700 each and it dwindles town until you are literally talking about villages with eight little houses or compounds (though with enough kids they can still get that up to 50 people).  North Carolina is not known for its large cities--neither Raleigh nor Charlotte make the international radar with any regularity--but this is something I'm not quite used to.

To be honest though, I rather like it.  I feel like I'm really out there.  Getting the "Peace Corps Experience" and gaining all that useful karma to make you all feel indebted and guilty in my presence.  When I walk through fields of farmers working the earth to get down to the river, I can't help but feel half way around the world and really doing something I never could have done before.  Watching little canoes out on the lake, fishermen tossing nets and hauling in dinner, and knowing there isn't a supermarket for hundreds of miles…  Words do escape me.  I'm not sure what it all means, but it know it means something.  I loved kayaking on the rivers and lakes of North Carolina, but afterword, my brother and I would buy some frozen pizzas and a case of beer then go home and watch Netflix (check out House of Cards by the way).

That distance from the rest of the world can make it difficult to get some things done.  There is only one carpenter in town and I'm worried he's taken the money and run so to speak.  My wardrobe is still just hanging on nails on the wall.  Isolation also makes my presence a rarity that seems to draw some strange respect.  I like respect, but it does make me feel uncomfortable knowing it is just based on my foreignness and a large part my skin.  African-American volunteers assure me they get it too (and are called Le Blanc or Nassara same as me), but white guilt makes me edgy.  All the same I have been finding it incredibly easy to get work started because of this.  I walk into one of those villages and suddenly the chief calls a town meeting.  Voila, I've a forum to learn what health problems they have and talk about ways of changing it.  Fish in a barrel really.

Things are moving.  There's work to be done.  I suppose I'm over the hump of starting again.  I can see my future all stretched out in front of me (at least another year and a half of it).  And the goals are obtainable.

Except for the cockroaches.  But their time will come too.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mbakaou: First Thoughts - Part I

Well, what do I think of the place?  Been here slightly over two weeks and I can tell you it has flown by.  I'm ever so slightly feeling settled in.  A lot faster than in Bogo I might add.  Part of that has to do with my French level, part of it has to do with the fact that I have a decent idea what I'm looking for when it comes to work and people, and the major part is all luck.  I'm pretty comfortable with luck; it's gotten me this far in life.

Today we'll start with the home.  It's a good home.  I'd like to say solid, but it's sort of made out of mud.  Not like a mud hut with thatch roof you'd see on TV, but it ain't concrete.  More like some mud brick sort of situation.  It sort of crumbles when I put nails in it.  The nails stay though, so I can't complain too much and all the houses are made of it.  It's not the prettiest material to work with, but it seems strong enough.  Plus mine is painted blue and pink, so that's adorable.

It's big too.  I've a large living room, two bedrooms, kitchen, and latrine.  That's a solid size for a Peace Corps house.  Boss Tony was living in a tiny ass room with tons of other folks a wall away in Nicaragua.  Let's see.  Some of the ceilings are made of wrapping paper and above that is a tin roof that is deafening in the rain.  Course, my roof in Bogo was tin too; I just never heard the rain.  I've electricity and already a bit of furniture.  I'd take this house over Bogo's except for one thing: I live on a compound with a family.  That sort of cuts down on the privacy that I had grown accustom to.  In Bogo, I was sleeping in my yard under the stars (mostly because of the heat, but it was pretty fucking awesome).  Here if I open my door, I'm greeted by one of a ten person family.

That's right, ten other people live on my compound.  My landlord lives here with his two wives and seven children.  The two smallest are afraid of me, which I likely don't diminish as all I really know how to say in Fulfulde is "I am going to eat you".  Oh, you should see them run in fear.  Right, anyway.  Two of the boys like to come inside and stare at me or whatever I'm doing.  The older one is so quiet it hurts and is kinda creepy.  Course the youngest won't shut up babbling in whatever god-awful language he speaks.  Everyone finds it hilarious when I pick him up and put him down outside saying that I think he's broken.  All in all, I suppose they are about as nice family as anyone could ask for.  The dad person has worked with Americans before and had them stay with him in this very house.  He understand the linguistic and cultural barriers and seems super accommodating.  Any Peace Corps Volunteer can tell you how much of a lifesaver someone like that can be.

If I had one real complaint about the family, it would have to be that they feed me constantly.  You know how old English films and books always have young batchers living with some nice old lady who brings food on platters and serves them tea as they work?  It's exactly like that.  Which would be awesome… except I WILL die if I eat any more goddamn cous-cous and fish.  Fish for breakfast?  WTF?  For those of you not in the know, cous-cous is not the light whatever shit from the middle east.  No, here it is a blob of mashed grain product.  Corn, millet, or manioc ground and mashed into a big ball of meh.  It's not bad so to say--it really has little taste and is mostly about the sauce--it just sits in your gut like a rock.  And basically the fish is just cooked in oil.  I've had some success by buying random products and giving it to them.  Fruits and veggies; I bought rice to some success.  It's the fish I can't get rid of.  Fucking fish.

Sometimes just looking at it makes me want to vomit.

Monday, June 3, 2013

New Shipping Address!

That's right ladies and gentlemen, it's time to gather up all those packets of easy to make sauce and throw in some cookie/brownie mix.  You've been wondering what to do with those back issues of National Geographic laying around the house?  Send 'em my way!  Toss in some candy and drink mixes to make me smile.

Dale Wahl
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 11 Tibati

Your support will never go unnoticed.  Unless you don't tell me you sent anything and it never arrives for some reason.  Though, as of the moment (baring that exact circumstance), I have received every package coming my way.  With some minor losses to mice.  Plastic bag the delicious bits, people!  They've literally eaten entire packages of Easy Mac noodles and all.