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.