Friday, November 7, 2014

The Return

I'm back.  The vast majority of you likely know that from facebook or the like.  I hope you enjoyed this adventure.  I wanted to entertain you. I think I've done at least that.  I hope too that you learned something.  I wanted you to have a glimpse of what it is to live in Cameroon.  In Africa.  As Americans a lot of what we have comes from the news or commercials begging for dollars.  The news shows war and the commercials show poverty, but there is so much more.  I hope your ideas about Africa were broadened. 

Leaving Mbakaou was hard.  I wasn't prepared for it.  I was prepared to leave my country, my friends, my family.  Prepared to learn a new language, a culture, a lifestyle.  I knew working in harsh conditions and in an unknown environment would be hard.  And trying to make friends with so many differences between us could never be easy.  But all that was survivable.  Even failure in those things wouldn't destroy me.  I just told myself it was only for two years.  Really, you can do anything for two years.

But leaving my village for good…  Am I going back there one day?  Can I?  When?  It is a hard thing to explain to people who never really go that far from home.  Who go on a trip and are so excited to be away from home that they call almost everyone while to tell them about it.  Africa is far.  And expensive to get to.  Two weeks of vacation won't really cut it; specially if you want to go home for the holidays or travel somewhere else.  I don't know when I'll be able to visit again.  It was a very… definitive goodbye.  Not an easy thing.  I will miss not just my village, not just my friends, but a way of living.  A lifestyle.  And a home.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Project Escape

What follows is likely the most important news you will hear in coming months.  Possibly years.  Or even your lives (depending on how central a part I am and how little else you have gong on).  I officially finish my Peace Corps service on October 24th, 2014.  That's right, ladies and gents, I'm coming home!

Now, I don't actually have a flight back yet.  Sure they'd book it for me, but they told me they'd give me two grand and let me do it myself.  Gotta be able to get back for less than that, right?

It's been a good service.  Lots of ups and downs.  I'm currently writing a draft of a document summarizing it all.  Apparently this document will stay on record with the US Government "as long as the Union stands".  Kind of intimidating, specially as my once clear mastery of the English language has diminished over my long sojourn here.  (I misspelled three words in that last sentence!)  I'm super ready to go home, see friends and family, get a job, continue with the next step of my life, and otherwise bask in all that is amazing about America, but it's hard to leave too.  It's a very poignant goodbye when you know you really may not see someone again.  When farewell is forever.  There is also a very marked sadness in those you leave behind.  No one comes here to stay.  They meet plenty of foreigners, but they know them for a time and then they watch them go.  What does that say to you about your home?  To you, the left behind?

I want to thank you, whoever you are, for reading this.  For sticking with me even when I wasn't entertaining or left you with long lulls of nothing.  I want to thank everyone that supported me.  Whether with an email or the rare phone call.  Also, super props to everyone who ever sent me a package.  You guys are kings of kings.  I've a list and I'll never forget (on account of said list).  Nice spacing too, I pretty much had something to snack on my entire service.  Based on the length it takes a box to get here though, I'll be rationing the last batch till the bitter end (got three last week though so no worries; I'm sitting pretty).

As for my lack of updates… it's complicated.  In part, I got a lot busier.  In perhaps a more meaningful part, I forgot what to say.  This place has become my home and I feel almost at a loss when thinking about what to tell you.  How to relate.  A strange thing I'm like to explore all the more when finding my way back in America.  Reverse culture shock going back to my Red, White, and Blue?  Suppose only time will tell.

Oh, as to what happens when I return to those blessed shores?  Haven't the foggiest.  But you'll be sure to know when I do.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Photo Blog: People of Mbakaou

This is just a bunch of pictures of the people of Mbakaou.

Djaro Beupere which just means chief father-in-law.  Mostly because he asks me when I'm coming to pick up my wife from him every time I see him.  Also he's one of the two chiefs.
Getting a shave.  These are some of my friends I sit with every day.  The man in the chair in the back is the Imam.
Some of the guys I hang out with by the call box where I buy credit for my phone and never call you with it.
My buddy Kajiri.  He's decided I know enough Fulfulde (I don't) and keeps trying to teach me Houssa.  Behind his is the main drag into town.
Caitlin visiting me with her friend Joe who came all the way from the Extreme North.  In front of our grand village plaza.  Looks better when there is actually an event of some kind.
My back courtyard with my friend Assa.
The Prince of Mbakaou, none other than Alhadji Awal.  My best bud.  This is actually in Tibati, I just like that the moto is packed with furniture. 
Elie here, one of the few guys from Mbakaou to discover my blog and download pictures.  He demanded that I post his.  Behind him is the village garage.
On the right is The General whose actual name I discovered was Dale... Weird.  There are practicing for choir.
Drinking homemade beer by the road on the way to the market.
And of course me.  Being awesome.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Going Native

I passed a man on the street today.  He was wearing a nice tan overcoat with some sensible casual outfit on underneath.  In my mind's eye he is wearing a long scarf as well, but I can't recall if that was real.  He seemed plucked from a cobbled road in London.  We said "good morning", though in French, as we allowed each other space to pass.  It was then that I noticed how surreal the moment felt.  We were walking in a particularly muddy spot on the dirt road where only one can pass.  It has been a long time since I walked on cobblestone.  It's been a long time since I walked on a sidewalk.  In fact, the only things I've been walking on for any period of time are the muddy dirt paths of Mbakaou.

For a moment I was transported to my daily walk to and from work in DC.  Standing aboveground at the entrance to the metro in Southwest.  I could see the buildings, the streetlights, the cars and roads, and my tree-covered sidewalks lining the way home.  I imagined myself flopping onto our couch in that big house with its huge wall-sized windows.  Lounging in front of our flat screen TV and throwing my feet up onto our comfy ottoman.  One of my roommates asks, "So Dale, how was living in a small village in Africa?"  "You cannot even begin to truly imagine," is the only valid response.

I've been here so long moments like that are rare.  It was been months since I've complained that there isn't a comfortable chair in all of Cameroon.  The seating situation has in no way improved of course, but I've gotten used to it.  No expectation and thus those thoughts have disappeared.  I have trouble writing to my mostly American audience about my time here because it has simply stopped being different.  At first it was astonishing and difficult to live without all the comforts we take for granted.  Living without those things I would have incorrectly called "necessities".  Now those things rarely cross my mind…

Shit, I've gone native.  I need an evac.  Get me the fuck out of here!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Vaccination Refusals

Had an interesting day today.  We've had some  bad press recently since they discovered a possible polio case here.  Considering we report some hundred percent vaccination rates that really shouldn't be possible. Certainly not the first time paper didn't match reality.

I went with a friend of mine today and hunted down families refusing vaccinations.  Things are done differently here than America, obviously.  When they do the campaigns, they just walk door to door and give kids vaccines.  They don't have to ask parents or even check to see if they have been vaccinated before.  Since I've been in my village, we've probably done ten polio vaccine campaigns and there are certainly some kids who have been vaccinated ten times (three doses are plenty).  Hell, probably more if they have parents who actually bring them to get vaccinated.  If someone refuses to be vaccinated that just annoys the people doing the vaccines and they move on.  No one has ever bothered to explain WHY people should be vaccinated.  Adults usually ask to be vaccinated too so that it will "give them strength".

I actually asked why people didn't want to vaccinate.  The reasons were, well, reasonable.  Some said that they thought the vaccinations actually made their children sick.  A lot of vaccines have the side effect of causing a slight fever over the next couple days.  I didn't get down into the dirt as to why that is, because telling them that we were giving them a dead/crippled version of the illness seemed counterproductive.  I did tell them that this was a normal side effect and they shouldn't worry.  I also had to explain to them that just because the kid had a vaccination didn't mean they wouldn't get sick at all.  Explaining that their children could already be sick or get sick with something else unrelated to the vaccination often was enough.  Sometimes I'd explain that we knew it wasn't the vaccine that made the child sick simply because we gave it to tons of children and if it was the vaccine, then all the kids ought to be sick.  Usually this was enough to satisfy them.  Oh the best reasoning that we'd make them sick is that they'd then go to the clinic after and have to pay high bills.  Vaccinations as a money making scheme for the clinics.  Those bills in reality for other illnesses.

I'm not sure if these people will actually now get their kids vaccinated.  Every last one of them told me they would (or at least my translator said they did).  Could be they were just humoring the white man who rode in from lord knows where into their tiny little compounds out in the bush.  Course that might be reason enough for them to follow my advice.  But honestly, I think if anyone just bothered to sit down and explain to them why and how to be healthy, they would at least try.  And these are the people who are at least asking questions.  Would you blindly take medicine handed to you?

I really would like to see these strange interactions from their perspective .  It has got to be the weirdest thing in the world.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Photo Blog: Learning Some Local Skills

I like to try out random tasks people do around town.  People seem to like my interest. Plus it kinda feels like survival classes in case I'm ever stranded... in Africa?

Here a friend of mine shows me how to make fishing nets from string.
Was pretty easy.  The bikers in the background told me I know had to teach them to build planes.
Here's a video in case you feel like learning too!

This woman is making the thatch panels they use for roofs.
Another accompanying video.  Cause I went to the big city where uploading things like this is possible.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Video Blog: Sorcerer in Mbakaou

A traveling magician came to Mbakaou a few weeks ago.  
He drew quite a crowd.  And played with snakes and knives.  I know the guy sitting hypnotized on the ground and he swears he had no idea what was going on.  But he also tells me that his grandfather makes a potion that he can drink and become invincible.  He's yet to let me try it out.  On him obviously.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Photo Blog: Herding Cows

I spent a day out in the bush with cow herders. 

Me with my cow wacking stick.
Bush veternarian

This is my buddy who took me drinking/eating... yogurt type stuff

I preferred the fresh, fresh milk... which might give me TB
Here's a cowpen.  Those cows are off to market.  Where they will become dinner.

That was the biggest cow there.  They told me it weighed 500 kilos.  I have no idea what that means.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Funeral

Someone died.  I'm told that he was my neighbor and we talked a lot.  His name was Soule, a young guy who worked at a little boutique near my house selling music.  I don't know that name.  And I can't place him or even imagine his face.  I'm not sure who he was.

In a small village, people just know things.  They grew up together.  I had to ask directions to go wherever I was supposed to go.  There were a ton of people sitting outside a compound so I went up and greeted people.  I don't know what you say in English when you lose someone and certainly am at a loss in French or Fulfulde.  It was his father's house.  I was told to enter the compound.  Inside there were more people.  A ton of women in one courtyard and older men in a second.  One man I greeted was in tears, but I was being directed too quickly to even think that perhaps that was the grieving father.  Unlike everyone else, I don't generally know the intricacies of family connections, but I think that is the first time I've seen a Cameroonian man cry.  I was directed to where the old men were sitting cutting up a sheet.  They told me to go inside a room.

I don't know if they do viewings here and thought I might be walking into that.  It was a dark bedroom and they left me alone inside.  I thought perhaps it was the guy's room and I was to pay my respects.  I found some pictures on the walls and looked through them.  There was a common guy in most of them.  As happy as any Cameroonian in a photo can look (they generally refuse to smile).  Perhaps that was him.  I sat down waiting for either the next person  to come or someone to get me.  After awhile I figured out that no one was coming.  They likely put me in there because there was a comfy chair and it is out of the sun.  And I'm white.  No long sure if that room was important or related or just had a chair.

I went back outside and sat down with the older men.  The Imam was there and my friend the tailor.  The sheet was to be the shroud.  No one was talking much and I wasn't sure how long I was to sit there.  I was mostly waiting for someone else to leave.  I usually time events by the call to prayer; if I don't know how long it will take, I go thirty minutes or an hour before one of the calls knowing I'll be able to leave then.

Eventually everyone just suddenly started to go outside, so I followed.  We all stood around waiting for a bit and I found some younger guys I knew to stand with.  They brought out the body covered in the sheet and wrapped in these nylon mats that they bring everywhere to sit on instead of the ground.  They put him in a wooden trough with poles to carry him to the burial.  Then the Muslims lined up to say a prayer and I stood with the Christens bowing my head.  Everyone started to disburse afterwards and I thought we were to go home, but I realized they were all going the same direction.  I followed and we all walked outside of town to a cemetery nearby.  I've passed it many times and never realized what it was; just mounds of dirt covered in grass with no markers.

There were a ton more people gathered at the cemetery waiting.  Some of my really close friends who I'd wondered where they had been were digging the grave.  They dug as we watched waiting silently.  It was a big hole with a smaller body-sized hole at the bottom.  They placed the shrouded body at the bottom and put some crossbeams over him.  Then they placed a wooden plank that covered the smaller hole and covered that with green leaves.  Finally they filled the grave with dirt.  We all kneeled down and were lead in a Muslim prayer.  Then we walked back to town.

It was a somber day.  People say it is destiny and God's will.  They will say that it is sad.  But that's all.  He went to wash his clothes in the river and swam a bit after.  He died.  And I can't remember his face.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


There I am in the middle of ten or fifteen guys; it started as just a couple, but very quickly grew.  They are all yelling at each other in Fulfulde or various other local languages.  Right now they are just arguing and it isn't unusually physical: just some grabbing of the shoulders and like.  The disconcerting thing is all the pointing and glances my way.  Clearly whatever is going on is about me.

Part of being a foreigner in a strange land is knowing when to sneak toward the door.  A couple of months ago I was sitting on the porch of the chief's house talking to him when someone came up, started yelling, threw his shoes at the chief, and started trying to fight the old man.  Quickly a group of people were surrounding the situation and I'm standing in the middle.  My cue to quietly leave.  I didn't know what the fight was about, but being in the middle of it was not going to help me any.

Now I found this argument, that was about me, funny.  It started in French and was basically about whether or not a Cameroonian could do what I did, namely leave their country and family to go live with complete strangers who are so different from you.  It seemed ironic that they are discussing this and creating the exact sort of scenario that would make someone like me quite uncomfortable.  I tried to point out this observation, but they didn't really seem to get that I wasn't actually concerned and just tried to reassure me that no one was mad at me.

One guy was pointing out that plenty of Africans had done just that and left everything behind.  There were people who worked for the Cameroonian government who moved abroad, he said.  Another was countering that people couldn't even stand to move from the big city to Mbakaou.  They do something called affectations here where anyone working for public office can be forced and sent anywhere in the country.  This includes nurses, teachers, gendarmes (police), and really anyone working for any government agency.  A lot of them do whatever they can, including paying big bribes, to get out of small villages like mine.  It seems clear that the middle road is the right one.  Some people can leave it all behind and others can't, but what sticks out to me is how they view foreigners: it isn't that I can do this thing, all foreigners can.

I have met plenty of Cameroonians who have never seen a white man or foreigner of any kind.  I've met many more that have seen us around, but I'm the only one they've ever had a conversation with.  And even the Cameroonians who have met quite a few foreigners have only met one kind: the sort that is willing to/able to come to Cameroon.  Take poverty: the only foreigners that come to this country either are tourists with cash to blow or people with jobs where they blow cash.  The only other view into life comes from television and as we all know, Rachel and Monica could have never afforded that sweet apartment in New York with those jobs (we don't export or even make many shows about poor people).  I bet half of all Americans have never even thought about visiting Africa.  What do you think the percentage of people is who would come if they could afford it?  And what percentage of Americans have ever set foot here?  They have a very skewed view of us.

And we have a skewed view of them.  I live in a village of 4000 people that is about eight hours by car from the regional capital of a region of Cameroon no one has heard of.  Peace Corps Volunteers say I'm out in the bush.  But there are people with refrigerators, a couple cars (including a Landcruiser owned by the Ministry of Parks), a few computers, a bunch of motorcycles, plenty of TVs and satellite dishes, and even more cell phones.  At the same time most people wear hand-me-downs sold at the market.   But anyone with a salaried job owns a custom tailored suit (teachers, gov officials, etc.).  The dam company has a camp of houses that have running water and A/C.  And we've had twenty or so kids come this month for malnutrition.  Some people have thatch roofs, dirt floors, and get water from the river.  But ten bucks says they have a cell phone and an opinion on the Ukraine.

You missed all that last time they told you ten cents a day would save a kid (it won't; an egg costs twenty cents).

Monday, April 7, 2014

Old Man's Hands

His hands were rough.  Calloused and worn with time.  Dry and white, I foolishly believed I should be gentle or risk tearing them apart.  But they have become that way with years of toil.  He carried a hammer in one hand and a crowbar in the other; passing it to free right and shake mine in warm greeting.  My own hands are embarrassingly soft.  A desk jockey's hands, skin untouched by labor.  He's never sat at a desk.  I'm embarrassed in front of this man who earned his keep.  But only for a moment as his warm smile reassures me.  Like we are old friends though we've only ever crossed paths and spoken in the street.  It is people like him that make me want to make Africa a more hospitable place.  Ease his burden. Allow him to rest.  Of course he is old and happy.  Proud of his life.  Or so I imagine.  At least content that this is his lot.  Still, don't we all deserve some rest in this world?  If it is to be in proportion to works done, his is past due.

There is a noticeable difference in the way the truly old treat me compared with the young.  Maybe after enough time surviving, you just become content.  I think it might be that their dreams and desires from youth no longer weigh them down.  They accept their lot.  I spend most of my time with the old men of my village.  I like them more; it's easier.  Everyone else sees me as a means to something.  From the extreme ticket to America, to a job, or to just an extra buck.  You hear the phrase "It doesn't hurt to ask" all the time.  We've the same saying.  But it isn't true.  It hurts me to deny everyone else the country I love so much.  The opportunity, the peace, the chance at prosperity.  Do we have our unhappy poor?  Of course.  But compared with the poverty here ours seems so minuscule. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Woman's Day in Cameroon

Americans don't celebrate Woman's Day.  Closest we seem to have is probably Mother's Day, but at least that is somewhat of an accomplishment.  You have to at least try to be a mother.  Or try in order to be a good one.  It's OK though; Cameroon really needs a chance to celebrate women.  Even if they are born that way.

Woman's Day starts off with a parade.  That's par for the course as every holiday in this country starts out with a parade.  Normally whatever groups you might be in march together in front of a grandstand where all the notable important people sit (comme moi) and everyone who isn't important or marching gathers nearby to watch.  For Youth Day (congrats on being born!) most people march with school clubs or just their schools in general.  Mbakaou is pretty small so there usually aren't many marchers, but Woman's Day had only thirty.  There are more than thirty women in Mbakaou of course, but you are sort of socially required to buy the official Women's Day outfit and most people can't do that.  Sounds a bit harsh, but are you celebrating Halloween without a costume, Christmas without a tree, or Saint Paddy's without a pint?  Social pressures.

So they march.  Then they put on a show.  Do some dances and a little skit making fun of men.  They collect money from whoever is willing to give it.  Perhaps it helps offset the cost of outfits.  Later in the day we got together again for women sports.  It is pretty rare to see Women sporting; I've never seen it in Mbakaou, but they do play occasionally in Tibati.  They played handball which is a strange sport I saw once when watching the Olympics and also soccer which is another weird sport I hear Europeans like.  And Hispanics, I think.  They were meh at the first and atrocious at the second, but you can't blame them since they apparently only play once a year here.

Women marching!
Grands watching!
At night that had a cultural event.  I was invited and given a seat at the front of the stage.  And then crowds created a wall of people trapping me inside.  This was a dance show.  I find a lot of things about Cameroon a bit odd and the dance shows are one of them.  People dance to music and then other people dance up to them and stick money onto their foreheads.  They do this pretty much whenever possible.  Hell, they did this for bilingualism day at the high school (along with a fashion show).  I played along and danced out to a couple people and stuck money on their heads.  It falls off and someone picks it up and brings it to the communal pot.  Now at this event I was the only man sitting at the stage.  None of the other invitees (or Big Men or Grands) came.  If I didn't get up, the girls would dance over in front of me until I put money on their head so they'd leave.  I can't NOT put money on their head.  A) They might just dance in front of me indefinitely or B) I'd offend them having given money to someone else.  Can you think of any situation in America where a man might sit in a chair and a woman come and dance in front of him for money?  I guess that is slightly empowering for women.  Lots of them put themselves through college that way in America…  I stayed at the dance until I literally ran out of money.  (Though I technically only brought four dollars American so it wasn't that expensive a show.  Not sure the going rate for lap dances in the States, but I got like ten for that.)

I went to one other event for Women's Day in Tibati.  It was a sort of artisanal market that was billed as a way for women to show their worth to men.  The Big Men were invited and put at a table on a stage per usual where they sat looking bored for a few hours.  There were maybe fifteen tables where you could buy things with only three that sold actual crafts.  The rest of the tables sold food.  I suppose out here women still have a bit of a ways to go to be considered equals with men, but the fact they have a Women's Day is a start.  I could see there one day being tables talking about women groups or organizations.  Maybe even for their employment.  As it is all the food was really pretty damn good.  Guess that's a start.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Foreign Visitor, Actual Work, and a New Adventure in Mbakaou

I feel like every time I sit down to write to you guys I'm reminded of what my friend told me long ago.  I may have even mentioned it in this blog before (do you want me to go to search or actually use this time to write to you?).  The hardest pull for the writer is between finding time to write and doing things worth writing about.  Probably one reasons writers often become drunken recluses.

My friend Sarah visited Cameroon.  While she'd never spent time in Cameroon before, she currently works with Doctors without Borders in the Central African Republic.  It was less of me showing her the hard life in Africa and more her trying to relax in the relative tranquility of Cameroon.  Honestly the idea of vacationing in Cameroon is… somehow sinister.  I certainly can't complain about my rough life to someone who has to figure out how to provide doctors with the supplies and materials necessary to put machete victims back together.  And really complaining about Cameroon is all I ever do with other Americans; her selfless existence is a harsh mirror to try and look into.  Luckily she drinks wine and I know a few places that sell it.

We did have a pretty fine time.  We climbed a mountain.  We went to see a beautiful crater lake with another Peace Corps Volunteers.  There, we learned to shoot bows and arrows (something I hadn't expected to learn in Cameroon).  I showed her around my village.  I have a whole tour system now: Health Center, Market, River, Dam, Bar.  Then we spent a couple days at the beach.  She met a lot of other volunteers who asked her how the hell she could work in a warzone.  Come to think of it most Cameroonians asked her they same only they were more surprised when she said she was going back.

She was only here for a week.  It was odd vacationing so soon after vacationing, but I at least excused myself in that I needed to go down south anyway for work.  After she flew, I went over to Buea in the Southwest region.  The HIV Committee that I'm on was running an event at a yearly race they do up Mount Cameroon there.  When I say the HIV Committee, I really mean Ashley and Erica.  They put the whole thing together and the rest of the committee helped as we could.  They were disappointed in the success of the event, but I think that's just viewing how various things failed.  As someone who was not involved in the planning, I just saw 700 plus people get tested for HIV, thousands of people come up to our six tables to talk and learn about HIV and AIDS, a thousand plus people get packets of free condoms, and all of this done by the 20 or so Peace Corps Volunteers who came PLUS maybe 40 local Cameroonian volunteers who we had trained that week.  Yea, the DJ didn't show up. Yea, the hospital techs got there hours late with half as much staff as promised.  And yea, we could have better utilized the volunteers we had.  We'll learn from our mistakes and next year it will be even better, just as this year was better than the last.  (Therein does lie the biggest Peace Corps problem: none of the organizers and only a few of the volunteers will be here next year to run it again.  DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.)

I was impressed and super glad to be a part of it.  Even if I felt awkward being as insanely tired as I was at the end of race day.  I stood all day talking to Cameroonians and doing an insane amount of condom demonstrations, but other people ran a marathon up a mountain.  Whatever, I'll be using my refined skill for years to come; how often do you need to run up mountains?  And why?

After that, I spent a couple relaxing days in Kumba.  I went to a pool.  I ate what I swear to God was actual American fried chicken.  I met a cool German and a cool Dane, even if I made a fool of myself forgetting where the hell Danes come from (I loved Beowulf too).  Ate more good food and spent a lot of time just relaxing in the best ways possible, before finally working up the courage to spent the 24 plus hours of travel it took to get back home.

Course then my buddy Will passed through on his way back from the same event.  We drank plenty and took a half a day trek out into the bush of Mbakaou where we finally found my alleged National Park.  Unfortunately we did not bring any sort of guide and all the buildings there seemed deserted.  Whatever, there was a sandy beach, secluded section of the river, and some rapids to look at.  Still no elephants.  Really, the only wildlife I've seen so far are little monkeys and a large variety of birds.  Where are all these giant African animals hiding?  Lion King lied.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Peace Corps Cribs: Cameroon

I remember visiting Tony in Nicaragua.  He had a room in a house he shared with a family.  His room did not even have walls that went all the way to the ceiling.  Meaning you could a) hear everything at all times and b) anyone could easily have gotten in by hoping over this divider.  Technically, Peace Corps wouldn't have approved had they ever bothered to go check it out.  If I recall, the door only locked from the inside, meaning it was never locked when he was away.  Security via the family that was constantly there though.  To my knowledge, nothing bad ever came of it.

I bring this up to point out that I've only lived in the equivalent of mansions.  Technically, I've never had more space and rooms to myself than in Africa.  I've obviously lived in way nicer homes, but I shared them with people.  In Bogo, I had a whole compound to myself.  A walled enclosure, that while small, was all mine.  Here in Mbakaou, I share my compound with my servants--I MEAN FAMILY--but have a large two bedroom house for myself.  There are downsides of course.  Walls made of painted mud.  Holes to shit in.  Pretty open to the elements.  A variety of insects and animals for flatmates.  Tin roofs.  No running water.  Located in Africa.  Ya know, stuff like that.  But for the most part, I have some pretty good digs.

Here, see for yourselves.

This video of my place in Bogo was taken the very first day I moved in.  It was entirely furnished by prior volunteers which was a major boon many other volunteers did not receive.

Here is a video of my place in Mbakaou taken the last day before heading back to America.  Sort of put that one off till the last minute.  You'll notice I drug down a ton of the free stuff I got in Bogo.  Or maybe not, since the lighting is kinda shit.  Well it's all your like to get for the next year so deal.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tibati Cluster for Life

In Bogo, I was an hour away from Maroua the regional capital.  Most volunteers were only a couple hours from there.  We may have had "clusters", the administrative organization for work and security, but with all of us so close to our office/home-away-from-home we didn't really operate like that.  The Extreme Northerners were just all in it together; any time you went to town you were bound to run into somebody.  (I'm informed by Erin, my old post mate, that not only was Bogo a cluster in and of itself, but I was the de facto head of said cluster.  Huh, who knew?)

Tibati Cluster, on the other hand, is a family.  We are some seven hours from the regional capital of Ngaoundere (baring some tricky stuff involving hopping a train in another town at five in the morning).  We are thus a bit isolated.  Isolation breed intimacy (among other things like insanity).  WE DON'T NEED NGAOUNDERE.  Or other people.  We have each other.

(and also matching outfits)
Stephanie, Caitlin, and myself are all displaced Extreme North volunteers.  We all lost our original homes and were sent off into nowhere to open up new ones.  Start afresh in an area that hasn't had Peace Corps for almost a decade.  They couldn't of sent a better team!  (This is not true; I could have totally organized a better team and it likely wouldn't have included me.  But they couldn't have organized a more awesome team!)  When I tell people who I'm posted near they are all like, "What?  That's awesome!  I wish I was near Stephanie and Caitlin!"  Yea!  And they probably say that about me too.  Oh.  No.  Caitlin says that when she tells people she's near me they say things like, "Well, THAT guy is crazy."  Yea, but the good kind.

I call them both Nuna which means "big sister" in Korea.  How I got posted near two Asian-Americans of Korean descent is one of life's mysteries.  I'm clearly the little brother of the family in spite of being physically larger and also technically older by far.  The important bit is that  we are most definitely a family.  A properly dysfunctional one too.  And right now, I'm laying in a bed at Caitlin's place as she nurses me back to health from some silly bout of malaria.  Yes, Stephanie, we watched Running Man last night and, yes, I still maintain that it is some of the greatest television ever produced.  My head hurt every time I laughed.  Feel Touch Cross!

Sadly Stephanie left us not too long ago.  She has gone on to bigger and better things in America.  The land of everything.  She was replaced by what is probably a perfectly good human named Liz.  She's not Korean though, so I don't really know what that's about.  And she naturally can't replace Stephanie.  Mostly because I won't let her.


Ok, delirium seems to be setting in again.  Here is another picture:

"CAITLIN, my water bottle is empty and my head hurts!   Fix it."

Reunion 2020: Seoul

NOTE:  In America, I promised myself I would do a better job of keeping you updated.  Clearly I'm not doing that.  Tis not my fault!  My normal internet has gone from being shitty to being nonexistent.  There is none in Mbakaou and none in Tibati.  A short 8 hour drive and I have decent, less shitty internet, but, alas, I'm not prepared to make that trip so often.  We, my friends, have survived worse trials and shall survive this.  Have faith!  Plus you can now follow me on twitter @juggledgeese; I can update that via texts from my phone.  AND if you message me there or tweet at me, it goes directly to my cell here.  In Africa.  For free.  Technology, you crazy.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Treking about Cameroon

We complain about travel in America.  We complain and we really, really shouldn't.  You don't know pain.  You know not suffering.

You guys remember that time I had my host family kids stay with me?  Well when I took them back down south we all had to ride on the train.  Since I was buying their way, I bought us all second class tickets.  In the future, I'll choose jumping into a bear pit over this option.  It is an overnight train that is a minimum of 12 hours.  Do you know how second class works?  They just sell as many tickets as possible.  I'm not convinced there is any sort of limit.  We pushed and shoved our way through the eight second class cars looking for anywhere we could find space.  All the seats were taken.  People were laying on the floors beneath.  Even the connectors between cars were full.  There was only standing room in the aisles.  Some lovely humans scrunched up and provided we four with a single seat.  I gave it to the kids and sat on our luggage in the aisle being pushed around every five minutes by someone trying to get by.  This went on for half past eternity before I gave up.  I left those children and paid some exorbitant fee to whomever and was allowed entry into the dining car where I slept on a table.  I came here to live the life of Africans.  The contract was a little fuzzy on which sort of Africans and I've since decided it doesn't include second class ones.

Point is that I felt some weird sort of uncomfort in the luxury of the States.  I was picked up from the airport in a car and had my own seat!  ALL MINE!  I'm pretty sure I fidgeted in it the whole way not knowing what to do with myself.  Driving around on my own left me with the constant compulsion to pull over and try to pick people up.  Here a car ride means four people in the front and four in the back.  At least.  This does not count children who are non-entities and can be shovel anywhere.  Yes, in trunks, but not so often.  You just pray you don't get the bitch sit and have to share with the driver.  I'll say truly that this is the one time I find myself ok with malnutrition.

We'll toss out the full 24 hours I spent in airports and planes to get back to Africa.  Sure I didn't sleep a wink either way.  On the way home it was complete glee that kept me up (plus a desire to watch every film I'd never heard of before).  On the way back it was the anxiety of "Why the hell did I get on this plane?  I know exactly what's waiting for me this time!".  No, it was that train ride.  I paid for the sleeper car to share with three other Cameroonians; price doesn't matter for some things even if I still barely slept.  I had to be up by 4:30 to make sure I caught my stop.  Then pile into a car per above instructions for a couple hours.  Then hire a couple of motorcycles (loaded with 100 plus pounds of baggage) and another hour.  Oh and don't forget we aren't exactly on freeways.  Yes, some of it was paved--pothole ridden naturally--but the majority wasn't.  It's dry season so basically the entirety of this affair involved eating dust and gaining that special layer of Africa I'll be keeping for the next year.  It protects against the tireless sun.  Airplane, train, car, motorcycle.  I actually could add a boat into the trek if I wanted.  I don't.

I've learned a lot about myself living here.  One of those things is that if I'm ever going to work in Africa again, they are providing me with a goddamn car.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Time to meet the Family

Alright, it's about time I show you the folks I'm living with.  I may have explained to some of you that I live in a house in an enclosed compound.  My landlord has a few houses in the compound as well where he lives with his two wives and five kids.  Took me forever to figure out which kids actually belonged in the house though... and even longer to figure out their names.

Here we go!

Here's a group photo missing only the wives.  And one baby.
The tall guy above (seriously like seven foot something) is Al-hadji Awal.  I introduce him as the king of the place.  Then myself as the prince.  He laughs off being king, but confirms my own royalty.

OUMI!  She may be the most adorable thing in the world.  She was terrified of me for the longest time, but now she's learned to walk and regularly walks inside all on her own in the search for candies.  Oumi is probably not her real name, but that's all I've discovered so far.

On the left we have the oldest girl, Halima.  She's pretty awesome and speaks pretty good French.  Only occasionally does she creepy things like touch my chest and call me beautiful.  The kid on the right is Nafi or Nafissatou.  She lives in abject fear of me.  Panics if I touches her and cries immediately if left alone with me.  I'll be a great dad one day.

This is Ou-est-lei or something like that.  She's the youngest wife and speaks decent French.  This is relatively unnecessary as no matter what I say, I'm served fish in oily sauce with mashed grain paste.  Also the subject of that terrifying exorcism. No longer possessed, hooray!

Here's the older wife.  She likely has a name too, but I've no idea what it might be.  She does not speak French.  But she seems nice and smiles at me a lot.

Boss Al-hadji with his tiniest, Nafi.  There is another kid on the way though to replace you Nafi.  Then you'll be left all alone with me.  Hahahaha.

Here we have the oldest boy, Ismaila.  He's a good kid, but really quiet.  Sometimes he just sits in a chair and stares at me while I read.  It's like bonding.

And finally Riz.  Can't forget Riz.  Don't let this picture fool you, he is the devil incarnate.  I rarely call him Riz, but like to alternate between the French equivalents for Hard-headed, Devil, Demon, Tiny Thief, or whatever else seems appropriate at the time.  He's a crafty one.  And a lady-killer.  I see a lot of me in him.

He must be stopped.

Well there's my family.  They are a good crew.  Always looking out for me and keeping me company.  I missed them while I was away. Not more than I miss pizza while I'm here, but hey.