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.