Monday, August 26, 2013

The Legendary Cameroonian Generosity (Guest Blog from Mama Bear)


Salaam Aleykum – Aleykum Salaam came the response inviting us to enter. The compound has no doors; instead there is a labyrinth of pathways separated by mud walls protecting the privacy of its inhabitants. We have arrived at the home of Sali, the deputy chief of the village, and his wife Amina, on a Ramadan evening. Amina lays out an ornate guest mat for us to sit on under the shelter of the palm-leaf canopy, and two pillows for our heads if we wish to lay down. The thatched roofs of the village huts gradually disappear with the last light of the day and are replaced by millions of stars above the Sahel.
Although the family must still wait for the long final prayer before breaking their fast, Amina brings us a bowl of water to wash our hands and serves us our meal. A cornmeal soup and crispy white bean beignets (a Ramadan specialty), followed by a tray of fist-sized balls of steamed and pounded millet. This is served with a communal bowl of sauce made of different green leaves with either a bit of meat, dried fish, peanuts, or beans. Using only the right hand, one takes a bit of millet, forming it into a small ball and then making an indentation with the thumb. This serves as a spoon to soup up the sauce and the whole thing is popped in the mouth.
The atmosphere is peaceful, spiritual, and welcoming. They truly make us feel honored to share their food with them. Everyday, Alissa eats at the homes of friends. To understand the extent of this generosity, one must remember the cycles of the calendar year – the long desert dry season the short rainy season for planting, and the “hungry” season. This is the period just before the new harvest when the food supplies from the year before have been exhausted. Two days a week, the health clinic here in Badjouma has malnutrition clinics, such is the extent of the food problem.

Amina and her daughter praying before the meal.

Madina serving the cornmeal soup to break the Ramadan fast.
Millet drying in the sun in the neighbors' compound
The back-breaking job of getting water from the well. There are actually many children who die by accidentally falling into these wells with little or no wall around them.

A community meeting that Alissa initiated to discuss money management - how to create a budget and ways to save.

Alissa's amazing counterpart, Moussa - a farmer who is a remarkable, energetic community activist.

Alissa's favorite spot along the rainy season river, where hangs her hammock in the shade. She watches the women and children wash their clothes and the goats grazing in the field.

To Be or Not To Be or “When is the feast of Ramadan”

Hair has been braided and bodies decorated with henna designs. New clothes are ready, with brilliant colors undiminished by the intense Sahelian sun and successive washings. All the preparations are in place. Now, we just wait. Wait for the Grand Imam of Cameroon to see that first sliver of the new moon. An announcement will be made on the radio. It will be one of the two nights and may not be the same as that in another country. Here it is a determination made by the naked eye and not by astronomical calculations.
We had our evening meal under the stars with friends but there was no moon to be seen. At 6:30am, Madina called with the news: “C'est la fête!” Late the night before, the new moon was finally spotted, bringing an end to the month long fast and ushering in three days of fasting.
Before going to pray at the mosque, our neighbors surprised us with breakfast – a tray filled with the traditional feast meal of rice and sauce with a bit of meat, and tea. Then Alissa and I hopped on the back of a motorcycle in our fancy dresses (not an easy task in front of a crowd of people) and rode off through the countryside to the palace of the Lamidot, the Supreme Chief in the village of Be (Alissa's village of Badjouma is in the Kingdom of Be). The Lamidot's musicians and “griots” (storytellers) play, dance, and sing praises to him. As the musicians prepared to enter the palace, we were invited into the throne room for a private meeting with the Lamidot. He was seated on his throne in full ceremonial dress, surrounded by members of his court also in spectacular attire with long swords. The oboists, drummers, singers and sword-waving griots put on a wild show and we snapped photos.
We were then offered soft drinks (warm, of course). To our immense delight the royal aide opened bottles with the Swiss Army knife that I had brought him as a gift one week earlier, engraved with his name: Sa Majesté le Lamidot de Be.
In another part of the palace, a massive cooking project was underway. Later in the day, every Muslim in the village would receive a feast prepared at the palace.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

3rd Time's a Charm


I have been dreading writing this blog post, which is why it has taken me so long to do so.
Shortly after I wrote last, a French family was kidnapped in the Extreme-North region of Cameroon by Boko Haram, and taken into Nigeria. They were released a few months later, unharmed, and I would like to stress that none of us were ever in any danger, but the incident shaped my, and many of my fellow volunteers', Peace Corps service.

Mogode, being on the border with Nigeria, was the first site to be closed by Peace Corps for security reasons. Over the next few months, the entire region was closed, and about thirty volunteers became homeless. I won't go into too much detail about what it felt like being ripped out of our communities, but if you would like to understand a little more about what each of us went through, here is a link to my friend Shane's blog post about the experience: http://pcmobilis.tumblr.com/post/49118557311/evacuation-my-most-important-blog-post-ever

Most of us refugees decided to stay in Cameroon, to finish our service in a new community. For me, that community is Badjouma, a small village in the North region. The third time has been a charm in some ways, and a curse in others.

On my good days, I think of how lucky I am to have found such a wonderful and welcoming community, with people who understand the work I hope to do here, who want to work with me to achieve these goals, and who have been so generous in opening their homes and hearts to me. I can count the number of meals that I have eaten alone on the fingers of one hand, and in a region where food is often scarce, that has meant a lot. By starting a third post, I have been given a unique opportunity to start my Peace Corps service from scratch, but with all the lessons that I have learned during my nearly two years in Cameroon.

On my bad days, though, I wonder if I can do this all over again. Learning new faces, learning a new language, learning my way around a new regional capital, making new friends, eating new foods. I have often found myself nostalgic for Fonfuka, my first village. I forget the hardships and the reasons I left, and remember instead the familiarity of it all that can only come with living somewhere for more than a year.

I think everyone has a special attachment to their first Peace Corps village, whether they spend a month, a year, or three years, there. It is the same sort of attachment that one has for their first love. You plunge into the experience head first, you make mistakes but laugh at them because you don't know any better, you try harder than you have ever tried anything to make it work, and if, when, it doesn't work out, you over-analyze the reasons why. Could you have done more? Was it just not a good fit? You eventually forget all the difficult moments, you forget the reasons you left, and you embellish the reasons why you didn't leave sooner. During the two and a half months that I've spent in Badjouma, I've struggled with this nostalgia. Every time someone calls me “Nassara” (white man), or anytime I am forced to answer someone speaking to me in Fulfulde with “Mi famay” (I don't understand), the frustration that comes with being the new kid in town resurfaces.

But that is what being a Peace Corps volunteer is about. It is precisely about being the new kid in town, and as soon as you think you can't take it anymore, people in your market call you by your name, your counterpart excitedly tells you about the projects he wants to accomplish, a community group asks you to come every week and teach them about a new health topic. Just when you think you're about to pull your hair out, you look into the sky after eating a Ramadan meal with your new friends and you see a shooting star. Just when you think you're going to smack the kids that knock on your door all day wanting to come pick up the palm nuts that have fallen from the tree in your compound, you open the door to some kids who hand you food that they have brought from their house.

No, my Peace Corps service has not gone quite how I had imagined, and it sure as hell has not been easy. But it has allowed me to meet incredible people in not one, not two, but three different communities. It has allowed me live in three different regions of the country, to experience vastly different cultures, and to be awed, in some way, by each of these communities along the way. From the mountains and jujus of the North West, to the magical landscapes of the Kapsiki region of the Extreme-North, to the desert paradise I had dreamed of the North – although this journey has not been what I expected, it has definitely not been disappointing.
Women gathering firewood outside of Mogode

The drive into Mogode

Badjouma


Vaccinations around Badjouma


My counterpart Musa and I holding a needs assessment meeting

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Times They Are a Changing


A lot has changed in the past few months.
In December, I took a trip to Uganda with two of my best friends, Katie and Laura. Everything about the trip and the country was incredible. We went gorilla tracking, hiking for hours through the dense rainforest to find our family of gorillas. We were only feet from about fifteen of them, in the wild, and watched as they breastfed, played, and acted pretty much like hairy people. Definitely one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and one that I am not likely to forget any time soon.
Other activities in Uganda included rafting the Nile, going on a safari in Murchinson Falls National Park, and seeing my homestay dad from when I studied abroad in Uganda a few years ago.
Being in Uganda was such a nice break for all of us – we remained in Africa, but it almost felt halfway to America. Uganda is the land of nicely paved roads, cops who do their jobs, the friendliest people in the world, malls, lochs and cream cheese bagels, Mexican food, and beans on toast. Anything and everything that we had been craving for the past 15 months in Cameroon was at our fingertips in Uganda.

Getting back to Cameroon was a bit difficult for everyone after such a wonderful vacation, but I had a reason to be excited – before leaving for Uganda, I had decided to move villages. I had spent over a year in Fonfuka, and while the people were welcoming and wonderful, it was difficult to find work partners, and I was getting increasingly frustrated. One of my friends in the Extreme-North had recently gone home, and this presented the perfect opportunity for me to spend my second year up there. In late January, I finally hauled my ass up to the Extreme-North region, moved to my new village of Mogode, and started my new Peace Corps experience there.

Mogode is everything that I have ever dreamed of in a post. It's a big village in the Sahel region, mostly populated by the Kapsiki people, near the border with Nigeria, with an incredible market, beautiful scenery, and motivated people to work with. In the past three weeks that I've spent in Mogode, I have loved everything about it, even the things that suck and that I know I will soon get sick of. I just love it all because it's new, and it's challenging, and it's challenging in exactly the way that I expected my Peace Corps service to be.
I love the dryness. I love the sun on my face. I love “voile-ing” myself, or wearing a scarf over my shoulders and sometimes head. I love not understanding the languages spoken around me, because I know that I will soon and that's a huge challenge right there. And I love learning new words everyday. I love looking up at the mountains around me. I love sitting with old women and helping them crack open huge mounds of peanuts. I love walking around discovering my new village. I love being hot, for now. I love saying “salam aleykum” when I enter someone's house. I love drinking bil-bil (traditional millet beer) out of a calabash in the market with my neighbor. I love pooping under the moonlight, in my ceiling-less latrine. I love being close enough to other volunteers and to Maroua that it isn't a huge expensive ordeal to go there, yet far enough that I would only do it once or twice a month. I love the culture of just sitting under a tree and talking. I love the traditional clothes. I love having a dog to cuddle with while I watch TV on my computer at night. I love having electricity and telephone service in my house. I love the Grand-North, how nice people are up here, how much they don't “derange”, or bother you. I love Maroua, the regional capital, with its tree-lined, sandy streets.
I know I will eventually get used to a lot of these things, and sick of even more of them, but for now, Mogode is perfect. Peace Corps is hard no matter where you are, and Mogode will have its own challenges, but I can't wait to integrate more, really get to work, and truly make Mogode my new home.

By the way – I also have a new address while I'm up here:
Alissa Ferry
BP 131
Maroua, Extreme-Nord
Cameroun

Beaucoup a changé dans les derniers quelques mois.
En Décembre, je suis partie en vacances en Ouganda avec deux de mes meilleures potes, Katie et Laura. C'était des vacances incroyables. On a fait un trek aux gorilles - marché pendant des heures à travers la jungle pour trouver notre famille de gorilles. On était seulement à quelques mètres d'environ quinze gorilles, en pleine jungle, alors qu'il allaitaient, jouaient, et avait des airs d'humains poilus. Certainement un des moments les plus incroyables en mémorables de ma vie.
On a aussi fait du rafting sur le Nile, un safari dans le parc national de Murchinson Falls, et j'ai pu revoir mon père de la famille d'accueil avec laquelle j'avais vécu pendant mon séjour en Ouganda il y a quelques années.
L'Ouganda était un endroit magique pour passer des vacances - on est resté en Afrique, mais c'était presque comme l'Occident pour nous toutes. L'Ouganda est un pays de routes bétonnées, de gendarmes qui font bien leur travail, de bagels, de nourriture méxicaine. Tout ce dont on avait rêvé depuis quinze mois au Cameroun était devenu réalité.

Le retour au Cameroun après ce séjour incroyable était difficile pour tout le monde, mais pour moi, j'avais une vraie raison de me réjouir - avant le départ, j'avais décidé de déménager. J'avais passé plus d'un an à Fonfuka, et même si les gens étaient incroyables et généreux, c'était difficile de trouver du travail, et je devenais de plus en plus frustrée. Une de mes amies dans la région de l'Extrême-Nord était récemment rentrée aux States, et ça m'a donné l'opportunité de passer ma deuxième année là-bas. En fin Janvier, j'ai pris mes cliques et mes claques et j'ai déménagé dans mon nouveau village de Mogodé, pour terminer mon service du Corps de la Paix là-haut.

Mogodé, c'est le rêve. C'est un grand village dans le Sahel, peuplé de Kapsikis, proche de la frontière avec le Nigéria, avec un marché incroyable et une population motivée. Pendant mes trois premières semaines à Mogodé, j'adore tout, même les choses que je sais sont nulles et dont je vais me lasser très bientôt. J'adore Mogodé parce que c'est nouveau et parce que c'est difficile, mais c'est difficile exactement de la manière dont je voulais que cette expérience soit difficile.

J'adore la sècheresse. J'adore le soleil sur mon village. J'adore me voiler. J'adore rien comprendre aux langues qui sont parlées autour de moi, en sachant que je vais un jour les parler. J'adore apprendre des nouveaux mots tous les jours. J'adore regarder les montagnes qui m'entourent tous les jours. J'adore m'asseoir avec des vieilles mamans et décortiquer les arachides pendant des heures. J'adore me ballader et découvrir mon village. J'adore avoir chaud, en tout cas pour l'instant. J'adore dire "salam aleykum" en entrant chez quelqu'un. J'adore boire le bil-bil (bière de mille) dans les calebasses au marché avec moi voisine. J'adore faire caca en regardant la lune dans ma latrine sans toit. J'adore être proche d'autres volontaires et de Maroua, et le fait que je ne dois pas payer une fortune simplement pour y aller. J'adore m'asseoir sous l'ombre d'un arbre juste pour parler. J'adore les habits traditionnels. J'adore me coucher avec mon chien le soir un regarder la télé sur mon ordinateur. J'adore l'électricité et le fait que j'ai le réseau téléphonique chez moi. J'adore le Grand Nord, les gens tellement sympas et qui ne dérangent pas. J'adore Maroua, le capitale régionale, avec ses routes ensablées et ombrées avec des grands arbres.

Je sais que bientôt je vais m'habituer à toutes ces choses qui m'inspirent tellement en ce moment, et certainement beaucoup de ces choses vont finir par m'énerver, mais pour l'instant. Mogode est parfait. Le Corps de la Paix est difficile ou que l'on soit, et Mogodé aura ses propres difficultés, mais je me réjouis de devenir de plus en plus integrée, de vraiment commencer le travail, et de vraiment voir Mogodé comme mon nouveau "chez moi."



Saturday, November 17, 2012

A don kam back

A dey here, pipol dem. A don kam back.
In other words. I am here. I have returned.

I apologize for the lack of updates. No excuses really, other than my laziness, which seems to be increasing by the day, as I continue to live my life by my own schedule and according to my own self-discipline, of which I have very little.

How to summarize the last two and a half months?

Well, in September Raphael came for a quick visit to Fonfuka, which was great. We managed to get all the way to village in a CAR! Yes. A real, 4-wheeled, semi-functioning sort of vehicle. Not without an awkward encounter with a fou (aka a crazy) in the neighboring village, which resulted in him getting the crap kicked out of him as our fellow passengers leapt to our defense as we were being bothered.

Raph was here for my birthday, which turned out to be one of the best days here. We started the day off with an hour and a half hike to the small village of Tonghaki, where we supposedly had an outreach vaccination that day. No one showed up but a drunk fou. On va faire comment?
The whole day people were being so nice to us - randomly handing us money for drinks and phone credit, buying us drinks in the market - you name it. I had given my friend Sen and her family some money to buy a chicken so that Raph could taste our traditional meal of fufu njamma njamma khati khati. We sat as the guests of honor in their house, I made an awkward speech à la camerounaise, and we indulged, along with dozens of neighbors. Everyone was gitty from eating meat and celebrating a birthday - no disposable income means birthdays here are rarely an event to be remembered. The kids sang me a slightly modified version of Happy Birthday, entitled 'How Old Are you Now?'. On our walk back, we ran into a motorcycle coming from Fundong with a care package from mom strapped to the back! So a great day finished with a great evening of binge eating swiss chocolate by candle light.

All alone at the vaccination clinic.

Raph and I in Tonghaki.
My birthday party
Raph and Sen
I mostly stayed in village for the following month, chopping life (enjoying life). By mid-October, I was on the road again, though. I spent a week in Bokito helping out with the training of the new group of volunteers. They're a great group and I'm so excited for them to move to their posts in a week!
After leaving them, I made my way to Bertoua for the first of many Halloween parties. Turns out, Peace Corps Volunteers really like Halloween. I was put to shame. Have no fear, though; I have already started preparing for next year. My first taste of the East was great - it felt like a mix of the Grand South and the Grand North, not nearly as derange-y as I had imagined, and anyway it didn't really matter because I got to see so many faces that I had missed for so long.

After a few days in Bertoua, a few of my friends and I took the bus up to Ngaoundere, where we got ready for the Halloween party there. A few days later came the Halloween party in Garoua. The climax of it all was the fantastic election party back down in Ngaoundere, where we drank beer all day and Red Bull all night. All worth it, because Obama won! Yay for being able to show my face in public. Ironically, November 6th was a public holiday here in Cameroon, in celebration of 30 years of Paul Biya...
The next day, a few of us took the long bus ride up to Maroua, which remains my favorite city in this country. Laura and I went to her village to work on a project we're collaborating on. I was immediately given a name, so I'm just giving you all a heads up that I will not longer respond to anything other than Aissatou. I had a great time seeing a slice of her life au village, and seeing more faces that I hadn't seen in ages.

My time in the Grand North came too an end all too quickly, as usual, and I began the long journey home. Slept through the entire 9 hour bus ride to Ngaoundere, and the entire 12 hour train ride to Yaounde. I've decided I'm quite magical when it comes to sleeping in vehicles. I'm currently in Bamenda, realizing I have way too many bags to physically transport back to Fonfuka. But that's a problem for tomorrow.

I am gearing up for a couple of exciting weeks back home. Next week I will be conducting a three-day training of peer educators on HIV transmission and prevention. I will train 21 motorcycle drivers as peer educators. A week later is World AIDS Day, which I'm hoping will be the biggest thing ever to hit this village. And only a few days later, I'm off to Uganda for three weeks with two of my best friends. I cannot wait to go back to Uganda, to eat matoke, to track gorillas, to raft the Nile, to see my homestay family.

Time is flying by. Before we know it we will be looking back at these moments as fond memories. I just try to constantly remind myself that this is the most incredible experience I will ever have, and despite the frustrations, I need to grab it by the horns and enjoy every second of this adventure.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

New address!

Hey all,

I opened a PO Box in my neighboring village, so I will be able to get mail more frequently. If you want to send me creepy love letters or amazing packages, here is where to:

Alissa Ferry
PO Box 21
Misaje, Donga-Mantung Division
North West Region
CAMEROON

Airmail / Par Avion

I have just arrived in Bamenda after discovering what it truly means to travel during the rainy season. After leaving my house at 6:30 this morning, I arrived in Bamenda, my regional capital, at 11:30pm. However, it is not the multiple breakdowns and getting stuck in mud that I will remember from this trip, but rather, how patient everyone was. Including me! No one was even phased by the length of the journey, because hey, what can you do about it? You may as well just sit back and enjoy the ride. My 16 hour journey was made all the better by the country music that the driver played as we arrived in Bamenda. Even when this country fails, it is still awesome.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Travels to the North and Beyond


After mom's departure and Raph's arrival in Cam-Town, and a 4th of July party that would make America proud, I headed up to the Grand North for a little fun in the desert. This entailed a 24-hour trip directly from Yaoundé to Maroua, which was beautiful and filled me with region-envy. The city itself is wan-da-ful – planned, calm, and beautiful – and not nearly as hot as I had imagined.
After copious amounts of bean sandwiches and a little day-drinking, we left for Rhumsiki, which is probably the most beautiful place I've ever been (GOOGLE IT!). We visited Suzie's post only a few kilometers from there - some of us are luckier than others... And although we were all peeing out of our butts by that time, we still had a ball enjoying the view, the company, and the amazing cooking.
Celebrating America. With Mexican beer. In Cameroon.
Katie, Laura, and I in Rhumsiki
All of us in Rhumsiki
We meandered through the Extreme-North. Our itinerary unfortunately ended up mostly revolving around the transit house and its two bathrooms, since we all got amoebas and were more or less immobile for a ten days. Ashia for us. But all is well that ends well. We didn't get to see nearly as much as we had hoped up there, but that just means we'll have to go back, sooner rather than later. Insha'allah.
After our hike up Mt Maroua
Victorious!
Popping some anti-diarrheal tablets, we hopped on the bus to Garoua, the regional capital of the North. We visited a few surrounding villages where volunteers from our training group are posted, which was great. It was really nice seeing how different people are adapting to different environments, seeing the connections and relationships they've built, and just seeing everyone in their new homes. We really have grown a lot in the past 11 months. It's crazy to think that we're only a few weeks away from hitting our 1 year mark in Cameroon!

Crystal, Katie, and I in front of the Lamido's palace in Shane's village
After our Tour du Nord, we bussed down to Ngaounderé, the regional capital of the Adamawa region. The culture is northern, but the weather is like the north-west – best of both worlds! While there, we got henna drawn on our hands and feet, which was beautiful and people back in Fonfuka absolutely loved it. We finally headed back down to Yaoundé on the train, which broke down after an hour. Luckily for us, we had a CD full of American music, which the train staff was gracious enough to play for us as we waited, and we were gracious enough to dance to, much to the amusement agony of our fellow passengers.

Henna!
And so my trip to the north comes to an end. This country really is so diverse, and I feel very lucky to be able to experience so many different cultures and climates within its borders. I absolutely loved it up there! But being back at post also made me realize all that I have built in Fonfuka. I had initially considered moving to the North, since I have struggled to find work in my village and was becoming frustrated. But as my motorcycle sped through Fonfuka for the first time in 6 weeks, people literally ran after it shouting “Welcome Aunty Alissa.” How could I leave that? How could I leave those relationships I've built over the last 8 months? Peace Corps is not easy, but the basis of the work we can hope to do here is in these relationships we have within our community, and being away for so long really made me appreciate those that I have there. I'm currently on my way back from a Girl's Empowerment Forum that I attended with two counterparts from my village. I think they learned a lot, and we all got a lot of ideas of projects we could try and implement in village. So all in all I'm very excited to go back to post tomorrow, and for the rest of my service in Fonfuka.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Alissa’s World from a different perspective



A guest blog from her mother

9 months into her Peace Corps adventure, I have had the privilege of sharing a few weeks with Alissa in her new environment. I have marveled at her adaptation – speaking Pidgin like a native, creating a calm living space despite her frequent house guests consisting of rats, bats, lizards, frogs, spiders, crickets and all the neighborhood kids.
A 7AM visit by a neighbor that just caught and decapitated a python
Her house is a favorite hangout for all the kids. The National Geographics are a big hit.
One of her favorite friends
Upon entering the region of Fonfuka, Alissa’s community high in the mountains of Northwest Cameroon, I noticed small children with hugely swollen bellies. If malnutrition is not a problem here, what is that? Worms, explained Alissa. Despite an intensive government program to de-worm children free of charge, lack of organization by the health clinics means that it is still a rampant problem. Immediately I saw the frustration that she confronts in trying to improve the efficiency of the vaccination program.
On our first day in the village, we went to the health clinic at 8AM, eager to get started. There was a vaccination clinic scheduled for 10AM in another village, a 2-hour trek away. Although there were no patients and absolutely no work being done, all 3 colleagues refused to accompany her, each with a different excuse. She stressed again and again that they could not disappoint these people. To build the trust of their community they had to respect their commitments. After hours of patient badgering, she and her colleague finally got on their way with the sun at its hottest. Better late than never.
That particular village is quite interesting. It is a compound of 300 people – Muslim cow herders of the Mbororo ethnic group – and is comprised of one single family! Built high on the top of a mountain, there are only about 10 men in the whole place who sit on velvet pillows in the shade of a mango tree in the center of the courtyard.
Three Ako Muslim women
The next day was a vaccination clinic in Alissa’s home village. She weighs the babies, prepares the vaccines and patient files, and gives a lecture in Pidgin on topics such as family planning, water and sanitation, or breast feeding.
Weighing babies
Parents waiting for Alissa's lecture to begin
But this day was special: a woman was in labor with twins. Here a pregnant woman has one foot in the grave. Infant and maternal death is common, especially in isolated villages. In this case, the nomadic Fulani woman chose to live the last 3 weeks of her pregnancy at the clinic. Far away from home, at least she had medical assistance when the moment arrived.
The delivery room was stiflingly hot. On the other side of the thin wall with the broken window were the sounds of crying babies and the squacking of chickens pecking at the dirt. We fanned her face using a plastic plate from Alissa’s kitchen, rubbed her back and caressed her head. She was incredibly beautiful and graceful, wearing long beaded earrings and a leather bangle on her wrist. Her bright yellow wrapped skirt also became the sheet to cover the plastic mattress.
But the most astonishing thing was that this woman NEVER made a sound! Despite the excruciating pain and 20 hours of labor there was not a drop of perspiration. Her silence and acceptance of the suffering gave the whole experience a spiritual atmosphere. Like a Madonna and a miraculous birth.
The first child was finally born – a healthy baby girl. Strangely she was never given to the mother for bonding. She was immediately swathed in layers of much-to-warm clothing and abandoned on the rusty bed on the other side of the room.
Half an hour later things turned dramatic. Suddenly there were two legs sticking out of this woman. Alissa and I looked at each other in horror as the nurse pulled with all his force to extract the baby’s shoulders. Finally a lifeless baby boy was lying on the bed. After heart compressions a feeble cry was heard. Dancing and rejoicing insued. The nurse then said “Let’s see if the pharmacy is open to get her an Ibuprofen!”

Let’s talk about the food situation. June is the end of the mango season and the beginning of the glorious pineapple season, all growing right outside her door. In this community everyone grows just enough to feed his own family. Corn, yams and beans form the foundation of the diet. The Muslims live in the hills with their cows and goats. The problem is there is practically nothing to buy in the village – just a few staples like rice, spaghetti, tomato paste, palm oil and powdered milk. Once a week there is a market day with a few more fresh products, maybe even a slaughtered cow or some fish. And everything takes an enormous effort to prepare. Even to make rice one spends about an hour picking out dead bugs and stones.
These people are incredibly generous. The first few days of my stay everyone was bringing us welcome gifts of food, including the Hausa chief who brought us a rooster. Eating fowl is a special treat but a major ordeal. Someone has to kill it, pluck it, clean out the insides, cut it up and finally cook it. That rooster which woke us up every morning became a curry that we shared with about 12 people, each getting a tiny piece to gnaw on.
One of Alissa’s projects is to teach the people how to make tofu, or “soy meat”. It’s a nutritious, inexpensive source of protein and something they can sell in the street on brochette sticks as snacks. Flavored with the traditional Cameroonian seasonings of garlic, hot pepper, ginger, and then fried, it is absolutely delicious. Together we perfected our recipe. The most moving moment came the first time that we sorted through the soybeans by candlelight. (After 6 PM, everything is by candlelight!) We took small handfuls, checking each bean for maggots, worms, and slimy webs. We realized that this was the plight of millions of women all over the world in their daily struggle to feed their families. Alissa recalled the first time she made beans after arriving in Fonfuka. She soaked them overnight and in the morning she found the water filled with dead bugs. Horrified, she threw them out behind her house. A few minutes later her neighbor passed by and asked if he could have them to plant. He proceeded to collect every single one, precious seeds with which he could feed his entire family.
A lesson not to forget.

Scenes of daily life in Fonfuka:
Washing her clothes
Grinding the seasoning for tofu

Administering first aid, sitting next to her Peace Corps Medical Kit and a book on radical black political thought.
A typical night
The Bum and Fulani peoples are separated by language, culture, and religion. Even at vaccination clinics they sit separately from one another. This photo shows that it is indeed possible for them to interact in harmony!
Africa really suits her!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

101 ways that Cameroonians can (and will) call you fat

101 ways that Cameroonians can (and will) call you fat

- You di fat sotey!
- You really enjoyed Bamenda, you are very fat.
- I see you are eating fufu corn and njama njama, you have become very fat. When you arrived, you were too small.
- Alissa! You are huge! Your mother will not recognize you when she sees you!
- We cannot both fit on a motorcycle, you weigh 100 kg

I haven't blogged in a while, so I will just do a quick recap of the last few months in Cameroon. In March our whole training group got together again in Bamenda for IST, In-Service Training. It was really great seeing everyone, and also pretty nice to be out of village for a couple of weeks. After IST, a group of us decided to go to Kribi, down in the dirty dirty South, on the beach. We spent 5 days in a beach front hotel, eating amazing fresh seafood and generally having a great time. While all the northerners went back to get their train, my friend Krisitin and I decided to head back to village slowly, passing through the Littoral region to spend a few days at our friend Katie's post. The few travels I've done in this country make me so excited for the next 2 years (well, 20 months now, I guess). I'm continually in awe of the landscapes and the people, and cannot wait to see the rest of this country. Yeah there are moments when Cameroon drives me insane, but most of the time I love it, and I definitely would not want to be anywhere else but here.

Traveling through Cameroon

Kribi

Last weekend I took a trip to Lake Nyos with one of my friends from village. Lake Nyos is a crater lake that is bubbling with carbon dioxide, and in 1986 it exploded, suffocating thousands of people in Cameroon and Nigeria. When I first heard about it before coming to Cameroon, I thought to myself “yeah, it's a little scary, but what are the odds of being near that lake.” Well look at me now. I'm closer to the exploding lake than to any other volunteer. No worries though, the gases did not reach Fonfuka. It did kill everyone in Su-Bum, though, which was the biggest Bum village at the time. In fact, the explosion happened on Su-Bum's market day, and was the day before a big magistrate court meeting there, so a lot of outsiders were killed as well. I pass through what is left of Su-Bum on my way out of Fonfuka, and it's pretty erie. There are only a few hundred people that still live there, mostly those who have just recently resettled there looking for fertile land. A few months ago, I rode on a motorcycle with a guy from Su-Bum. His entire family was killed in the explosion and he even pointed out where his compound used to be. He happened to be in Fundong playing a soccer game that day.

Lake Nyos - red because of the gas

The new primary school in Su-Bum, with the old magistrate building in the background

I'm back in Bamenda for a few days with a bunch of volunteers. Hopefully a few of them will come back to Fonfuka with me and from there we'll hike the 6 hours or so to Crystal's village, crossing the hanging bridge and all. From there, who knows. So much exploring left to do. Maybe a little work in village too. We shall see. Cameroon is my oyster at the moment, and judging by all the fat comments I've been getting recently, I am clearly ready to dig in.

My neighbor Florence and I on our way to a death celebration

My induction as a Bum woman (in traditional clothes) by the women's groups of Fonfuka

Les 101 façons pour les Camerounais de te dire que tu es grosse

- You di fat sotey! (tu es très grosse)
- Tu as vraiment profité de Bamenda. Tu es très grosse maintenant.
- Je vois que tu mange le fufu et njama njama, tu es devenue très grosse. Quand tu es arrivée ici, tu étais trop mince.
- Alissa! Tu es énorme! Ta mère ne va pas te reconnaître quand elle vient te rendre visite!
- Nous ne pouvons pas les deux monter sur la même moto, tu pèse peut-être 100 kg.

Je n'ai pas écrit de blog depuis longtemps, alors je vais vite faire un petit résumé de mes derniers quelques mois au Cameroun. En mars, tout le groupe avec qui j'étais à Bokito s'est retrouvé pour une formation supplémentaire à Bamenda. C'était vraiment super de voir tout le monde, et d'être loin du village pendant quelques semaines. Après la formation, quelques uns d'entre nous avions décidé d'aller dans la région du Sud, à la plage de Kribi. On a passé 5 jours là-bas au bord de la mer à nager, à manger du poisson frais, et à profiter. Quand tous ceux du Grand Nord ont dû partir pour prendre le train, ma pote Krisitin et moi avions décidé d'aller dans la région du Littoral voir le village d'une autre amie, Katie. Les quelques voyages que j'ai fais jusqu'à présent font que je me réjouis tellement des prochains 20 mois ici au Camer. Tout m'impréssionne ici, les gens autant que la nature. Je me réjouis vraiment de voir le reste du pays. Oui, il y a des moments où le Cameroun me donne envie de m'arracher les cheveux, mais c'est sûr que je ne voudrais être nul part d'autre en ce moment.

La semaine passée je suis allée au Lac Nyos avec une de mes amies du village. Le Lac Nyos est un lac rempli de dioxide de carbon, et il est connu parce qu'il a explosé en 1986, tuant des milliers de personnes au Cameroun et au Nigeria. La première fois qu'on m'a parlé de ce lac avant mon arrivée ici, je me suis dis “oui, ça fait un peu peur, mais quelle est la probabilité d'être proche de ce lac?” Eh bien me voilà. Je suis plus proche de ce lac que des autres volontaires! Mais pas de souçi, les gases ne sont pas arrivés jusqu'à Fonfuka. Par contre, tout le monde dans le village de Su-Bum est mort. Su-Bum était à l'époque le plus grand village Bum. L'explosion s'est même produite le jour du marché de Su-Bum, et le jour avant une grande réunion juridique, alors beaucoup de personnes venues de l'extérieur sont aussi mortes ce jour-là. Je passe à travers ce qui reste de Su-Bum quand je quitte mon village pour aller à Fundong, et c'est assez étrange d'être là-bas. Il n'y a que quelques centaines de personnes qui habitent là aujourd'hui, la plupart sont des gens qui sont revenus à la recherches de terres fertiles. Il y a quelques mois, mon chauffeur de moto me racontait qu'il vient de Su-Bum et que tout sa famille est decedée dans le désastre. Il a survécu seulement parce qu'il était allé à Fundong ce jour là pour un match de foot. Il m'a même montré là où se trouvait sa maison.

La photo est de la nouvelle école primaire de Su-Bum, avec l'ancien magistrat derrière.

Me voilà de retour à Bamenda avec quelques autres volontaires. Normalement quelques uns d'entre eux vont venir à Fonfuka la semaine prochaine, et depuis là nous marcherons les 6 heures jusqu'au village de Crystal, une autre volontaire, en passant par le pont pendant, bien sûr. Et depuis là, qui sait. Il y a encore tellement de choses que je veux découvrir au Cameroun. Peut-être je travaillerai aussi un peu au village. On verra. En totu cas je vais profiter au max de ce pays, parce qu'après 7 mois ici, il ne m'en reste que 20!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Real Peace Corps

I stole this from a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. Could not be more accurate.

Doing something like the Peace Corps will be your lowest of lows and your highest of highs. Highs that shatter your previous world views. You will feel refreshed, walk in a forest and quote Thoreau. The lows can last so long that you need a fleeting moment of existentialism just to make it through the rainy season. Well, that, and a ton of movies. You will consider going home. You will count down the days until you leave. You will count up from the day you arrived.
"I can't believe we've been here a year"
"I can't believe we'll be here another year!"


You will understand yourself, question yourself. Compare where you come from to where you are. I have days when I miss America. I have days when I loathe it. Why do people care about Charlie Sheen and Amy Winehouse? How many Marines died last week? How many kids in the horn of Africa died of hunger? I can't even imagine dying of hunger. When I'm hungry, I eat.


Universally, Peace Corps Volunteers crave food. I have dreams about it. Vivid dreams where I belly flop into a bowl of ice cream off of a hot fudge brownie diving board. Sushi. I have a long distance relationship with Sushi and we are not communicating well.


As volunteers, we love to complain. We joke about our poop and our pooping locations. We laugh about smelling bad.
We smell bad.
We yearn for hot showers. But I think it's just for show.


Any volunteer, more so than food or showers, miss people and places. You will miss friends and seasons. During your service, you will be alone on the fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving. You will miss your family, your really hot girlfriend, and the contextual clues you associate with fond memories.


There will be times when, despite your pictures of you hugging little kids, you just want to tackle one of them and scream, my name is NOT "you you you!!! give me money!!!"
     
Life here is completely different. It is another world, lost in space and time. It is hard, and the little annoyances can manifest themselves into a black cloud. They certainly will, but it is important to make note of the small victories and the little moments. When I open my eyes I am reminded of why I am here. Just when I think a kid is running up to me to ask for money, she tells me that she loves me and blows me a kiss. But then I get on a bus and start crying. I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere with a busted engine. It's getting dark, I have a chicken in my lap and personal space at this point is a distant memory. People are yelling into their cell phones, begging me to speak to them and take them to America.


Remember in times like this to take a deep breath. Peace Corps really is a roller coaster. An exhilarating and scary ride that completely sucks and totally kicks ass.


And when you are feeling down, just remember to go outside and let Africa save you.


J'ai volé les mots qui suivent d'un volontaire actuellement en Ethiopie. Ca représente exactement ce que je vis ici.

Participer à quelque chose comme le Corps de la Paix t'amènera aux plus profonds ténèbres et aux plus hauts cieux. Les bons moments seront tellement incroyables qu'ils altèreront ta façon de voir le monde. Tu te sentiras renaître, tu marcheras dans la forêt en citant Thoreau. Les mauvais moments peuvent durer tellement longtemps qu'il faut un instant d'existentialisme pour survivre la saison des pluies. Ca et beaucoup de DVDs. Tu va penser à rentrer chez toi. Tu vas compter les jours jusqu'à la fin de ton service. Tu vas compter les jours depuis le début de ton service.
"Je n'arrive pas à croire que ça fait un an qu'on est ici"
"Je n'arrive pas à croire qu'on sera ici encore un an!"


Tu vas mieux te comprendre, tu vas te poser des questions. Tu vas comparer d'où tu viens et où tu es. Il y a des jours où les Etats-Unis me manquent. Il y a des jours où je déteste ce pays. Pourquoi est-ce que les gens sont tellement intéressés par des célébrités comme Charlie Sheen et Amy Winehouse? Combien de soldats ont étés tués aujourd'hui? Comment d'enfants en Afrique de l'Est sont morts de faim? Je n'arrive même pas à imaginer mourir de faim. Quand j'ai faim, je mange.


A travers le monde, ce que les volontaires du Corps de la Paix désirent ardemment c'est la nourriture familière. J'en rêve même. Des rêves très réalistes dans lesquels je nage dans une piscine de glace au chocolat avec un toboggan en brownie. Le sushi. J'ai une relation à longue distance avec le sushi et nous ne communiquons pas très bien en ce moment.


En tant que volontaires, on adore se plaindre. On fait des blague sur notre merde et sur les endroits où on chie. On blague qu'on sent mauvais.


On sent mauvais.


On rêve de douches chaudes. Mais je crois que c'est juste pour faire genre.


Ce que chaque volontaire désire ardemment, plus que la nourriture et les douches chaudes, c'est les personnes et les endroits. Pendant ton service, tu seras seul le jour du 4 Juillet, Halloween, et Thanksgiving. Ta famille va te manquer, ainsi que ta copine canon, et surtout les indices contextuels associés à tes bons souvenirs.


Il y aura des moments où, bien que tu ai des photos de toi entrain de prendre des enfants dans les bras, tu n'as qu'une envie c'est d'en tackler un et de lui crier que NON, je ne m'apelle pas "toi toi toi!!! donne moi de l'argent!!!"


La vie ici est complètement différente. C'est un autre monde, perdu en temps et en espace. C'est difficile, et les petites choses un peu énervantes peuvent rapidement s'accumuler et devenir un nuage noir. Certainement ça sera le cas, mais c'est important de se souvenir des petites victoires et des moments touchants. Quand j'ouvre les yeux, je me rappelle pourquoi je suis ici. Juste quand je crois qu'un enfant court vers moi pour me demander de l'argent, elle me dit qu'elle m'aime et m'embrasse. Mais juste après je prend le bus et me met à pleurer. Je suis bloquée au milieu de nulle part et la voiture est en panne. Il commence à faire nuit, j'ai une poule sur les genoux, et le concept d'espace personnel n'est qu'un souvenir. Des gens gueulent dans leurs portables, me suppliant de les ramener aux Etats-Unis avec moi. 


Souviens-toi dans de telles moments de respirer profondément. Le Corps de la Paix est vraiment une montagne russe. Une montagne russe à la fois excitante et terrifiante, qui est absolument affreuse mais aussi incroyable.


Et quand tu a un coup de blues, souviens-toi de sortir de chez toi et laisser l'Afrique te sauver.


http://waidsworld.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/the-real-peace-corps/

"She doesn't look fat, but she is!"

Words of wisdom from my tailor as she was measuring my hips. It was a compliment.

What can I say about the last month in village? It started out with Youth Day, which is a huge deal here in Cameroon. It's basically where all the VIPs of the village sit in the shade while all the kids march past them in the sun. It was a pretty exciting day for me, since the organization that requested me to come to Fonfuka had something special planned. With all the “grands” and the village watching, they formally introduced me to the community, dressed me up in traditional North West attire, and women's groups sang songs and gave me kilos and kilos of dry foods. Hopefully will be making tofu and soy milk soon to spice up my diet of carbs and palm oil. I will try to post some pictures when I get faster internet. I am now a Bum woman, through and through.

I went to a few outreach vaccinations again this month, which was fun and turnout is increasing, which is encouraging. But so many of the kids are not up to date with their vaccines, and even if all the parents brought their kids to the clinics regularly, there wouldn't be nearly enough vaccines to go around. A lot of the problems I'm seeing in Fonfuka are so frustrating because they're caused by things I have no control over, like lack of health staff or bad roads. I'm not really sure how much I'll really be able to do in two years, but hopefully I can lay a good foundation for the volunteers who will come after me.

Day to day life here is hard and it's frustrating, but it's also exactly what I want to be doing. The other day I was walking back from a vaccination clinic in the village of Kichowi with one of the nurses - a box of vaccines hanging over my shoulder, chewing on a kola nut to keep myself awake – and I realized that this is exactly what I imagined my Peace Corps service to be. Yes, it's tedious. Yes it's tiring, but this is just what I was looking for when I came to Cameroon. I knew I would be faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, but maybe I'll be able to surmount just a few of them while I'm here. So much of development is just giving people power over their own destinies, giving them the confidence and showing them the resources to stay healthy and make good choices. Even if I cannot fix some of the larger problems facing Fonfuka, and Cameroon in general, maybe I can nudge people in the right direction when it comes to their health. They are not stubborn and they are not stupid. They are just forgotten by the health staff and the health system. Walking 4 hours each way with a baby on your back every month to get your child a vaccine that may or may not be in stock is not an option for most of these women, so hopefully we can meet them half way (figuratively, of course. Half way between Fonfuka and Kichowi may well be that hanging bridge – not somewhere I would want to spend an extended period of time).

I keep thinking of a quote by Paul Farmer, an incredible American doctor working in Haiti - “If you sympathize too much with the staff, you stop sympathizing with the patients.” Whenever my feet hurt after walking for hours to one of these villages, I remind myself that at least I don't have to do this walk while I'm sick or in labour. At least I have options.

In other news, last market day was the source of one of my least glorious moments in Cameroon so far, and I've had many unglorious moments in this country. Turns out, I went happily along market-ing, while the zipper on the back of my skirt was sneakily going down, down, down. Butt out. Keeping it classy. As always.

Well that's all from me for this month, folks. Just keeping it real out here in the bush. Thank you to everyone for your letters, packages, and emails. They mean more to me than you could possibly imagine. I Will be back here in a few weeks for In-Service Training in Bamenda. It will be a great opportunity to see if I have any social skills left in terms of interacting with college-educated Westerners. I'll keep you posted.


“On ne dirait pas, mais en fait elle est grosse!”

Merci à ma couturière pour ces mots qu'elle a prononcé en mesurant mes hanches. C'était un compliment.

Qu'est-ce que je peux dire de mon dernier mois au village? Ca a commencé avec la Journée de la Jeunesse, occasion très importante ici au Cameroun. C'est une occasion pour tous les “grands” du villages de s'asseoir dans l'ombre alors que tous les jeunes défilent devant eux sous le soleil. C'était un jour assez cool pour moi aussi, puisque l'organization qui a demandé qu'un volontaire vienne à Fonfuka avait une petite surprise pour moi. Entourée de tous les VIPs, j'était formélement présentée à la communauté, ils m'ont donnés des habits traditionnels de la région du Nord-Ouest, et une dizaine de groupes communautaires m'ont chanté des chansons et offerts de la nourriture. J'espère faire du tofu et du lait de soya bientôt avec toutes les graines de soya qu'ils m'ont offert – ça sera une bonne addition puisque je mange presque que du mais et de l'huile de palme. J'essaierai de mettre des photos de la journée dès que possible. Mais en tout cas je suis une vraie femme Bum maintenant.

Je suis encore partie en brousse quelques fois ce mois-ci pour les campagnes de vaccinations, ce qui était sympa et de plus en plus de personns viennent faire vacciner leurs enfants. Mais il y a tellement d'enfants qui ne sont pas vaccinés, et même si chaque femme amenait chaque enfant érgulièrement, il n'y aurait jamais assez de vaccins pour tout le monde. Tellement de problèmes auxquels je fait face à Fonfuka sont très frustrants, parce que c'est des problèmes sur lesquels je n'ai aucun controle, comme un manque de personnel de santé, ou les mauvaises routes. Je ne sais pas vraiment ce que je vais réussir à accomplir dans les prochaines deux années, mais j'espère en tout cas laisser une fondation sur laquelle les prochains volontaires pourront se baser.

La vie de tous les jours est dûre ici, mais c'est aussi exactement ce que je cherchait en venant au Cameroun. L'autre jour je rentrait d'une campagne de vaccination dans le village de Kichowi avec un des infirmier – une boîte de vaccin sur l'épaule et une noix de kola dans la bouche – et je me suis rendue compte que c'est exactement ça que j'imaginait faire quand je pensais partir au Cameroun. Oui c'est chiant et fatiguant de temps en temps, mais c'est ce que je cherchait en venant ici. Je savait que j'encontrerai des problèmes quasi-insurmontables, mais peut-être je réussirai à en surmonter même quelques uns pendant mes deux ans ici. Le developement finalement c'est simplement redonner le pouvoir aux gens ordinaires, pour qu'ils puissent prendre leur destins entre leurs propres mains, leur donner la confiance en soi et leur montrer les ressources nécessaire pour qu'ils faces des bons choix concernant leur santé. Même si je ne peux pas résolver les nombreux problèmes qui existent à Fonfuka, j'espère au moins pousser les gens dans la bonne directions en ce qui concerne leur santé. Ils ne sont pas stupides. Ils sont simplement oubliés par le personnel et le système médical. Marcher 4 heures dans chaque firection avec un bébé sur le dos chaque moi pour voir si oui ou non les vaccins sont en stock n'est pas une option pour ces femmes. J'espère juste qu'on pourra les rencontrer au milieu (pas literallement, bien sur. Il s'agirait alors du pont qui pend, ce qui n'est pas un endroit où j'aimerai vraiment m'attarder).

Je pense souvent à une citation du médecin américain Paul Farmer qui travail à Haiti: “Si tu sympathize trop avec le personnel, tu arrêtes de sympathizer avec les patients.” Je pense à ça à chaque fois que j'ai mal au pied ou que je suis fatiguée après une de ces campagnes de vaccination. On moins je ne dois pas marcher ces longues distances quand je suis malade ou en train d'accoucher. On moins moi j'ai des options.

En d'autres news, l'autre jour était un de mes moments les moins glorieux depuis mon arrivée au Cameroun, et j'avoue que j'ai eu pas mal de m“She doesn't look fat, but she is!”

Words of wisdom from my tailor as she was measuring my hips. It was a compliment.

What can I say about the last month in village? It started out with Youth Day, which is a huge deal here in Cameroon. It's basically where all the VIPs of the village sit in the shade while all the kids march past them in the sun. It was a pretty exciting day for me, since the organization that requested me to come to Fonfuka had something special planned. With all the “grands” and the village watching, they formally introduced me to the community, dressed me up in traditional North West attire, and women's groups sang songs and gave me kilos and kilos of dry foods. Hopefully will be making tofu and soy milk soon to spice up my diet of carbs and palm oil. I will try to post some pictures when I get faster internet. I am now a Bum woman, through and through.

I went to a few outreach vaccinations again this month, which was fun and turnout is increasing, which is encouraging. But so many of the kids are not up to date with their vaccines, and even if all the parents brought their kids to the clinics regularly, there wouldn't be nearly enough vaccines to go around. A lot of the problems I'm seeing in Fonfuka are so frustrating because they're caused by things I have no control over, like lack of health staff or bad roads. I'm not really sure how much I'll really be able to do in two years, but hopefully I can lay a good foundation for the volunteers who will come after me.

Day to day life here is hard and it's frustrating, but it's also exactly what I want to be doing. The other day I was walking back from a vaccination clinic in the village of Kichowi with one of the nurses - a box of vaccines hanging over my shoulder, chewing on a kola nut to keep myself awake – and I realized that this is exactly what I imagined my Peace Corps service to be. Yes, it's tedious. Yes it's tiring, but this is just what I was looking for when I came to Cameroon. I knew I would be faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, but maybe I'll be able to surmount just a few of them while I'm here. So much of development is just giving people power over their own destinies, giving them the confidence and showing them the resources to stay healthy and make good choices. Even if I cannot fix some of the larger problems facing Fonfuka, and Cameroon in general, maybe I can nudge people in the right direction when it comes to their health. They are not stubborn and they are not stupid. They are just forgotten by the health staff and the health system. Walking 4 hours each way with a baby on your back every month to get your child a vaccine that may or may not be in stock is not an option for most of these women, so hopefully we can meet them half way (figuratively, of course. Half way between Fonfuka and Kichowi may well be that hanging bridge – not somewhere I would want to spend an extended period of time).

I keep thinking of a quote by Paul Farmer, an incredible American doctor working in Haiti - “If you sympathize too much with the staff, you stop sympathizing with the patients.” Whenever my feet hurt after walking for hours to one of these villages, I remind myself that at least I don't have to do this walk while I'm sick or in labour. At least I have options.

In other news, last market day was the source of one of my least glorious moments in Cameroon so far, and I've had many unglorious moments in this country. Turns out, I went happily along market-ing, while the zipper on the back of my skirt was sneakily going down, down, down. Butt out. Keeping it classy. As always.

Well that's all from me for this month, folks. Just keeping it real out here in the bush. Thank you to everyone for your letters, packages, and emails. They mean more to me than you could possibly imagine. I Will be back here in a few weeks for In-Service Training in Bamenda. It will be a great opportunity to see if I have any social skills left in terms of interacting with college-educated Westerners. I'll keep you posted.

“On ne dirait pas, mais en fait elle est grosse!”

Merci à ma couturière pour ces mots qu'elle a prononcé en mesurant mes hanches. C'était un compliment.

Qu'est-ce que je peux dire de mon dernier mois au village? Ca a commencé avec la Journée de la Jeunesse, occasion très importante ici au Cameroun. C'est une occasion pour tous les “grands” du villages de s'asseoir dans l'ombre alors que tous les jeunes défilent devant eux sous le soleil. C'était un jour assez cool pour moi aussi, puisque l'organization qui a demandé qu'un volontaire vienne à Fonfuka avait une petite surprise pour moi. Entourée de tous les VIPs, j'était formélement présentée à la communauté, ils m'ont donnés des habits traditionnels de la région du Nord-Ouest, et une dizaine de groupes communautaires m'ont chanté des chansons et offerts de la nourriture. J'espère faire du tofu et du lait de soya bientôt avec toutes les graines de soya qu'ils m'ont offert – ça sera une bonne addition puisque je mange presque que du mais et de l'huile de palme. J'essaierai de mettre des photos de la journée dès que possible. Mais en tout cas je suis une vraie femme Bum maintenant.

Je suis encore partie en brousse quelques fois ce mois-ci pour les campagnes de vaccinations, ce qui était sympa et de plus en plus de personns viennent faire vacciner leurs enfants. Mais il y a tellement d'enfants qui ne sont pas vaccinés, et même si chaque femme amenait chaque enfant érgulièrement, il n'y aurait jamais assez de vaccins pour tout le monde. Tellement de problèmes auxquels je fait face à Fonfuka sont très frustrants, parce que c'est des problèmes sur lesquels je n'ai aucun controle, comme un manque de personnel de santé, ou les mauvaises routes. Je ne sais pas vraiment ce que je vais réussir à accomplir dans les prochaines deux années, mais j'espère en tout cas laisser une fondation sur laquelle les prochains volontaires pourront se baser.

La vie de tous les jours est dûre ici, mais c'est aussi exactement ce que je cherchait en venant au Cameroun. L'autre jour je rentrait d'une campagne de vaccination dans le village de Kichowi avec un des infirmier – une boîte de vaccin sur l'épaule et une noix de kola dans la bouche – et je me suis rendue compte que c'est exactement ça que j'imaginait faire quand je pensais partir au Cameroun. Oui c'est chiant et fatiguant de temps en temps, mais c'est ce que je cherchait en venant ici. Je savait que j'encontrerai des problèmes quasi-insurmontables, mais peut-être je réussirai à en surmonter même quelques uns pendant mes deux ans ici. Le developement finalement c'est simplement redonner le pouvoir aux gens ordinaires, pour qu'ils puissent prendre leur destins entre leurs propres mains, leur donner la confiance en soi et leur montrer les ressources nécessaire pour qu'ils faces des bons choix concernant leur santé. Même si je ne peux pas résolver les nombreux problèmes qui existent à Fonfuka, j'espère au moins pousser les gens dans la bonne directions en ce qui concerne leur santé. Ils ne sont pas stupides. Ils sont simplement oubliés par le personnel et le système médical. Marcher 4 heures dans chaque firection avec un bébé sur le dos chaque moi pour voir si oui ou non les vaccins sont en stock n'est pas une option pour ces femmes. J'espère juste qu'on pourra les rencontrer au milieu (pas literallement, bien sur. Il s'agirait alors du pont qui pend, ce qui n'est pas un endroit où j'aimerai vraiment m'attarder).

Je pense souvent à une citation du médecin américain Paul Farmer qui travail à Haiti: “Si tu sympathize trop avec le personnel, tu arrêtes de sympathizer avec les patients.” Je pense à ça à chaque fois que j'ai mal au pied ou que je suis fatiguée après une de ces campagnes de vaccination. On moins je ne dois pas marcher ces longues distances quand je suis malade ou en train d'accoucher. On moins moi j'ai des options.

En d'autres news, l'autre jour était un de mes moments les moins glorieux depuis mon arrivée au Cameroun, et j'avoue que j'ai eu pas mal de moments pas très glorieux. J'ai apparement fait le tour du marché, le jour du grand marché, avec la fermeture éclaire de mon jupe qui déscendait lentement sur les fesses. Cul à l'air. La classe, comme d'hab.

Bon voilà tout de mon côté. Merci à tout le monde pour les lettres, les colis, et les emails, ça me touche plus que vous ne pouvez imaginer. Je vais revenir ici dans quelques semaines pour quelques semaines de formation continues, alors ça serait une parfaite occasion de voir à quel point mes capacités sociales ont diminuées depuis que je vis dans la brousse.oments pas très glorieux. J'ai apparement fait le tour du marché, le jour du grand marché, avec la fermeture éclaire de mon jupe qui déscendait lentement sur les fesses. Cul à l'air. La classe, comme d'hab.

Bon voilà tout de mon côté. Merci à tout le monde pour les lettres, les colis, et les emails, ça me touche plus que vous ne pouvez imaginer. Je vais revenir ici dans quelques semaines pour quelques semaines de formation continues, alors ça serait une parfaite occasion de voir à quel point mes capacités sociales ont diminuées depuis que je vis dans la brousse.