06 March 2013

Cameroon to Tanzania to Thailand

These past few months have just seemed to fly by.  So much happening and so quickly.  In December I really started to tie up loose ends in Cameroon and bring my work at UNICEF to a close.  It was a really bittersweet time.

During my last week in Cameroon, which also happened to be the first week of 2013, I was lucky enough to have a good group of PCVs in the capital.  We celebrated the New Year and basked in all of the good things that Cameroon has to offer – cheap food and drinks, warm weather, good friends, relaxation time.  It was a great way to start off the new year.  As my departing air flight approached, I started to panic a bit and seriously considered staying in Cameroon.  My whole life was there, my friends – make shift family, my work, and my comfort zone.

But it was time for me to leave, and so leave I did.  My host uncle met me at the Douala Airport just before I was about to leave.  Seeing his warm and friendly face was comforting as I embarked on a new unknown journey.

My flight stopped in Nairobi, where I had a few hour layover before taking a smaller flight to the Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania.  In Nairobi, I was exposed to a real airport with western style restaurants! Then I landed in Tanzania pretty much in the middle of the night in a very small airport.  Leaving the airport, the only option is taxis, which cost $50 for a 30-minute ride, and no room to bargain.  I then met my friends, Ans and Storms, at the YMCA in Moshi. It was a short reunion before we all needed to get some rest for the next day.  On the following day we woke up at 4:30 am to leave for a safari to Tarangiri Park.

It was a beautiful day, filled with lots of elephants, giraffes, birds, and monkeys.  We even got to see a pride of lions teaching their young how to hunt.  The baby lions sat out to watch as their parents slowly surrounded a group of wildebeasts and then sprinted in to catch a few of them.

The next day was the start of our Mount Kilimanjaro hike!  I was surprised by how many people were going to be hiking along with us, including guides and porters there were probably about 1000 people out on the trail with us each day.

The hiking was pretty enjoyable, we had nice weather and we could go at an easy pace.  Each day we climbed a good deal in altitude.  One the first day we left from 1800 meters and slept at 3000 meters.  The second day we slept at 3500 meters.  Then on the morning of the third day Ans had been feeling sick and was reaching a breaking point.  He was showing all the signs of altitude sickness and so decided not to continue and head down for medical attention.  He spent the next few days recovering and resting while Storms and I continued on.  I wish that I would have taken more pictures.  On the third night we slept at 3600 meters.  Then the fourth night we slept at 4600 meters.  Each camp was pretty cold, especially in the morning when we woke up.  But a nice thing about the 4th camp was that it was essentially above the clouds and thus warm and sunny during the afternoon.  We got to camp early and rested well, because on the fifth day we woke up at midnight to start the ascent for the summit.  By around 6am we finally reached a ridge and the sun was coming up.  These were probably the hardest six hours, it was cold, you couldn’t really see anything, and you just kept going uphill.  But once we got to the ridge we could see summit and I regained all of my motivation to continue.  The summit was fairly anti-climatic in that it didn’t feel like you were higher than the point before.  It was so cold up here that my water was frozen and Storms and I were struggling to stay hydrated.  We took a few pictures at the summit sign before heading back down.  

Downhill was pretty difficult. The last day I couldn’t even wear my hiking boots anymore because going downhill hurt my feet so much, so I wore flipflops instead.  Ans met us at the end of the trail and we celebrated the end of the hike.

That night Storms had to leave and get back to her job, while Ans and I still had a few weeks left to our trip.  The next day we took an all day bus to Dar Es Salaam.  It was a pretty typical African bus experience, except it lasted a lot longer than we thought it would – about 11 hours.  In Dar we stayed with some Cameroon RPCVs before taking a ferry to Zanzibar.

Zanzibar was beautiful and we really just enjoyed the sun, sand, and water.  This was the relaxation time of the vacation.

From Zanzibar we took a ferry back to Dar and then had a slight fiasco trying to get to the airport in the middle of the night.  Eventually we did make it.

We had a day layover in Turkey, but by the end of the day we were so exhausted from time changes and traveling.

Then we had another flight before getting to Bangkok.

Almost instantly I fell in love with Thailand. 

Here is Kanchanaburi

Then Koh Phangan

Full Moon Party


Rock climbing

And Lopburi

The whole trip was such an amazing experience and it has really given me the 'travel bug'. I find myself  wanting to keep on exploring and the idea of settling down somewhere does not feel like something I want to do for a while.

05 December 2012

Holiday Adventures

After the 50th anniversary event I needed to take some vacation days to unwind. Luckily Thanksgiving fell perfectly into this time. So on Black Friday I headed to Bertoua where I would eat my 3rd Thanksgiving meal over two days. Pretty awesome. I made our family spinach dip in a bread boat and we killed our own turkey.
After Bertoua, I headed to Kentzou where Jakob and Geoff live. Kentzou is a town all the way on the eastern border of Cameroon.
It was a really calm and beautiful town. I took some nice runs down to the river and learned a few words of Fulfuldé.
Here we are on the pirogue after swimming at the river.
This is a bus taking the barge across the river to head down south towards Yokaduma.

If Kentzou was a quiet, calm, Muslim town, then Messamena, our next stop, was the exact opposite. Eddie is posted in Messamena, a jungle town in the heart of southern Cameroon. Here there are lots of Christians, lots of drinking, and lots of spunk. If you don’t speak loudly, then what you are saying must not be important.

Eddie worked really hard on his house to make a lot of improvements. He added two sun roof panels in his living room; made tables, benches, and shelves; planted a nice sized garden and has plants all over his house. Basically his house is pretty awesome. He also has a cute dog named Jackie Chien (chien=dog in French).
We stayed in Eddie’s place for a night before heading out to the Dja reserve to survey the schools inside. Eddie, and I headed out on two motos with a mission to get to the end of the road by night fall. It was only 100km, but most of it would be through jungly terrain. We started off pretty well, with only a minor stop due to gendarmes and one of the moto guys not having his papers. Then we hit a big road block at the entrance to the Dja. The officer inside did not know who we were and thus did not want us to pass. Finally we were able to demonstrate that we were here to do work surveying the schools to see if UNICEF could provide any help. Eddie’s landlord is the education inspector for the Dja schools and so having his authorization was crucial.
Here is the before picture.
Our motos crossing the river into the Dja reserve.
Here is some of the terrain we had to cross with the motos.

Finally we arrived just before nightfall at our destination Ekom. It was a really cute village and they welcomed us so nicely. They even made a delicious, leafy sauce for me to eat!
The next morning we took a walk to the river.
Then we went to the school.
Health center garden in Ekom.
Next school down the road, looking less well off then the first.
And farther down the road, there was this school. Actually even though it has the least means it had a teacher who cared and the breeze of the wind easily blowing through.
This was a nice school, but look at that latrine, I am too scared to use it. Imagine being a little child…
Last school in the Dja. Apparently it fell down due to termites and they are just rebuilding.
Mission accomplished – we are crossing the Dja river back into Somalomo. All in all I had a great week and a half vacation, spending time with friends, relaxing, and traveling. Now I am back in Yaoundé for my last month of work before heading off to my next adventure.

Celebrating 50 years of Peace Corps in Cameroon

For the past two months I was completely consumed with helping to plan and coordinate the 50 year anniversary event that Peace Corps held. Our new Country Director, Jackie Sesonga, had seen similar events across West Africa and decided that this would be a great opportunity for PC Cameroon to raise our visibility in country.

We started seriously planning about 6 weeks before the event; I was mostly working on organizing PCVs in Cameroon. It sounds easier than it is I think because communication is so difficult. Texting or calling is really the only way to get in touch with people and there are about 200 PCVs currently in country. Needless to say I did not call all of them and instead relied on a few point people to contact others. Anyway, long story short – we had an amazing event.
Kim and I holding the gift basket for Chantal Biya
Chantal Biya being welcomed by two Peace Corps children
Chantal Biya visiting all the stands at the fair
Jackie Sesonga, the PC Cameroon country director, with Kim and I

Rose, my counterpart from Bangang, and me! It was a really nice and quick reunion

There were two parts to the event. First was the swearing-in of new PCVs after their training ended. The trainees (now PCVs) did an amazing job preparing a performance to the song ‘Man in the Mirror’ and our Country Director gave a very touching speech during this ceremony. Second was a fair set up with 16 tables (10 regional tables – Centre, East, South, Littoral, South West, North West, West, Adamaoua, North, and Far North –; 5 sector tables – Youth Development, Community Health, Environment, Education, and Community Economic Development –; and 1 training table). Chantal Biya, the first lady of Cameroon, was invited and actually came to open the fair that was set up. This was probably the most successful part of our event. She walked around to each table, where PCVs and Cameroonian counterparts where given the chance to explain their stand. Chantal seemed genuinely interested and shook everyone’s hand. All of the tables looked great and the event ran smoothly because of everyone’s hard work.
At the end of the day we relaxed by going to Hilton Happy Hour to celebrate our successes together! Also here are some recent pictures
Winning trivia night after trying so hard for so long
The marine ball was a blast!

22 October 2012

PHAST: Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation

Over the past few months I have attended and facilitated two conferences on a process called PHAST. It is similar to the CLTS approach, but it is broader and covers all hygiene and sanitation issues a community may face (not just open defecation). In that sense it is more versatile and adaptable to different communities. In these conferences we have trained people who will soon go into villages and launch this approach. Below is a tool that explains PHAST in its seven steps.
*© World Health Organization, 1998.

I am really hoping that before I leave, we get to see this process in action as an alternative or additional approach to CLTS in villages. Hypothetically CLTS will cover latrines, and PHAST will cover hand washing and water purification. With these three behavior change activities, the faecal-oral route will have a much more difficult time continuing. Here is a picture of the participants in the Ngaoundere conference running through a simulation of PHAST activities.

19 September 2012

Vacation in Senegal

I just got back from a two week vacation in Senegal. It was a badly needed vacation so that I could relax eat anything my heart desired. I met my friend from college, Clint, and we stayed at fancy hotel in the heart of Dakar. It was right on the coast, with an amazing breakfast buffet, and a gorgeous pool where you could sun tan and hear the waves crashing.
We took a few days to relax and met up with some PCVs in the city. There are a surprising number of volunteers posted in Senegal’s capital. They helped us figure out how to navigate the city and pointed us to important places to go during our trip. One day we went to Ile de N’gor, which is a really touristy island off the north part of the Dakar peninsula. We took a motored pirogue across the short span of water and relaxed there for the day. Another day we hit up the high class mall and went bowling! I never thought I would be able to do any of that in Africa, but it was awesome!

After that we travelled to Thiès (pronounced ‘chess’) where the PC has their training site. It was very interesting to see how different countries organize training. There we met up with a connection through my Mom and drove up to Saint Louis together. Saint Louis is a cute French colonial town on the border with Mauritania, the Senegal river, and the Atlantic ocean.
In St. Louis we stayed with some PCVs and enjoyed some beautiful sunsets!
When we got back to Dakar, Clint and I decided to tackle the market area. Probably not the best idea, it was an experience. It was during this time that I became very thankful that Cameroon is not a regular tourist destination. It was completely normal to be approached and even when you said clearly in French and English that you were not interested, they continued to follow you and talk, talk, talk. Anyway, we had ice cream that day and I found some cute souvenirs, so all was not lost.

The next day we took a large ferry boat to the infamous Ile de Goree, which was an old slave port. The island was equally touristy. You started with an eerie feeling visiting all these old colonial slavery buildings, but then were quickly shocked out of it due to all of the people trying to sell you jewellery.
Then before the vacation was completely over I remembered that I wanted to go SCUBA diving. We found this really cute dive shop/eco-tourism house right on the water and close to the hotel. I almost forgot how much I enjoy diving. I need to make a point to do it more. I saw some pretty cool things underwater: a star fish as big as my foot, barracuda-type fish, and then a really big long fish that would crawl out from the rocks when we would pass and cry out to scare us away.
The next day we rented kayaks from the same place and kayaked 3.5 miles away to the beautiful Iles de la madeleine. It was a lot farther than it looked and we contemplated turning around a few times before we actually got there. This island is totally uninhabited with no structures on it. A nice contrast to all the built up tourism found everywhere else. Luckily coming back was a lot easier than going to the island or we might have been stuck there. The next few days our shoulders and arms were pretty sore.
We ended the trip by simply relaxing at the pool. One night we went for the best Thai food I have ever had. Another night we went to see a former PCV perform with his Senegalese band “the baraca nomads.” All in all it was an amazing vacation. It is leaving me well relaxed and ready to take on the next 4 months in Cameroon.