14 December 2009
I really enjoyed it and I am excited to get settled into my village. For now I am going to stick with the house that I have in the health system. While there is a lack of privacy and a lack of silence, I have a great support system there with my counter part. But first thing I need to do is to get glass windows put in because I need the sunlight in the morning. Right now I have wooden doors that I need to close at night so that the bugs don’t come in, but that means that I do not get to wake up to the sunlight.
David said all of his goodbyes and I know that was a tough time for everyone. He will definitely be missed here. And I will have a lot of work, just to live up to what he has accomplished. I think the first step will be establishing that we are different people and will do things differently.
So right now I am in Yaounde and I need to figure out how to get home tomorrow. Traveling is probably one of the hardest things to do here. You have all your stuff with you and there are so many steps to every trip. This will be the first time I am really traveling on my own and it is about a 6 hour trip if you could go straight there, but with all of the steps it will probably take me much longer. Wish me luck!
** The picture on my blog is from my post. It is the tea plantation that covers much of the area.
13 December 2009
So far life has not changed too much. But this is only my first full day at post. We definitely have a lot more freedom, now that we do not have training everyday. Most volunteers say that in the beginning it feels like freedom, then quickly it turns to feeling like abandonment, but after that we will get used to it as we figure out what we are going to be doing at post.
For about 10 days, David, the volunteer that I am replacing, is going to be at post with me. He is not COSing (close of service) until the 13th of December. In the mean time I can tag along on things he is doing while I am trying to feel out life here as a volunteer.
Traveling with all of my stuff here was stressful. You have your life for the next two years packed in 6 bags and the car drops you off in the middle of the marketplace. People crowd around you because they want you to choose their car to take you to your next destination. But all I can think about is, please do not grab my bags because if I lose this stuff moving into post is just going to be so much harder. But then the other volunteers tell me I am worrying too much and I just need to calm down. They are right. My supervisor found me somehow in the middle of this mess. We carted all of my bags over to his van which was just a little ways away. Then he drove me all the way to the health center. To-my-door service, can you ask for anything better?
In many ways I feel very lost and confused, because I really have no idea what I am supposed to be doing yet. I went for an exploratory run this morning to try and orient myself a little bit more. But my run turned more into a walk/run because the hills here are plentiful, long, and steep. On top of that I am more than a mile up and I do not think my body is just yet used to the altitude. I love running to explore. I said bonjour to everyone I passed, and generally people are really friendly. I need to learn at least the greetings in the local language so that I can say that when I am running in the mornings…petit a petit, le oiseau fait un nid – the French phrase for little by little I will learn.
So then this morning I thought I would treat myself and I decided to heat my bucket bath/shower. The warm water felt so good, but in the end I think that was a mistake. Since it is not a shower you do not have water constantly running and I just got really cold anytime I was not pouring water on myself. So lesson is that when you are using cold water, the water feels cold but the air does not. Which one is better? I have not decided yet.
Today is a petit marche day in Bangang. I am going to head down there because I need to get myself some food and maybe some other basic supplies for now. Wish me luck on exploring the market…hopefully I will not make too much of a fool of myself just yet, but let’s be realistic here.
One more random note: it is really hard to find housing here! The Peace Corps has certain standards as far as security for housing [as it should]. But consequently the house has to be cement and lock firmly including the windows. Well Bamboue is a very small town and unfortunately there are not many houses available that fit the PC requirements. Right now I am living in the health center and I thought that I wanted to move because I am in the middle of so much here. But today after looking at a few other available housing options I am not convinced that I will be moving. There is a place right across the dirt street, but it has no sunlight. I could never make it there. Then there is another place up the hill a bit, but right now it does not have any privacy for the latrine. I imagine that could be fixed, but literally right now it is a hole in the ground out in the open. Then I looked at one other place on the top of the hill, but it is really dark also and the floor is mud. If I move anywhere it will take a lot of work, more than I expected.
There is one more known option right now about 45 minute walk uphill. There is a quartier of my health district that has a really rich guy who lives in Douala. Well he has an impressive house back in his home village, as all those who live in the cities do – shout out to my globalization and development in Africa class right now…the importance of autochthony is loud and clear here in Cameroon. Anyway he has an apartment in his complex that I would be able to rent out. I am seriously considering this as an option because I want to work more with the people that are farther away from any of the existing infrastructure. This would probably be a good place to be located in that situation. The president of the COSA [committee de santé/ health committee] lives there too, so he would be really helpful. But then it would be a long commute to my health center every day. Maybe after I get to look at the place I will try to figure it out.
Typical me…thinking too much about this.
Since I was not able to post this yesterday, I have a few more thoughts to add from today [December 5]:
I helped the health center with a vaccination campaign today. So what seems to happen is that the Cameroonian government announces vaccine campaigns usually about 2 or 3 days before they start. It is not clear why they wait until last minute to announce, but anyway then the public health centers are in charge of going door to door and finding all of the children. [If that sounds kind of absurd, it’s because it is. The door to door campaigns are done on the assumption that no one has anything to do all day and just sits at home waiting for people like us.]
David and I walked up to the farthest quartier to the Bororos today. The COSA delegate of that quartier rounded up the children for us and they all came to one central location. I was in charge of marking the children – so that we know they have already received the vaccines/vitamins/medication from this campaign. It is a three day long affair so I used permanent marker on their pinky. I also got to feed the children the polio vaccine, which is two drops per child.
**Shout out to my mom and other rotary members** Thank you for everything, in particular for the campaign to eradicate polio from Africa. The coolers that we were using today to keep the vaccine cold had the rotary logo on them!
I really enjoyed helping out today, and I am also learning to appreciate flexible time! One more random comment; it is the dry season now, otherwise known as the season of dust. The rainy season is the season of mud. It’s a toss up, I am not sure which one I like better yet. They both have their up sides and down sides.
December 8, 2009
Now that I have my computer out I will be writing a lot more. The problem is that I do not have access to internet a lot, though, thus the blogs I post are going to be very long. Once I figure out housing for sure I will probably try to set up some kind of internet, but we will see.
I finally unpacked all of my bags in an attempt to make my apartment in the health center feel like home. It is nice to finally not be living out of bags because even during my homestay I left most of my stuff in suitcases. I am so excited; here I have a bathroom with plumbing and everything. Most of the time if you have a real bathroom the water does not work so you have to pour water into the toilet to flush it and take bucket baths.
Yesterday I went exploring. I have been trying to orient myself to the different communities in the area. I decided to just start walking and see where it led me. I found the local high school and the village of Batsepou – this is the other village that I am considering to live. The women in Batsepou are so nice. We had met before on my site visit and they recognized me right away as David’s replacement, welcoming me to their village. I also found a nice shady spot near a stream to sit and ponder for a while to escape the heat of the day. For some reason I am very attracted to water in nature, in particular running water. Maybe I get it a little bit from Dad and Mom, but I just love the sound of running water; sitting there relaxes me.
Today who knows what I will find when I go to explore!
***One last note – I found out that there is a habitat for humanity trip coming to Cameroon in June. If you are interested, I think you can find information about it online by searching the habitat for humanity website. If you find the info, please add the link here. I would love to see anyone who is able to visit! This is the link I have found so far.
27 November 2009
Happy Thanksgiving one day later. We had our own little holiday here at our training center with a melange of Cameroonian and American food. It was a great night to spend with the whole stage community. I also just want to say that I am really thankful for my family, friends, and everyone else who is supporting me. I miss the tradition of saying what everyone is thankful for one by one around the table. But anyway...THANK YOU for everything!
I have a new address for the next two years of my life. So please send me letters because I love having paper and words on it from all the people I care about. Here is my new address:
Peace Corps Volunteer
Corps de la Paix
A few updates
I placed into the needed french level finally. Officially I am at an advanced low level in french! Who knew? But actually my french is getting much better and over the past week things have just seemed to click finally. I feel like I can talk to my family and my community in french. I am quite enjoying franglish - basically adding lots of french words into my normal english vocabulary (ex. Oh they are just kids, they derange. Which essentially means that they annoy.) Side note, children here are all considered to derange, it is a fundamental part of being a kid.
Stage is basically almost over! Hooray for that. We have a technical test on monday to review all of the health information that we have learned. Then we swear in on wednesday. That is when I will officially start my service as a volunteer. Thursday I will leave for my post and move into my new place. For now I will be staying at the health center, but looking for a new more permanent house.
14 November 2009
I made dinner for my family. Imagine being in a dark smoky room with no lights - because of course the power cut that night – and three big rocks with a fire in between them. It is harder than you would think to cook with smoke filling your eyes and then inhaling it all as you are coughing and taking in more smoke…needless to say, not that much fun. But actually the dinner was a success and I had so much fun doing it. On the menu:
• Guacamole sandwiches (to keep everyone munching while I cooked everything else)
• Pasta primavera (an alfredo sauce with green beans, tomatoes, and onion over pasta)
That was exactly what I needed that night. My family loved it too. The only complaint they had was that the green beans were too crunchy. One thing you need to know is that here they overcook most of their veggies and like it very mushy. I am hopeful that the dinner might inspire them to try more fresh veggies, but that is having high hopes.
The next thing really exciting thing has been our site announcements and site visits. I now know where I will be living for the next two years in Cameroon! I will be in Bamboué, it is a small village about 2-3 hours from where I am in training now. So I will still be in the Western province. It is a lot like where I am now, except more mountains right by me. If you want to try and find me on a map:
• Find the provincial capitals of the West (Baffoussam) and the North West (Bamenda). About half way between them is a town called Mbouda (pernounced buda). Then about halfway between Mbouda and Dschang is a small town called Bangong. This is my main market that I will be walking to regularly. It is about 5 k away from Bamboué. I do not think that you will find my post on any map, though.
I absolutely love my post. It is with a private health center – called CAPCEPV – that has been integrated into the public system. We have twelve health areas that we are responsible for providing care to. As a result there are outreach vaccination days each month to visit the health areas.
I feel like I have so many things that I want to say so I will try to list them and elaborate a bit on each thing that I did on site visit:
Peanut Butter with piment – a father makes spicy peanut butter only a few houses down from my future house
No reception in my compound – unfortunately I have to walk up the hill in order to get reception on my cell phone
ACREST – a local appropriate technology NGO near my site. I am really excited to work with them because they have interesting projects like ameliorated cookstoves, solar power dryers, etc.
Bororos – there is one small village that I will be working with that is an all muslim herder village
Pool in Dschang – I was able to go swimming in a refreshing pool in the city of Dschang (pernounced chang)
CDC/CTE - The Cameroonian Tea Company very close to my post. Its acres upon acres of tea plants. It is very beautiful, but controversial. Is it a good thing or not? For a long time it was owned by the British, they employed Cameroonians on a salary and had a great hospital around to care for the workers. New it is owned by a Cameroonian, but there are no salaried workers and the hospital has been closed.
I have finally been able to upload some photos on Facebook of Cameroon. Sorry that I do not have more right now, but you can see the photos by going
24 October 2009
Well last weekend we had mountain bike training so now I have my very own mountain bike that I can ride around on. The only problem is that there are either 'highways' (paved roads) or really muddy and rocky roads. It is definitely an adventure getting around on this terrain. Actually on our first group ride two girls went to the hospital after falling. Don't worry they are ok and doing fine. I really love having my bike, though, because it is one more degree of freedom. I am able to bike over to the other training town and visit the other trainees. It is a really good work out too because there are hills everywhere.
We visited a Chefferie, which is basically a chiefdom. That was a very interesting cultural experience. He has over 30 wives and over 120 children. When we went to visit him we were wearing our very best and most traditional Cameroonian dress. In return he was wearing symbolically American things - a shirt with the US presidential seal, adidas pants, and a puma jacket. How is that for a cultural exchange. He was very knowledgeable and accepting of other cultures, even making a comment about how polygamous relationships are not acceptable in our culture.
We were also able to see another volunteer in action at his post. We were able to attend some community group meetings in Bandrefam, a small village near by. When we arrived, we were welcomed to a women's group meeting and they starting singing a song for us. One realization that I came to during this visit was how much communication is going to be a barrier in any post. Thus far I have been worried about getting my french down. But now I realize french is just the base, in order to communicate with everyone in the community I will need the local language. In most cases this means having a person who can translate french to the local language and be your point person. So I need to first get french down and then start on my new language...wish me luck.
This upcoming week we find out our post assignments. And then the following week we have site visit with our counterpart!! I will be in touch soon with my site assignment.
23 October 2009
After my first night in Bamena with my homestay family I now respect each and every PCV/RPCV infinitely more. I am not sure if I was just not prepared for the transition mentally or what. My French completely failed me and my family has taken it upon themselves to teach me basic French because that is how bad my communication skills were the first night.
Thankfully the first night is a hump that I have gotten over. The initial culture shock has worn off and my excitement and enthusiasm has returned. My family is really nice. My mother, Meredithe, is a housewife and my father, Romeo, is a driver in Bangante (a nearby bigger town). I have three brother and two sisters. Lots more people are constantly in and out of the house and eating dinner here. Most of the children are younger and my oldest sister, Terrance, does almost all of the chores. I would say that she is 13 if I had to guess.
My house is the blue house in town and that is how I and others identify it. I am really excited to have a light in my room because it starts getting dark around 6pm everyday and all year round. But the electricity is not guaranteed and we have lots of power outages. My house does not have running water, although some other volunteers do have a spigot at their houses. This means that we have a latrine and the shower area outside. In order to shower I must take a bucket bath. I think that this is an experience everyone should try. It is especially exhilarating if you use cold water!
I have definitely become very conscious of how much water I use each day, whether it is for drinking, bathing, washing my hands, etc. Water is not a given or especially easy to come by, so it makes you think about it whenever you do use it. Today I carried water on my head for the first time. It could not have been more than a five minute walk, but it was very difficult to do. I like to think of myself as a fairly strong individual, but my 13 (or so) year old sister upstaged me completely. As I came struggling back to my house my mother took the water from my head and told me that it was too heavy for me to carry.
We have finally begun training sessions so now I have lots of classes - technical training, language immersion, and cross cultural classes. These will keep my days very busy full of training that will help me to be an effective volunteer.
I think that I got sunburnt today, but I do not have a mirror to check and see. It is interesting to realize a lot of the things that we take for granted. Another interesting thing that I have noticed - they do not have trash cans here. You would think that might be a huge problem, but everyone reuses anything you can think of and I am told the very little trash that is produced people burn periodically (not the best strategy). But no food gets wasted - either animals or humans eat all of it.
16 October 2009
Now that training has started time is beginning to fly by. We have class Monday through Friday 7:30 – 4:30 with 4 sessions everday and 2 sessions in the morning on Saturday. Thus Sunday is our only true day off. Thankfully I go running every morning with my host uncle (about 6k). I think without that I would have way less energy.
What kinds of things am I learning? Well, lots of French for one and then also lots of technical health related and community development related things. On top of those two main types of sessions we have cross-cultural and medical sessions. This translates into lots of learning and very long days. I get around 8 hours of sleep each night, but somehow it does not feel like enough.
It is hard to believe that I have only been gone for a little over 2 weeks. So much has happened in this short amount of time in my life. I can already tell that these 2 years are going to have a monumental effect on the way I see the world and how I live in it.
Honestly, it is so difficult to put everything into words. There is so much to describe, but yet no easy way to do it. You could try calling me…(after 4:30 my time).
(Note from Kevin: It really is pretty easy to call Christina. I use justvoip.com the rates are about 15 cents a minute [its in Euros so it depends on when you buy really] and so far we've had pretty good luck connecting. Calling at 11:30am Eastern time seems to be the best time to catch Christina because that is just when she's getting finished her training for the day.)
10 October 2009
Today I had to take a bush taxi to Bangante with a few other trainees. This was the first time that we had to do it ourselves without the Peace Corps vans. It took me almost two hours just to catch a ride and then the car almost broke down on the way. Good thing I was not in a rush. C'est la vie here in Africa! That is one thing I realized that I took for granted in the states: each year cars have to pass emissions tests and inspections, not so in Cameroon. Thus any car that can move is on the road. This means lots of black smoke coming from all the cars and they all look like they are falling apart. But it is good to know that I can get around on a taxi if I need to. I still have not taken a moto taxi, here yet but I am looking forward to it.
We just finished our third or ten weeks of training. It feels like things are moving fast. Next week we have language interviews again to get replaced. And we get mountain bikes! One more degree of freedom here I come.
That is all the time I have for now, but it is so nice to hear from everyone with comments on my blog and such.
03 October 2009
Here is a quick update of what my weekdays look like during training. We are very busy:
5:30 - wake up
5:45 - go running with my host uncle (about 6k) I am not sure if he actually likes to go running but they will not let me go alone
6:30 - shower, and by that I mean take a bucket bath; try it sometime and if you want to be adventurous use cold water!
7:00 - eat breakfast, by that I mean a piece of bread and some warm vanilla flavored milk
7:15 - leave for class
7:30-9:30 - first session of the day
9:30-10:00 - break, hopefully on monday we will get coffee on our break for the first time!
10:00-12:00 - second session of the day
12:00-1:30 - lunch break, we walk about 25 minutes to a restaurant
1:30-3:00 - third session
3:15-4:30 - fourth and last session
[we usually have about two french classes and two technical classes, but also we have cross cultural sessions and medical sessions sometimes (where we get vaccines :(]
4:30-5:30 - hang out with other trainees to unwind, play cards, etc.
5:30-8:30 - go home and do homework with my family, help with chores, etc.
9:00 - dinner [very very late for me I want to be in bed by around 7:30 because the sun goes down at 6:30 and the electricity goes out almost every night for some amount of time]
9:30 - read for as long as I can manage before I fall asleep
Then repeat they cycle for each day of the week! By the end of the week I am very tired and in need of a break.
I feel like there is so much to say, but it is really hard to organize all of my thoughts. Where I am living right now is in the mountains of the West Province. The view is breathtaking and reminds me of Colorado. If you have ever heard me talk about Colorado or seen Colorado, maybe you can understand how I feel about it.
That is all I have time for right now!
21 September 2009
Friday afternoon we landed and took our first trip in a bush taxi to our hotel. Bush taxis, hmm, how do I describe them. They are like skinny mini vans, some people may know them as jitney buses. They have about 12 seats in them, but we squish around 18 people in them. It is a very snug fit so there is no need for seat belts, we have each other.
Meals are very starchy and fatty. I was told this prior to coming but did not actually expect it. Breakfasts are very small so we have a piece of baguette and then café au lait. I am told that the coffee that we are getting at the hotel is unusual and next week when we are at our homestays it will be Nescafe. Maybe I will start trying some tea. We use sugar cubes here, which is taking some getting used to as well since I love splenda.
Lunch and dinner seem to be identical thus far, though when we start training it will be different. We have rice and potatoes and some veggies for me (others get meat or fish). And we get a coleslaw-like salad or other cut up raw veggies (no lettuce). Apparently this is also not normal, but the hotel trying to be fancy. Then we get a piece of fruit for dessert.
Saturday we started by having language and site placement interviews. This is so that we can start language classes with people on the same level of as us. And we get to talk to the placement officer about our preferences and our skills so that we can be placed appropriately for our two year service. We also took a survey bout homestay preferences. I am so excited to move into our families. We will be moving to Bamena on Thursday where we will move in with our new families for the next 10 weeks.
Sunday nothing too exciting, though we did go for a walk. While we are in the hotel we are not allowed outside because we do not have national ID cards yet. We also had dinner at the country director’s house.
Other random thoughts.
There is a night club below my hotel room and so it is hard to fall asleep before 3am (when the club closes). I am hoping to check it out sometime this week since we will soon be moving to smaller villages where we are going to spend nights with our host families.
It is a very nice temperature outside and not as rainy as I expected. But the rest of the month and October are supposed to be the rainiest times. The whole atmosphere sort of reminds me of Aruba, even the smell (although I have not seen the ocean yet). So in that respect I like it a lot. Lots of palm trees, really green everywhere even though we are in a city and rich/dark reddish muddy ground except for the main paved roads.
The Peace Corps seems to be protecting us a lot right now so as to transition well. I am trying not to question the rules too much and to understand them through their intended purpose. I want to be the most successful volunteer I can be and the training process seems to be well thought out for that purpose.
I had my first Cameroonian beer (I think its local) last night – Castel Beer. Nothing to special to speak of, but not bad. Hopefully soon I will get to try several different kinds.
I think that is it for now, if you have questions you could make a comment and then I will try to post a blog about it. I would love to hear from lots of people!
15 September 2009
But who is counting, right. Below I talk about the marathon I did the other day, the list of my schedule for the next few days, and how packing is going.
Why would anyone purposefully run 26.2 miles. I am not sure bodies are actually built to handle it. That being said, two days later I feel great. I finished the marathon and I ran 9 minute miles finishing just under 4 hours. That was the goal that I set for myself so I am ecstatic that I was able to do it.
Running for that long is largely a mental task. Physically I knew I would be able to do because I had done two 20 mile training runs. I started out feeling great and running under 8 minute miles, then around mile 10 I broke down mentally because I decided not to get water at the last station. Regretting that decision, I had to make it to the 12 mile marker. But then I got my mind back on track around mile 13 and felt pretty good for the rest of the race.
So even though the race was mostly mental, I could definitely feel its effects physically. I waddled for the rest of the day and all day yesterday because my hips did not want to do their job. But now I do feel much better and looking back this marathon went much better than my first. And training for this did a wonderful job of keeping me sidetracked while waiting to leave for
Now I only have a little bit of time left in the states and no more time left to waste.
Tomorrow, Wednesday 16, 2009:
10:30am – leave with Mom and Mary for Philly
12:00pm – lunch with Katie, Mom, and Mary in Philly
1:30pm – registration with the Peace Corps
3:00pm-7:00pm – introductory staging
Thursday 17, 2009:
6:30am – check out of hotel
7:00am – leave for clinic
9:30am – leave for JFK
5:50pm – plane departs for
Friday 18, 2009:
7:35am – land in
10:20am – plane leaves for
4:05pm – land in Yaoundé
Friday afternoon I will be in a completely different continent, where I will be spending the next two years of my life!
Fitting all of my stuff in two checked bags and two carry-ons is proving very difficult. My checked bags cannot weigh more than 80 pounds together and either one by itself cannot be more than 50 pounds. Then it must fit the requirements set for linear measurements. The length plus width plus height of both of my checked bags cannot exceed 107 inches. While this may sound like it is plenty of weight and space; I can assure you it is not. I have to fit my things that I need to live for the next two years.
So I think that I have fit everything within the framework set by the Peace Corps, but it depends on whether I measure conservatively or liberally. I hope that at the airport everything goes well!
08 September 2009
Only 9 days left before I leave for the Peace Corps. Oddly enough, I remember this feeling like it was 3 months ago, oh right…I was nine days away from leaving for Mauritania then. But I guess now is the time to start believing that it is really going to happen. I am really leaving. I think I have most things set in order. I still have one more week of pretend school before everything changes. I have gotten most things together, but after this weekend is when I will re-pack and finish all of that stuff. This week is when I will say most of my good-byes…again!
In the mean time, I am running a marathon on Sunday: The Lehigh Valley Marathon. If you get the chance, you can come by and cheer for me because I know I will need all the encouragement I can get. The race starts at 7am at the Lehigh Valley Hospital on Cedar Crest. I will be near Sand Island in Bethlehem probably around 9am (12 miles into the race). And it will end in Easton, hopefully around 11am if all goes well. For more details and actual maps: http://www.vianet.org/events/marathon/course_description.shtml
I just realized that I have not really posted anything about Cameroon specifically yet. With only 9 days left in the states I figure now is as good a time as any.
History – Cameroon derives its name from the Portuguese (1472), who named it Rio dos Camarões after the abundance of shrimp in the water. After the Portuguese came the Dutch and then the Germans. In the beginning of WWI, the French and British forced out the Germans. The French took the eastern section (80%) and used a policy of assimilation, while the British took the western part (20%) and adopted indirect rule. Then in 1960 the French colony proclaimed independence and in 1961 the two colonies were reunified. The current President is Paul Biya, who has served since 1982. The country is divided into 10 provinces (8 francophone, 2 anglophone) and has over 100 active political parties.
Population – approximately 19 million
Language – over 239 spoken, but only French and English are official languages
Religion – 50% animist/native, 30% Christian, 20% Muslim [although these numbers vary depending on who you talk to]
Communication – Letters will take at least two or three weeks and up to six weeks. Sometimes the mail has been weeded through, so do not send anything that is very valuable. Make sure to write ‘Par Avion’ (airmail) on any envelopes or letters that you send. While I am in training you can send packages and letters to me at the following address:
Peace Corps Trainee
Corps de la Paix
I will probably get a cell phone in country to communicate with Peace Corps staff and locals. The rates to make outgoing international calls are fairly high, but I will be able to receive international calls for free. Internet cafes are popping up in all of the cities, so that will probably be the easiest way to keep up communication.
Food – It has a diverse array of fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains. Local foods include: millet, plantains, beans, cassava, coco yams, sweet potatoes, okra, fish, and poultry. Luckily it sounds like being a vegetarian will not be difficult for me in this country, although up north the variety of vegetables decreases depending on the time of year.
Climate – The country is sometimes called ‘Africa in miniature’ because it contains so many different landscapes. The south and east areas have rainforests and lots of rainfall; the western provinces have mountains and steep slopes; the north has grassland plateaus leading to desert.
PC in Cameroon – In 1962 (shortly after Cameroonian independence) the Peace Corps set up projects focused on education. Since then four main sectors have developed: small enterprise development, agroforestry, education, and community health. I will be working on community health. This includes mainly health promotion, education, and prevention. Health issues in Cameroon include: malaria, HIV/AIDS, diarrhea, Tuberculosis, and Filariasis [Filariae are tiny worms that develop in humans, months after they are bitten by the filaria-carrying black fly, mosquito, or deer fly. The disease usually causes problems only after many years of chronic inflammation and scarring of involved organs and tissue. Filarial flies exist primarily in the South, Center, and East provinces of Cameroon.]
My specific position and duities will depend on where I am eventually placed. So more information will come on that during training.
16 August 2009
Here are some updates from the rest of the road trip: After the farm in Oregon, we headed to Portland and stayed with Clark for a few days. Our car almost decided to give up on us there. But in the end it was only a loose vacuum and we were on our way again soon. The farm in washington did not work out though, as the farmer was leaving for a week while we were supposed to be going there. So instead we headed to the Pacific Ocean to touch its frigid waters and then meander our way back home. We were able to find another farm to stop at in Minnesota last minute.
Kara Kahl Farms in Houston, Minnesota (pernounced as the town in Texas, not 'house-ton') was a goat farm. It was a wonderful last stop to our trip because it was so different from any of the other farms. The owners raised and breeded goats. They had a small garden and were trying to start planting grapes as a side hobby. So Kevin and I helped to set up trellises for the grapes as our main project. We also got to help out with chores for the goats everyday. We even got to make goat cheese!
After a little less than a week there we were on the last leg of our trip. We had a quick stop in Chicago and then finally came back home. Overall the road trip was awesome. I learned so much more about the work it really takes to get food from the ground to your plate. I also decided that it is something I want to be more aware of. I think my favorite part of the trip was the food. Having fresh eggs, milk, and vegetables at each stop along the way was amazing. Eventually when I do settle down I know that I want to find a local farmer that I can get all of these things from.
Now I am looking forward to my trip. In about one month I will leave for staging in Philadelphia and then to Cameroon! I feel like I have not really started to prepare myself at all yet. My stuff is all still packed from when I thought I was leaving for Mauritania. So I need to re-evaluate the things I have packed and repack.
In the mean time, I have finished Rosetta Stone french; but I need to make sure that I keep practicing so that I can pick up on french quickly while in Cameroon. So I am going to start trying to watch french movies and reading the news in french.
I am also keeping myself busy by training for the Lehigh Valley Marathon that is on September 13 (about 3 days before I leave)!
And finally I am going to sit in on a few classes at Lehigh for the first 3 weeks. So I have lots to do on top of trying to make second rounds of goodbyes to everyone. Hopefully I will make it up to Ithaca for a weekend or too as well to see Kevin a few times. I have come to realize that I am slightly jealous that he is going to grad school. I already miss school and it has only been a summer. I guess that means I will be going back to school when I get back from Cameroon. That is another thing to put on my list of things to do: research grad programs that I want to apply for in 2012.
It is quite weird to be planning for things so far away. But I almost feel like my life here will be put on hold for the 2 years that I am gone. Kevin and I have a list of things to do for when I get back in a little over 2 years. For example: go scuba diving (possibly in french polynesia) and go to a penn state football game.
Everything with Cameroon is finally starting to feel like it will really happen. So I need to starting getting everything together and get mentally prepared for this long journey. It is hard to believe that I will be finally leaving Lehigh; this place has been my home for the past four years and the valley has been my home as long as I have been alive. And now I am moving, not just to another state, or even just another country, rather I am moving to a new continent!
20 July 2009
While in Trail we have gone swimming in a few creeks near the house. The place we are staying at is in the mountains away from any real sense of a town. We have also visited Crater Lake. It is an old volcano that imploded in on itself about 7,000 years ago and formed a lake inside. The lake is about 7,000 feet up in the air and is a beautiful blue color. We went for some steep hikes, not sure if we would be able to finish. But luckily we made it up to Mount Scott and then down to the lake. One day we also went into the town of Shady Cove.
Where we are the air is dry but hot. Right now is forest fire season in southern Oregon. In the past I have always watched the news and heard about the forest fires, but the reality did not set in. In order to get to the house we drive along a road where you witness the devastation of a forest fire back in 2002. And it appears that there has been a fire near Reno, NV a few days after we drove by that way. I think now I will be able to understand the magnitude of the forest fires next time it makes the news headlines.
Tomorrow we leave for our final farm destination. We are going to stop by Corvallis and then end up in Portland to visit a friend. We have decided to put the redwood trees on our 'to do' list for when I come home for Africa, as it seems we will not be able to make it this trip.
Less than two months until Cameroon, as long as plans do not change...
10 July 2009
01 July 2009
But on a much happier note, I have found something to do with myself for the next month or so. I am traveling the country with Kevin. He was originally going to go solo, but he has offered to change his plans so that we can spend the summer together. We are taking a WWOOF tour across the country working on four organic farms for about a week and camping along the way. Luckily it was not too much of a hassle for me to join him. All of the farm owners have been friendly and welcoming through phone and email communications. So here is a run down of our schedule:
June 27-July 3 Mount Ida, Arkansas
July 5 – July 12 Paonia, Colorado
July 14- July 20 Trail, Oregon
July 22 – July 29 Long Beach, Washington
In between each farm stop we are camping at state parks and the like along the way.
09 June 2009
Then I received a phone call. Urgent news about my departure. Uh oh, that is never good news. Turns out that none of our visas have been issued and we are probably going to have to wait until the free elections, held in July, are over. I am not sure why this information comes less than one week from the beginning of our adventure, but bismillah.
As of now I think I am still a bit in shock from the unexpected information. I really hate second goodbyes. I have already said goodbye to almost everyone and now I know that I will have the whole summer before I leave. At this point the best guess from the Peace Corps for when we are leaving is mid-August. That means I have two extra months.
I kind of feel like everything has been turned upside-down. Mostly I am still in shock. I was really expecting to get on a plane in a week and walk off on a new continent. I must say I am quite disappointed. But I guess this is just the way the cookie crumbles. It looks like I may actually get to take a road trip with Kevin cross-country for the summer to keep myself occupied.
If and when I get more information on what is happening I will let everyone know. Maybe it is a good thing I did not pack everything yet...
21 May 2009
First of all I am going to Mauritania, or the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, or République Islamique de Mauritanie (RIM). It is a country located in North West Africa. According to the Peace Corps it is in SubSaharan Africa, but actually most of the country is in the Sahara Desert. It borders Western Sahara, Mali, Algeria, Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean. Its capital, Nouachott, is located on the coast and Rosso, where I will be doing my first three months of training, is along the southern border with Senegal. The Richat Structure (pictured in the top of my blog) in the North is several large concentric circles on the ground which have been uncovered through erosion. Arabic is the official language, but French is also widely spoken. The population of just over 3 million is overwhelmingly Muslim (Sunni).
My assignment with the Peace Corps is as a Girls Education and Empowerment (GEE) agent. This means that I will be working at the Girls Mentoring Centers (GMCs) that have been set up by the Mauritanian government. The GMCs are set up throughout the country in the different regions, so depending on where I am eventually placed my job description will change. Generally, though, I will be conducting classes and activities that will facilitate the integration of girls into the school system. Traditionally girls have been left out of the schools and thus their attendance rates are much lower than their male counterparts. My job will be to use the GMCs as a place for the girls to become comfortable with and succeed in school. I will also be promoting gender empowerment for women in the community. My job will depend a lot upon the schedules of the girls and people who I am working with. For now that is all I really know and more details will come when I find out my final placement and begin working with the community.
While I am in Mauritania I do not know how much access to the internet I will have. The best way to contact me is to send mail. Make sure to write ‘Par Avion’ on the letter so that it is sent by air. You can send letters to the following address:
Christina Stegura, PCT
Corps de la Paix
My staging begins on June 15th in Philadelphia. There I will get vaccines and other shots as well as an introduction to the Peace Corps and Mauritania. On the 17th we leave for Mauritania from JFK airport. It is a direct flight to Dakar, Senegal and should take about 8.5 hours. From there I have heard that it is a long drive to Rosso.
After three months of training in Rosso, I have 2 years of service at my placement in Mauritania.
17 May 2009
Everything is coming to a close.
Tomorrow will be mostly about celebrating the accomplishments that my peers and I have completed throughout our time at Lehigh. But it will also be full of goodbyes.
The epitome of bitter-sweet.
I have had a truly amazing experience at Lehigh and sometimes I wonder how different everything (myself included) would be if I had gone somewhere else. I do not want to leave my friends, but I know that I am ready to step outside of my comfort zone and explore the world.
Mauritania here I come!
I have not even begun to pack yet. How am I supposed to fit my life into two bags weighing a total of 80 pounds? It will take me a whole van to move out of my current residence.
So far here is my list of things I need to buy:
- short wave radio
- internal frame backpack
- head lamp
- leatherman pocket knife
- shammy/camping towel
- long skirts
- 3 month supply of toiletries
- 10 pound bag of rice sticks
- loose running pants
- lots of batteries
- sewing kit
I am sure there will be other things I need to buy, but that is what I have for now.
11 May 2009
This will be my story and the memories that I create along the way.