10 December 2010


Check my shuterfly for new pictures!

22 November 2010

Mom in Cameroon

Wow this has been an interesting two weeks. My mom just left Cameroon after spending two weeks here. We spent almost a week in my village seeing the kinds of things that I do and some traditional ceremonies and then we spent a week seeing Bamenda and Limbe. Overall it was very different than I expected. I enjoyed getting to share my life with my mom and just getting to see her, but I think in some ways I was not prepared to take on the ‘mom’ role.

I know how to get around in Cameroon, how to speak French, and generally how to live here. All of this was very knew for her, though. So I had to go back to what it felt like when I first arrived. Ok so here is a short review of everything.

The first night she arrived around 9pm at the Douala International airport. I was not allowed to go to the baggage claim with her, but the driver I was with was able to go and help her through. Then we had crazy teenage boys carrying our bags and ripping the $2 tip out of our hands when we finally made it to the car. The first night neither of us slept very well because we were too excited to sleep.

The next morning we left bright and early from the hotel to get an early start on the day. We went to the bus station and then proceeded to wait for 7 hours before our bus finally left. I was so upset at this point because I knew there was nothing we could do but wait. Finally we left and made it to Bafoussam by nightfall. Right as we were about to go to Ben’s house, Mom realized that she had left her wallet on the bus. It was a crazy taxi chase to the next city. We met the bus there and the kind lady sitting next to us had found the wallet with everything in it! So exhausted after that.

The following day we saw the market in Bafoussam for a bit and then went t Mbouda. Alain and Rose met us there to pick us up with all our stuff. It was a long ride on unpaved roads and I think Mom was glad that I was in the car with her. We made it to my house at nightfall with no electricity, of course.

The next few days we went to the health center, went hiking, attended a few meetings, did market, etc. All of the normal things around village. Rose and Alain were very accommodating the whole week being great hosts. They were super grateful for the health supplies that my mom was able to bring over (a whole 50 pound crate of them!)
Finally we left for Bamenda and Mom got to ride a moto! I think she liked it. We stayed with Kelly in Bamenda and saw some art stuff. Mom bought some pagne is having a nice traditional dress made  I also found a few movies for myself and some pagna.

Then it took a whole day to travel to Limbe and we made it to our very nice hotel by nightfall. The black sand beaches were amazing and it was a much needed rest after our eventful trip. I am so happy that my Mom was able to see Cameroon and experience how I live first had. She took lots of pictures and video so I am sure that soon most of you will be seeing everything I just described.

23 September 2010

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

You never do know exactly what you are going to get. One minute the sun is shining, the next a huge rainstorm has moved in and you are all soaked. But do not worry the sun will come back out to dry your clothes soon, or eventually as the case may be in the rainy season.

On that note, lots of things have been happening lately…

A few days ago I saw my first live birth ever. It all happened so quickly. One minute Rose, my counterpart, was telling me that we should go to the market and then the next she said that there was a birth going to happen first. I was so excited because I have told her before that I wanted to watch a birth. Right then I realized that I was scared, why? Because I had never seen a birth before and I was not sure what it was going to be like, more I was not sure what my reaction would be. What if I gasped at an inappropriate time, or cried?

With all of this going through my head, I took a deep breath and told myself now or never; now it was. I walked into the room very unsure of my role, but knowing that the best thing to do would stay out of the way and only do as I was told. The contractions were coming so fast. Then all of a sudden I could see a head with curly black hair starting to appear. Magically somehow a person was coming out of this lady laying there in pain (making little no noise may I add, and do not kid yourself into thinking there were any pain killers used). Magical, that is the only way I have been able to express what I saw. A new life was on this earth and I saw it happen.

While I was still floating on this incredible high from seeing a live birth, I was talking to Rose the next day. She was discussing the number of HIV positive people this month. Ever since I have come to help at the health center the numbers have slowly been going up. When I first got here almost every month it was 0 positive with maybe 1 every once in a while. Slowly now the number goes up. And we have about three each month or more. This month we have already had at least 3 positive and each of them is a young unmarried female, two of them pregnant and one a Bororo. The reason that it is women testing positive is because for every women who comes for a prenatal consultation we require that they get an HIV test, all the other ones done are people coming and soliciting the tests.

Well this information really put a damper on the magic of birth. If one of the Bororos is infected then a good number of them will be soon. It is a small community and each man has at least 4 wives… And as for the other women they are pregnant and would have to move to Bafoussam to get the ARVs and their boyfriends are moto drivers, aka they get around. It feels like the virus is taking over the village. Maybe that is just because before this it was hidden enough that I was able to convince myself that HIV is not a huge issue in Bamboué.

After this downer of a realization I went up into the mountains to go for a hike and to say hi to my friends, the Bororos. Luckily I got up there right before the rain came down. I then settled down into their one room house to talk and zone out the rain. Soon it was time to eat and we had one of the best meals I have yet had in Cameroon: couscous and jama jama. Let me explain the meal a little for those of you not familiar with Cameroonian cuisine. Couscous is flour from corn mixed with water and then steamed. Then the jama jama part is some of the best greens (like spinach leaves) in this country cooked with oil and salt. Soo good. So we sat there and ate with our hands watching the hail, yes hail, come down. Every once in a while some hail would bounce in. The view was crazy and somehow the scene was so beautiful, until I had to walk home in it.

Then just yesterday I went to a community meeting about Cholera. As you probably already know there is a large outbreak in the north of Cameroon. Right now the big cities of Yaounde and Douala are already seeing cases of cholera too. So everyone else is preparing to take precautions and figuring out the steps for when/if cholera comes here too. So it all comes round circle. My days are as up and down as ever with the ups being way up there in the sky I can almost touch the clouds, and the downs as depressing as can be.

But through all this I know my mother is coming to visit soon and I get a break on a cruise/America for my birthday. So no matter what happens I have that to look forward to.

31 August 2010

Friends, Family, and Fun

A lot has happened since I have last posted. Lets see, I helped out with another summer camp in the West Region with some Agroforestry volunteers. It was in Baham, which is pretty close to Bafoussam. It was a girls camp, so we got to deal with reproductive health and girls empowerment. Our group of girls ranged widely in age so some topics were harder than others. Overall it was a great experience. I spent the whole week with other volunteers making great food and doing wonderful activities with the girls.

When that ended I got to visit my host family for the day. I have not seen them since the end of stage and it was a much needed overdue visit. I got to see most of my friends from Bamena, except for one of the other volunteer’s mother, who I was really close with. I saw Gambino – he has physically grown up a lot and seems to be doing well getting ready for the next year of school. My host uncle was sweet as always. He is now usually living in Douala working to unload boats for the World Food Program. He was back in Bamena to see his family. It was very nice to see him because we got really close running every morning. I know that if I ever need to go to Douala I will surely contact him to help me get around. My host mother was so welcoming and excited to see me. She made boiled peanuts as well as rice and peanut sauce for me. Then she gifted me more peanuts when I headed out. Most of the kids were visiting family in the South West Region for the vacation time, but I did get to see the youngest, Rickson. He was finally able to walk and even talking a bit now. Finally my host father drove down from Bafoussam to meet up with me and he is doing well. He has a new car and was very excited to take me around town to say hi to people.

Now I am in Yaounde in order to prepare for the next stage that is coming. It has almost been a year since I arrived in Cameroon and now we are getting ready for the next group; it is a semi-surreal experience.

On a completely different note I found out that my Mom is coming to visit me in November! She will be here for about two weeks. I am starting to think about the different things that we will do while she is here. It will be so nice to show her my home and how I live for these two years. We will also go around and see some other areas.

My parents have also booked me tickets to come and see them in January. We are going to meet in Miami and take a cruise to Aruba for a week. I was not expecting to come to America during my service, but I can not pass up the opportunity to see my family. It will be so amazing, relaxing, and luxurious.

It looks like another friend, Rich, may visit me in February as well. So much excitement in so little time. I know this next year will fly by and I am really looking forward to it.

10 August 2010

Milky Pineapples, frommage, plum cherries, evués, and cassa-mangues

There is a magical world of fruit here. You think you know about most of the fruits in the world and then you go to a city. I will try to describe the fruits that I have tasted recently.

The first one is called a sour sop. It looks green and spiky from the outside and comes from the hot humid regions (like the south). When you cut it open it begins to look more like a white pineapple with brown seeds in the pulp. I personally think it tastes like a milky pineapple.

The next fruit was called frommage in French. That word translates to cheese, but this is not cheese, it is a fruit. So I am not sure what the English word would be. It is small, like a tomato, with a top, as though it was once connected to a vine. You do not eat the thin layer of skin. Inside is a thick almost avocado-like consistency. It is much sweeter, though. Inside you will find a couple of brown seeds. I am going to try and plant some.

Plum cherries, that is the best way I can think to describe it. They are small like cherries, but have a hard skin. They might actually be a type of cherry. Once you take off the hard skin, it is a dark red, violet color and you can suck on the fruit until only the seed is left. The fruit pulp reminds me a lot of a plum.

The evué, is probably the most unique of them all. First you start off with this large lumpy type fruit. It looks like a big potato with four or so lumps in it. Then you peel off that brown skin and you see four whitish, transparent fruits. Each of them is covering a bright red seed. You eat the white part that is around the seed. The white part has been described as the texture of an onion and an apple combined and the taste is more like that of an apple and a litchi combined.

The last fruit is basically one type of bush mango. It is a round shape and I would liken it to a nectarine. It has a thin layer of skin that you can peel off and then eat the pulp. It tastes like a mix between a nectarine and a mango, but if you eat it too early it is very sour. The interesting part is that the seed is really spiky.

Sometimes I think I get set in my ways and end up eating the same things time and time again. But when you randomly buy the mysterious fruit instead, you never know what will happen. Bananas are my fruit of choice in village and papaya is my fall back fruit in the cities. I will be walking around and there are stands with cut up papaya, I love it. But thankfully I gave these other fruits a chance as well.
I almost feel like I am in Charlie and the Chocolate factory, except it is a fruit factory. I am licking the scratch and taste wallpaper and I never know what to expect.

02 August 2010


My sitemate, Ben, just moved to Bafoussam; so that was a sad good bye. Other than that things have been going pretty well. I am working on a water project for my health district. It would include reforesting the area near the source of water up in the mountains and then finishing a water treatment plant. So that is exciting, it will be a lot of work, but it will be great if it actually gets done; woohoo for potable water!

Also my counterpart is looking at starting an internet cafe in village. Right now it is all only in the planning stages, but personally I would love to teach the people there some computer lessons. I think I would start with keyboarding, because it is such an important skill and then see what else they want ot learn.

Ok but now to the title of my blog: recently I have been walking down to the market and there is a man about half way down who keeps yelling at me. He tells me that a white person is inside threatening his mother. And then the next day it is that a white person is eating him. He is begging for my help. Maybe if he wasn't yelling at me I would consider talking to him. So now I am pretty sure that he is talking about sorcery. The beliefs are that at night the sorcerer turns into a vampire, or another animal, and then sneaks into your house and starts eating your soul. Once they have finished eating it you will die. They can do this in one night ( a sudden death) or it can last for years (then you would just be sick).

I am not really sue how to respond and I just hope that he does not try to do sorcery to me for not helping.

24 July 2010


I am just getting back from a trip to the south in Lolodorf. I went there to help another volunteer, Amanda, with a camp she was hostin. It was a week long overnight camp for boys and girls ages 11-15. It was fun, interesting, and challenging. We had a lot of great community speakers come and talk to the children about: waterborn diseases, reproductive health, STDS and HIV/AIDS. We played soccer everyday. The best part was probably the nightly camp fires. The power was out in the town so at night we would sit around the fire waiting for dinner, singing; dancing, and storytelling.

One of my favorite songs is called "ya ya tinga" One girl picks out a girl and a guy from the audience while everyone is singing ya ya tinga. Then the girl directs the couple to shake hands, hug, kiss, and dance together. Everyone gets so into it. The energy is just amazing.

The people in the south are different from the Bamileke that I am used to. The two main ethnic groups where I was were the Bassa and the Bulu. In the south the people are known for being lazy and aggressive, an interesting combination. Overall I think the people are more attractive as well. But in the end I missed all my friends from post and am so happy to be back and speaking my patoi again.

12 June 2010

Washing Clothes in the Rainy Season

So with the rainy season also comes the end of school. What does this mean? Something my postmate calls the Grand Kid Exchange. Every 'summer' most of the kids from village leave to see the city and the kids from city come to village. Specifically for me this means my house boy is going to Douala for the summer. I am taking this as a good time to work on doing things myself.

Lately I have been washing all my clothes and my floor all by myself. I never knew I could be so proud of a clean house/clean clothes. And the reason I originally got someone to help me out was because I would spend a whole day working on this stuff and barely finish by the end of the day (no time for the sun to dry my clothes before nightfall). But the last time I washed my clothes it only took about 3 hours and since I started really early, everything was almost dry by the afternoon.

Here is the problem, though. I left my clothes out while I went to market (yesterday was Nzemendzemé, the small market day). I almost made it home and then it started pouring. Then all of my clothes fell on the ground because of the wind. So at the end of the day my clothes were dirtier than when I started and all wet again. Oh well, I learned that I need to buy clothes hangers and not leave my clothes out if I go to market.

20 May 2010


I stayed up almost all night to upload photos and now I have a shutterfly account. You can check out lots of photos

06 May 2010

Engineering and Politics

I am certainly not an engineer and sometimes I wish that I had my dad, the engineer, with me here. but I am learning a lot of innovative ways to make something with the few materials I have. Right noz I am working on making tippy-taps for the primary schools. For those of you that don't know, tippy-taps are bottles that are filled with water to serve as a make shift faucet for those places that do not have running water. There are many different models and I am trying to work out one where you have a hanging bottle and then you pull a string to invert the bottle and allow water to come out.

The reason that I am working on this is because last time I was at the primary schools we were talking about the fecal-oral route and how to prevent these diseases. ONe main way is washing your hands after using hte latrine. Se we walked over to investigate the latrine situation. Guess what? There was no place to wash your hands. So I told them to think about what we could do and I would think too. The next time I come we are goign to figure it out.

Back to the engineering thing, though. I think Cameroonians have engineering brians - and not necessariy hypothetical or theoretical brains. Obviously this is a huge over generalisation, but nonetheless here is my logic: Cameroonians can fix anything to make it work. The just need to see it and they will figure it out. I would say that they are learners by doing things hands on. NOw they do not necessarily fix it 'properly' but it works.

Maybe I have talked about this before, but as an example, the children make these amazing toy cars. They use old sandal shoes for the foamy wheels, sardine tins for the body, and rafia limbs for everything else. The amazing part is that they attach a long limb that splits off into a steering wheel that they use to drive the toy car. I know that I could not have made something that complex as a toy for myself at the ages that these kids start constructing them.

Now on to politics: local politics are a funny thing. Every month, we, my health center, do a mobile vaccination day in several small villages that are farther away from the health center. Yesterday I went to help out for the one at Batsepou. When I got there, guess what I found? A brand new health center! It was like it magically appeared. They had new beds and chairs and tables. I have no idea where the money came from for any of this or who came up with the idea. All that I do know is that no one informed our health center (which is the main health center for the area and in charge of all the others) or even the health committee (the president of which lives almost across the street from this brand new health center)!

Then since no one was informed my health center wanted to call it quits on the vaccination day, but the new health center is private and without a fridge - aka no money for the vaccines of a way to store them.

Finally, though, we decided to do the vaccination day anyway so that it would not look like we were against this new health center. After that we went to the local cheif and told him to appoint a health delegate for the health committee so that we would not have issues like this happen again. When we went to visit the chief we chatted for a while and drank palm wine. The first batch was very strong and all the men I was with liked it a lot. I only took one glass because when it is strong like that it smells like vinegar. Then They brought out some more that was sweet and fresh. I had another glass while the men sent it back for a stronger version.

Oh Cameroon!

04 May 2010


So maybe the rainy season is finally starting. It came for one week in March and the rains have yet to return in full swing. But the other day we finally had a downpour. It was even hailing! That is the first time I saw hail in Cameroon, but I am sure it will not be the last.

As a side note to that, I used the water from the storm to shower with: very cold and I am guessing that the hail did not help that.

This morning I went for a run and I tried to make it a little bit longer by taking a slightly different path. I ended up about 2 hours from my house before I knew where I was. But now I know a few more roads near me (or rather not the near).

Now I am off to an all day meeting, my favorite kind - not.

01 May 2010

La fete de travaille

Today is Labor day. What does that mean...instead of working we get to have parades! I am in Mbouda, where my prefecture is to see the parades today. My postmate is marching with his bank and I am just going to hang out and watch everyone else. Unlike for Women's day where I marched, I have no stress about today. It is nice to come to a city every once in a while, but I think it makes me appreciate my post more. It is so quiet at my post; I can go running without getting harassed; it is cool out and there are a lot less mosquitoes.

Lately I feel like my life has been all over and so it has been hard to post a lot. Work is coming together at the primary schools. We have been talking about clean water and the oral fecal route recently, so our next step is to try and make tippy taps at the school latrines so that everyone can wash their hands with soap after going to the bathroom. I am trying to figure out a good model for the tippy taps right now with the available resources.

I am also working with a few womens groups on making soap. it is surprisingly easier than I thought to make soap. Three ingredients: caustic soda, water, and oil. I think the problem is that the soap does not smell well, but the women do not seem to think it is a problem; generally soap here is unscented (or rather smells like palm oil).

My health committee delegates have decided that water is the big problem. So we are going to work on an action plan for how to address the problem from the perspective of decreasing the water-borne diseases. I am happy that everyone is showing up for the meetings and excited to do work. Hopefully we can come up with some inexpensive ways to fix things and then eventually work up to the spending money for a project. My biggest fear is that we could get money for a project and then they would think that money just comes out of nowhere.

Well I am going to watch the parades now, shout out to my sister...Happy Birthday Mary, I love you and I miss you.

20 April 2010

4 Months at Post

Has it really been only 4 months in my new home ? I just got back from a conference for the Peace Corps and I can not tell you how glad I am to be back home to Bamboué. I can greet people in patoi again, people know who I am, it is great.

A lot of good things have been happening lately. I have been meeting with a few new groups who seem really motivated. One in particular is a group of health delegates. We just did a community survey and are about to analyze it together to figure out where to go next. Hopefully everyone will work well together and we will be able to work on a project. I will try to keep updates about that coming.

Just so that everyone knows and does not worry about me, my water is back for the most part. It comes and goes, but it is not a problem. I am also way better at carrying things on my head now. Even with no hands!

I have been really busy lately and hope to write more soon.

22 March 2010


How many times a day do you use water without thinking about it? Recently the water in my house was turned off, and now due to the rainy season the pipes keep getting clogged and so there is no water. When I am able to get water it is visibly dirty.

All of this has made me think about all the times I use water and how difficult and dirty life is without water. The obvious times: bucket bathing, after using the bathroom, to brush my teeth, etc. But then also to wash my dishes, to flush my toilet, to wash my clothes, to wash my vegetables/fruit, and to wash my hands while I am preparing food when they get dirty. When you do not have running water, or any water for that matter, it really makes you think about all the times when you use water.

It also makes me understand why people do not wash their hands regularly, and how they use and reuse water regularly. When water is not something that just magically comes out of the faucet; you would think twice for using it just to clean your hands because they feel a little dirty too. (or at least I do now). So this is how and why fecal oral route diseases are so common here. I have been giving health presentations to primary school children talking specifically about this topic. But changing these behaviors will be much harder said than done.

I have not had water for three days now; you may ask how has that changed my life? And I would say, great question. Well I have not washed my dishes for three days for one thing. I flush the toilet once a day if that because it just feels like the biggest waste of water. This is why I wish I had a latrine. But I still shower everyday and wash my hands. The problem is that I need to walk about a half hour to get to the nearest source and back. Now, though since the water is out on most pipes, there is a long line at the source. So I usually can wait for 20 minutes or so. But I am certainly getting better at carrying it on my head!

16 March 2010

Get Down With It

This morning for breakfast I sucked on a juicy mango. You know what this means, mango season is coming soon. I found some mangos in the Mbouda market yesterday and I am not sure if I could be happier to know that supposedly I will be sick of mangos by the end of the season (I wonder if it is possible). Not to dwell on the subject too long, but mangos here taste different, just like the pineapples. They are sweeter, fresher, and truly amazing. I am not sure if I could eat a mango or a pineapple ever again in the states after tasting the fruit’s perfection here.

Recently I think I have been going through some difficult times, just with feeling like I am alone here and that no one can empathise. But things seemed to have taken an upward turn for now and my daily rhythms feel natural and exciting. In several ways my life has slowed down a lot and relaxed. I am no longer working two to three jobs while taking classes and simultaneously trying to plan the rest of my life. Now I am here in Cameroon living in the moment instead of for the future. I am assessing the needs of the community and figuring out projects to plan and other ways that I can be helpful. Some days it feels like a lot and other days it feels like too little (especially when I think back to how I lived in the states).

So after six months of living in Cameroon, I know that there is still a lot for me to learn, but it is finally my home.

I had a realisation the other day while watching a soccer game. The children at the primary school in Tsopeau (the small village farthest up in the mountains) were playing on the triangle shaped piece of grass that was there. On a side note, grass is an unusual soccer field here, it is typically just the mud/dirt ground. Goals were set up on either end, and somewhere during the game I got lost watching the ball go back and forth. And then I had a moment of clarity, no one was playing by any set of official rules, the children were playing within the realm of what they had. The out of bounds was identified by were the grass happened to end. This led me to think about life in general here. And I think this soccer game example can be projected onto other parts of life. No one here lives by rules that have been created that serve no purpose. People live by what is actually here; they do what they can to get by, and if they can get away with something they do that too.

When I play cards with the children that come over to my house, everyone always looks at the others cards, why, because they can. And they try to play cards that are incorrect according to the rules, why, because if no one noticed then they got away with it. Maybe that is just an example of kids who have yet to learn, but I think they have learned. They have learned that they need to do what it takes in order to win (a card game, or at a job, etc.).

I do not think this is necessarily a bad thing, on the contrary, it made me realize that I follow a lot of rules blindly. I know that I am supposed to do something, why, because there is a rule or a law that says so. But then most of the rules that I am used to following do not even apply here. Why should a soccer field be square if only a triangle is available?

Now I would argue that there are still lots of social norms that everyone follows regularly, but because they apply to the current situations, not because it is a rule that descends from the central government. One thing I am learning about life here, (advice from my postmate) is that ‘not only do you have to accept many things the way they are, but you need to get down with it!’ I have started taking this recommendation seriously and it makes life so much easier. There are of course things that I will never ‘get down with’ so to speak, but I can pick the parts of the culture and not only accept it but come to really appreciate it.

Here are some examples:
Carrying things on my head. I have not quite been able to do it with out hands yet, but I realize that this is actually a better way of carrying heavy things. It takes less energy over all and you can keep your hands free. I just need to build up my neck muscles some more and work on my balancing skills!

Importance of food and drink. When people offer you food and/or drink it is important to accept. In particular kola nuts and palm wine are traditionally important. Also I have realized that it is also important to have these things available when people come over to my house.

Local language. Most people speak limited French and really only speak ngiemboon (local patoi). If people are going to take me as a community member I need to be able to communicate and show them that I am trying. I can finally confidently greet people and say several other random things!

Making sport on Sundays. While I run almost everyday, Sunday is the unofficial official day of sports for everyone here. I am very happy that I have been able to ‘join’ the kung fu club and do sports with them Sunday mornings really early, often just before heading to church with one of my women’s group.

Tu m’as gardé quoi? Roughly translated, you were thinking of me, so what did you get me. At first I think I found this really offensive. Why was I supposed to bring you something? But now I joke with them and ask them what they have for me instead. And I have realised that sometimes gift giving can go a long way, I am just sure not to do it all the time or it would become expected.

On a slightly different note, the rains have started to come just as quickly as they disappeared. What does this mean, I will have to learn to get down with it raining every single day and the mud that comes along with it.

Oh life in Cameroon, I love it!

In the Face of Death

It has been a little while since I have posted so I have two very different blogs that I want to post with completely different vibes. I am posting them separately for that reason. This first one I wrote a little while ago and the next one deals with how I am feeling currently.

Baby Stegura died a few weeks ago. I never got to meet her and I am not sure if my host family will have a doy for her soon or not, but I am sad to face the reality of life (or death) here. Death is a natural part of life here and people are habituated to it. Everyone who works in carpentry makes their special crafts, but they also make coffins. Apparently it is a needed business. I often have read about infant mortality rates in classes, on the internet, etc., but I guess until now I did not feel connected to those facts. Shortly after I heard about the death of Stegura, Rose told me that she was going to a doy for a child that was born at the center the other week. The child died before it was even given a name.

And then I was helping with the prenatal consultations. One lady came in for the first time during her ninth month because she was very sick. During the consultation no one was able to find the heart beat of the child. Later she found out that they baby was dead and she needed to have an operation (which she could not afford) to remove the fetus. During the consultations we identify what number pregnancy this is for the mother. At first I was asking them how many children that they had to figure out the answer, but soon I realized that most people have several miscarriages or children who have died. Now I ask the question differently.

Death is all around, sometimes facing that reality is daunting.

02 March 2010

Flexible Time

Something that i have noticed from spending a few months at post is that time here is ‘flexible.’ What exactly does that mean…I think it means that no one here lives by a clock. There is a structure to how things work, but it certainly does not depend on the exact time; I would argue that it has more to do with where the sun is (and of course that is closely related to the time). Most of the daily life activities in village revolve around cultivating and working in the fields. Other than that the electricity is far from dependable (that is if the people have it at all) and so making the most of sunlight hours is important.

Surprisingly people wake up very early around 5am before the sun is up to get started on their days, especially on farm days. Here there are basically two different types of weeks occurring simultaneously. There is the Monday through Sunday week, but then there is also an 8 day week that directs most activities. For example every 4 days is a market day and with the big market days happening every 8 days and 4 days later is the small market day. Market days are just as much social events; if not more, than they are about getting food and things for the house. It is a day when everyone comes together in the market place to talk and see one another. The day after a market day is always a farm day. People leave very early to go to their farms and return very late. I am sure that the other days have their designations as well, but for now I am not sure exactly what they are.

I think that in the United States, my life was controlled so much by the time. I never really saw it as controlling me while I was there; I thought it was great to have a lot of structure. But now that I am in such a contrasting situation I see it a bit differently. Instead of things being controlled by time, activities are controlled by other activities. I meet with two women’s groups on Sundays and the one group meets “after church.” Some days that is 9 in the morning, but other days it is 10 or 11 or even noon. It all depends on what time the pastor comes and how into the service everyone is. I would say that almost all of the meetings that I have run on flexible time. They are scheduled to start at 9 or 11, but people start arriving over the next few hours. Thus it takes a while to actually get started. Then once things finally do, the meetings tend to drag on for 3 – 5 hours. I find this very unnecessary and at times annoying. But what I have come to understand is that these meetings are once again a social setting. Everyone enjoys getting to take basically a whole day to see other people and accomplish things at a slow pace.

Priorities are different. It is not about maximizing the efficiency of time used. It is maybe more about slow and steady. People work very hard on their farms and when they have time to be social they relish it. Greetings here can take several minutes, especially in the North I have heard. It is important to say hi to your neighbors and give yourself a break to stay involved in the community. Community membership and relations, I would argue are more important here.

16 February 2010

Lost in Translation

I am often reminded of the cultural differences, which may seem obvious to everyone in the United States. But honestly Cameroon is starting to feel like home which allows me to feel comfortable. Recently, though I have had a few cases where I am reminded that I am in another country.

For Valentine’s Day I was constantly reminding Alain (Rose-my counterpart-‘s husband) that this is the day where he should do nice things for her. For example he could cook, give her flowers or chocolates, etc. So then on V-day he told me that this fete lasts for a few days so he would not be doing anything on Sunday, but the next day instead. So then last night he decided that he was going to cook dinner – for her, I thought. Then night time comes and I get an invitation to their house. When I get there Alain is almost finished cooking and Rose, as it turns out, is working at the center after hours because someone was giving birth. He got the memo about making dinner, but I guess I did not emphasize the fact that it was for his wife enough. On va faire comment?

But he was so happy with himself for cooking (husbands here do not prepare food generally), so I guess it was a good experience. And the food was good too: spaghetti with tomato sauce and french fries!

I was visiting my friends the Bororos up in the mountains the other day, they are the muslim herder tribe. The one women, Djanabo, told me that should would gladly braid my hair. So of course I accepted and let her braid my hair. But then when she was about half way through I realized that she was randomly cutting ends off of some of the braids. I am non-confrontational so I did not even say that I knew she was doing it. I have gone through a few emotions from this experience. At first it was sadness, why was she deceiving me? I think I even hit on a little bit of anger after that: what right did she have to cut my hair without asking me? But now I am simply at curiousity: what would bring her to do something like that? All in all I think it is a cultural difference, in the states people do not cut others hair unless they are specifically asked to do so ( or maybe they are a devious little child who thinks it would be fun). My counterpart is asking around to try and figure out why they would do that. I know that they are intrigued by my hair because they often touch it and comment on it. Maybe they are just interested.

The last little story I have is about making a cake. So apparently here there is a belief that when a woman is menstruating she should not prepare things that you have to mix: cake, koki, soap. The other day we made two cakes the women’s group in Bamboué. The first cake we made was a carrot cake. Rose mixed that one up, but left shortly after because I think she remember that she had her period. Next we made banana bread. Another women mixed that up and we put them in the marmite oven together. What would you know, the carrot cake did not turn out, but the banana bread was excellent! I have not been able to understand why this phenomenon happens, but who understands everything they believe?

05 February 2010

Figuring Things Out

I think that maybe finally I am beginning to find my place here in
Bamboué (actually now technically since I have moved across the street
I live in Bassessa). Everyday I seem to have too many things to do

I have been doing house visits with two of the health delegates to see
pregnant women. The purpose of these visits is technically to prevent
the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child, but none of these
women have HIV. Thus we end up giving them information on AIDS and
they get a chance to have their questions answered. After that we
spend the majority of the visit letting them ask questions about their
pregnancy or health in general. I think that they really appreciate
being able to ask questions and get answers. While the health center
has really good customer service (especially comparatively from what I
have heard), many times the women do not want to go and pay for a
consultation just to ask a question. This is a great opportunity for
the women to understand a little bit more about what is happening in
their body and that a lot of their discomfort should be expected
during pregnancy.

A side not on one of the visits – One of the ladies that we stopped by
was talking about how she did not want to eat a lot and did not want
to continue gaining weight. I was only hearing this second hand
because she was speaking in the local language-ngeimboon
(unfortunately I can not spell it correctly here just pretend that the
‘o’s are backwards c’s that make a sound like an o). But from the
translation I got it sounded like she was having a body image issue.
I was really surprised by this because the culture here does not
generally promote a thin ideal body. I could totally be
misinterpreting the situation, but that is what I took from the

I have also been helping out with the monthly vaccination days that
take place at the health center and also out in the community. I
think I am even getting a hang of how they fill out all of the
paperwork for the things, thus I can be of use. People keep asking me
if I want to give the injections, I am not at that point yet, but who
knows maybe I will learn. Two out of the five nurses at the hospital
are village nurses; which means that they never went to school or got
a degree to be a nurse, they have only picked up the knowledge from
hands on experience here at the center.

There are two local women’s groups meetings which I have been
attending as well. I am not sure if I am contributing too much yet,
but now I have started giving small formations about certain health
topics. I am also helping the two groups go through the legalization
process. March 8th is International Women’s Day so I think the women
want to plan a fete for that.

Another group that I am participating in is the local high school
Kung-fu group. Did you know that they did Kung-fu in Africa? I guess
they generally don’t, but David had brought this book about Kung-fu
with pictures in it. It is written in English so they have translated
parts of it and I will help to translate more. Basically, though,
they have come up with their own version from what they understand.
One of the boys, my neighbour Paulin, acts as the instructor and leads
the practices. They meet Sunday mornings really early and Wednesdays
after school (since school gets out early that day). I am slowly
learning a little bit of Kung-fu Cameroonian style and it is actually
a lot of fun. Soon all of the students want to get Kung-fu uniforms
made and organize a trip to the pool in Dschang. I am sure that I
will help in little ways, but this club is more simply for my
amusement. I fit right in with the high school students due to my

*Paulin actually helps out quite a lot at my house, he is really
friendly. I have recently ‘hired’ him as my house boy to clean the
floors and wash my clothes once a week. I struggled with the morality
of this for a while. It is not that I can not do these things myself,
because I am certainly capable, but I end up taking a whole day to do
what he can do in an hour or two. Also I decided that maybe in
someway I am helping the local economy by spreading some money around.
Many times people just ask me for money; I have decided that if they
can do something to help me then I can justify paying them or giving
them something, but I have trouble just giving money. Because then
people will expect that I continue to do that in the future and I do
not want to set that kind of unsustainable example.

I have recently acquired a blackboard for my house. Now I finally
have something for the kids to do when they come over. And now if
they ask me for something, I get to ask them to do a math problem
first to earn what they ask for! I actually really like the
blackboard too because I can doodle on it.

Currently I am in the process of visiting three of the local primary
schools to get permission to work with the kids once or twice a month.
I just received my letter of approval from the arrondissement
inspector in Batcham. Now all I need is permission from the school
directors. There are always a lot of hoops to jump through in order
to get things official, but this has not been too hard. I am really
looking forward to doing activities with the kids.

So that is what has been going on with me, now I just have a few observations:

Here kids have a fair amount of responsibility. Around the age of 4
they are entrusted to care for infants. They need to work on the
farms from a young age, get water for themselves (which is a task
here), help prepare food, and do the housework. In many senses they
have to grow up a lot faster than I was allowed to grow up. But in
case you were wondering, the children here still do have temper
tantrums and things like that; the responsibility has not completely
shielded them from childhood. And also hitting kids is totally
allowed here and not looked down upon in anyway. It is hard for me to
accept that. It is actually common in schools for the teachers to
punish the children this way, although recently there has been a
campaign to stop this behaviour in schools at least.

So on the one hand children are forced to take on responsibility at a
young age. Yet at the same time until ‘children’ have children of
their own and/or get married they are still considered children. This
means that they really can not get a job and have no way of making
money. While they are in high school for example, they go to school
and help out at the family farm and this is all that time allows for.
And from what I can tell if they have a child then they are adults and
stop going to school.

I still have not figured out what to do with my trash. My neighbors
burn it, but I have not yet decided how to go about doing that.
Burning plastic is certainly not the best thing for the environment,
and that is the majority of my trash. On top of that I hate the smell
and do not want to contribute to that. With my food scraps I tried to
start a compost, but there is a health delegate who works at the
center that wanted my scraps. So now I just give them all to him.
Paper scraps I keep or shopkeepers take to hand out bread. Then there
are jars and /or containers which I keep or the children use to make
toys. Thus the vast majority of my trash ends up being plastic
packaging. I keep the plastic bags that someone gives you anytime you
buy anything in a collection for some hopeful future purpose. I am
sure that sometime soon I will break down and give my trash to my
neighbour so that it can be burned together, but my trash pile builds
up surprisingly slow.

Cameroonian Companies
There are a lot of Cameroonian companies. Most of the aid money that
Cameroon used to receive went to the government. So in many ways it
is good to know that the money went, I assume, to the creation of
these companies. You can get chocolate made by ChocoCam; tea made by
CTE (Cameroon Tea Enterprise); telephones made by CamTel; maps or
boats made by CamShip; milk, yogurt, or soy products made by CamLait;
ciment made by CimenCam; and BelgoCam raises chickens; and I know
there are many others but right now the names are escaping me. I have
been living in village for a bit now and do not see many of these
products, but almost anything you can get made by a Cameroonian
company. Think about it like this, when you go into a grocery store
and they have the Wegmans brand or something, here it’s the
Cameroonian brand.

27 January 2010

Observations by the untrained eye

Before I get to my observations/comments I have two quick updates about me. First I moved across the street from the center with my cat Loopy. It is nice there and we are both adapting quite nicely to the apartment. (I will try to post pics soon). Second, my host mother had her baby (although I was never definitely sure she was pregnant) and she has been named Stegura!

In no way am I an expert on Cameroonian culture and maybe I will never get to that point, but at the same time I am trying to understand the culture and particularly differences that I see. There are many times, I am now realizing, when I have taken so many aspects of my own culture as just simply the way things are. In fact, though, there are other ways to do things. So now I just want to look at a few things that I have observed and discuss the observations to the best of my ability. Also please if you have any other comments or thoughts about some of my observations and/or conclusions please leave comments. As an aside, I am only speaking to the culture in the West which I have witnessed. The West region (at least where I am) is primarily Bamileke culture.

Here death has several recognized steps and/or rituals involved. First comes the enterrement or the burial. I have not actually witnessed a ceremony for that and I am unclear if there is a formal ceremony. I have learned that people are buried, not in cemeteries, but behind their houses. From reading a little bit of Geishiere I would also say that the people are buried behind their village houses, not their houses in the cities or necessarily where they were actually living. ** I just talked to someone yesterday who told me that the enterrement is part of the initial Doy ceremony**

After that there is the first ceremony, which can be anywhere from a few days to a few months after the death. This is the part in which everyone is very sad and mourns the life of the deceased. I have only been to one of these so far and it was a very confusing experience. Men and women each have their respective roles in the ceremony. Someone holds a photo of the deceased above their head while dancing in circles with others. Some people are playing bongo type drums and other instruments as others watch, dance, and chant. Then people cry. Finally everyone eats and drinks, as all the women have come with already prepared food. It is at least an all day event.

I feel like this ceremony, called a Doy, is more or less the equivalent of a funeral in the States. We generally cry in remembrance of the person. Of course the two are not quite comparable, but none the less we cry and all join together to honor the deceased. One of the hardest parts for me during this ceremony was my role. I am female, but as an American, I am seen maybe as in between that of man and women. So I would be invited to stand where all the men were standing, only later to be told by a women that it was not appropriate for me to be with the men.

After the Doy is another ceremony several years later called a Funeraille. This is purely a celebration of the person’s life and is not a sad event in anyway. People wait to save up money to throw a big part with lots of food, music, dancing, drinking, and all around celebration for the life of the person. The more important the person was (as I am told) the longer you wait to save up money to have a bigger Funeraille. Sometimes people wait up to 10 years before having the celebration. And all of the Funerailles seem to be held in the dry season (November to February).

I have been to several funerailles and have enjoyed them very much. Everyone comes back from the city to the villages to hold the celebrations. I guess my biggest piece of commentary on the death rituals is that the whole process, while in some ways may be a bit much, seems to be more complete than the one funeral that we hold for our deceased. Cameroonians have another ceremony where it is only a joyous remembrance of the lost loved one and in that way I think they have kept up more of a full circle outlook on death. The life of someone is not quite finished until you have all-out celebrated it!

**The other day I attended a Doy of a young man who apparently just fell over dead for no obvious reason. I am adding this because it made me really sad to realize that no one will ever know exactly why he died. There will never be an autopsy; people just accept that he died even though he was in his 20s.


I do not have a lot to say about technology except that there is not real infrastructure for it yet. One thing that has frustrated me to no end here is my inability to check things off my to-do list. I am used to multitasking and being able to start and stop things in the middle by just clicking save and then coming back to it later.

For example, preparing class lectures or presentations, one can simply begin writing, edit, and re-edit the powerpoint or project. But without being able to actually use powerpoint, or print out the things you type up, that is all fairly useless. I find myself unmotivated to start making presentations because I know that I do not know what I want to say yet and I do not want to have to type it and then rewrite it or redo it later on paper. This is more of a comment on my issues.

I am working through my frustration and staying motivated somehow, but after getting used to the ease with which things are accomplished in the states it is difficult sometimes.

So really my comment on technology is that it exists here without the infrastructure to sustain itself. A few people have computers, but no one has printers. And then the electricity cuts out regularly. Why should the health center move its records onto the computer if there will be plenty of times when they are inaccessible, and they have no way of printing out the info when they need a hard copy? Right now I am trying to figure that out before I push the staff in that direction.

**I finally made a poster just the other day about clean water and I will start giving presentations on it this week. Excited and nervous!!

I have been going through an emotional roller coaster lately, doubting my abilities and if I am doing anything productive. But thankfully right now I am on the upside of the roller coaster.

01 January 2010

Flat Stanley

Above is a picture of myself with another volunteer and two Cameroonians along with Flat Stanley. This is a project in which I decorated the cut out with Cameroonian clothes - specifically a pagna dress - and I am sending it to the girl in North Carolina who originally sent me her Flat Stanley. I hope that Flat Stanley makes it back to the states safe and sound.

In other news, Christmas and New Years have been good here in Cameroon. I definitely miss everyone.

I am figuring out what my place is at the health center and how I can help out my community the most. I am hoping to give a presentation on clean water for the next set of vaccination days and prenatal consultations. And I have started taking lessons in the local language. I must say that it is very difficult and I am not sure if I will ever really get much more than the greetings. But I am going to work on it and keep practicing. I have two years to figure it out.

Soon I am going to try and put up more pictures of my post and the health center.