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.