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.