11 December 2011


I have been busy over the least month. I said bye to all of my friends in village, had a going away party, hosted 22 peace corps trainees (now volunteers) at my house, packed up all my things, and moved out of my house. And that all happened during my last day in village.

It was extremely bittersweet. I think I have been fooling myself that it wouldn’t be hard to say bye to village friends and village life. I told myself that I would still be living in Cameroon for another year so that I would have the opportunity to see everyone again. The truth is that I may see my friends again, but not in the same capacity and not for extended periods of time. So now that I have had more time to reflect, the sadness of the situation is sinking in.

Luckily during my last day, I was able to see almost everyone. I had people over to my house for a little food and dancing. Peace Corps trainees also came over, so my women’s groups showed off a little and gave presentations to the trainees about what they had learned while I was working with them. The first group presented about nutrition (using the ‘house of nutrition’ with shows the three main food groups we talk about in Cameroon: carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals/vitamins). This group has been one of in not my favorite group to work with over my time. They are always so motivated and thankful to work with me. They never omit their graciousness to my work with them. It may sound selfish, but sometimes it feels so great for people to remind you that they are greatful for what you are doing. After they talked about nutrition in general, they went more specifically into the nutrition of soy and shared tofu that they had made. It was a big hit and after a quick taste test, everyone bought more tofu. I am so proud of this group. They have perfected the art of making soy milk and tofu and they are able to share the reasons why people should be eating it. In a place where meat is not often given freely to children and there are not many other sources of protein available and/or used, the source of protein that comes from soy is crucial to the livelihood and growing years of children. This group has done a few expos about tofu so far and they are going to start selling it in market. I can not express how happy this makes me. Sometimes it is hard to see evidence of impact as a peace corps volunteer, but this is one group that continues to show me how they have changed!

Another group presented on basic hygiene practices, specifically why it is important to wash hands after going to the bathroom and before eating. This group is the one that my counterpart is in and they really have their act together. They catered my going-away party, wore matching outfits, and danced for the trainees. Everyone was really impressed by the event and it was a great way to say good-bye to my village.

So after moving out, I sent my things down to Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. This is where I will be living for the next year. At the same time, I traveled down to Buea to climb Mt. Cameroon with Kevin. We left the day after a group of PC volunteers who were also climbing. Buea was a really nice college town. Our guide was name Vitalice and we had two porters named Flaubert and Bernard. Kevin (and me a little bit) was against the idea of having porters, but eventually we accepted that this was our first mountain to climb, so we should take the advice of the Cameroonians. We embarked early Thursday morning on our planned three-day adventure. The first day we climbed slowly uphill and made it to hut 2. I wish we would have gone farther, but Vitalice says that it would have been too cold to sleep at hut 3. The first day was pretty relaxed, but we went up the steepest parts. Then we stopped to camp for the night and make dinner. Apparently water boils faster in higher altitudes (either that or our fire was burning hotter). Either way, we made pasta that turned into mush because it cooked so fast. We watched the sun set really early and then got ready for bed so that we would be set for a good day of hiking tomorrow. On Friday then we set off a little after 6. It took us about 3 hours to summit. I felt like I was going very slowly and I had trouble keeping up with Kevin. I think that the thinner air really affected me. The summit was surprisingly anti-climactic, except for the bone-chilling wind. I thought at times that I was going to be blown off the mountain. Kevin and I only stayed up long enough to take a picture before heading back down. The descent was scary at first because we were going through a lot of loose gravel. But once I realized that I could ‘ski’ down, it was a lot of fun. At this point we were making good time and the guide decided that we should try to make it all the way back to Buea today. The route we were taking was up the guiness trail (which is steep and straight up the front of the mountain) and down the mann’s springs trail (which is longer and windier). So we kept a pace to try and make it all the way back to Buea. The descent is by far the prettier and more interesting part of the hike. We walked through lava flows from 1999 and 2002. Mt. Cameroon is still an active volcano and we could see multiple calderas near the top. After making it to mann’s springs at a good time we decided to do the last four hours through the forest. By the time we made it to the forest, both Kevin and I were regretting this decision. Our bodies were tired from 9 hours of hiking already and the though of 3 more was not appealing. We kept slowly along. The forest seemed the hardest part because we were tired and it was so steep and rocky. Finally, though, we made it by a little after 6. So we went from 6-6 that day with only short breaks along the way. I was so happy to be finished, eating good food, and then sleeping on a mattress.

The next day we went to Limbe to meet up with the other crew of volunteers that started the hike the day before us. Saturday was a nice day of relaxation on the beach and exchanging hiking stories. We all went to good restaurants in Limbe and swam in the ocean. The water was very relaxing to my sore muscles.

Sunday, Kevin and I said our goodbyes. He was heading back to village and I was heading to Yaounde for a week of medical/admin stuff before starting my month of vacation in the US. It was really difficult to say goodbye to Kevin and I am going to miss him over the next month. Actually we took so long saying goodbye we basically missed our buses out of town. Instead I had to go back to Buea to find another bus to Yaounde and Kevin had to do his trip in parts, first to the Carrefour outside of Douala and then find a ride to Dschang. We both made it to our destinations by nightfall, thankfully.

My week in Yaounde went quickly as I had a lot to do to get ready for my visit to the US. I went to the artisanat and packed my bags. I made sure everything was set PC Cameroon side for my extension. And then I had a meeting with my new supervisor, Dr. Bechir, with UNICEF. He was very friendly and seemed excited to have me joining the UNICEF team. He was helpful in explaining what my role with be with the water and sanitation project and how everyone works together. I am very much looking forward to my work here. It will be nice to have such a big change, while still being in Cameroon. I feel like I will have to opportunity to experience something so different while still being a PCV. I will be living in a city and working out of an office. I think these two experiences will contrast and hopefully provide me with how the two can fit together in the development world.

So then I had a long day and a half of traveling to get back to my family. I left Friday night for the airport outside of Yaounde. It was a lot of waiting at the airport because our flight did not leave until 12:45 in the morning. Finally it did, and actually I was able to layout and sleep for this flight because it was not too crowded. Then I had a short layover in Brussels where I bought a coffee for $9. It was worth it though. The next flight dragged on to Chicago and there were these francophone men who were enjoying playing practical jokes sitting right in front of me. At first it was cute, but by the end of the flight it was enough. Then I had a 7 hour lay over in Chicago, so close to the end of the trip, but so far. Finally the last leg of my trip was in a very small plane to Allentown. Seeing my mom and mary as I walked through the airport was so surreal. I am happy and overwhelmed to be back.

I look forward to trying to catch up with everyone of the next month so please make sure to get in touch with me.

11 October 2011


I have spent the last two weeks in the Center region in a small town, Bokito, helping to train the next group of future community health PCVs. I will spend one more week here before going back to my post for 7 more weeks. This is all just a little too real in some ways. The trainees that I am now working with will be replacing myself and my stage-mates. As a group we are leaving in two months or less. This means that my home for the last two years will no longer be my place of residence. I am saying good bye to my friends all over again – the difference here is that keeping in touch will probably be a little more difficult. So I have 7 weeks to bring activities to a close, prepare my community for a new volunteer, and say good bye. I am getting a surreal feeling about it all.

But on a positive note, I will be in the Lehigh Valley in two months – December 10 to be exact! I will be there for a month. This will give me a chance to see everyone and stock up on supplies for my final year. Please get in touch with me so that we can meet up.

Back to training…It has been really nice to help out with the new trainees. Seeing the new excitement is really inspiring and reminds me of the energy everyone had when we first got here. Also I love being able to share my experiences with a new set of people who really want to hear everything I have to say. For the first week we did not have electricity and the town was very quiet. Once the electricity came, it feels like the town woke up and there is a buzz in the air.

The election was this weekend. It was disappointingly quiet. The town shut down for the election so there was no place to hang out and observe how everything was going. I am thankful that there is no political turmoil, but it would be nice to hear the people supporting the election process. Hopefully by the end of the month, we will hear the results because paper ballots are used. Paul Biya is expected to be the winner with little to no competition (as there are 21 other candidates).

Kevin has been back in our village while I have been helping out with stage. It will be nice to go back and see him this weekend. He has applied for and received a receipt for a carte de sejour (residence card). This means that he is free to stay for at least a year, maybe even two. Logistics of this were difficult and he was doing it all while I was in Bokito. Thankfully everything seems to have worked out and we will be able to be in Cameroon together until my extension is over.

26 September 2011

UNICEF extension

A lot has been happening lately. Shortly after my summer camp, Kevin and I took a vacation to Kribi with a bunch of other people from my stage. It was a sort of last official hoorah with my stagemates, because we are no longer able to take vacation until our service is over. The week after was Close of Service (COS) conference. It was held in a nice hotel in Yaoundé. It was so great to see everyone again from my stage. But the experience was a bit jarring because it was a lot about re-entry into the US. In particular I enjoyed going to the US embassy. But the whole thing was a bit too hypothetical because I was thinking about extending my service for another year.

So on that note, I recently received word that my extension has been approved! This means that I will be spending a 3rd year in Cameroun. For this last year I will move to Yaoundé and work for UNICEF with the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) team. I am really excited because this will be a completely new experience for me. So far I have been living in a small village and working out of a community health center. At this point I feel that there is only so much I could do in this position and while the lack of structure has been freeing it has also been constraining. Once I start my new position I will be working out of an office with more of a defined role. I will hopefully still be going out into the field very often, but I will have the infrastructure of UNICEF backing me up.

Living in Yaoundé is an exciting and at the same time a scary opportunity. I have never been much of a city girl, but here is my chance to see if I can handle it. Honestly I will not enjoy the overcrowdedness and lack of personal space norms that exist in the capital. But I will really appreciate the coffee shops, weekly yoga classes, and the access to internet.

Anyway, back to what I have been up to. After COS conference I stayed in Yaoundé for 2 more weeks to plan the training for the next group of trainees for health. It was a lot of work, but we finished in and the schedule looks great. After that I went back to post for 2 weeks and now I am back again in the capital. I will be going to the training site in Bafia for 3 weeks to help with training. Our normal technical trainer is a Cameroonian who just received the opportunity to go to the US for 4 weeks. While this is great for him, it means that our new trainees will be without a wonderful trainer for their first 4 weeks. While he is gone I will be helping along with the health assistant project manager.

Also this whole time Kevin has been in Cameroun since July 7th. He is working with a local NGO called ACREST which works with sustainable and appropriate technologies. Mostly he has been working on this charcoal brickette making project. During his first week here he went down to Yaoundé to present the project to the World Bank. The project was picked among others to receive funding through Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Since then Kevin has been working to finalize the budget and time line of the project so that things can continue. He has also been experimenting with different types of kilns and methods of creating charcoal. I am not sure if he is completely satisfied with the process ACREST is currently using, but I think it is getting there. He has had a great introduction to Cameroonian culture and his French is really improving. Currently he is working to renew his visa so he can stay longer.

Since I am extending for a 3rd year I will getting 1 month of home leave which I will take from December 9, 2011 to January 8, 2012. So please make sure I get to see you during my month in the US of A!

12 July 2011

Summer Camps and 4ht of July

Lately I have been very busy. My postmate, Lindsey, and I have been working on doing two short summer camps in our area. The first part was in Bamboué with girls aged 15-20. The main topics were future building, empowering girls, and sports. So we taught the girls Ultimate Frisbee with Yaya, the agro volunteer outside of Mbouda. They got the hang of it surprisingly quickly and now we have weekly Frisbee on Sundays. Overall the sessions went well. We tried to do a lot of art and creative things since most of the girls are not used to thinking out of the box. There was a minor setback for this camp; we set up a panel of professional women to come and speak to the girls to talk to them about how they became successful, but only one of the women showed up (and it was my counterpart). That was disappointing and it was supposed to be our last real session, so the camp did not end on the highest note. I had an enjoyable time with Lindsey, Yaya, Eric, and all of the girls in the camp. I really hope that the girls walked away with a better idea of opportunities available to them for their futures and the actual path they need to take to get there.

The second summer camp did not go as well. It was supposed to be with the Mbororos up in the mountains. We first encountered trouble trying to take motos up to them because we had too much stuff. The moto men were trying to rip us off and so we wasted a lot of time arguing and finally gave up. Then we decided to walk up. It took us a while and luckily on the way we found a moto to take our things for us. Then we got there and did a session on nutrition. It went really well and the mothers were all there and learning a lot. The ages were varied starting from a few years to the young mothers. It was Lindsey, myself, and Anaïs. Anaïs was the only one able to communicate in Fufuldé so we mostly spoke through her. (A side note is that my village all speaks the same patoi except for the Mbororo community which speaks Fufuldé, a Fulani, Muslim dialect. As a result this community does not communicate much with everyone else except in broken French or pidgin English.) So after the nutrition lesson we stopped for the day since we had gotten there late. We were then served two dinners of couscous and leafy sauce. I enjoyed it, but it was too much. We stayed up for the night to save time. They put us up in one of the houses near by all squished on one bed. Throughout the night my stomach was getting more and more upset. By morning I was not doing so well. Luckily I tried to push through so that I could milk a cow. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. We saw a baby calf just after it was born too. This day we did not get to do most of the work that we had planned, but we were able to do sports and some art with the kids. To end we took horses down back to my house. I am not sure the kids got much out of the short camp, but I can hope.

For the 4th of July the American Embassy had a party a little early. It was their ‘social event of the year’ and it featured the Peace Corps 50 year anniversary. 50 Peace Corps Volunteers were invitied along with over 1000 other guests. There were Embassy people, other international embassy staff, as well as important Cameroonians. I really enjoyed being able to get to meet several new people. Hearing about the lifestyles of foreign service officials was enlightening and bizarre. They are able to live in a virtual America even in Cameroon. We were just as bizarre to them.

On the actual 4th I went to Dschang and spent an afternoon at the pool with some other volunteers. We made pizza for dinner with potato salad and mango cobbler. What more can you ask for? Also I cut my hair! I now have bangs and about 8 fewer inches. It is much easier to wash now.

16 May 2011

Each end is a beginning

The school year is coming to a close and so does much of my work. This summer I look forward to working on making tofu with some groups. I have finally succeeded in making tofu myself and hope that my women's groups will enjoy it and be able to do an income generation project with it. I will also do a summer camp for girls empowerment focusing on looking into the future. Dreaming about the future is something that is definitely missing here.

I also look forward to the next few months, making decisions about extending, and figuring out what comes after my service. I can hardly believe that I have only one quarter of my service left.

It feels like just yesterday I was getting to this country and meeting some of the best friends I will probably have in my life. And now it comes time for a few of them to leave. It is hard to see people leave. In Cameroon we were neighbors and back in the states we live so far away. I guess this will give me more excuses for cross country road trips.

With one group leaving, another one is coming. So the cycle continues. PC Cameroon has recently expanded and now due to budget cuts, we are already ‘streamlining operations.’

09 April 2011

Supervisors, speaking, and soirees

It has been a satisfying past few days. My supervisor recently came to visit. Before I go on I must admit that in the past my relationship with my supervisor has been tense. He is an intelligent man, but he no longer lives in the village and he loves to lecture me. I have been trying to find the best way to interact with him, but I seem to either only zone him out or listen to him and give feedback. He would prefer if it I simply nodded in agreement to everything he says. Well for whatever reasons, probably that both of us have been trying harder, we were able to have an enjoyable weekend. He listened to me when I spoke, I listened when he spoke, and he did not proceed to lecture me. We just talked and it worked out. I think we have both found new found respect for each other!

On a different topic, I just attended my village's annual development committee meeting. It was held all in patoi, so I did not catch much of it, but my friends were translating as important things were happening. Then all of a sudden someone was whispering in my ear that 'Mme Christina is going to talk about the water project.' What?!? No one said anything about this. And this entire meeting has been in patoi, which I certainly can not talk about the water project in. Slowly I stand up, the only white person in the room full of people dressed in only two different pagne outfits; one for the villagers and one for the migrants who now live in Bafoussam – I am neither. As soon as I stand up and walk to the front I call up the president of the water committee to translate for me since I think it would be rude to simply speak in French. But amazingly somehow I just start speaking to the room full of hundreds of people. I know before coming to Cameroun I would have just about had a heart attack if I was faced with this situation. I would lose my train of thought, forget what to say, and I would be shaking uncontrollably. I was able to stay very calm and just speak. It went so well and people even clapped when I was finished.

This week was development week, so along with the committee meeting there have been other events, one of which was a cultural soiree. For whatever reason I was expecting a high school dance (because it is put on by the youth). But it was a lot closer to a talent show. Most of the performances were either dancing or theater. There were even some teenagers from Cote d'Ivoire who danced. One thing that struck me as I was watching was the tradition here of giving performers money (particularly dancers). It is done by approaching the stage, jumping up there, dancing with the performer, and then placing the money on their forehead so that everyone can see. I remember when I will still in stage back in Bamena and this happened to me. I was so confused and awkward and quickly ran away from the money, letting it fall on the ground. Later it was demonstrated to me that this was a way of telling me that I was doing a great job. I am not sure if I will ever completely agree with this method, but at least now I understand it better.

My favorite act of the soiree was a short skit. Two boys, who I know well, were in it along with another girl. Each of the boys was trying desperately to flirt and get the girls attention. They were calling to her sweetly and touching her leg or arm. She did not respond and proceeded to put on her make up. Each of the boys sat down on either side of the bench inching their back toward her. In the mean time she stood up and walked away. Eventually the boys were back to back and so excited that she was finally responding to their flirtations. They were so surprised to see that it was not in fact the girl, but their friend who they were flirting with. The skit ended with them running away from each other while the audience laughed. Even though the play was all in patoi, the words were circumstantial and the humor was clear.

18 March 2011

Dusty Season

Dust is everywhere. Every time the wind picks up, there is more dust, when a moto drives by, when a car or truck rumbles down the road; more dust.

Right now I am dutifully waiting for the rain to come. Locals here say that the Ides of March is the official turning point between seasons, but so far no rain. Everything gets dirty right after you clean it and somehow the dust creeps into your house. Sweeping happens daily and somehow the dust still manages to be there.

Ok that is enough complaining about the dust; I just look forward to when the trees are green again, the sky is blue again, and the air is fresh.

Dusty Season

Dust is everywhere. Every time the wind picks up, there is more dust, when a moto drives by, when a car or truck rumbles down the road; more dust.

Right now I am dutifully waiting for the rain to come. Locals here say that the Ides of March is the official turning point between seasons, but so far no rain. Everything gets dirty right after you clean it and somehow the dust creeps into your house. Sweeping happens daily and somehow the dust still manages to be there.

Ok that is enough complaining about the dust; I just look forward to when the trees are green again, the sky is blue again, and the air is fresh.

04 March 2011

World Map Project

I have been working on a painting a world map at the town high school with my post mate Lindsey. You can see a picture on facebook now (it is my profile picture). I am painting some of the countries with students at the school.

It has been a lot of work and I am definitely learning a lot about the countries of the world as we are going. We are hitting some difficulties because the maps we had been using were 15 years old, and guess what, the political boundaries and country names are changing.

Once we finish we are going to work with the high school students doing geography activities. There are differing levels of knowledge about the world, but it is great to see that some students do know that the world is out there.

I have also given extra maps I had lying around my house to the primary schools that I work at. We have been going through continents right now. It is frustrating work because the primary school students have not had access to this information before. But little by little, hopefully they are getting an idea of where Cameroon is and how vast the rest of the world is.

16 February 2011

The Difficult Days

Sometimes this country breaks my heart. I just walked over to the health center. There is an infant who is malnourished and severely dehydrated. Just seeing her sunken eyes and sad face was too much.

Then as I crossed the street to my house I watched two children carrying bottles searching for water. One was bow legged due to a vitamin deficiency. They trudged along slowly going up the hill from concession to concession, as water is out everywhere around.

I wish I was superwoman and I could just fix everything instantly. I want to make it so that kids or mothers do not have to walk kilometers just to get water at their houses. I want to end malnutrition, dehydration, and hunger. If only I could snap my fingers and bam, world peace, education for all, food for all, and happiness for all.

Some days are hard. You see all of this around you and you realize that maybe what you are doing is not making any difference.

10 February 2011

The end of vacation season

I have had almost two months of vacation. It was a nice and needed break. I already wrote about my trip to the North; my next trip was to the US!

I flew from Yaoundé to Paris and then from Paris to Miami. Ben met me in Miami and I visited ECHO with him. After that I met up with my parents and Mary in Fort Lauderdale and we went on a week-long cruise with ports of call in Curacao and Aruba. Mary found he perfect career: dancing entertainment on a cruise! It was nice to see Aruba again after so many years. Also on the cruise were a couple of my dad’s friends from college who had been living in Saudi Arabia for the past 20 years. It was interesting to hear their perspectives and how it was to raise a family abroad.

Once the cruise was over I flew to Philadelphia. I was able to see lots of family and friends here. It was so nice and comforting. I was also able to eat lots of good food. It is amazing how much I missed food sometimes, or maybe it’s the convenience of just being able to say I am hungry, what am I in the mood for?, ok let’s go get it! I then met up with Kevin and we went to the Art museum, saw the liberty bell, and did the tango!

The last part of my vacation was with my god parents. They took me to Atlantic city. We gamble a little (for me it was a very little) and had great food. We also walked to boardwalk and found some great dollar stores. I was able to find lots of good gifts for my friends in Cameroon.

08 January 2011

Trip to the North

It has been so long since I have really written. Here are some pictures of my mom's visit and my trip up to the Northern three regions of Cameroon: Adamawa, North, and Extreme North. (I know, aren't the names so creative).

I had an amazing time taking some vacation to tour the country. Culture is very different up north. In general, there is a lot less drinking going on because the Muslim population rules the culture. You hear call to prayer everywhere, the people are calmer and gentler. It is much hotter, but it is a dry heat since it is in the Sahel.

First I took the train up over night with my friend Andrea (who is posted in Mbouda). We left Yaounde and got to Ngaoundere the next morning and then proceeded straight to Garoua, the regional capital of the North. We stayed with Lea one night right outside of Garoua. Garoua is nice because there are fresh fruit smoothies! Something I really miss. Then the next three nights we stayed with Justin in Gaschiga, which is also very close to Garoua. There we did a computer camp at his school for two days. I brushed up on my computer vocabulary in French and had fun searching things on Encarta. After that Andrea and I split up for a bit. I went to Kaele on my own to meet up with Steven and Nick. Kaele is a non muslim town among very muslim towns, so they have many drinking caberets where billbill is served all throughout the day. I ate lots of salad and went to a beautiful Crocodile lake.

After that I headed to Maroua with Martin and Carmen. There I spent Christmas Even and Christmas with many people from the new stage. It was a very nice relaxed atmosphere. Maroua had a great art market, so I found lots of nice things there in leather and jewelery. Then I headed to Martin's post in Gouria, which is right outside of Roumsiki. Roumsiki is this very touristy area out in the middle of nowhere on the border of Nigeria. It is a very beautiful area and very peaceful. The rock formations around there are so interesting. I took a tour of the valley in Roumsiki with Carmen and then we ate at an amazing restaurant called the vegetarian carnivore or chez Kodji.

The last leg of my trip involved me coming back down to Ngaoundere, the regional capital of Adamawa. Here I met up with Anais and we had fun in the city and traveling to her post. We saw a beautiful lake and some nice waterfalls on the way there. Her post is very quiet and pretty. We ate dinner with her neighbors (they tried to feed us three times!) Then we toured her 'town'. We came back to Ngaoundere for New Year's. Andrea met me back in there and we took the train back down to Yaounde together.

Unfortunately I was only able to go back to post for 4 days before I had to come back to Yaounde for midservice. Now I am here and getting ready to have a short taste of America. I can not wait to see my friends and family, it will be so nice!