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.