05 December 2012

Holiday Adventures

After the 50th anniversary event I needed to take some vacation days to unwind. Luckily Thanksgiving fell perfectly into this time. So on Black Friday I headed to Bertoua where I would eat my 3rd Thanksgiving meal over two days. Pretty awesome. I made our family spinach dip in a bread boat and we killed our own turkey.
After Bertoua, I headed to Kentzou where Jakob and Geoff live. Kentzou is a town all the way on the eastern border of Cameroon.
It was a really calm and beautiful town. I took some nice runs down to the river and learned a few words of Fulfuldé.
Here we are on the pirogue after swimming at the river.
This is a bus taking the barge across the river to head down south towards Yokaduma.

If Kentzou was a quiet, calm, Muslim town, then Messamena, our next stop, was the exact opposite. Eddie is posted in Messamena, a jungle town in the heart of southern Cameroon. Here there are lots of Christians, lots of drinking, and lots of spunk. If you don’t speak loudly, then what you are saying must not be important.

Eddie worked really hard on his house to make a lot of improvements. He added two sun roof panels in his living room; made tables, benches, and shelves; planted a nice sized garden and has plants all over his house. Basically his house is pretty awesome. He also has a cute dog named Jackie Chien (chien=dog in French).
We stayed in Eddie’s place for a night before heading out to the Dja reserve to survey the schools inside. Eddie, and I headed out on two motos with a mission to get to the end of the road by night fall. It was only 100km, but most of it would be through jungly terrain. We started off pretty well, with only a minor stop due to gendarmes and one of the moto guys not having his papers. Then we hit a big road block at the entrance to the Dja. The officer inside did not know who we were and thus did not want us to pass. Finally we were able to demonstrate that we were here to do work surveying the schools to see if UNICEF could provide any help. Eddie’s landlord is the education inspector for the Dja schools and so having his authorization was crucial.
Here is the before picture.
Our motos crossing the river into the Dja reserve.
Here is some of the terrain we had to cross with the motos.

Finally we arrived just before nightfall at our destination Ekom. It was a really cute village and they welcomed us so nicely. They even made a delicious, leafy sauce for me to eat!
The next morning we took a walk to the river.
Then we went to the school.
Health center garden in Ekom.
Next school down the road, looking less well off then the first.
And farther down the road, there was this school. Actually even though it has the least means it had a teacher who cared and the breeze of the wind easily blowing through.
This was a nice school, but look at that latrine, I am too scared to use it. Imagine being a little child…
Last school in the Dja. Apparently it fell down due to termites and they are just rebuilding.
Mission accomplished – we are crossing the Dja river back into Somalomo. All in all I had a great week and a half vacation, spending time with friends, relaxing, and traveling. Now I am back in Yaoundé for my last month of work before heading off to my next adventure.

Celebrating 50 years of Peace Corps in Cameroon

For the past two months I was completely consumed with helping to plan and coordinate the 50 year anniversary event that Peace Corps held. Our new Country Director, Jackie Sesonga, had seen similar events across West Africa and decided that this would be a great opportunity for PC Cameroon to raise our visibility in country.

We started seriously planning about 6 weeks before the event; I was mostly working on organizing PCVs in Cameroon. It sounds easier than it is I think because communication is so difficult. Texting or calling is really the only way to get in touch with people and there are about 200 PCVs currently in country. Needless to say I did not call all of them and instead relied on a few point people to contact others. Anyway, long story short – we had an amazing event.
Kim and I holding the gift basket for Chantal Biya
Chantal Biya being welcomed by two Peace Corps children
Chantal Biya visiting all the stands at the fair
Jackie Sesonga, the PC Cameroon country director, with Kim and I

Rose, my counterpart from Bangang, and me! It was a really nice and quick reunion

There were two parts to the event. First was the swearing-in of new PCVs after their training ended. The trainees (now PCVs) did an amazing job preparing a performance to the song ‘Man in the Mirror’ and our Country Director gave a very touching speech during this ceremony. Second was a fair set up with 16 tables (10 regional tables – Centre, East, South, Littoral, South West, North West, West, Adamaoua, North, and Far North –; 5 sector tables – Youth Development, Community Health, Environment, Education, and Community Economic Development –; and 1 training table). Chantal Biya, the first lady of Cameroon, was invited and actually came to open the fair that was set up. This was probably the most successful part of our event. She walked around to each table, where PCVs and Cameroonian counterparts where given the chance to explain their stand. Chantal seemed genuinely interested and shook everyone’s hand. All of the tables looked great and the event ran smoothly because of everyone’s hard work.
At the end of the day we relaxed by going to Hilton Happy Hour to celebrate our successes together! Also here are some recent pictures
Winning trivia night after trying so hard for so long
The marine ball was a blast!

22 October 2012

PHAST: Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation

Over the past few months I have attended and facilitated two conferences on a process called PHAST. It is similar to the CLTS approach, but it is broader and covers all hygiene and sanitation issues a community may face (not just open defecation). In that sense it is more versatile and adaptable to different communities. In these conferences we have trained people who will soon go into villages and launch this approach. Below is a tool that explains PHAST in its seven steps.
*© World Health Organization, 1998.

I am really hoping that before I leave, we get to see this process in action as an alternative or additional approach to CLTS in villages. Hypothetically CLTS will cover latrines, and PHAST will cover hand washing and water purification. With these three behavior change activities, the faecal-oral route will have a much more difficult time continuing. Here is a picture of the participants in the Ngaoundere conference running through a simulation of PHAST activities.

19 September 2012

Vacation in Senegal

I just got back from a two week vacation in Senegal. It was a badly needed vacation so that I could relax eat anything my heart desired. I met my friend from college, Clint, and we stayed at fancy hotel in the heart of Dakar. It was right on the coast, with an amazing breakfast buffet, and a gorgeous pool where you could sun tan and hear the waves crashing.
We took a few days to relax and met up with some PCVs in the city. There are a surprising number of volunteers posted in Senegal’s capital. They helped us figure out how to navigate the city and pointed us to important places to go during our trip. One day we went to Ile de N’gor, which is a really touristy island off the north part of the Dakar peninsula. We took a motored pirogue across the short span of water and relaxed there for the day. Another day we hit up the high class mall and went bowling! I never thought I would be able to do any of that in Africa, but it was awesome!

After that we travelled to Thiès (pronounced ‘chess’) where the PC has their training site. It was very interesting to see how different countries organize training. There we met up with a connection through my Mom and drove up to Saint Louis together. Saint Louis is a cute French colonial town on the border with Mauritania, the Senegal river, and the Atlantic ocean.
In St. Louis we stayed with some PCVs and enjoyed some beautiful sunsets!
When we got back to Dakar, Clint and I decided to tackle the market area. Probably not the best idea, it was an experience. It was during this time that I became very thankful that Cameroon is not a regular tourist destination. It was completely normal to be approached and even when you said clearly in French and English that you were not interested, they continued to follow you and talk, talk, talk. Anyway, we had ice cream that day and I found some cute souvenirs, so all was not lost.

The next day we took a large ferry boat to the infamous Ile de Goree, which was an old slave port. The island was equally touristy. You started with an eerie feeling visiting all these old colonial slavery buildings, but then were quickly shocked out of it due to all of the people trying to sell you jewellery.
Then before the vacation was completely over I remembered that I wanted to go SCUBA diving. We found this really cute dive shop/eco-tourism house right on the water and close to the hotel. I almost forgot how much I enjoy diving. I need to make a point to do it more. I saw some pretty cool things underwater: a star fish as big as my foot, barracuda-type fish, and then a really big long fish that would crawl out from the rocks when we would pass and cry out to scare us away.
The next day we rented kayaks from the same place and kayaked 3.5 miles away to the beautiful Iles de la madeleine. It was a lot farther than it looked and we contemplated turning around a few times before we actually got there. This island is totally uninhabited with no structures on it. A nice contrast to all the built up tourism found everywhere else. Luckily coming back was a lot easier than going to the island or we might have been stuck there. The next few days our shoulders and arms were pretty sore.
We ended the trip by simply relaxing at the pool. One night we went for the best Thai food I have ever had. Another night we went to see a former PCV perform with his Senegalese band “the baraca nomads.” All in all it was an amazing vacation. It is leaving me well relaxed and ready to take on the next 4 months in Cameroon.

22 August 2012

Biking through the Jungle

A while ago, some fellow PCVs were thinking a loud about taking a bike trip from Ambam in the South region to the beach in Campo through the Campo-Ma’an National Park. It sounded like an amazing, yet lofty, idea. Somehow, though, we just realized this project.
Bike team members from left to right: Joe – Captain. The one who did the organizing and talking with all the villagers along the way. He was also our bike mechanic. We started at his post in the South. Eddie – Posted in the East in Messamena near the Dja reserve. Awesome guy who is doing collaborations with UNICEF, so I get to see him every time he comes to Yaoundé because he stops by my office. Ryan – In charge of food and security. He was essentially posted in the East in Messamena for 6 months. I also got to see this guy every time he came to Yaoundé because he could not stay at the peace corps house so he stayed chez moi. Goeff – the EMT who would save our lives if anything went wrong. Posted in the East in Kenzou on the border with CAR. Me – the voice of reason (or just the annoying squeaky voice that you can’t turn off).

The trip started by all five of us heading out of Yaounde together to Ambam. Once in Ambam we spent a day organizing things, fixing our bikes, and getting last minute supplies for the trip.
Then we took a car to our starting village of Nyambissang. That afternoon we biked to a nearby village and then hiked to some waterfalls with a guide.
We had to cross the river in pirogues, one by one. Eddie made it without the help of our guide, while the rest of us took turns crossing with the guide. Then we made it to the bottom of these amazing waterfalls. It was kind of like two rivers running parallel, one 50 feet above the other and every 10 feet or so there was a waterfall until the whole top river joined to bottom one. It was a very enjoyable hike to start our trip off.
The next day we decided to start out really early to get through the entire national park because there were no villages inside of it. This was it, it was the test. We were going to be biking with all of our stuff on the backs of our bikes: food, clothing, tents, etc. I was pretty nervous because I was the only girl trying to keep up with all these strong guys. The rain started in the middle of the night and kept on going. I could hear it all night in my sleep, but when we woke up we realized that the tin roof was making the rain sound a lot harder than it actually was. It was really just misting, so we decided to continue with our original plans. Before picture:
So we were off. The beginning was very steep hills and I was struggling a lot. I refused to go fast down the hills and then I could not get a lot of momentum to go up the hills. But after maybe 10km we hit the national park and the hills were much more graded and it was easier to do.
That first day we made some really good long runs where we didn’t stop for several kms. Somehow we made it to the end of the park. We were exhausted. And pretty dirty.
We stopped at the first village that had a guest house. A family there made us a very western meal: mashed potatoes, macaroni, and meat and peas.
The next day we took our time and set out a bit later after a nice breakfast. We stopped in one of the next villages and had an amazing shrimp lunch.
Then we had the afternoon to make it to Campo. It started raining harder when we set out and the road got muddier. We also started having some very major problems with the bikes. Ryan and Geoff were both stuck in gears 2-7 for the rest of the trip (aka impossible to climb hills in). At one point we started being able to smell the ocean, there was a noted difference in the air with an added humidity and the smell of saltiness. Then we made it to the ‘Welcome to Campo’ sign.
It seemed like a miracle. We rode through town straight to the ocean and jumped in. In campo we relaxed, cleaned up all of our stuff, got to see Equatorial Guinea and hang out on the beach.
Then we set out for Kribi by 4x4 (with all of our bikes on top). That morning they overpacked the car, so I didn’t really have a seat. Let’s just say it was one of the most uncomfortable rides I have had in this country (and I have had my fair share of uncomfortable rides). We slid a lot getting out of town and I really thought we were going to tip. Then at one point the road was completely blocked by several trucks. It took a lot of talking with the truck drivers but the problem was easily solved when two of the trucks moved back just out of the way. While the actual problem was solved in less than five minutes we sat there for almost 2 hours figuring it out. Finally we were on our way again to Kribi.
Kribi was great. We met up with several other volunteers and celebrated Yaya’s birthday. Basically we just hung out at the beach all day for 2 days straight. Good company, good food, and a beautiful ocean, what more can you ask for. I went for runs along the beach in the morning and got to see Lobe falls, a waterfall that goes directly into the ocean. Beautiful.
Then it was the end of our vacation and I headed back to Yaoundé. Back to reality. I hope I get a chance to do more trips like that in the future.