Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cameroonian Yankee – At 10 degrees latitude

Guess what?!?!

I’m going North! Think—the Maine of the United States! Not just Maine, but Maine with moose and run-away Canadians! (Except here it is camels and Chadian refugees!) My new home is a province literally called “l’Extrême Nord.” I am getting my money’s worth (or lack of moneys) out of this Peace Corps experience!!

It’s funny how a couple of months ago, Cameroon was a big odd-shaped mystery on a map. Now, I know it well enough to have preferences of where I want to spend my next two years. I know every region, regional capital, climate, you name it. Three cheers for Peace Corps cross-cultural training.

Still, I was a bit hesitant to express to my PC bosses any strong preferences on where I wanted to be posted. I figured, “They have my resume, they know my skills, and they know the posts. They’ll put me where it’s the best match. Besides, if I get what I request and then don’t like it, I’ll have no room to complain.” I’d also previously told my PC boss here, “I like to be around people—good for my mental health. Also, having worked for a large donor organization in the past, I’m curious to be in a decent-sized city, see what work is going on, and be able to liaise with other NGO’s and government organizations.” Such were my preferences.

The thing about Cameroon is it is about as diverse as possible, more so than many other African countries. This is based on the cultures, business practices of different tribes, climates, etc. Which means that my PC experience would be entirely different if I were sent to the South, the Center, the East… Another volunteer stated, “Waiting to find out our posts wouldn’t be such a big deal if we were in Senegal, and 60% of the population is Wolof.” Or maybe Mali, where about 80% of the population speaks Bambara. But Cameroon and all its variety keeps us on our toes.

As I’ve learned more about Cameroon, I’ve learned that the North is viewed as much more of “traditional West Africa.” Down in the south where we are now for training, nobody even wears boo-boos. (Although Boo-boo is one of my mom’s many nicknames for me, it is also the traditional, long, flowing garment worn by the men in much of West Africa. Very sexy. I encourage all my American PC male friends to invest in one. Or two.) The south of Cameroon is largely Christian and French-speaking—so nothing shockingly unfamiliar, except eating the occasional fish-head for dinner. (No sweat, I even kinda like it in the peanut sauce my Ma makes.) True, there is rainy-season-red-mud EVERYwhere to remind me that I’m not in DC anymore, but really, my surroundings don’t feel very foreign here. Based on the three weeks I’d spent in Mali last August for work, I have an undeniable soft spot for a traditional West Africa.

So I added to my list of PC posting preferences that I’d like to be in a more traditional culture. I view Peace Corps, among other things, as my two years to live in a way more wildly different than I ever have before. The north of Cameroon has a higher concentration of Islam, more illiteracy, an incredible density of varying tribes and languages, and… hot… sandy… desert!!! Sweet. At the same time, overall population density of the Extreme North province is relatively high, and there are several other PC volunteers and international organizations working there. Americans who have been there have given glowing reviews, describing a warm culture and community life.

And it’s only three days’ travel from the major cities in the south.

So last weekend, I got up my guts to tell my bosses that I want to go North. The morning we received postings, about half of us looked like nervous zombies who hadn’t slept the previous night!

So weehooo!! I got what I wanted. Rock on in the North. Come visit my hut! :)

I actually do leave on a lonnnng trip to the North tomorrow. We do an initial site visit of just a couple days. It’s a chance to get to see where we will live, to meet our new co-workers, and to learn a little more about our host institutions. I’m also replacing a volunteer who is about to finish her two years at this post. So I will grill her with a LOT of questions. Then after our appetites are whet, it’s back to the south for the last month of training!

1 comment:

Kristen said...

Kate! so excited for you and so impressed. you have always had such a passion for other cultures. it seems like this is what you were meant to do! thinking of you from Texas.