Friday, July 25, 2008

Cross country, Cameroon style

My Site Visit

Team Extreme North and I survived the three-day trip (each way!) to visit our new posts. Seriously, if there is anything that will serve as a bonding experience it is three days of seeing me in the same kabba (African style moo-moo dress) in the backs of hot, smelly buses! My travel companions, the four other business volunteers posted in the northern provinces, are great, and they helped make the long trip so much more pleasant. Plus, if you’re going to have to sit on people in sticky-hot buses, you might as well know them! Not only did I wear the same dress for three straight days on the trip up, I also wore it out to the one club in my new town, the night I arrived. Way to make an entrance they won’t forget.

I desperately tried to upload a few photos for your entertainment; Cameroonian internet wasn't having any of it! Instead, travel highlights:

The train! We saw beautiful scenery on the 16-hour night train. On the trip up, the moon was almost full, and you could see the outlines of palm trees and tons of other foliage. You really feel that you are traveling through a jungle and can't help but wonder what explorers of 100 years ago must have felt like as they cut through this territory for their first time. I liked to stick my head out the train window into the breeze puppy-dog style… but that’s done at your own risk of getting fwacked by a branch!

Coming home again. If you can get the sleeper cars on the train, it’s frankly pretty plush. (Some friends were less lucky, and sat for 16 hours next to an explosive-smelling toilet.) Although watch out for the cabins whose doors don’t lock. Laura and I spent a solid 30 minutes between about 11 and 11:30pm groping in the dark to try to tie our cabin door closed with first my towel, then her cardigan, then my dress shirt. It was a veritable booby trap. We’d heard too many horror stories of people’s stuff getting stolen in the night to not try and secure our mal-functioning door. Well, the door won, we lost, and it kinda flapped open in the night. Good news: All our goods remained intact. Bad news: I probably flashed a lot of Cameroonians, showing too much whitey leg, while I blissfully slept in my same little moo-moo dress the next morning with the cabin door happily open. Hope they enjoyed it—that’s what they get for non-functioning door locks!

Lowlight: (Is that a word? You get the idea.)
Only halfway through the trip up, after the all-night train ride we waited for seven. and. a. half. hours. for a bus that was supposedly coming tout de suite… right away. I straight-up don’t believe anything these travel agents tell me.

First impressions of my post: it’s hot, blazingly sunny, and there is a lot of sand. OK, my whole front yard is sand! Bienvenue au desert! Sand castles are fun.

My town is medium-sized, with several little bars and restaurants. I went to six of them in the less-than-48-hours I spent at post!! My hostess was the PC volunteer I am replacing. She has also worked in the small business development program, and finishes her two years of service this month. She did a fabulous job of showing me around, providing tips, and introducing me to the local cast of characters in what is to be the Cameroonian tele-drama of my life! I’m very grateful for her.

One great thing about Peace Corps is that you are assigned a host institution, (the microfinance org. I’ll work with,) but the world is your Oyster in terms of side projects. In my town, I found several high schools, a women’s health center, a youth/cultural center, and apparently, the mayor and one of the local tribal chiefs are very open to working with me. A local government official already runs a girls’ handball league. I know jack about handball and am not coordinated enough for it anyway, BUT it’s an encouraging prospect to see girls playing sports! I gotta find me some soccer balls… :) I’m excited about the possibilities, and it’s this independence to create my own side projects that I find so appealing about Peace Corps.

I had my first glimpse of my host microfinance institution (MFI), and met my Cameroonian counterpart, the secretary/treasurer of the MFI. His name is Bouba; he seems hard-working and trustworthy. The girl I am replacing hand-selected Bouba for this job, and I’m looking forward to working with him. With his help, I’ll spend my first weeks at post getting to know the ins and outs of our MFI’s functioning.

We now have one month left of training, before we officially swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers! I’m impatient to get back to my post, meet more people, and start work at my MFI!

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