Monday, December 22, 2008

Where did December go?!!

Bonne Annee!!

I might be a week +++ late, but I’m in Cameroon, and I can keep saying this til at least March!

I’ve been in Mokolo about a scant 5 days in the last month, so no, I did no in fact fall off a moto or get run down by rabid sheep. Peace Corps sent my entire training group down to the beach in the South of Cameroon for a week of in-service training, seemingly their way of saying, thank you for not quitting yet!

Cameroonian transport: The train.

The ruckus all started on the train down to Yaoundé. Apparently, US Marines were in Cameroon to train Cameroonian Marines in “peace-keeping” activities. We got an incredibly up-close demonstration of everything they learned (or failed to learn) while sharing a train car with them on the 16 hr. overnight train ride that crosses the country. For whatever reason, my assigned seat seemed to have been some type of ground zero for the debauchery, seeing as it was located exactly in the middle of the car. Both Cameroonian and American marines flocked from other cars—there must have been 25 of them in the aisle, in addition to those in the seats. As the train crossed the savannah in the night, they only grew louder in singing, dancing, stomping their feet, waving their guns, and downing whiskey straight from the bottle. (Multi-tasking taught in the Marines? Usually I prefer to avoid the combo of booze, guns, and mass transit.) I got some very near views of the gyrating tushes of the Cameroonian marines, as they paraded through the car. At every stop of the train, marines would run off to reload on beer, whiskey, all of the above. When it became clear that no one in our car was going to get any decent sleep, I pulled out the couple of whiskey sachets I had left in my bag from the night before’s outing. The American Marines seemed to go wild when they saw I had the rankest, cheapest whiskey available on the Cameroonian market. This of course opened the discussion of “You know we’re volunteers who make next to no money? Of course I drink cheap whiskey!” This evolved into a whole discussion of what the Peace Corps is, and does. (My old dentist in DC had thought Peace Corps is an arm of the US military. These guys as well had assumed we were some type of kin Corps...) So this whole ruckus was all very entertaining… until about 2:30 in the morning! After finally letting us get a few hours sleep, the Marines were at it again with Reveille songs at 6:30am, prompt. I counted as one of the Americans sucked down six sachets (equivalent of a shot) before the train arrived in Yaoundé at 9:30am—makin Uncle Sam proud! Needless to say, we arrived at the PC office like zombies, and with a newfound love for the United States military corps.

In-Service Training.

Sure training was great and I learned a few new things, + got my motivation up. One of my favorite moments was sitting between my Cameroonian counterpart, (the Secretary Treasurer of my financial institution) and another Cameroonian counterpart. We were at the end of a tedious all-day session. The other counterpart is pounding his hands on his chair, somewhat like an impatient eight-year old, to try to keep himself awake in between making random commentary to me. (Yes Siobhan, you know who this is!!) The topic of the seminar is something along the lines of girls’ education. I was daydreaming… but I awake to hear my counterpart proclaiming, “For 80% of high school girls that are impregnated, it’s one of their teachers that is the culprit.”

Mind you, half of my training group is education volunteers, and they, along with their counterparts (Cameroonian teachers and high school principals) go into an uproar! I don’t know where my counterpart got his handy statistic, but I told him we were going to get jumped on the way out of the session. At least it got every one awake. And truly, it’s sadly too common that grades are exchanged for sex in high schools here—corruption is that pervasive!

A few other highlights of training week were making sand angels on the beach (Think snow angels, but less cold and with lots of sand in one’s pants as a consequence. We had to do something that reminded us of Christmas and winter!), chicken fights in the Atlantic Ocean, and making Martha Washington hairdos. Those were hideous, I promise you. It was our revenge for when all of the boys in our group decided to grow pervy-looking moustaches during training.

Exquisite, non?

Here’s a few other photos/my shameless come-visit-me plug, from the Southern end of Cameroon.

Collaboration projects = Tourism.

After training, I bust off with three other PCVs to work on a collaboration project that had formally been approved by Peace Corps. I was excited to have my friend Courtney up from the Northwest province (which, in spite of its name, is clear across the country!) Our work was intended to deal with women’s’ rights, which is a painfully pressing issue in this country, particularly in the more conservative and underdeveloped Extreme North province. It’s still going to be a great project… let’s just say we didn’t quite make the progress I’d anticipated. Our next few weeks seemed to turn into a concerted study of the best of the Extreme North’s tourism possibilities + Christmas carousing + New Years bruhaha, and of course, my birthday festivities. :)

A few highlights were Rumsiki and Waza National Park. Rumsiki looks like moonscape, and reminded me of hiking in Haiti. A couple of times, one wrong step would lead you tumbling down a mountain. With as many rules as Peace Corps has, I’m surprised we weren’t required to wear a helmet while taking this hike. Rumsiki’s right on the border with Nigeria, so as we’re hiking, our guide turns to us to ask “Do you have your visas ready? We’re about to head into Nigeria!” We all give each other startled looks! And before you know it, I’ve been to Nigeria. Looks kinda like northern Cameroon! We ran across a few Nigerians, and either they were faking it, or they really spoke only English and Hausa, as opposed to the French and Fulfulde you’ll find only minutes away in Rumsiki!

Your traditional Cameroonian hut.

A little Nigerian hiking.

Texas longhorns? Please. Meet my new friends.

Rumsiki view.

Waza National Park is near the northern tip of Cameroon. It’s only a few hours drive north of my town, but you can almost see the landscape changing, flatter and with scrubbier bushes, as you move closer and closer to the Sahara. We rented a car to go through the park. The car, in turn, promptly broke down. Fortunately, this is not lion season, so we ate our picnic lunch and waited for some giraffes to gallop by. Luckily, we broke down in an area that has cell network and weren’t obliged to walk a couple hours to find some non-wildlife life forms. (Yes, it’s happened to other hapless tourists, just not to me!) About three hours after breaking down, our driver was napping under the car out of the sun, our picnic lunch was all devoured, and thankfully, a truck from the Ministry of Forests tools through and collects us! I’m sure it’s against some PC rule, but we had little other option (mount a giraffe?), and so we had one of the best rides ever in the back of the Ministry truck, returning to the parks entrance. That is by far the best way to get in touch with Mother Nature—wind in hair, 4pm December sun, and tunes from David’s ipod to keep us entertained, as we occasionally stopped the truck to hop out and scramble after giraffes. And yes, that was about the extent of the wildlife we saw, no elephants or large hungry cats. Seriously, the best way to describe a herd of giraffes running: surreal. Their legs are so long that they seem to be moving in slow motion. And we did see a few gazelles. I remember Dad telling me that I looked like a gazelle when I used to run down the soccer field. Now having officially seen a gazelle run, I am certain that they look much better than I ever did!

My love to you all, and hope 2009 is starting splendidly. :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Random Smatterings and Happy Sheep Holidays!

Hola todos!

What is it with me, motorcycles, and Cameroonian holidays?! Yesterday was Tabaski, or la Fête de Mouton, where the Muslim community commemorates the biblical event of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac… until God said, “No no, go grab that sheep instead.” So you better believe I had to put on another too-tight-wonder-from-my-tailor of a skirt, and eat way more mouton than my heart has ever desired! However, instead of burning myself raw this time trying to get on the moto in said skirt, I opted for what 95% of Cameroonian women do—the side saddle ride. I’m no model of coordination, and in spite of thinking I was going to fall right off the moto, I arrived at every sheep-eating festivity intact. This was mainly due to telling the moto drivers “Hakilo hakilo!” “Slow slow!” in Fulfulde. So if I don’t attract enough attention when I put on a full Cameroonian outfit, parade me at 6 kilometers per hour through town, side-saddle on a moto. Guaranteed a good time!

Here’s a few other photos though of what I’ve been up to.

Thanksgiving was sweet—I didn’t have to kill the ceremonial bird! We recruited Brooke’s neighbor Fatty for that chore, for which I was greatly relieved (and thankful!) That’s my first Thanksgiving though, where I’ve heard dinner running around outside (being chased by small children, rather) approximately two hours before eating it. I decided to whip up some hummus, a family favorite, with some special imported chick peas from the regional capital. Somehow, (the peas were rancid, maybe?) it turned out so funny-tasting, that even Brooke’s dog, Winston, wouldn’t eat it. At least Fatty knows how to cook a chicken! Enough boxed wine makes it all go down fine.
Yes, photographed below is the box o’ wine, definitely merited by the occasion. :) Aunt Sue, you better believe the Tony’s you sent me is getting put to good use on that table!! Scary hummus on the right. Brooke’s light was busted, so it was a cozy candlelit theme.

On a non eating-related-holiday topic, Brooke and my predecessor did huge amounts of work during their time in Mokolo on a project to revitalize a local community center. Brooke’s last week in town was spent running around cramming in tasks for the opening of this center (thus all the excited happy faces in the pictures—it had been a long and bureaucratic process!) I’m really excited to have the center as a base for work, a place to teach business classes (hopeful thinking for future projects…), and a non-alcoholic place to meet all kinds of people. Brooke and my predecessor hand-picked the three employees who will work there, so I’ve really enjoyed working with them, and getting pretty hands-on to set up management and accounting systems.
Foos balling with the employees. And yes, that is a Britney Spears poster hanging in the background, despite my objections. Yay, Louisiana.

Yippee!!! (Sweet paint job, huh?)
Brooke, Aboubakar, and Winston the no-hummus-eating dog.
In her last week in town, Brooke went wild around Mokolo with my camera, and you, fair reader get the benefit of the following photos!
Main street, Cameroon.

Grocery shopping anyone? The garlic/condiments aisle.
Your average local butcher, or, advertisement for the Mokolo Vegetarian Society.
Slightly more appealing: a local pagne (fabric) shop, or, what my wardrobe looks like these days.

After bargaining for your fabric of choice, take it to Tailor-man here to leave you looking good.

One of Brooke’s cute neighbors. Check out those knees.

Brooke’s going-away fête. I’ll miss her!

I helped Fleur, our local Frenchie volunteer, with a program the elementary schools put together for World AIDS day (read: chased small children and pinned pieces of paper to their chests.) At halftime of a soccer game, the kiddies paraded onto the field. The letters pinned to their chests spelled out “MOKOLO CONTRE LE VIH/SIDA” … Mokolo against HIV/AIDS. The ABC’s of prevention--Abstinence, Be faithful, and Condoms, were also featured, in the form of 7-year olds wearing the above messages pinned to their shirts. Lastly, came the boy wearing the sign “Dépistage,” or “Getting tested.” As Fleur pinned the sign on cute little Preservatif (Condom), the little girl asked, what does this mean? Hmmmm! Quick thinking, Fleur’s response: “If you use the preservatif, it helps prevent the disease, if you don’t use the preservatif, you are more likely to catch the disease!” Ahh, Sex Ed! Little Dépistage kept running off out of line when we were getting ready for the big half-time show, so I’m calling out “Dépistage, where are you?! …Dépistage, get back here!” I love my job!

Happy holidays to my friends and family, I’m sending my love! Can somebody play in the New Roads gift swap for me, in abstentia? I promise I will bring you back something cool from Cameroon, in 2010. Delayed gratification! :)