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. :)

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