Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Yep, I recruited Thea's neighbors (aka, half the neighborhood observes,) and finally got myself all braided up!

Because I am in the Peace Corps. And yes, Cameroonians always look this skeptical in pictures.

It’s so much fun to have my hair in braids… one of those things I could never get away with in a DC office! And this is how I show up at my bank job every day! The last time I did this was during the summers in high school. I can pull the braids up in a pony tail, put on a head band (a big piece of leftover pagne), clip a few back, or leave them to poke out of my head in all directions—all acceptable options! I love watching the Cameroonian reactions; they’re definitely not used to seeing white people with braids. I’ve gotten asked a few times if it’s all my real hair, and I’ve learned the meaning of the Fulfulde phrase mi mori—I am braided. It is a response to many many enquiries these days. (Statements of the very obvious are very popular here.) Sometimes I just like to sing it out, “Mi mooori, mi mooooori! As I was walking home yesterday day I passed a wide-eyed little kid, who said quietly under his breath “nassara voooodi.” Nassara’s pretty! Hahaha. Who knew they’d be such an ego-booster?! I just hope they don’t make my hair all fall out.

PS--I was just able to add a few photos to the Youth Day blog entry--check 'em out below!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Unceremonious Initiation

Brought to you by a Cameroonian Cheesecake

I’ve been pretty proud of the fact that I’d been in this country eight months and was still among the slim minority of folks that had not once been sick to my stomach. That’s something to write home about, really…! Until about a week ago. Well, folks, I’ve joined the club, in style. I was on my way down to the capital for Peace Corps meetings, and stopped in another regional capital, Ngaoundéré. I’d been feeling funny all day, but still attempted to eat out for lunch with a few other PCVs. I got served about the biggest omelet I’ve ever seen. It was beautiful. And for whatever reason I was so nauseated, I couldn’t eat a single bite of it! I sat shakily sipping my Sprite until, bam, I tell my friends I’ll pay them back, grab the Sprite, and run out of the restaurant, to promptly lose it all on the sidewalk. Now that’s embarrassing. Of course, it was broad daylight and the sidewalk was packed with people: street vendors, curb-side bean and beignet mamas, pedestrians. I think I almost hit an orange vendor’s stand. I haven’t had such a public display of …my semi-digested breakfast since I was sick out of a moving car window in the capital of Mali. As if the white girl didn’t get stared at enough already…

Well, promptly after barfing all over the sidewalk of Ngaoundéré, I felt immediately better… except for my pride, that is. To that effect, I power-walked out of that neighborhood with my head down. I even ran into another volunteer I hadn’t seen in a while when I was on my way back from the restaurant. When she asked how I was doing, I said, “Great thanks, how are you… except, that is, I just ralphed on the sidewalk and uh… don’t look at my feet!”

So that lasted a couple days. I’m glad to say it is happily behind me. I think the culprit was a cheesecake that made 3 out of the 4 of us sick who partook in it. My one brilliant friend, Sebastian, who did NOT get sick from Cheesecake Part I, even had the gall to ask the next night, “Hey guys, y’all wanna make a cheesecake again??!” And he did, and I think he got to eat it all by himself, that turd.

So, consider me initiated au Cameroun, and my profuse apologies to the sidewalk vendors of Ngaoundéré!

How to get yourself kicked out of Youth Day

February 11, 2009

Today is the National Fete de la Jeunesse: Youth Day. So, Makala closes down, and we all troop to the stadium to watch young people in matching outfits parade past the Prefet, Sous-Prefet and anyone else deemed important in the Cameroonian government. Tonight, all these youth that would be excluded from drinking in countries that have minimum-age requirements are going out drinking. I plan to join them, and find out if there’s anything more to the Fete de la Jeunesse that I am missing. So far, not so bad…

So this morning my post-mate Thea, the French volunteer in town Fleur, and I got invited to sit in the special shady area of the stadium to watch the proceedings. I think I watched every school-age youngster in the Mayo-Tsanaga department of Cameroon parade past me this morning. I am happy to report that there are many, many young people in school here. So many in fact, that after several hours, Thea and I were brainstorming ways that we could get ourselves officially kicked out of our priority seating, since just getting up and leaving would be rude. One guy seated near us was listening to his radio. Another dame was reading a magazine, and a third listening to an iPod. Our list of expulsion-worthy acts including throwing ourselves onto the sand, blurting obscenities (any language) or stripping. Sadly, we had a lot of time to make this plan evolve, and the fact that I was wearing a button down shirt could have even meant that it would be so gradual, no one would even notice until… bam, you’re out! Of course, however, being representatives of your US government, we all kept our clothes on.

Truly, the events truly were so long that Thea started to get motion-sick from watching the troops/students march by. They really did look military at times! I thought she was just hallucinating in the heat at first. But then I started to get a little woozy too; it seemed like the sand and people in the background were moving in the opposite direction of the marchers. On the fun side though, some of the schools even sang and danced—added bonus! The teachers got to blow whistles, and really get down.

Fleur apparently got herself drafted to coordinate another halftime show at the next upcoming fete, so she promised me that I could get the whistle-blowing job :)

Here’s the Cameroonian equivalent of cheerleaders! About six of the schools had them!

School number 81… about the time the stripping idea came along.

Moral of the story: I applaud the youth of Cameroon. Next year, I think I will do so from the comfort of my living room!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Witchcraft in Makala

Wow. I’d heard some stories of voodoo in Haiti, and was even friends with an American who had lived there long enough to believe in it as well. But never has my town come to a standstill due to la sorcelerie—witchcraft!

I was working up in a village outside of Makala when the witchcraft hit, so I didn’t find out the full extent of the story until several days after my return. The story varies depending on who you ask, but here are the basics. About 30 – 50 girls at two of the local high schools came down ill. Apparently it was witchcraft. They said they were “struck down” and someone had taken their hearts. The way it works is that whoever has cast the spell takes the heart out of the girl, and buries it under a tree. In order to regain your heart, you have to eat the dirt from under the tree where your heart is buried. Then you will heal. So a lot of girls were manically eating dirt, hoping to find their hearts, and regain their health.

Often, the school principle is blamed for instances of witchcraft. In a past case outside of Makala, a local marabout, or traditional healer, had determined that the principal was in fact the guilty culprit. And he went to jail for it!!! After two months, he was released, and apparently reinstated as principal because people were too scared of him to take his job away. I would love to see the written law that sets forth the punishment for witchcraft.

Here in Makala, the two affected schools closed down for most of last week. These students also felt that their principle was guilty of the witchcraft, and so organized a march on the Prefecture, demanding that he be brought to justice. When no action was taken, they went first to our Youth Center to riot there, until my co-worker Aboubakar chased them away. Then they went to a local cell phone store and broke all the windows. Finally, they stormed the principal’s house, trapped his wife inside, and burned the house to the ground! The wife escaped out a window, and the entire family fled to Maroua, the provincial capital! Apparently, this principal was a not-so-friendly and arrogant guy, who was from the south of Cameroon, so people had enough reason to not like him… but yikes!

Turns out, three of the girls had been “struck down” by malaria, and a fourth by a fun case of intestinal worms. Worms or witchcraft: you decide… as long as nobody puts a bad case of diarrhea on me!!