Sunday, August 1, 2010

What’s next?

So you thought I was done in Africa? Heheeeeee. Nope.

The exact same day I left Mokolo for good I found the e-mail waiting for me: Peace Corps Response, Invitation to Serve. Peace Corps Response does short-term, more intense projects in sketchier countries than standard Peace Corps, for those who have completed their two years of Peace Corps service.

It was like a whirl that brought me back to when this all started over two years ago: the excitement of knowing the next steps, a new job description, getting to discover a different country. I’ll go to Guinea for six months—October to April— serving specifically as a Microfinance Training Consultant. The work involves developing and implementing training programs for both clients and employees of the Associations des Services Financiers (ASF), small Guinean microfinance organizations that are linked under an umbrella organization called CAFODEC. The trainings will be in response to what the CAFODEC management and I perceive as the weaknesses of the ASFs, to see how we can strengthen their management, and improve lending practices and reimbursement rates. The second part of my gig, independent of the ASFs, is to scope out the players in the microfinance sector in Guinea, see who’s healthy, who’s not, and who could potentially partner with Peace Corps in the future and how.

My parents’ generation is pulling out their hair at this news. But they know I love them too much to not come back. The way I see it, I’ve got the rest of my life to have a “real job” and settle down. This is a sweet opportunity to learn, grow, and do work I enjoy doing. And it’s only six months.

Here’s a few reasons I’m excited to discover Guinea.

-Same and yet new? I already know the name of my new town, Dabola. It’s practically EXACTLY the same latitude as Mokolo, just six countries over… From Mokolo, cross a little Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and VOILA! Welcome to Guinea! In Dabola, they even speak mostly the same language, Fulfulde, except it’s called Pular in Guinea. So I’ll be able to hit the ground running jam jam jamming my way around in the local language. (“Jam” is the answer to everything in Fulfulde.)

-Wild west of banking? Guinea sounds more like Haiti than Cameroon and the other CEMAC countries in terms of banking regulations. CEMAC is the Central African Monetary Union: Cameroon, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Central African Republic. They all use a common currency and abide by the same banking regulations. Another group of eight more francophone West African countries does likewise. Guinea is like that kid that refuses to fit in. Way back in 1958 when France was negotiating with its territories for their complete independence or a form of close alliance, Guinea was the one to say “Done with that, suckaaas!” So ever since, Guinea has been completely on its own system. In Haiti, my old organization Fonkoze just had a letter written from some ministry allowing it to operate—that was it in terms of government oversight. I think the case in Guinea will be somewhere in between. It will be interesting to apply to the less structured environment of Guinea what I’ve learned in Cameroon of CEMAC’s stricter banking standards. The less regulations that exist in Guinea, the more work I have to do. And added bonus. One of the big guns in CAFODEC—my new host institution—just got appointed to run the new Ministry of Microfinance. So it should be an interesting and evolving work environment!

-Democracy… what’s that? Cameroon has had President Paul Biya for 28 years, and his wife Chantal’s ridiculous hair for 16 of those. (Don’t believe me? You decide.) That hair is just one symbol of all the excesses and wasted priorities of the Biya regime. No one my age can recall anything else, or has lived under any other political system; opposition has been violently squashed down. Guinea? They just held the first round of presidential elections last month—a whole different story! A run-off is in the works. Elections don’t solve everything, but it gets people talking and interested in their government again. I’m excited to see that new reality on the ground. As long as the new first lady steers clear of Chantal’s hairdresser. Fashion junta, please?

To answer people’s worries, “But it’s an unstable country!” True, there was violence there a year ago. That's why the Peace Corps initially pulled out, and why only a small group of Peace Corps Response Volunteers are going back in now. But that violence was an isolated incident limited to the capital city. Dabola is a small town with good transport links. It’s unlikely anything would happen there. If it did, I have options for where to go! Also, the people who got injured in last fall’s violence were political protesters in the streets. I will be sitting in a bank crunching numbers. Less glamorous. Less risky. Not as many bad-ass points but I will come home in one piece.

So, leaving Cameroon was bittersweet, certainly. Saying goodbye to people I care about and work that I’ve been invested in for two years was hard. But as I rode away from Mokolo for the last time, it was hard to be sad for long. I’ve got a lot of good things to look forward to. And if you didn’t make it to see me in Cameroon before, Guinea is now six countries closer… :) Conakry International Airport… I’ll pick you up in full ridiculous pagne, how can you say no to that?


Martha Joy said...

It has been so good to read about your stay in Cameroon, and I'm coming out of my lurking just to tell you that. I'm a Norwegian missionary kid from Cameroon, which is why it has been so very very nice to read your blog. You have a lot of other perspectives and insights than what was available for me as a child of 9-15. Even though I lived in Ngaoundéré.

Also, I'd like to tell you that you're probably wrong about the fulfulde part, it's almost a different language over there. They took a long time to migrate, so the language changed a lot over the years. Did you know that they also speak a variant on fulfulde as far east as Sudan? I learnt this from a course about fulfulde that Rolf Theil , a norwegian linguist, gave four or five years ago.

Unknown said...

Hey Fleurange!

Just wanted to say welcome home first of all, a big congratulations for finishing your service second, and a third congratulations for deciding to do Peace Corps Response! That's awesome!

I also wanted to agree with the previous comment that it might be difficult to understand Fulfulde (or their variant there). When I was in Mali, I could understand about 70% of what they were saying if I really concentrated while they could understand only 20% at best of what I was saying. One good thing going for you is that you learned the Extreme North Cameroonian version, which was at least a lot more similar at least to the Malian (Bamako, Dogon country) version. Hope this helps and best of luck to you!

Kristen said...

so excited for your next adventure! i've really enjoyed reading all your stories over the past two years.