Sunday, March 5, 2017

Last Post: Reverse Culture Shock & Coming Home

In November 2016, I returned home to my family and friends in Argyle, New York after a little more than two years in Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer. On my way home I stopped to visit my Aunt in Switzerland and met up with friends in Paris so I had about a week in Europe to begin my process of re-integrating back into what we know as western society. My fellow Peace Corps volunteers and I dove into the Paris food and drinks while enjoying the atmosphere of just “throwing our cares away”. We were in the middle; out of Cameroon and the hardship of life there but also not yet home and ignoring the question of “what do I do next?” The culture shock did not really hit me until I went to Switzerland. I remember walking into a grocery store with my Aunt and being overwhelmed by the variety of food choices. My Aunt wonderfully listened to all my stories of Cameroon and gave me a sense of comfort in their old but beautiful house near the mountains. 
Traveling with two suitcases and a backpack full of not clothes (left all my old clothes in Cameroon) but beautifully handcrafted gifts made by my Cameroonian friends and of course homemade peanut butter from my Cameroonian host mom; it was a struggle just to get on the train. My mind was numb and empty as we flew the 8 hour flight over the ocean to JFK airport. I had been dreaming for months on how this scene of reuniting with my family would go. I would start crying when I thought of it yet in reality I was so overwhelmed with my baggage and passport control that by the time I saw my family at the exit gate, with their welcome home sign and tears starting in my mom’s eyes…I was just ready to get out of there. Oh I was happy to see my family and thrilled to see the sign they had made for me, but I was just so tired. The exhausting life of two years in another culture, traveling, and culture shock was in my bones and all I wanted to do was get in the car and breathe a sigh of relief.
I did it. That is the one piece of advice I can give to Peace Corps volunteers: they can do it. Two years in another culture is doable and we all can do it if we really want to. I had made a commitment to give my time to another culture, to learn, and to love. Two years is a small portion when compared to the time we usually have on this Earth. And let me tell you: it is worth it. 
My Dad, Mom, me, Lily kitty and Finn with the sign they made for my homecoming

Funny, I was never a person that ate a lot of junk food, but man, did I crave Doritos! After two years of bland food, I wanted to taste zazz! For Thanksgiving I ask (well demanded) my Grandmother bake her famous apple pie. Pretty much I gave myself the okay to eat anything I wanted for at least a month. Starbucks and more Starbucks coffee. Yum! Although it took me a while to get used to this type of food again. I had many stomachaches and my weight fluctuated during that first month. Even though I really loved taking long hot showers, my body and hair became dry since it wasn’t used to regular intense bathing. And I finally cut my hair- 10 inches!- donating it.
I always wondered what my dog would do when I arrived home. I made sure that I was the first to walk in the front door when we got home. He started barking but eventually realized I was not an intruder although he did not recognize me! He figured out that he liked me and I was nice but it took 15 minutes for him to all of a sudden realize that I was Renée! 
Back to the reverse culture shock; as I write this it is now March 2017 and I am still dealing with it. The last few months have had its ups and downs. I came home and went through a period of happiness. It was great to just be hugging everyone!! At first I was scrambling for words to describe my last two years and I was pleasantly surprised that many of my friends asked me great questions rather than the usual “How was it?” Eventually I came up with my “go to” answer for “How was Cameroon and your Peace Corps service?” Many of you have probably heard my answer of “amazing, un-regrettable, very difficult, new perspective, all my questions were answered”, and that I was ready to come home but not ready to leave my Cameroon family. All of this is true and if you asked in-depth questions, well you got in-depth answers! It was great to share stories about Cameroon and even the local newspaper did a story! I must say the fame might feel weird at first but you get used to it haha
December was filled with holiday spirit, parties, a dog show with my mom, and a county/state fair conference with my dad. It was great to see so many friends and I only had a few times where I was overwhelmed. In those instances my parent were understanding, listened to what I was feeling, and gave me a hug when I needed it. All that time I was really only thinking about my positive experiences in Cameroon but I will let all Peace Corps volunteers know that eventually you remember the negative experiences and they are usually triggered by something negative. It was almost Christmas when someone said something really mean to me and I experienced bullying for the first time in my life. It was something small and quite frankly I would usually just let it brush off my shoulder, but it triggered all my negative memories of Cameroon and revealed more of my sadness about leaving my Cameroon family. Thankfully I really try to control my mind and emotions so they do not get the best of me. I forgave this bully and tried to take a positive outlook. Thanks to this event, I now understand bullying first-hand so I can better connect to those who are bullied and I was forced to really deal with all my memories and experiences in Cameroon. 
By January I was doing okay with everything. Meaning I pretty much responded to my parent’s inquires with “I’m okay”. I was job hunting, giving presentations on Cameroon to different groups, and just trying to keep busy. Peace Corps had given me health insurance for a month but nothing is ever easy with Peace Corps so I spent much of my time trying to receive healthcare and also trying not to spend too much of the small of amount of money that Peace Corps had paid me. Peace Corps pays volunteers around $300 a month for their service. One good thing that came out of this situation was that Planned Parenthood really supported me when nothing else was working. So thank you Planned Parenthood! Now I can relate to people who have gone through similar situations and need this organization!
Presenting to the public at the Crandall Public Library

Demonstrating archery with my traditional Cameroon bow (I mailed it home!)

Presenting to a high school French class

Wonderful group of students at my presentation! They asked brilliant questions!!

Everyone supported me through this transition and kept saying that finding a job, a good job will take time. I will admit that I was beginning to not feel okay, losing strength to keep myself busy, and wondering what will happen. I could take any job but I really, really wanted to do something I believe in and make a difference. Three months at home really felt to me like six months. My parents were wonderful and never lost faith that the best job/the right fit would come along. So just like in the movies: as I began to think that it would never happen, THE JOB came along!
After several interviews and applying to over 20 jobs...I can now say that I am hired! I start March 6, 2017 as the Assistant Director of Public Policy at the New York Farm Bureau in Albany, New York (only an hour away from home!) I am so excited to work with the public policy team to improve how our government supports agriculture and meet with the different members of Farm Bureau! Members of Farm Bureau are farmers or anyone that is connected to agriculture.
Being a Peace Corps volunteer was a brilliant and life-changing experience but it is an important decision for anyone interested in doing it. It is not for everyone but if you do choose to do Peace Corps please keep an open mind and remember that afterwards, you are the only one that truly has to deal with your experience. Peace Corps will record your achievements during your service but after you finish, they will not think about you. YOU will remember what you did and the people of that country will remember you; keep that in mind when you are working as a Peace Corps volunteer. When you apply for jobs afterwards, many employers will think highly Peace Corps but most will not understand what you did. Be prepared to describe your experience in a mostly honest but positive and appealing way. Commitment, strength, communication, resilience, and thinking outside the box are what came out in my interviews. Employers will want to know why you did Peace Corps and how you will transition to your new job. I had to state that I wanted to learn in another culture and that I accomplished that goal but now I was ready to work in an office atmosphere again and help my community at home. 
Reverse culture shock is real and will happen but I think it is different for each person. For me it was remembering how to socialize at a party at home, not to hoard all my coins (we had to do that in Cameroon), not to be embarrassed when I say “bonjour” or “merci”, how to share the Cameroon culture honestly but not too honestly, and remembering that I did it, that sense of accomplishment does not get erased over time. I finally truly understand why we have what we have, why we need to not take it for granted but also not feel bad about having it. I can enjoy my wonderful rural life with the big screen TV and Starbucks coffee as long as I remember how we are able to have this life and not forget about the Cameroon culture that taught me so much.
The culture shock will continue and at this point I still cannot go through all my Cameroon photos; not ready yet. For now I will go back to what we call regular life. I will keep sharing Cameroon with my community. Americans can forget that each of our states, our regions are different cultures and not only do we need to learn about places like Cameroon but keep in mind that there is still rural and urban America. We have so much to share with each other. Hopefully by sharing stories about Cameroon with Americans along with sharing my rural farm life with the people I met through Peace Corps, we all will become wiser, more open-minded, and better human beings in this diverse world.
Whether you are reading this blog because you know me or just found it on the internet, thank you for following my story. For more information and links, go to the "About Me" page on my blog. Please reach out if you want me to present on Cameroon to a group or you are thinking of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. Peace Corps is worth it and you know what…you can do it!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Becoming a RPCV

 On November 10, 2016 I became a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer)!!!

At the "gonging out" ceremony where PCVs become RPCVs. Most of us are wearing the traditional outfits from our region.

The official gonging out bells

Friends who came to support me during my gonging out!

Everyone always takes a picture with the Peace Corps sign when they become a RPCV 

My wonderful gonging out group

Now onto the next adventure: integrating back into the American home I remember and finding the next job; the next purpose. It feels weird to return to the familiar but then miss the parts of Cameroon that had become familiar and the friends that made Cameroon a home.

Here is a 15 minute movie that I made using various video clips of my time in Cameroon. My video skills are not great but I really wanted to share Cameroon with you. You can also just search for "Peace Corps Cameroon One Perspective in 15 Minutes" on You Tube.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Ending my Peace Corps service in Cameroon

How to put into words how I feel? I just left my village, my home and said good bye to all my friends (Cameroonian, American, German & Austrian) in the Adamawa region. I am in the capital, Yaoundé to do medical appointments before taking the big step to be back on US soil. After two years in Cameroon, I realize that this place has become another home and the American home I dream about all the time was just another life. For all of you who read Peace Corps volunteers’ blogs or know a PCV, then these statements will sound familiar. The point is that we all feel this way; this bitter sweet feeling of leaving our PC country. So rather than bore you with my feelings, I will just share some pictures and their captions from the last couple of weeks.

We had out final meeting for the soy project and gave out the certificates to all the participants. They are all so motivated and excited to keep growing soy! I am so happy that even with the rough start in 2014, my work has been worthwhile in Cameroon and my work partners are ready to keep teaching people about soy.

2016 Soy Project Graduates and Leaders

Waiting for the rain to stop at one of the last volleyball club games (Alex decided to take over teaching the club!)
Students bring machetes to school so they can cut grass as a punishment if they get into trouble
Meeting the Ngaoundere firefighters (they may not have the best equipment but they have one fire truck!)

Last visit to Lake Tison

Need a snack? Try Parle-G crackers and Laughing Cow cheese (kind of like real cheese)

Last meal in my house (spaghetti and fried tomatoes)

Guyia and Fatimatu trying on my clothes and bandannas that I gave them (little big)

One good idea on how to say good bye to all the people I met in two years is to do it in small doses. I am overwhelmed by how many people cried (me too) and gave me gifts. I gave them photos of our adventures together in hopes that they will remember me because I know I won't forget them.
Sionie who always sells me good tomatoes and onions

Good friend and seamstress, Valarie 
Djanabo- she runs the Peace Corps office in Ngaoundere and takes care of all of us Adamawa PCVs

The ASEED (Association for helping orphaned and abandoned children) children gave me small tokens as gifts along with singing and dancing for me. Seeing their happy faces as they danced made my heart glow. We plan on doing another fundraiser for them during Christmas so please keep them in your thoughts during the holidays and give what you can so that they can keep living a brilliant life supported by Sister Carine.
ASEED children & Sister Carine

My good friends generously planned a pool party with amazing food and even cake! It rained but we are thinking that like weddings, maybe that means it will be a good future for all of us and we will all meet again.
Good friends!

The morning of leaving my house and Beka-Hosséré was the most difficult. I had packed the night before and that morning my neighbors and I sat on my porch playing Go Fish until Max came to pick me up. I tried to make it a quick goodbye so after they helped me pack the truck, we took a group photo and I gave each of them a hug. Hugs and crying are not usual for Cameroonian Muslims (only at funerals). But to my surprise, they hugged me back with love and the tears ran silently down our cheeks. The mother, Aiya was sobbing so hard that she wouldn’t even look me in the eye. Even as I write this, my eyes start welling up. Honestly, I care about people but no one told me that when I joined Peace Corps, I would want to stay and watch the children grow up just as though they are my own family.
My Cameroon family

I will spend the next week with other PCVs who are finishing their service and then we will fly to Paris; spend a couple days celebrating and then I will take the train to see my Aunt and cousins in Switzerland. By November 20th I plan on waking up in the morning, drinking a cup of good coffee with my mom, walking with Finn out to the barn, breathing in the crisp New York air, and sitting down in the field where there are no ants to bite my butt (well hopefully). I cannot wait to see my family and friends yet in the back of my mind I have no idea what it will be like to go from cold bucket baths to hot showers; spaghetti omelet sandwiches and cous cous to cereal and BLTs; mayonnaise and hot sauce as the main condiments to ketchup available everywhere; bargaining for a 30 cent motorcycle ride to no motorcycle taxis; waking up to call to prayers & children crying to the silence of a farm with only the rooster to remind me of Cameroon (or is it that the rooster reminds me of the US?). I know I won’t miss the corruption here or the way I stand out in the street, but does it really matter? No, what matters is that I came to Cameroon with a goal, I achieved it, mostly and added bonus: I loved and was loved back. Seems like a pretty good relationship to me. For now, I will just live, share, and smile. Thank you for all the support everyone and see you stateside soon. If you do decide to ask me about Cameroon, thank you because maybe by talking about it, I will figure out what I am trying to say. And hopefully you will learn more about this country that I called home.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

My Last Fete in Cameroon

This post is mostly pictures since I really wanted to share the past few days of the Fete du Mouton (also called Tabaski). A few days before the fete (holiday/party) we had a henna party at my house where a couple of other Peace Corps volunteers, 6 of my neighbors, and myself had henna done on our hands and feet. It is a cultural tradition and just a fun thing to do for fetes here. Usually only the women have it done but we had a few men ask if they could get their hands done too so not sure on the verdict there. We started at 9:30am and finished around 5:30pm; the woman drew henna for all 9 of us! It felt like getting ready for prom or a wedding. We played cards, did puzzles, and just hung out together all day. I really enjoyed being around my neighbors. We don’t usually have much to talk about so it was nice to be around them but still have games to play and watch the woman draw the henna. Also henna takes a little while to dry so it’s not like you can do more than sit there anyway. I was surprised the children were patient and didn’t move while the intricate black flowers dried on their feet. My neighbors also put brown henna on the bottoms of their feet and tips of their fingers. It is another cultural tradition for Muslim women. Most of my neighbors had their hair braided for the fete too. It is not normal for a woman to have her hair natural or not braided here- One girl's hair was undone and sticking straight out as she was waiting to have it braided. We thought "so beautiful right?" Nope. All the other girls were laughing at her.
Guyia getting henna done on her feet and Fatimatu sitting still after getting brown henna done on her feet (that is why her feet are covered with plastic bags-it is how they dry the brown henna)

Playing Go Fish

Fatimatu does not look happy about having to wait for her henna to dry (see the brown henna on the bottom of her feet)

Typical wedding photo of the feet but for henna!

On the day of the fete we watched the community prayer in Beka-Hosséré and then went to Issa’s house for a feast. Each family kills and eats a sheep so we were given some interesting parts to eat. My neighbors gave us the ribs and some very well cooked pieces of liver. We also took a lot of pictures. I felt like it was my wedding, especially when Issa was fixing my skirt for the picture. In village and in the city, people were happy to see me wearing the henna along with the traditional dress and head-wrap. I’m glad that after 2 years, maybe I still get called white man but at least people acknowledge my efforts to learn about their culture. I will always be an outsider but I will always be Beka-Hosséré’s outsider.
Issa fixing my dress (just like a wedding picture, right!?)

Guyia and her sheep that will be the feast later that day

Me & the youngest, Oumal Heidi
Me & Fatimatu (after 2 years, she finally let me pick her up!)

Me & my wonderful neighbors

Plus the newest education Peace Corps volunteer in my village, Alex!

The day after the fete, we went to the fantasia at the Lamido’s Palace in Ngaoundéré. I have seen the fantasia a few times since it is done for each Fete du Mouton and Fete du Ramadan but it was the first time for some of the newer Peace Corps volunteers. It was a wonderful day especially watching the Chief of Beka-Hosséré and many of my friends from village come marching out to meet the Lamido for the end of the fantasia. Little did I know that my Chief is the little brother of the Lamido (sometimes it takes 2 years to find out what Cameroonians think is obvious). A few of us even got interviewed for the Cameroonian (CRTV) news.
CRTV interview
 Beka-Hosséré Chief and villagers going to meet the Lamido 

A great last fete for me in Cameroon and now there is less than 7 weeks until I say farewell to Beka-Hosséré. I really hope I will return again someday and see Dada in high school and not married before age 16. Already I have seen changes especially in Zakiatoo who should be married by now with the cultural tradition of being married by 16 or 18 but instead she has a job in the city and tells me she wants to marry for love.
How many people can you fit on a motorcycle? 3 guys, 2 girls and a baby on the front

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Appreciating The Differences & Excited to Go Home

After almost 2 years in Cameroon, I now know when I will be leaving and when I will be home. We had our “Close of Service” conference in Kribi (southern Cameroon). It was wonderful to see the people that I arrived to Cameroon with only 2 years ago. We walked along the beach, ate amazing shrimp, and recollected our many amazing adventures in this country. Peace Corps administration gave us some advice on job searching and reintegration in the US. As soon as we found out our dates of departure, we were booking flights and making plans. My plan is to fly out middle of November and then go to France/Switzerland for a visit before arriving back on NY soil end of November. For more specific dates, message me or go to my FB page.

Visiting soy fields
The soy project is still going and we have finally visited the last participant’s field of soy. As the rainy season reaches its peak, I am glad that I do not have to take any more motorcycle rides out onto the muddy paths to the farms or go 3 hours to another village in the pouring rain. Although I do not like the travel, the participants make it worthwhile with their hard work and smiles when we see their healthy soy. Our latest adventures were so crazy that after driving out to the farmer’s field, I decided to walk back because it seemed safer than riding on the motorcycle. Gosh did I have blisters. Nothing that a cup of hot tea and a warm blanket can fix when I got home. Some participants even gave us cous cous when we visited although I was a bit afraid that my stomach was not going to hold the food in during our 3 hour ride home. But alas, we have seen all the fields and now we are just waiting for the harvest. I am hopeful that the participants will harvest before I leave so we can have a small party and give them their certificates.
Trying to load a tractor tire onto a truck after visiting a soy field

I recently started putting together the videos I have taken in Cameroon so that when I return home, you can all watch a “movie” to show you what life looks like here. The videos can show you the landscape, the homes, the food, and the people but it does not always show you the culture. Below I will write a list of what you might call strange, what makes my life sometimes difficult here, and those cultural differences that you cannot see on video. The Wild Life.
Most people have latrines (holes in the ground) here, whether in or outside their homes, at the bars, or in a wooden shed. If it is outside their home, there is usually a short wall of tied together straw to shield you from any onlookers but it’s usually not thick. I have gotten very used to not caring who sees me go to the bathroom. It is normal for women and men to just be going to the bathroom on the side of the road when a bus stops. People use water in plastic tea kettles to wash themselves after going to the bathroom. (That is why you do not shake, eat, or give money with your right hand). Yesterday I used a latrine that had a lot of honeybees flying around it. Imagine pulling down your skirt and hoping the bees do not go close to your butt or fly into your underwear when you pull it up. Always carry around tissues just in case you eat something you shouldn’t eat and the water in the kettle will not be enough. It’s like camping really.
Aiya cooking cous cous over the fire in the hut outside their home

Mostly everyone eats with their hands since cous cous can be easily picked up, molded, and squished in the usual sauce before trying to put it in your mouth without it drippling down your chin. We always wash our hands in water before and after eating. A family will sit around a dish of cous cous and eat out of the same plate (girls eat separately from the guys). And if you buy grilled fish at the bar, it is normal to eat that with your hands too (very easy to pick out the bones, unless you want to eat those too). I use a camping stove hooked to a gas tank to cook my food but everyone else cooks over fires. Bundles of sticks and fire wood are sold on the side of the road.
Family eating cous cous
Ever wonder where all the unwanted stuff goes? The sewing machines here are the same ones that my Grandmother exhibits and explains at our county fair museum. You will find all kinds of things here from earlier years in America, especially cars (all standard, no automatics).
Sewing machines used in Cameroon
As much as running water, internet, and other technology has not reached many of the villages of Cameroon, cellphones are a norm. But mostly there are tracfones or small smart phones. There are kiosks in the city that sell calling/texting credit for phones. But once someone has my phone number, they will call a couple times a week just to say hi and ask about my family. It takes a while for Americans to get used to someone calling just to check in and not for a specific reason. Although if I do not answer my phone, a Cameroonian will call over 10 times, not leaving a message, just calling over and over again to see if I will pick up. If you do want to talk to someone, just tell them you do have calling credit, works every time. The richer people in the city will have over 2 or 3 phones because there are many networks here (Orange, MTN, Camtel). They will sit down to a meeting and place their 3 phones next to each other on the table.
Kiosk where you can buy Orange phone credit

As I have said before, transportation is not fun here. But for motorcycles, women are supposed to always sit in front of the man. Also women are not supposed to sit in the front seat of a taxi. And buses do not leave at a specific time; they leave when the bus is full or over filled with people. Also anything, anything can be transported on a motorcycle or taxi.
Path we used to motorcycle to a farmer's field

Loading a bus (very close to power lines)

FCFA or francs are used in Cameroon and usually the bank only gives 5000 or 10000 bills. That is a problem because no one wants to give away their small money. People are always guarding their 500 pieces (close to $1) and give you a sour look if you ask them to change even a 2000 bill. Unlike banks in the US, banks here will not give businesses small change every day (like what I used to do when I worked at a bank). Also if a bill is torn, people will not take it and I am not sure if the bank will exchange it. Peace Corps volunteers will hoard small bills and coins so much that when they return to the US, they wonder why they have so much US change all the time. Watch out, I might do that when I return.
Bargaining prices is a normal way of buying goods here. And they always try to raise the price for a white person. Not fair. But I have gotten very good at walking away when they don’t lower the price. Sometimes they will come running after me to sell at the more appropriate price. You have to be ready to leave the market without the item if it is not the right price.
Typical view of an Adamawa village during rainy season

The treatment of animals really bothers me here. There is no respect for them at all. My cat Annie was the only animal here that I saw was loved by my neighbors but she really had to work at it. A Cameroonian told me once that he had read in the news that someone in France had been arrested for killing all his cats. He was so confused at why that happened- “he can do whatever he wants to his animals, right?” I always tell Cameroonians that I cannot wait to go home and hug my animals. They give me a strange look and I say “well I will give my parents a hug too”.
In some regions in Cameroon, women can wear anything especially places with Christian religion but in the Adamawa where there are mostly Muslims and conservative tribes, women must cover up. No showing too much of the arms, cover most of the shoulders, and wear skirts past the knees. I will feel so naked when I go back to the US.
Sometimes this place reminds me of old small town America or Desperate Housewives community where everyone knows when a newcomer arrives in town, they know all the village news and I am the last to find out, the women are nice to each other even when they don’t like each other, most wives do not leave the home, the girls are the only ones that work at home while the boys play, and best of all if I need to tell someone something I just send a child to find them in the village; everyone knows each other.
Guiya and Dada playing soccer in front of my house. These are the moments I will miss the most.
These are all cultural differences but we have them in the US too. As a foreigner, as much as I try to fit in here and eat cous cous, and wear the clothes, I will always stick out. The most difficult part of this culture is that no one is used to foreigners. I will always be stared at, stared down for being a woman, and selected to sit in the front because of the white man perceived power. This cultural difference is the one that I wish to change. A Cameroonian friend took me to the market and I told him I was sorry if he was given higher prices or stared at because I was walking him. He said “Don’t people stare at black people in the US?” I said if people do, it is not normal and for the most part the only time people stare is when someone is really beautiful, like when I go out dancing and I want the guys to stare at me. He laughed but I think he understood. But even though I want to change some things about Cameroon, there is something I heard tonight that I really appreciate. As I heard the call to prayer at the Mosque, I also could hear the music from a Christian church service being held outside by the primary school, only a short distance from the mosque. Even if Cameroon will always see the differences of color, it is amazing that differences of religion are seen as normal here.

The next two months are my preparation to leave. There is now another education volunteer in Beka-Hosséré. She has just started her service so she still has another two years left in Cameroon but I am very positive that she will do an amazing job even after I leave. Although I am excited to go home, I am nervous about going to back to what should be familiar ground. For me, Cameroon is now the norm. I have gotten used to the bartering for goods/transportation and being around the same people every day. But I am going to try to do my best to appreciate my time left in Cameroon by hanging with my neighbors, celebrating with the community during the upcoming Fete du Mouton, and not taking for granted the cultural norms that I have learned here. My neighbors keep feeding me cous cous, maybe hoping I will stay. By the time I am home, I will have gained a few pounds of cous cous belly haha I am not sure yet what I will do when I get home but if anyone has any job ideas (fairs, agriculture, management), let me know! Cameroon has been a great adventure, sometimes reminding me too much of the Indiana Jones movies, but now I am preparing for a new journey; I am excited to keep dreaming my wishes and living my dreams.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Growth and Change in Cameroon

It has been a crazy busy couple of months as the countdown continues for when I will return to the US in November. Last week I had to say “À la prochaine” (French) or “sey yeeso” (Fulfuldé) or just see you later to some Peace Corps volunteers that have made a great impact on my life in Cameroon. During our Peace Corps service we make many friends where we live and try to integrate into our community but when the going gets tough and we are literary crying ourselves to sleep, it is the other Peace Corps volunteers that become our best friends and support us; because they are going through the same thing.
Not only did I learn so much from the other volunteers and created so many memories, but I certainly found out what it is like to have a brother. Carl was my postmate for over 1 ½ years. He didn’t have to be my friend, I mean we are pretty different, but we appreciated our differences and became life-long friends. He supported me throughout my service and was always there for me when I needed a hug or a very honest response. I can’t wait to see him back in the United States where we will probably be a little bit cleaner, eating better and able to talk about our crazy time in Cameroon.
Carl, me, Alex and Joyce enjoying Hilton happy hour in Yaounde before they all left me! missing you guys already!!

We recently celebrated the end of Ramadan and the end of a month of fasting for Muslims. Fasting for Ramadan means that people can only eat when the sun is down. That means that from 2am-4am the call to prayer wakes up the women (and me-ugh) so they can start cooking and then the families eat before the sun rises. Children and pregnant women technically do not have to fast all day but some pregnant Muslim women will still fast. One of our friends recently had a baby and named him after Carl (Carl’s village name is Thomas). We joked that the baby probably was not happy about his mother fasting so he decided to be born.
Fantasia at the Lamido Palace for Ramadan
My neighbors kept asking me if I was going to fast for at least a day but I had to tell them that honestly, I would not get any work done if I was "hangry" and I could easily picture how difficult it is to fast or even go hungry…I do not need to actually do it. After about a month of our favorite restaurant being closed every day and people being a little bit more relaxed (if you didn’t eat until 6:30pm then maybe you wouldn’t want to do much either) and "hangry", everything finally went back to normal; after a few days of celebrating of course. The day after Ramadan ended, we ate meals at three different houses (kind of like Thanksgiving). I could not complain about being hungry that day. The next day was the fantasia at the Lamido Palace. The celebration is pretty much the same as the Fete du Mouton which occurs about 60 days after the end of Ramadan (I explained the Fete du Mouton in another post last year). The Fantasia was wonderful to watch with the horses all decorated and racing towards the Lamido to recreate the battles of the tribes when Islam was brought to Cameroon. Also it was great to see many people from my village celebrating and dancing around our Chief on his horse.
Me and my village Chief at Fantasia

Cameroon has many emotional impacts on Peace Corps volunteers. You can see this effect when volunteers are finishing their service and preparing to leave. They are tired: tired of trying to engage their communities in positive change or even just creative/critical thinking while battling the white/nassara stereotypes that we all are rich and have easy lives back in the US. Then there are the views on women and how we are supposed to be married/have children. Some Peace Corps volunteers will give all they can to get to know their village but then so many volunteers’ homes are broken into or they are robbed on the street of a nearby city. Even our Peace Corps administration can give us headaches. How to volunteers deal with all of this negativity? How do I deal with it? I am still trying to figure that out. When Cameroon slaps me in the face, sometimes I think it is my fault, just like many other volunteers. But then I try to think about the few Cameroonians whom I have met that are kind, hardworking, and open-minded. I didn’t come here to be wanted or to be needed, I came here to share and learn. And I am reminded of Anne of Green Gables: “tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it. Well, there are no mistakes in it yet”. So even when I go to sleep thinking about the women on the train who did not believe me when I told them that I was not rich and came to Cameroon to work for practically no money, or the possibility that I lost some money to a person who does not care that I am trying to help my community, or the termites in my ceiling….then I try to turn off my thoughts because tomorrow is a new day and it could be a better day if I get some sleep.
And there is always the guys transporting sheep by moto-taxi to give me a good laugh

And tomorrow was better! Visiting the ASEED house for orphaned and abandoned children, I was reminded that there are good people in Cameroon. Sister Carine now has 7 babies to look after, all left abandoned in Ngaoundéré. One baby was found in a bag stashed away under a tree at 8pm while the rain poured down. People believe that she had been there for over 2 days. Now she is happy, still shivering slightly, but thankfully in the care of Sister Carine. There are many wonderful people in this beautiful country and all around world. Even with what has been happening recently, we can’t forget that there are good people and good intentions. We may be in different countries, but the view from space shows a brilliant planet with only the stars as borders.

My work partner and I visiting a project participant's field of soy

And guess what?! The soy is growing and thankfully most of the farmers in the soy project have successful fields of soy!! The best part about being here is seeing crops grow across the horizon, knowing that the farmers we work with are growing in mind & spirit, and feeling myself grow in knowledge & understanding.