Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sunday Funday

The market area, early in the morning

After a few hours people have arrived to drink bil-bil and hang out!

So, now that I have a camera (THANK YOU DAD!), I decided it would be nice to take it out one Sunday and film my village! Sundays are the busiest day in my village socially; they take that day of rest seriously! It is the market day in the chief's neighborhood so there's the most to buy.
Slaughtering a pig for the market. They will sell the meat as well as cook some of it in morsels over a fire.

The bil-bil "cabarets" are literally just people's houses. In this case, we were just sitting on the sand. You also drink bil-bil always with a calabash (far right). 
There are usually meetings I need to go to , but usually that just entails 30 minutes of actual business and three hours of drinking bil-bil. The groups I work with are mixed gender groups, and are usually formed and have meetings for a village savings and loan (VSLA). This is a small group money management tactic that's pretty common in the Far North, and Cameroon also I think. Every week all the members put in a decided amount of money and at the end of the year they can take out the money they have saved over the course of a year, or if they have an emergency they can apply to get aid from the group.

The bean beignet mama and her friends. Perfect drinking snack. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

At the request of Edwin to update my blog, I have decided I have been neglecting my friends and family way too long. I really appreciate all of your wonderful support of my adventure here, even if its just a note on facebook or email every now and then : ). Sometimes I get the overwhelming feeling that I am so alone out here that everyone has already forgotten about me, so why would they be interested in my everyday life here? Anyways. I love you guys. So here's whats been going on:

 Sometimes life definitely gets overwhelming, but really, good times are always to be found. I'm starting a nutrition campaign in my village (and hopefully some of the surrounding villages!) and the first session went AMAZING. I am introducing Moringa olifera to my village, a super food that grows amazingly well in the poor dry soils of the sahel. What out, my fellow Americans, I wouldn't be surprised if this became an (expensive) trend in the states. But really, it is super nutritious, very high in iron and Vitamin A, has all the amino acids (very rare), high in trace metals, and for all intents and purposes can be used as a daily multivitamin. Not that the women will actually eat enough of it to work as such, but any augmentation to their and their children's diets will help immensely.


I sold all seven plants I carried with me, and everyone said the sauce we made with it was great! To me, it just tastes like any leaf sauce I have ever tasted here, but that is also another good thing, because it is not so different from everything else they make.

It was also awesome because we had an amazing storm that afternoon, total flash flood. After the rain stopped, I headed out to the meeting, at one point up to my knees in water, toes squishing through mud. I liked it. Its such a different state than the normal aridness that is the sahel. And, after three hours, all the water was gone! It was dark, so I was a little confused at first, but then I realized what had before been a swollen creek was now just sand again. Aah the desert.

So my current plan for this project is to continue with formations in my village, Piwa, and to also talk to the health center in the neighboring village to enlist their help. I'm hoping they will let me plant some of the moringa there at the health center, as well as train the nurses there on its uses and harvest techniques (really is half the battle – just dry the leaves in the shade. But no one does that), which they can then help women who come to the center with under nourished infants.

I have two more formations this week in Piwa, and last I talked to the head of the health center he was ill, so hopefully that will get going in the next weeks.

The rain has started, hooray! Its actually raining right now too! We've been getting rain maybe... four times a week already, and apparently in August is the heavy rainy season. Things are SO GREEN. Its out of control! The millet and corn is starting to get tall, making my village feel more like a corn maze than an actual place, haven't yet traversed it at night... I'm pretty frightened of snakes. The biggest downer is the mosquitoes and snakes. Though I have only ever seen one, people are doing a really good job of freaking me out about them creeping into my house as I sleep.

Moment of rant – yesterday must have been “let's bother Cynthia until she goes crazy” day. First of all, the morning was great, I had no work and it was the bil-bil market day in my neighborhood – in case you're not up to date on the drinking scene in my village, bil-bil is a locally brewed beer made out of a wheat-like grain, millet. Its okay... but also tends to give dysentery if not made properly... but its pretty much the ONLY thing to do in my village so I'll go and drink a little and talk to my friends etc. So anyways, my best friend in village makes bil-bil every Thursday so I decided what the heck, I’ll go hang out with her during the morning and help out later once people start coming to drink. So that morning, we just hung out, visited some other friends houses who also were selling bil-bil and I decided to head back home to wash my clothes and take a bath before the afternoon go going. Got home, washed my clothes, hung them out to dry, and got a bucket of water to bathe in. I was in my bath room you know... bathing... and I heard someone at my door. So naturally, I said “I'm bathing! Come back later!” Still more noise. I peaked my head around the corner – it was a mentally handicapped woman who does not speak a word of French. Okay. What to do. I decide to go back to bathing, figuring she'll get the clue that I'm naked (with my towel forgotten in my other room). Nope, that does not stop her from coming into my house, looking around, coming into the bathing room, speaking some Moundong that I don't understand, and eventually leaving. Yep. My crazy neighbor saw me completely naked trying to take a bucket bath.

I go back to my friends house (after clothing myself) where I am promptly getting harassed by some of my other neighbors who have apparently been going through my trash and want to know why I threw away avocados the other day. They had gone bad. I didn't think it would be socially acceptable to give away squashed and moldy avocados, but apparently that was a faux pas to throw away food of any sort. Then they went on to explain to me, as I handed them a calabash of bil-bil, that I should bow to them when I bring them their beer. As in kneel forward, touching a knee to the ground and handing the bowl (or bucket – literally. Bil-bil is sold by the bucket and is amazing cheap – about 40 cents) with my right hand. As they are men and therefore above me. Okay. So I did it. Begrudgingly. By that point I had completely shut down from the situation and was just agreeing with everything they were saying. On top of this, the same man decided he was going to teach me moundong (because obviously I was in a receptive state) by just talking AT me and not explaining anything, no hand gestures, nothing.

I was pretty pissed off.

Mais c'est la vie, n'est pas?

And now the guy teaching me moundong, which is 99% of the time super frustrating, method is kind of working. My language skills have definitely improved just in the past week so... I try to push through the frustrations!

Here's some photos from the 4th of July Party we hosted in Kaele: 

My girls Left to Right: Sarah Seng (who does not live in our region), Sarah Mae Jennings (one of my besties, she lives about 1.5 hours away near Maroua), Me, Laura Miller (lives just north of Maroua), and Rachel (aka my post mate and other closest friend, she's the one laying across us). We has just read the declaration of Independence and set off some streamer poppy things, no fireworks to be found : (

The gang - just cause I know I talk about them the most as I am the closest with them - Rachel and Sarah. 

Well, thats pretty much what I've been up to, avoiding snakes and trying not to yell at Cameroonians : ) I love y'all and promise to update my blog way more often. Also, go cocks even though we didn't win the College World Series again... Maybe I'll be back in the states for the SEC championship game (if we make it that far!)!

Shout out to Dan and Emily for braving Africa. I love you. It was awesome having you visit!!! I hope after getting back to the states, mostly just the good memories remain : )

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sorry for the long lapse between posts but its far and between when I get access to internet and because I don't have electricty at post, I don't spend too much on time on my computer! Other than getting ripped with P90X, I have to judiciously use my computer so I can make it to Friday when I go into Kaele for the market!

But, I am in Maroua this week for a conference on Behavior Change, which has so far been really interesting! Plus, we are staying at the nicest hotel in Maroua : ) and eating like queens. We have a pool. I took a shower. Our rooms have air conditioning. Its pretty amazing. And, we are learning a lot about how to actually make a plan to (hopefully) catalyze change.

Life in village has been pretty quiet! I am just easing into work, we aren't actually supposed to do any projects during our first three months of service, so I have been working on networking and integrating into Piwa. I have a friend! We go out and drink bil-bil together sometimes, and she knows so many people in Piwa, I have met a lot more people through her.

I'm also getting my house set up – pots and pans and things like that. I'm painting an accent wall in my living room (and soon I'll have chairs in there as well!), but I'm still waiting for my landlord to finish one room in my house – the floor is sand – but there's no use in getting bent out of shape about it. Things here happen when they happen, definitely patience is a skill that I will leave Cameroon with!

As far as work goes, I went the other week to Tokembere to help my friend run an environmental education day camp, which was a great learning experience for me because I definitely want to have a camp like that in the high school in my village! We are planning on doing the next camp for Earth Day, possibly in Lara ( a village near Piwa) or maybe even in Piwa. But I'll be leading the Flora and Fauna segments. I've never really taught anything so we'll see how that goes....

My spirits are still pretty high; I have hit the wall a few times, but luckily I have a wonderful man (I love you, Edwin!) and family that spend the money to call me and send me letters. I really appreciate that! Sometimes I just feel so overwhelmed by all the pressure exerted on me by being constantly watched by my village that I just want to escape and become inconspicuous again. But, those are normal feelings for all volunteers but I do feel very grateful to have a family that supports me. It amazes me that some of my collegues have loved ones that are consistantly telling them to come home when things get difficult and I am grateful that I have a strong group backing me up and keeping me going! I love you guys!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I dropped the bucket

Yes, so I was like... oh my god! I just lost my family's bucket for the well! I was really embarassed and … well... I felt bad that I lost it. But everything will be (I hope), my sister said she can probably get it out and that it happens all the time. ANYways, I've got some great photos! I also have some really great videos of the dancing, but I can't upload them until I get to faster internet. 

Dancers from the North West. They were a bit freaky because of those masks!!

These pictures are from Diversity Day at Peace Corps! We had a lot of cultural dances performed from groups here in the Grand South, ate food from every region in Cameroon, and danced until we couldn't possibly sweat any more! Cameroonian dancing is vigorous, not very easy! But it was really fun; they also played a few American songs, like Blow by Kesha (STILL WANT TO KARAOKE THAT SONG EMILY).

Dancers from Bafia, Center Region

Training is starting to wind down! I have my final presentation in French next Tuesday! I am going to present “Better Business Practices” which is actually more like Basic Business Practices but... I'm presenting the advantages of keeping a records and accounts of a store/vender in the market. First, I'm going to do a skit where a woman doesn't keep track of her accounts, and at the end of the day, she doesn’t know how much money she has made. Its actually the reality here; no one keeps track of how much, for example, corn they sell or keep and eat. Practically, its because many people are subsistence farmers, so they just sell things as they need money, but there is very little bookkeeping, so its possible that some shops and venders never know that they actually aren't making any money.

One week from today I will be officially a Volunteer, no longer a trainee! Its a really big deal. We all have our Swearing-in paine made into dresses and outfits (mine is a onesy), but I hope it will fit because I have gained a little weight here : ( so much bread and starches and literally no vegetables. When we get vegetables, they are cooked to death and covered in oil. I can't wait to cook for myself! I feel like my diet is why I've been feeling so exhausted every day. I literally go to bed every night at 8:30pm. Granted, I get up every morning at 5:45 am but still! Its so crazy! I feel like, 12 again!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sorry its been a little while since I've updated anyone on whats been going on!

I'll start with site visit. The Extreme North is SO different than down here! First of all, the people are very different. The major ethnic group there, the Fulbe's, are so beautiful and look so different than the (equally beautiful) people down here in the Grand South. They are lighter skins, have longer faces, and the women often have their nose pierced. The people generally tend to leave you alone when you are sitting out at restaurants/bars and when walking down the street. I ate brownies : )

My post is VERY rural. I am about 10 km from Chad. For real. I am not going to be getting very good cell phone reception because the Chad reception takes over my phone and it thinks that I am no longer in Cameroon! I also have a nice house (or it will be when I'm through with it!) in a very small, traditional village outside of Kaele. The people in my village have the traditional mud huts, but no fear, my house is cinder blocks, one of the few buildings in village not made out of the traditional mud bricks.

My primary work when I arrive at post will be twofold – I will be working with a group who have the funding to build an Agroforestry Educational Center, so I will be helping them plan and build the center, as well as facilitate training sessions. The educational activities will begin as soon as we have a well and hopefully throughout my two years we will get the building built as well. The second part of my work will be working with a women's group in village. The women are apparently very good at raising funds, but haven't organized themselves to decide how to spend their money, so they end up giving it to another group to build schools. That is all good, but the women want to start their own projects, and want me to come basically organize themselves and help them figure out WHAT they want to do!

But SOON I'll be a new volunteer and then I really will know what my work will be!

This past weekend was AWESOME! We went out in village to Bokito, where the health volunteers are staying, for the afternoon. I did Zumba for the first time! There is a Youth Development volunteer who was a Zumba teacher in the States. It was SO much fun! Then, we met up with everyone at a bar and continued the dance party (Cameroonians love to dance): we heard no joke Spice Girls. It was pretty amazing. Then that night the party kept rolling because we went to the dance club for the first time here! My sisters took me and some other trainees. It was out of control, mostly because it was SO hot in there – there is no air conditioning in Cameroon. And then the power went out while we were all on the dance floor, so everyone got out there cellphones and it kept on going!

I'm jealous of everyone about to enjoy Thanksgiving. But I am grateful for my life right now, and that I have so many good friends here to be family for each other. I love you guys!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

L'Extreme Nord!!

FAR NORTH!!! I'm going to be in the desert!! Kaele

Here is the following description of my post: "Kaele is a poorly developed divisional capital with a relatively large, but spread out, population. Kaele has electricity most of the time, and running water is becoming more available (though water is mostly unavailable during the hot season and electricity is very spotty rainy season). Kaele is a majority Moundang community, but as a divisional capital, it also has many other ethnic groups. French and Moundang are the main languages. Officially, Kaele is 40% Muslim, 40% Christian, and 20% animist, but nearly everyone practices the Moundang traditional religion. Kaele is a major alcohol-consumption post, and most social activities happen in the 20 or so bars in town or the over 100 bilbil cabarets. Men and women equally imbibe in alcohol, but this may lead to issues of integration for women, as alcohol certainly increases harassment. 

Kaele sits towards the bottom of the Diamare plain and is surrounded by 4 mountains that limit rainfall during rainy season. It is very hot most of the year, and hot and humid during rainy season. Kaele also has problems with advanced deforestation and moderate desertification. "

I'm taking over a post that does a lot of agribusiness work so I'll definitely be learning a lot of new things! The volunteer I'm replacing says he works with a lot of Co-ops, women's groups, and associations where he mostly trains members of groups management, basic accounting, transparency, and accountability. Most villages are also looking for help with water projects and cash crops that can replace cotton (soy is a big one!). 

I'M SO EXCITED! I also will have 2 post mates, and one other volunteer 10 km away, 2 males and a female. One is a Small Enterprise Development volunteer who just got there in August, the other is a Youth Development volunteer who is coming with me!

Anyways, I just wanted to let everyone know! I'm also going to be really close to a badass park, Rhumsiki!

I love you guys!!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wild Wild West!

This weekend was amazing!

We went on a field trip to the West Region, to the city of Bangangte'. It was about 5 degrees cooler than Bafia and so beautiful! Mountains!
Some of the girls! L-R: Shannon, Ashleigh, Me, and Lauren chillin in the West!

We left Bafia around 7:00 am and the drive was only about one hour. We went to an Agroforestry Extension Office – they do demonstrations and educational programs for farmers in their area to promote agroforestry and sustainability. They also have a pretty nice tree nursery where they make some of their money from. We got to see so many different agro techniques that we had talked about in class like intercropping, terracing, and agro-pastoral systems (which actually ended up being pretty terrible for the Center because their cow was stolen and the grass they planted turns out to be invasive without a cow munching on it every day). We also practiced some propagation techniques like cuttings and grafting – which is super cool in citrus trees! I didn't know this before but you can graft a citrus tree to have different branches that produce different types of citrus – like a grapefruit branch, orange branch, mandarin (the best type of citrus here!), and lemon. Mandarins are the best here because they taste more like Florida oranges than the real oranges : ) Oranges here are very sour and difficult to peel.

So anyways, it was also awesome because we got to stay in a hotel AND have a later curfew. Yes, we are treated like children. I got to have braised fish with baton de manioc, pimont (like sirache), and onion. DELICIOUS hot fresh off the grill of the fish mama not to mention cheap and tastey paired with an ice cold Castel.

The next day was pretty awesome as well. First, we went to a women's co-op who make Shea butter and got to learn about the Shea butter process and (more importantly) about women's co-ops in general, how this particular one got started, and how it functions today. These women are so smart – they make loads of money making that Shea butter and they are trying to expand their market outside of just Bangangte', Yaounde, and Bamfassam (the regional capital of the West). Then, we went to a small village where an agro volunteer lives to learn about tofu production and THEN got to eat some fried tofu with onion and pimont!! After which, the volunteer also works with a women's co-op bakery and talked about the positives and negatives of their organization and got to eat some beniets. Good morning!

Tofu Making: after you grind the soybeans, you have to cook them for about 30 minutes to denature the toxins in the beans. Then you add vinegar to speed up the coagulation

Then you press the soy like cheese, then leave under a rock for a few hours and Voila! Tofu! Here, they add boullion cubes and pimont to add some spicy and salt. 

Finally, it started raining. And raining. And it was pretty cold. And I don't have a rain coat. So I got very cold. We were out in the jungle in a tiny village with only mud roads out. We plowed along, got stuck four times, but luckily we had tiny villages along the way to help push us out (along with us!) so needless to say we arrived in Bangangte' SO muddy. Wow so muddy. The mud is dark red too, similar to the red clay soils in the south : ) but my shoes were caked. When I got home Sunday, my family just laughed at me, because Cameroonians would never walk around with shoes as dirty as mine are. They are always impeccably dressed, I don't know how its possible!

So all in all, its been a very good week. We only have three days of class before ANOTHER field trip to the North West Region!! More mountains!! More cooler weather! And I'll be more ready for it this time, even though I still don't have a raincoat but whatevs. I make due. I should buy an umbrella but I'll miss the Thursday market this week.

OOH and I know this is only gossip, BUT we all had our second interviews with Tiki, the program director for Agroforestry, last week. Tiki told me he wants to send me to the Extreme North!!! We'll see next week (November 2nd!! Check back around that date if you want to know because I'm sure I'll be blasting it all over my blog/facebook because I'll be so excited!) for sure, but I'm pretty excited. I'll have to learn fulfulde (unless I really want to focus on French, which I do, but I already tested high enough on the language test so I can if I want). But anyways, I don't want to say TOO much because its not for sure yet.

Anyways, I love you all! Things are going fine with my host family, all is well. Send me letters! I really like them! Emails also work too! Let me know whats going on with you all!!