Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Life Lessons Learned, Year 1

The road less traveled?

As I'm listening to Aya by Davido for possibly the hundredth time since 7am, I'm contemplating this place where I find myself. In my house with no sound proofing and all of the noises come in from the market: children's antics on the way to school, moto engines revving (it sounds like a dirt bike competition out there), horns honking, Market DJ's beats vibrating over everything.

December 11th marks Month 15 of my Peace Corps service. While I'm online, I read about adventures that I'm not having and people I admire and sometimes Melancholy threatens. But then I remember: I am having an amazing adventure. The adventure of a lifetime. (Though I hope to have many more adventures before I get fat from making cookies for my grandchildren. That way my stories - which are of course the price of eating the aforementioned cookies - don't always start with "When I was in the Peace Corps…")

I suppose it is inevitable that while on this escapade, I learn a thing or two.
Cameroon is full of love and rainbows and unicorns. Or something.
"Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life - and travel - leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks - on your body or on your heart - are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt." - Anthony Bourdain

Some of the things I've learned have been practical… Always check your pants for live spiders before putting them on. Check the beans for rocks and the tomatoes for worms. Don't respond "yes" to a question in the local language that you don't understand, because you might be agreeing to a shotgun wedding. Greet everyone, because that way no one can be insulted. Always carry clean water and tissues or toilet paper with you, because you never know. These are the things that get you through the days unscathed.

Enjoying the scenery
But many of the things I've learned have been more philosophical.

I have spent a year full of downtime (is that an oxymoron?), a lot of time hanging out with me, myself, and I. In college, I spent all my time with friends or classmates or boyfriend or books. Here, not so much. And that was really rough at first. How to fill all that time? But somewhere along the way I became more comfortable with solitude, and sometimes I even crave it. And I have become intimately acquainted with me. When talking about Peace Corps, people almost inevitable toss out clichés like "discovering oneself" blah blah blah. But maybe there's some truth in that overused phrase. It's an unfinished process, but learning how to deal with solitude and learning the necessity of self-reflection has definitely been - healthy? fulfilling? At the very least, good.

Admiring the tree I call "fire tree" for its bright orange flowers
Here's a short list of "how to be happy life lessons" I've learned during my Peace Corps service:

Physical comforts (like running water or consistent electricity) are some of the least important requirements for being happy.

Time is money, but sometimes slowing down is worth it.

Sometimes you have to stop and appreciate the little things...
...little things like preparing & eating nkwi.
So much is possible with a lot of stubborn persistence and a little creativity. Set little goals and work towards a big one, celebrating the little successes along the way. But also never do yourself what you can get someone else to do. It's good for development, it's good for you, and that's a win-win situation!

"Unplugging" - partially removing myself from Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Youtube - is great for one's mental health. It encourages me to pursue complexity rather than simplicity, to seek out relationships with physical proximity rather than Likes.

The value of human relationships is immeasurable. Not only for work (why do we spend so much time discussing this "networking" thing?) but also for the simple reasons: friendship, solidarity, happiness in each other's company.

We're all connected.
And last but not least, when you're down and everything feels wrong, a dance party with P Square is always right. #testimony #tastedamoney

Dance partayyyy

All night looong

And all day looong.
Dear friends: What "life lessons" have you learned from traveling or living abroad (or just living haha)?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fun-tivities in Foumban

In the West region of Cameroon, November and December are the months of cultural festivals. Cameroon is incredibly culturally diverse, and you only need to look at the local languages to see the extent: some sources (by which I mean Wikipedia) estimate that over 230 languages are spoken here. In my village of Bansoa, people speak a different language than Dschang (20 kilometers north) or Bafoussam (20 kilometers south) or any of the villages in between. Which is to say that in November and December there approximately a million parties. And I had the pleasure of attending Nguon, the Bamoun cultural festival in Foumban, at the beginning of November. Here are some highlights!

1) The Sultan's Palace and museum: This is without a doubt one of my two favorite museums in Cameroon (out of the two I've visited). It's full of treasures like the skulls of our enemies that were subsequently used as goblets and parts of animals killed a really long time ago. The excellent tour guides and/or his excellency Josh Shelton will happily tell you plenty of fun stories, like that of the tenth sultan Mbue-Mbue killing all his enemies to forge his borders in blood and black steal then comparing himself to a two-headed snake. It's a symbol that stuck, as you can see in this concrete structure that will eventually (and I stress evennnntually) house the new museum. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hiking in Beautiful Bangang

About 2 months ago now, Danielle and I went to go visit Alec at his post. He lives in a health center, in a quartier called Bamboue, in a village called Bangang. Bangang is somewhere way off en brousse, at least by the standards of the West region. Located in the Bamboutos mountains, it's full of waterfalls, a tea plantation, logging areas, odd rocks, and terraced farmlands. Some (like Alec) argue that it is the most beautiful post in Cameroon, and though I'm not sure I would go that far, I will agree that it offers stunning scenery. As an advance apology for the really long post about Foumban and its cultural festival - coming soon to an internet-enabled device near you - I'm going to show you instead of telling you how beautiful it is. Alec took us on a meandering five hour hike, and this is what we saw… 

View of the tea plantation and Bamboutos mountains (I think)

Danielle & Alec, taking a break and enjoying the view

A big white sheep dog resting on a big grey rock

View towards the South (?) - probably can see my post from here!

Stumbling across the creek

View of the waterfall

Then we climbed above the waterfall, involving running
away from very large cows with very large horns.

Enjoyin the sunshine :)