Monday, August 25, 2014

A Day in the PCVLife (Part II), in which we go on a scavenger hunt.

Do you ever have those days where you think of so many witty Facebook statuses but then remember that you are a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and you don't have an iPhone or a tablet or wifi or internet at all for that matter? Of course you don't. But that's why I'm here - to tell you what it's like and regale you with tales of the absurdity that is my life on the daily. 

A new day begins. 

It had only stopped raining two hours ago, but at 7am the world was already noisy. The market DJ was out and so were the piggies and my window was open to let in the light. So I got up. The first two hours of my day, as usual, were spent diddling about: doing little work-related tasks, eating oatmeal, drinking Nescafé laden with sweetened condensed milk (Is there any other way to drink it?), washing and dressing and brushing for the day, NOT forgetting my malaria prophylaxis and my daily vitamin. Around 8:30am I called the Censeur at the nearest high school to verify that we were in fact meeting at 9 as we planned the week before. Miracle of miracles, not only had he not forgotten but he was almost there already! 

I felt dubious about this "almost" - because that can mean, "I'm getting dressed now and almost ready to leave so I'll be there in an hour," or it can mean, "I'll show up when I'm done this beer or maybe the one after," or it can mean, "I see you from where I am standing and will be there in thirty seconds." So 15 minutes later I began wandering over. On the 15 minute walk I saw: innumerable chickens, 3 goats, 2 turkeys, and a man skinning a cane rat. So, a typical 15 minute walk to school. I happily observed that I am much more comfortable greeting every. single. person. on the way than I used to be when I began making this walk ten months ago. Progress! 

True to his word, Monsieur le Censeur was there when I arrived! I had to wait only 5 minutes before being allowed into his office and beginning our meeting with a discussion of summer break, vacations, families, life in general. Once we got all that out of the way, we could get down to business, and we spent about 40 minutes discussing A2Empowerment, Club FORTES, rising pregnancy rates, and orphans. It was all in all a very productive and satisfying meeting. Until it ended with: "One more thing. Has anyone told you how beautiful you are?" (Keep in mind that, while I thought I would wash my hair more with the new cut, that has turned out to be false.) I chucked good-naturedly and said "Yes" with a tone I have perfected, indicating that the conversation is closed. But he had to have the last word, him being a grand and all, and he insisted on it in more ways than one: "Let me be the last." Time to go.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

American Becky =/= Cameroonian Becky

When I was considering Peace Corps and talking to a lot of returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs), I heard pretty often that Peace Corps was life-changing, that one would come back to the same place and find oneself indelibly different. 

In the 11 (almost 12!) months I have been here, I have watched many changes occur in my PCV friends. Most people pick up Cameroonian habits - they begin to talk like Cameroonians ("C'est quoi ça?!" or "On va faire comment?"), or use gestures like Cameroonians (the clap followed by spread hands and raised eyebrows to indicate innocence or helplessness in a situation), or drink like Cameroonians ("Vin de palm at 9am? Well it is a Wednesday.")… 

Watching these changes in others, I realized I must be changing too. So, in honor of self-reflection and my new hair cut, I decided to compile a list with the help of my lovely postmate Danielle, and with inspiration from Sarah Mae's very entertaining blog post. 

The most obvious is my name:  In America, I am Becky. And that means I have the same name as a lot of white girls in rapper songs.  But in Cameroon, I am Rebecca. And that means I have the same name as a lot of people's grandmothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, etc, making me instantly part of the family. ("Ma grandmère! Tu es là? C'est comment, non?")

Monday, July 28, 2014

Adamawan Adventures!

After finishing my big camp project (which was stressful and time-consuming for months), getting strep throat and a cold and too much stress acne, I decided I needed a recovery adventure. So I declared July to be "treat yo self!" month and off I trundled!

First leg of the trip: Bansoa - Bafoussam - Yaoundé. Normally this trip isn't too bad, but one never knows how traveling will go here, and I got unlucky. There were extra checkpoints set up by the central government along the entire route, making my normal taxi ride into Bafoussam two hours instead of one. You see, these checkpoints charge 5000 CFA (a lot) if cars are "surchargé" (over-filled, which is all taxis in the West if not the country). So the taxi driver took the circuitous route through 4 different villages and rough dirt roads, only crossing the beautifully paved road we normally take, and slipping through mud as deep as the axles. At one point, we are spinning our wheels in the thick sludge, slipping sideways, and I am watching a large tree rapidly approach my window… But all the men got out of the car and pushed, so we made it through that tricky patch without incident. (This was one of the few times I was happy to be a woman here; I didn't need to get out and muck up my shoes and work up a sweat. #winning). It wasn't until I arrived in Bafoussam, irritated and thoroughly thumped around, that I realized if we could get around all the checkpoints, then I might draw the conclusion that unsavory individuals *cough Boko Haram cough cough* are equally capable of avoiding them. Oh well… The rest of the trip was uneventful, though prices were high because of the grand vacances (no summer here!) and the government's decision to end gas subsidies.

Once in Yaounde, Colleen and I made the long trip across town to pick up our train tickets. She had made the reservation earlier; though the trains are new, the system to buy tickets is painfully anachronistic.

The next day, July 2, we hung out and waited for 7pm Departure Time to roll around. An hour before departure, Colleen, Liz, Travis and I climbed into our wagon lit - a train car with 2 bunk beds and not much space elsewise. We began our slumber party by rocking out to Enya, which was being played over the loudspeakers by a mysterious someone. It would be a long trip, so we'd stocked up on cookies and snacks (and beer).

We finally arrived in Ngaoundéré around 10am on July 3, having traveled about half the length of Califonia(prompting my mother to ask: "What?! Is it a train pulled by horses?!"). Ngaoundéré is the capital of the Adamawa region, and is supposed to mean "belly button" - so named for the bizarre rock perched precariously on top of a mountain. These odd rocks stuck in weird places were all over town; I wish I had pictures, but unfortunately my camera was misbehaving.

Culturally, the Grand North (Adamawa, North, and Extreme North) is shockingly different from the Grand South (everywhere else). It is primarily Fulbe and Muslim; people look different, dress different, speak different. My first reaction to Ngaoundéré was: It's so quiet here! It was probably even more quiet because of Ramadan. There were few if any taxis, with motos being the main form of transportation. I even saw three boys racing horses down the street! They have lamidos rather than chefs, and rarely shout "les blancs!" at us. They eat tons of beef and sell beautiful leather products in the marketplace. I felt like I was in an entirely new country!

Cameroonian-style henna, called "sifa", on my footsies