The New Norm

Training was probably the hardest 10 weeks of my life. It was like getting emotionally beat up every day while being force fed inhuman amounts of oil and mayonnaise. We all thought swearing in would never come. However, it came and went and I’m happy to announce Peace Corps Cameroon has 26 new volunteers! 

There’s no way I could have survived training without my fellow trainees. To have made it this far we have to have way more in common than we’d care to admit. Whether it be a mutual love for tequila or an obscure tv show or even just a shared sense of humor, it’s made all the difference to have a support group of 25 equally crazy and miserable people who understand what you’re going through and how much you need a shoulder to lean on or un bier glace. Not to mention we probably know way more about each other than is socially appropriate. 

So now we’ve been dispersed to our individual posts all across the nation. We’re facing a whole new set of challenges this time without the comfort of having so many friendly and understanding faces around. We’ve navigated hauling everything we own and picking up the essentials (fork, chair, mattress etc.) along the way to our respective sites. Even though there’s many miles between us, it’s nice to know someone is there to complain about the leaks, the hundreds of bugs, and the general scariness of moving in. Despite not seeing each other every day we are together and we are one. 

I’m still getting used to post. I luckily inherited a chair and table from the previous tenant. Unluckily, I have no running water.  I’m still getting the hang of fetching water and not ending up drenched in the water. My neighbors are incredibly nice and have offered many bucket carrying tips. Cooking has proven another challenge, as I suspected from the beginning. On the bright side I’ve managed to collect some spices to season my potatoes with. Our market is every 8 days and anything I can’t find there I’m just a short motorcycle and bushtaxi ride from the city. The moto men are more than happy to literally fight over who gets to drive the la Blanche. 

School starts the beginning of September and I’m a mix of nerves and excitement. I am looking forward to have something a little more substantial to fill my days with besides reading and watching Gilmore Girls. Luckily fetching water every day gives me a good reason to get out of the house, although my neighbors seem to think I drink a lot of water. The language barrier makes it kinda hard to make friends here but I hope people attribute most of my awkward interactions as a part of American culture. 

Finally, it’s pretty surreal to see things happening in your home when you’re living in a different country. It’s eye opening to see such a display of domestic terror. My heart goes out to all those affected by the recent violence in Charlottesville. 

Pls pray for me and my ridiculous amount of bug bites. 

Model School

I was trying to post every 2 weeks but things have been so swamped lately I haven’t had the time/sanity to write one. Here’s what you missed: 

As an education volunteer, we spend 5 weeks of training working in model school. This is essentially a summer camp for students which is exactly like real school. The science teachers spend the mornings teaching a mix of math, physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science while the English volunteers teach the different levels of the francophone section. A select few teach both, and by select I mean most of us didn’t sign up to teach both and someone else made us. Once a week the children are forced to participate in club activities ranging from football (soccer) club to philosophy club, also run by trainees. 

Through model school we’ve gained a lot of insight into the Cameroonian school system. At our only pta meeting a mother used us to verify the alibi of her child. Cheating is rampant, so is corporal punishment, and there’s a section for manual labor in the report cards. I help run the music/theatre club with two other volunteers (tbh it’s mostly them sorry guys) and everything is fun and games until the student improving as teacher pretends to start beating the students. 

There are also the two separate school systems to consider. The anglophone system and the francophone system function very differently from each other. The grade levels are different, the curriculums different, and the exams are different. Take the differences between these two systems and blow it up to the scale of different languages and even law systems in the same country and you can begin to imagine the kind of political conflicts that might arise. 

So far I’ve learned: 1) children are monsters 2) language barriers come in hard with test instructions. My test averages have been about 6/20. Oops. Through model school we start learning how to prepare our lessons and manage our classrooms on top of keeping up with our language(s), our technical training sessions, figuring out how to survive in Cameroon, and whatever else our staffers decide to throw at us. 

In other news, I’ve gone from knowing no french to being able to understand and communicate (most of the time) with strangers. I’ve washed everything I own by hand out of a bucket from my bed sheets to the soles and laces of my shoes, mom insisted. I managed to help prepare and cook a meal which took approximately 7 hours. No, that’s not an exaggeration. And finally, I managed to navigate through my first holiday and birthday overseas. If you’re not tired after reading this post I’d like you to know my mattress sucks and I’m frequently terrorized at night by mice. 

As excited as I am to finish training (understatement), I know I’m going to miss my host family and the comfort of having 25 other Americans living in the same town as me. But for now, all signs point to swearing in. 

Site Visit

This post marks one month since my arrival in Foumbot and two weeks since my previous post, give or take I’ve had two failed posting attempts. Turns out a lot can happen in two weeks. 

To start, a couple weekends ago I was nonchalantly eating my breakfast around 8 am when my father came in telling me I to call another trainee Alex because we were going to a funeral in the next town over. He said we would be leaving at 9:30 which gave me plenty of time to get ready. Until he called my name 15 minutes later saying he would wait for me in the car. So Alex and I, our chiefly fathers, and another man who could have been another chief drove to Foumban not even half an hour away. Foumban is renoun in Cameroon for its grand palace and having a famous festival in October. We later learned it was the OG kingdom of Cameroon. During the car ride our fathers informed us the funeral was for a man who was 120 years old, although we both found this hard to believe sans the birth certificate. The funeral was huge. Alex and I mostly sat to the side watching an long line of elaborately dressed men praying while simultaneously trying not to offend anyone through cultural faux pas. Our fathers then tooks us around to meet the widow(s)* and we saw birthday posters from year 110. It was pretty fascinating to be in a place with so much history and seeing more of Cameroonian culture. 

The next week of training we had site visit. Via a poorly orchestrated game of charades, I found out my site for the next two years will be in the west region near the town of Bafang. Site visit is supposed to coincide with your region so you have the opportunity to stay with a volunteer and see essentially a day in their life but this is not always the case as my site visit was to a town called Jakiri in the northwest region. Jakiri is a small town nestled in the lush green mountains of Cameroon near the ring road. The morning of our departure we packed 7 trainees into a minibus and braved the unpaved roads for a bumpy 3 hour ride. So bumpy it broke my laptop screen in my bag. Tanya and her loveable dog Oliver, our generous hosts for the visit, welcomed me, Thomas, and Liz into their home. We got to know each other a bit better over black bean burgers and mashed potatoes. I should also mention site visit is our first taste of freedom since we arrived in Cameroon. We have 5 blissfully unsupervised days where we got to hang out with other volunteers, eat some amazing food reminiscent of home, and really just have some fun. Jakiri was the first time I was allowed outside at night and that night sky took my breath away. Never in my life have I seen so many stars that shined so brightly. The Milky Way is clear and stunning and I can’t wait to take in this view over and over again. And we ate pizza!!! And mac and cheese!!! Of sorts. But it was good enough for me. This was such a welcome break from training which mostly consists of what sicknesses we’re exposed to in Cameroon and every possible scenario in which we could be attacked. Debating how I’m going to make it though the next 6 weeks. 

The day we returned to Foumbot was Eid, the last day of Ramadan. I didn’t know much about Islam before I came here so here’s a brief synopsis for ya: Ramadan is a month of fasting and very intense praying in an effort to cleanse your body and soul from what you do during the rest of the year. On Eid everyone gets all decked out and visits each other and it’s a day of partying and feasting. I’d like to state a disclaimer stating I misunderstood anything it was probably due to my less than stellar French. It was a lot of fun being able to celebrate with my family when I got home! 

Please enjoy this photo at Green Care where we were serenaded by a group of men when we visited one of the few environmentally friendly businesses I’ve heard of in Cameroon and sampled their delicious honey drink. 

Wish me luck for my second half of training! Next week we start model school and start taking off our teacher training wheels. 
*if I haven’t mentioned it before polygamy is legal and fairly common in Cameroon. Although there seemed to be one mainly grieving widow. 

2 Weeks In

I have completed two weeks of Pre-Service Training (PST). Two weeks of ten. This is a rough time as a Peace Corps Trainee, a necessary evil. I wake up for training at 6 am Monday through Saturday. Training lasts from 8-4:30 except on Saturdays when we have language from 8-12:30. We typically have about 3-4 hours of language a day, which is further supplemented by my interactions with my host family. Our days are filled with French, Cameroonian culture, what to do if you start pooping worms (cry), and the basics of teaching. A few days out of the week my fellow trainees and I will go to a local bar to get a drink or two before our 7 pm curfew. We then disperse to our respective homes and do it all again the next day.

 

I’ll never forget the feeling of pulling up to my homestay, where I’ll be living for the 10 weeks of training, and my little sister running up and hugging me. The Cameroonian people have welcomed us with overwhelming kindness and generosity, most of which is expressed by the copious amounts of food we are expected to eat. I would like to preface that all of my accounts come from my personal experiences and are in no way meant to generalize the entire country.

 

I have gone from being one of the youngest in my family to the oldest. Suddenly I have an adorable four-year-old sister who loves nothing more than to come into my room and sort through all of my things. I have a baby sister who cries every time I get too close to her. I managed to snag her while she was napping one afternoon, the only time she’s ever let me hold her. She woke up and immediately started crying. I also have two younger brothers, also scared of me. They’re a little older and look identical except for a slight difference in height. I only know one of their names. This week they have mustered up the courage to start saying hello to me. My host mom speaks only French. Our conversations are punctuated by a lot of laughter as we struggle to communicate with each other. My father is head of the village quarter we live in, I went through a brief period of time wondering if he was a mob boss. Our house is on the top of a hill with a beautiful view. The dynamic of my household confuses me. There are many children whose names I don’t know that also seem to live here but aren’t the direct children of my host parents. I’m also 74% sure they might be orphans, possibly village orphans that do our chores.

 

It’s surprising to discover the things you can and can’t live without. For instance, I’ve learned to look forward to my bucket baths. The cold water is very refreshing to someone who is almost constantly sweating. Cameroonians don’t seem to sweat. Ever. I miss cheese every day. I have received a marriage proposal and have also had my nationality questioned. I didn’t expect to have access to internet. Nor did I expect the surreal beauty of this country, the people, and the culture.

 

Cameroon is beautiful. Our days range from humid, sweltering heat to temperate breezes brought on by sudden torrential downpours. Everything is green. We recently visited a breathtaking crater lake, of course we asked the chief for permission first. There is however no trash system in the town we live in. People literally just place their trash in the street and sometimes burn it. It makes me question the effectiveness of our trash system in America. Is it really better to have all of our trash rotting in one place? I’d like to implement some sort of trash disposal system when I get to post.

 

We get our post assignments and have site visits in two weeks. Our first real taste of freedom. It’s bizarre going from being a (mostly) fully functioning part of adult society to being treated like a child again.

 

A prochaine mes amies.

How to pack everything you think you might need to survive in a country you’ve never been to for a job you’ve never done for 27 months.

As you can tell from the title, this is my first blog. Also I’m not especially great at being concise with my words. I’ll work on it over the next couple of years.

This is my premiere blog post! And as most exciting trips start, mine is starting with packing. Very extensive packing that has taken me about a week due to my roundabout packing, going out and buying more things, and repacking habits. I’m already a natural overpacker so needless to say this has been quite the challenge for me. Previous Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) had packing lists that really helped me figure out what I wanted to bring. I hope my list can do the same for someone else in the future!

Here we go.

clothing:
socks (9)
underwear (29)
bras (2 normal bras, 5 bralettes, 7 sports bras)
bathing suit
athletic shorts (2)
sweatpants
jeans
pants (4)
skirts (4)
shirts (5 t-shirts, 6 vnecks, 6 tank tops, 3 button ups, 1 long sleeved)
dresses (3)
sweatshirt
leggings
rain jacket
baseball cap
hiking boots
tevas
sneakers
jandals

electronics:
laptop and charger
unlocked iPhone and charger
kindle (thx kuya ily)
hard drive with lotsa tv shows (aw becca loves me)
flashlights
collapsible lanterns
dslr camera + 2 lens + memory card
chargeable batteries + charger
african plug adapter
headphones

food things:

spork
tupperware
zip-loc bags
knife
vegetable peeler
hot sauce
nutella
peanut butter
snacks (don’t judge me.)
granola bars
cup
water bottles (2)

toiletries:
bar soap (7 – I’m sensitive)
shampoo (bar + dry)
bar conditioner
toothpaste (2)
lotion
deodorant (2.5)
moon cup
birth control (6 months)
over the counter meds (aleve, laxatives, anti-diarrheal)
vitamins
floss
nail clippers/files
hair ties
moisturizer + tinted moisturizer
face wash
glasses (2)
daily contacts (360)
face wipes
wet wipes
tissues
intense bug spray

misc:
sleeping bad + pad
travel pillow
playing cards (3, some to give as presents)
yoga mat
crossword book
french pocket dictionary and learning book
lonely planet africa + africa health
journals (3)
coloring book + pencils + art supplies
envelopes + things to write on + things to write with
pictures
utility tools (3)
hammock
rope
clothesline
duct tape
watch

So you can understand why it took me so long. Here’s to hoping I didn’t forget anything too important! Now I’ve just got to decide what I want my last meal to be stateside. Suggestions are welcome.

BONUS: For those of you who are new to blogs (lookin’ at you grandma and grandpa) if you subscribe you’ll get email notifications every time I post!