Monday, August 31, 2015

The Trilogy

So I've already been reading a LOT over the last few weeks and I decided I need to make a log of all the books I read during my service as remember the book will help me remember certain emotions and events that I might otherwise lose.

  1. Midnight's Children by Salmon Rushdie
  2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  3. The Name of the Wind (Book 1) by Patrick Rothfuss
  4.  Neverwhere by Neil Gaimon
  5. Wise Man's Fear (Book 2) by Patrick Rothfuss
  6. Wild Magic (The Immortals book 1) by Tamora Pierce
  7. Wolf-Speaker (The Immortals book 2) by Tamora Pierce
  8. The Emperor Mage (The Immortals book 3) by Tamora Pierce
  9. The Realm of the Gods (The Immortals book 4) by Tamora Pierce
  10. Emma by Jane Austen
  11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
  12. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  13. The Seventh Son: The Alvin Maker Series by Orson Scott Card
  14. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  15. The Red Prophet: The Alvin Maker Series by Orson Scott Card
  16. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  17. As You Like It by William Shakespeare
  18. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Forbidden Pool

It's raining.  As it does almost every day.  I have never loved the rain so much.
During training in Ebolowa, the rain meant that we had a slight reprieve from the heat and humidity.  Training continued despite the thunderous noise and spray seeping into our training center, but here in village rain means that time stops.  In one of my other posts I mentioned that time seems to flow differently here, but at the time I had no idea how true that was.  When it rains, time practically stands still.  Everything pauses: stores close, street vendors hide, conversations stop, moto-taxis vanish, and if it weren't for the overflowing bars I would think that everyone had been abducted by rain aliens.  The bars, however, are the only signs that life continues as normal.  When it rains, it seems that everyone runs to the nearest bar and starts drinking, whether is 5 pm in the evening or 5 am in the morning.  There is no correct or incorrect time for drinking here: beer time is all the time.

Cameroonians are incredibly conscious of their appearance. I can't say they're a particularly vain culture, but the phrase cleanliness is next to godliness has never seemed more true. This summer, I had one student stop me in the middle of a lesson to inform me that I had dirt on my pants.  I quickly responded that the dirt on my pants would not help her pass her next test and that it wasn't as important as the lesson I was giving, but she very seriously informed me that cleaning off the dirt was VERY important.
The volunteer who lives closest to me, Cristina, slipped in the mud in the market near us last weekend and the vendors around her would not let her leave the vicinity until she had changed out of her muddy clothes.  They sold her new clothing items at the lowest prices I've seen yet, and gave her a space to change and towels to wipe of her bags and arms.  To them, the idea of being seen covered in mud, at the MARKET no less (where people often dress up in their best regardless of whether or not they're there to buy anything), was inconceivable and they would not allow her protestations of "It's fine, I'll change when I get home".

I think this strong aversion to mud and need for cleanliness is easily the root of the time-freezing nature of the rain.  To knowingly go out into the weather that will inevitably lead to more dirt and mud than can be controlled is madness.  So when I got caught in the rain this morning on my run, I quickly became an object of horror and fascination.  I was already 4 miles from my house, and fairly damp due to sweat and the morning fog, so to me it made no sense to be worried about the steady mist coming down, but every bar I passed, on my 6 am morning jog, was filled with villagers calling out to me to come inside and wait for the rain to stop.  I smiled and waived and called out my memorized phrases of the local language, but kept running, much to their amusement... and disgust.

In the House of Tom Bombadil

Photos of my house: I am very much living it up in Cameroon

My living room/ the entrance to my house, and where I spend the majority of my time.

The other corner of my main room, with my table / desk

The spooky hallway

My bedroom... still in the works

The guest bedroom... also still in the works

The kitchen!

The newly stocked pantry/cupboard

I'm finally starting to feel at home in my house.  I just need to get rid of some of those bare and blank walls, but it's coming along. 

This is NOT my house, but a picture of the complex.  The HUGE house  is the house belonging to my landlady who lives mostly in Canada, but apparently pops in occasionally.  Her son is the proprietor and lives Yaoundé. I'm told his name is Steve. 

This is my porch and the entrance to my house.  and where the kids of my neighbor and the Guard of the complex spend most of their time, from 5 am till 9 pm...

And this is the view in the opposite direction, from my front door, overlooking the rest of the complex. 

The right half is my house. With my neighbor kids outside dancing in the soon to be rain. 

The Breaking of the Fellowship

Three weeks ago now, after 10 weeks of training, the other trainees and I FINALLY had our big swearing in ceremony at the Ambassadors office.  Weeks and weeks of language courses, host family integration, lesson planning, teaching in a model school, grading and report cards, cultural projects language presentations, ... The morning of, we all dressed up in the matching "Pagne" (Cameroonian fabric) that Ryan and I had been sent into Yaoundé to pick out, and hopped on a bus to the ambassador's house with all of our trainers.  When we arrived, the lawn was covered in chairs, and there was a veranda set up with flags and a podium.  The "swearing in ceremony" was much as you might expect a college graduation to go.  There were lots of important people that we didn't know giving important speeches about the good work Peace Corps does in Cameroon, and the importance of educating the youth etc.  Three volunteers were asked to give speeches in the three languages that some of us were directed to learn (I was only instructed to learn french, but there were many trainees that had to learn Pidgin and Fufulde as well, I have to admit I am a bit jealous of them...), and the speeches were all AMAZING. Even the ones I couldn't understand.  All of us had our moment of glory as our name was called and we were asked to stand and wave at everyone assembled.

After the ceremony, we were whisked back onto the bus and sent straight back to Ebolowa (after a quick stop at the Peace Corps office in Yaoundé).  That night, we, the new volunteers, rented rooms at a hotel in Ebolowa and spent our last night together swimming in the pool and laughing our nerves away.  

Early the next morning, we left from the training center one last time, with lots of tears and frantic goodbyes.  Those of us heading to the West and East loaded onto a van together, and we set off.  After two hours of driving, we dropped the Easterners off at a bus stop to fend for themselves and the rest of us continued West.  We made it into Bafoussam, and separated out further.  I and three others spent the night in Bafoussam.  The next morning we were supposed to meet our community hosts (the person in charge of introducing us around the community and helping us get settled in our new lives), my host, however, never showed up.  Luckily Cristina's (the girl who lives just 20 minutes away by moto-taxi) host let me tag along with them.  We bought the important things in Bafoussam (real Cameroonian coffee and ... nothing else), and then loaded all of our suitcases, trunks, and backpacks into her host's tiny car, and headed to village.  We stopped in Bangangte, the nearest bigger town to me, to check on Cristina's bed (which wasn't ready), and to buy the two of us enough to get us through the night (bread, avocados, eggs, fake cheese called laughing cow or vache qui rit, and wine... only the essentials clearly).  After, we headed to Cristina's house, which wasn't ready for her yet as it had no lights, no locks, and no source of water or latrine, and on the way had a surprise visit to the Chief of Cristina's village (after a full day of heavy lifting, sweating, and still in the clothes from the day before, we were not exactly Chief presentable, but we had no choice...).  He's a very round man that looks like he belogns in the movie The Godfather, with a raspy voice that belongs to a '20s jazz singer.  I think this man has been at some level of intoxication since he turned 17.  But for all that he's a very impressive man.  He stopped the tradition that men must sleep with their father's secondary wives after their death (scary tradition really... they don't have to sleep with the wife that was their birth mother, but still). and is apparently a strong voice for female equality, despite his 4 wives (I'm told he didn't really want more than one wife, but it's necessary for the Chief to have at least four in order to be considered a strong and capable chief).  He was incredibly friendly and informal with us, and incredibly welcoming.  

After our brief meeting with the chief, we dropped some things off at Cristina's house and took a look around, and then headed, FINALLY, to my house.  I got my keys from the Guard and he ran down the street to get us some candles since the electricity had been cut that morning (the landlord's son in yaounde had forgotten to pay the bill for some months...) and Cristina and I set ourselves up and made some dinner.  That first night, splitting a box of Cameroonian wine by candle light, there was a sense of newfound freedom and possibility that'd been missing since we first stepped foot in Philadelphia to start training, so many months ago.  That first night was wonderful.

Since that first night, the magic and mysticism has been slightly reduced, as real world problems seep in (like actually organizing electricity after two weeks of darkness, or figuring out how to mend a broken fridge after the electricity finally started working, or living with a toilet that doesn't flush at all).  Every time something seems to start working, there's something else that falls apart.  I never realized how many things you have in a house that can go wrong! All that being said, I'm definitely living the life of "posh corps".  I have the potential for running water and a shower (maybe even HEATED running water from a shower if I can ever figure out how to get the water heater going), I almost always have electricity (even if most of the lightbulbs are out and I don't yet have the tools to replace them), a paved road, and I have PLENTY of bed and floor space for hosting people.  

So much has changed in the last three weeks, but so much is still the same (kind of my repeated mantra... everything here is a paradox!). I miss desperately miss those I'd grown close to during training and, now with time to actually sit and think, I desperately miss my friends and family at home.  I'm constantly meeting people here, but in a sense I feel more lonely.  Yet some how I am very much at peace where I am.   My new favorite understanding of this country is 

"Cameroon, where nothing works, but everything works out." 

And so far so good.  There have been hard moments, and I imagine they're only going to get harder for a little while, but eventually everything will work itself out, and life in Cameroon will continue on as it always has. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

No hat, no stick, no pipe, not even a pocket handkerchief. How can one survive?

I have finally made it to my post in Bamena! and for the first time in about three months I have unpacked ALL of my things.  It's amazing how quickly you adapt to suitcase living: keeping the everyday and "wear regularly" items on the top while having the things you'd never really need in 90-100 degree jungle at the bottom or in the convenient trunk sitting under your suitcase. 
It has taken me forever to get to this point of unpacking, and now that I am up in the mountains, the weather is finally permitting me to put my sweaters and jeans to use! YAY!  So here is a list of all of the things that finally made it to post with me. I have no idea how I fit all this into two suitcases and a backpack, but it worked out and I was JUST underweight!

  • nike running shorts to sleep in/ for lounging/ for running and exercise inside my hosue (5-6 pairs).  I regret not bringing one or two pairs of longer shorts to wear exercising outside.
  • 3-4 couple nice work blouses (hard to find ones that are nice looking and aren't special needs washing!) 
  • 3 knee length dresses (i've only used one of these as the other two are much more formal. I will probably get to wear them eventually, but for now they were kind of a waste of space)
  • 3 knee length skirts (tech and active style, I wear these ALL the time, probably my best purchases)
  • 5-6  nice shirts and tech shirts for day to day use, work, and for going out
  • 3 pairs of pants (not dress, but nicer than jeans) (they are too tight to wear to work, but great for wearing around day to day)
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 4 lightweight scarves (one for my host mother for a gift)
  • 5 tank tops (some tech and some just regular cotton)
  • 1 short sleeved sweater, 1 quarter length sweater, and 1 full sleeve sweater ( have been using all of these a lot)
  • 1 fleece jacket
  • 1 raincoat
  • 1 boyfriend's sweater (sentimental packing, but i've been using it a bunch at post)
  • lots of t-shirts
  • lots of bras, socks, and underwear (they have all already started deteriorating...)
  • 2 pairs of chacos
  • 2 running shoes
  • 1 pair of toms
  • 1 pair of black flats (water proof!!)
  • and I had one pair of crocs flats sent to me my first two weeks.
  • big bottle of dove shampoo (i regret not bringing a huge bottle of the shampoo I always used at home.  shampoo is pretty poor quality and REALLY expensive here and despite the weight, I would really enjoy having my normal shampoo)
  • big bottle of conditioner (VERY difficult to find here)
  • body wash and two bars of my favorite dove soap
  • face wash
  • 4 sticks of my deodorant
  • a couple toothbrushes 
  • two tubes of toothpaste
  • face sunscreen
  • moisturizer
  • lotion
  • two large tech towels and three small hand tech towels (wish I'd brought more! they were so small and easy to pack and they are WONDERFUL)
  • razor and 8 razorheads
  • 1 bottle of my perfume (unnecessary, but it's nice to smell good from time to time)
  • lots of hair ties and clips
  • 1 comb and 1 brush
  • 2 sets of tweesers
  • a bit of makeup for special occasions and going out
  •  nail clippers, file, 2 bottles of polish
  • Travel Sac sleeping bag
  • Travel pillow
  • small day to day purse
  • small one shoulder day backpack
  • large overnight backpack
  • two reusable grocery bags (they fold small and are really useful)
  • kindle
  • camera
  • iphone
  • macbook air
  • boombottle mini speakers (great life decision)
  • two external harddrives (one for computer backup, the other with movies and tv shows)
  • 1 external battery pack strong enough to recharge my computer (voltaic)
  • a solar usb charger/rechargeable battery (Poweradd)
  • 1 solar powered lantern that deflates to a perfect travel size (luminaid)
  • 2 USB iphone chords
  • 2 mac chargers
  • 2 aux chords
  • 2 kindle chords
  • 2 micro usb chords
  • 1 battery powered alarm clock
  • 2 headlamps
  • batteries
  • travel alarm clock
  • 4 USB sticks
  • 4 journals of varying size for teaching, writing, language notes, and day to day notes
  • 1 french grammar book
  • 1 english grammar book
  • book of Shakespeare's sonnets
  • The Silmarilion
  • Midnight's Children by Salmon Rushdie
  • An anthology of stories and poems for teaching
  • Where the Wild Things Are
  • The Bat Poet
  • LOTS of g2 pens
  • lots of plastic baggies 
  • two knives (one large chopping knife, one smaller knife)
  • swiss army knife
  • travel sewing kit
  • 3 water bottles of varying size and style
  • duck tape
  • 2 pairs of scissors
  • crayons, glitter, glue, and construction paper
  • map of cameroon
  • map of USA
  • map of Alabama
  • LOTS of pictures
  • string, paper clips, hole puncher
  • bunting that my boyfriend's mom made for me
  • 1 frisbee
  • 2 decks of cards

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Walking Song

Upon the Hearth the fire is red
beneath the roof there is a bed;
but not yet weary are our feet
still round the corner we may meet
a sudden tree or standing stone
that none have seen but we alone.
tree and flower and leaf and grass,
let them pass. let them pass.
hill and water under sky,
pass them by. pass them by.

Still around the corner there may wait
a new road or secret gate,
and though we pass them by today,
tomorrow we may come this way
and take the hidden paths that run
towards the moon or to the sun.
apple, thorn and nut and sloe, 
let them go. let them go.
sand and stone and pool and dell,
fare you well. fare you well.

home is behind, the world ahead,
and there are many paths to tread
through shadows to the edge of night,
until the stars are all alight.
then world behind and home ahead,
we'll wander back to home an dbed.
mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
away shall fade. away shall fade.
fire and lamp, and meat and bread,
and then to bed. and then to bed.

JRR Tolkien