“If I die tonight, I will know that I have truly lived.”
-Alyssa Poucher, PCV

March 17, 2008

I have just taken a bucket bath and I am feeling refreshed and hopeful, even excited about the future events. The most reassuring aspect of my experience, aside from the love and support I have received from a few of my close friends in my community, is realizing that I can do anything that I want- that as a volunteer, I do what I think is best, for the needs of my village but also for me. It’s not worth it to not like what you are doing here, and it’s not worth it to me to fulfill a role (teacher) that can easily be replaced by a Cameroonian. I know, I know…I am making a difference, even if I don’t see it. But I will be happier if I can see it more clearly. I will teach much less next year, and I will spend more of my energy and time on projects that I feel will make more of a difference. This means that in 6 weeks when classes are over, I will start living on another side of volunteer life.

At the same time, I would like to say that to any volunteer who stuck it out for 6 months or more and decided to early terminate their service, you are not a failure; in fact you are brave for having lived this life, giving it a chance, and stepping up to the plate to fulfill your own happiness. To anyone of my mates that step up to that plate in the future, I think no different of you. Nothing will change that you have lived through this.

I went to Bangou for a funeraille this weekend. It was fantastic. We danced, drank wine and ate great food with the grands in the village. In the West, it is tradition to fire guns in the air during a funeral ceremony, which was a bit scary but we survived it. It was difficult to explain to my dad when he called that I was at a funeral when there was loud music being played and where people were laughing and carrying, but that is just the tradition. A funeraille is to celebrate the life of that person. It is a very joyful festivity, and provides the family with closure. Aledgi’s father, whose wife’s death we celebrated, apparently was very sick to the point that his children all came to say goodbye to him, but then by some miracle he survived his sickness. At the funeral, he looked old and tired. He was crying as he watched the waves of people dance and sing in the honor of his spouse. He said that now that they had had the funeraille, he, too, was ready to leave.

Interesting how life and death parallel. Perhaps if I knew there was no end, I would not do any of the things that have deemed my life beautiful, unique and interesting. I hope that if my adventure ever came to an end, that my family and friends would celebrate also the life that I lived, and with a reassurance that I had lived my life exactly the way I wanted to.

Sammy has been out on her own this weekend, and she has just come into the house to welcome me back. She’s especially happy with the fish bones in her bowl. The chickens chirp (and poo…. A lot) and the weather is gorgeous. I could pretend that it was Fall right now, if there were more than two seasons here. I am going to read and relax a while before Franck returns and we dispute what we should eat. He likes most American food as it is introduced to him slowly, but he prefers Cameroonian food ofcourse. He calls oatmeal “little pieces of paper”, even though he likes to eat it when there’s a good amount of chocolate and sugar in his bowl and he gave me funny, grossed out looks all through making some tomato soup, but then found he wanted second servings after all. He is such a funny, brilliant kid.

“Doesn’t it suck that violence is inconveniencing your life and your future plans?”
-Chaunte Hines, my sister

As I re-read my last blog entry, I am reminded of how naïve I was just a week ago. I’ve been so unaware of the way things are able to spiral out of tension and justice, turning into violence. How a group of people can affect everything. How the president can influence everything. How the streets can become empty and tense at the same time. How a turn of events can spiral into something that no one has control of.

I will try my best to recount the facts and not my personal political opinion.

A strike began Monday, when taxis and motos stopped circulating. The protesters wanted the prices of gas, soap, bread and other things to return to their original lower prices. Everyone said that it would be over in a couple days. I was planning on traveling to Bamenda that coming weekend.

Tuesday, gas stations and some private businesses were burned up in Douala. Some rioters were shot and a few were killed. Abby, Sammy, and I all left to join up with a couple other volunteers in a bigger town where we felt we would be more secure. We were put on Alert status by Peace Corps. Wednesday. Rioters and protesters continued as they awaited word from the president. Military appeared everywhere in the streets. We were put on Stand fast status, so that we were not to go anywhere. Thursday, president Paul Biya made a speech, addressing the rioters. He told them that it is not in the streets that you solve problems in a democratic country. After the public address, people were more upset, and Friday was the worst day of the strike. I vowed not to leave the house. I was disappointed when I would watch the news, because they said that everything was back to normal, that taxis were out and everything was safe. It was not. There were still attacks being made. There were still schools and city councils being burned up. It was only when we tuned into BBC through a volunteer’s cell phone that we heard that in Bamenda, some children were taken hostage, to be used as human shields. I think four of them died. With the military all around, the rioting and destructing soon disappeared in our town. Six of us ended up consolidating, in which we gather incase we may have to face the next stage of the emergency action plan- Evacuation.

I will just say that when you realize that you’re life is so critically affected by the turn of the events that can suddenly appear, it does something to you. As volunteers, we ask ourselves constantly why we are here and what we can do effectively. We convince and re-convince ourselves that we are in fact making a difference because the country wants a change. When a volunteer is no longer sure of this, they are forced to re-evaluate what they want and why they are still here. More questions are added to the list, with a good amount of doubt. And these protests and riots could have dramatically changed my Peace Corps experience. It still could I suppose. I never imagined before coming here that anything like this would be lingering over me, forcing me to be more flexible than I’ve ever been, that flexibility including that I may have to terminate my mission all together. That there is so much more to the big picture, that something like civil unrest could not only affect my safety- but my life here, and everything that makes up my life: my counterpart that I gave my key to just incase I had to leave everything, my students that I knew were continuously knocking on my door to see that I returned, my neighbor Roger that drops his carpentry work if ever I need any handyman help at the house- and Franck, who is known as my son in village these days, who brings tears to my eyes thinking about how much I want him to succeed in life, who has pushed me to… not just to take upon myself a responsibility, but to accept a project that someone bigger than me has brought me into. I am most definitely not ready to say goodbye to him.

But I was happy to stay. As it all came to an end, I reflected upon the things I experienced first hand, not just the hearsay of citizens and ex-citizens. I can truly understand why things happen the way they do, and while I cannot put my opinion here, I can say that I have one that is more concrete, after having been through this. Let’s sit down and chat when I get back, yes?

On a lighter note, I am the momma of two villagois chickens! I am raising them because I can! And because I like to eat chicken! Franck will help me tend to them. Sammy is so silly. At first, she was frightened by them, hiding in the bedroom for most of the day. Now she goes back and forth, undecided…if they start to enter into the house, she chases them outside the back and then runs away. So I guess that’s a great skill to have, that my kitty knows how to heard.

I am currently working on a water project, to get water to my high school. Because there is no water at the school, students must walk a long way whenever they want a sip of water. This affects my classroom first hand because students miss so much class when they are going wherever they can to get a drink. I am working with the principal and the student-parent association to get part of the funds. The way the Peace Corps Partnership program works is so that my community must raise 25% of the total costs, and then I will put the application in so that the project will be on the Peace Corps website. From the website, whoever wants to contribute to the project for the remaining 75% will be able to. So everyone who has been asking me how you can help? Voila you will have your chance to aide my village community soon enough. You’re support is much needed!

I have just learned that I will be one of the two host volunteers in June!!! Look at me, still working for study abroad programs, even when I am abroad! I will be there to greet the new volunteers in the airport when they arrive for the first time, when the lights go out and you truly realize where you are. What’s even more exciting is that my postie, Tim, will be the other host! We will be working together, using our bargaining skills that have gotten so good together, buying the new trainees phones for them, etc. etc. I have a training workshop in May, then new trainees arrive in June, so I suppose that going home during that time is out. I still want to go home. I miss everyone so much and I am hoping that a low-price ticket comes available soon for in the summer.