June 16th, 2008

Samy died yesterday. There was blood and snot coming out of her nose and mouth in the morning, before Abby took her to try to find a vet. There were none around on a Sunday, so she was going to go with Tim to take her today. But yesterday evening Tim called me and told me that she had passed away in her sleep. At least she is in a peaceful place now.

She made my home home. What will I do in the silence that will overcome me when I unlock my door to an empty bundle of rooms? I won’t hear her bell ringing because she won’t be running to greet me anymore. I’m sad because she doesn’t need me anymore. She is in some lovely, peaceful place where nothing can disturb her… perhaps a place full of fish, baton manioc and tomatoes as she so loved. What really impressed me with her was how American she was; her personality resembled my own in so many respects. She was particular about what she ate, she took what she wanted, and her spirit was a free one, but I knew that she cared for me. No matter how far she would roam, she would find her way back to my side, content and purring. In the moments that I pushed everyone else away, she would remain, offering me some other kind of comfort. Her life served great purpose, and she lived a good life.

Cameroonians laugh when I tell them that I had a funeraille for my cat. They tell me that I should throw away the cat or even eat it, but not bury it. She isn’t a human being. I have been offered a dozen cats since Samy died, but I always explain to them that if their child died, they would not want to just replace them by having another either.

Marcel, a PCV from the Extreme North who was visiting, and Tim helped to bury her in my backyard. I got one of the neighbor kids that do carpentry to nails some wood scraps together to make a cross. I thought that she would look cold and hard, but it was as if she was breathing still, the way your mind plays tricks when you look at a dead person. She just looked like she was sleeping, all curled up and peaceful. After some moments of silence, we buried her and put the cross in the ground, with her pink collar, bling and bell attached to it. We’ll miss you, Samy.

Exactly one year ago today, I was packing my bags and full of excitement, joy, hope and fear, all at once. I was building myself strong with love and support from friends and family, so that I would be able to endure the most endeavoring challenges. I had made a commitment to Peace Corps; I had also made a commitment to Sandra, with a ring on my finger, to Madame Parks, with a red hand-knit “courage” scrunchie in my hair, to Isiak, packing Boo bunnies that would never leave my pillows, that would remind me to pray every night… and to Richie, with jade around my kneck… “This is your life saver. It will keep you safe” he told me.

I was preparing myself for 38 new best friends. Who would know, three of them would leave in the first week, and many more after that… and Angel would become for me someone that I both get angry and inspired with, and others and I would be lingering in unclarity as to who we are and what we do for each other exactly. And friendship is an amazing thing. Friendship forgives pain and suffering and allows you to grow and change in a completely honest way- and always with the support of strong hands to catch me when I fall.

I have learned that I need to live less in the present and more in the future. I have learned that I am not as confident as I have believed myself to be, but that doing what feels right usually gets me to the right place. I have learned that loneliness and desperation can make you very weak, and that your altered surroundings can sometimes make you forget who you really are. I have learned that completely different situations can give you significant perspective on who you are, and that what you take away from it may not mean much at the moment, but at some point in the future you can look back and smile, proud that you went through it. I have learned that I am emotionally very strong. I have lived out in my heart the advice I was given one year ago: “the right thing and the harder thing are the same thing.”

June 10th, 2008

The PCTs arrived to the training site where families once dragged us away, but this time I got to observe all the awkward but necessary first interactions. Men kissed men on the cheek (this is a faux pas) and children ran up to get their volunteers. But they came back the next day using words like “Rad-tastic”, wow, circus and comforting (See the video blog “Training at the SED house”). I’m continuously impressed with the positivism and motivation of this group, and my fingers are crossed for all of them as they trek it through this intense experience.

June 09th, 2008

Yesterday was more fun, before stress sunk in and errands had to be run. This is the meaning of being tired. I can’t think straight and am starting to lose names again! Something about everyone trying to do their job well results sometimes in running over people’s words and actions. Pride becomes an irritation and courtesies fly out the window. And sleep becomes your only friend!

June 08th, 2008

Tim and I find ourselves in a similar place we were in last year… trying to figure people out, and still excited to get to know everyone. We’ve clearly remembered all but a couple of the 38! I am pleased with how responsible everyone seems to be; we haven’t lost any of them! I enjoy soaking up their excitement about the future, and re-assuring them of things in general. This is why I am here! But they are already so positive…I heard one of them say today, “I just got my first le blanc!”, about a word that often irritates volunteers in Africa. I envy their starry eyes when they talk about looking forward to becoming us. I wanted to be me one year ago. I am as comfortable as I wanted to be, and have grown into someone I didn’t even know a year ago. We have become so comfortable in this foreign place that even a part of us has become foreign. This experience reminds me of how important the 2nd and 3rd goals are, for my community, myself and now those that follow me. They have so much to learn, and although my training doesn’t end until I close my service, I’m seeing that I learned a lot in quite a short time. I love being host! I love being a smile that gives them confidence. And everyone’s smiling back so far…the group dynamic is so interesting. I’m curious to see how they evolve by the time that I see them swearing in.

June 07th, 2008

Despite rumors about losing two trainees from reading up on blogs, 38 trainees arrived at the airport tonight. After months of looking through the large book of files and working closely with David Tiomajou, the training officer, all of the names on the pages became real people. Resumes and pixilated photos only had given us a glimpse to who these future volunteers really are.

My contact lens case sits on the night stand in the same hotel, and I remember that I was here just one year ago. Scared, nervous, excited and motivated. It’s so great to be a part of this with the new trainees. To tell them when someone asks, for example, “do you live in a hut?” that no, we actually live pretty nicely. The Director called us Superstar Volunteers at the dinner announcement… ha we may be nerds everywhere else in the world, full of dysfunction, but here with Peace Corps Cameroon, we are superstars! I feel productive because I know that I can be an aide to a powerful self-change, emotional growth and character building. I’m tired and already looking to the coffee that I will find downstairs in the morning. I will need the energy to answer more questions- to bridge the gap between American, Cameroonian and Peace Corps culture.

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