“Don’t worry…Everything will be alright.” -Bob Marley

Franck’s mother came to visit us for a couple days. We started our project and I am motivated to check off the list the remaining requirements.

Cameroonians often ask in the first few minutes of meeting you what religion you are. I always say “chretienne point”, and then I explain to them that I don’t go to church often and I don’t like to specify what particular religion I am, because all that counts is, I tell them, is that I have faith and I have my prayers. And people ask if God speaks to me, and I realize more and more that he does, through people and events and moments and feelings and deja vue.

Franck’s mother named him after France. If he was to be a girl, he would have been named France. It was a French woman, named France, that delivered Franck. Jacqueline came home after going to the club with her husband to dance when her stomach was hurting. She laid down, to wake up in a pool of blood. Everywhere, on the bed, on the floor, there was so much blood that she was sure that she would die. Her husband had an inkling and came racing home on his moto. Jacqueline could barely move, so when he knocked on the door, she didn’t answer, and he broke a window to speak with her and see what was wrong. He saw her condition and ran to get the landlord to help him break down the locked metal door. At the hospital, everyone said that she would die. They gave her transfusion after transfusion and insisted that they operate to take out the baby, but she refused. It was a sister, France, who came to her and told her that it would be all right. She took her hand and told her that she would have the baby now. She reached inside of her and without even pushing the baby was born. Franck was born.

God speaks to me when he shows me that I have always been linked to France and always will be, that my life’s path is always somehow guided by my passion that is wrapped up in all things linked to it.

God speaks to me when Jacqueline writes out that her birthday is June 6th, the birthday of one of my closest friends that will guide me through the rest of my life even if just through the past in all that he has showed me.

God speaks to me when I receive a random text filled with sweet words from a friend in Fort Worth, Texas.

And he speaks to me when I am on the beach in Limbe, contemplating the direction and guidance I am giving to Franck, stressing and worrying that I am doing an okay job, and I hear Marley singing, “Don’t worry…Everything will be all right…”

Limbe is absolutely gorgeous, calm and relaxing- what a wonderful getaway it was to go for the weekend. Some other volunteers came as well, so that it was an eventful and happening place. I received a package from Valerie, which included green tea, so that we had a tea party. It was delightful to forget that I was even in Africa for a while.

But back in Africa, there is talk in Douala and Yaounde about strikes starting up again on the 14th of this month. The amendment to the constitution was passed so that the president will be able to be a candidate in the next election. At nearly 80 years old, he wishes to rule this country for the remainder of his life, and there are many who do not want this. They want change. We can only wait to see what is to come.

“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.

“Tara, you are an African American.”
-Ernest, a friend in village

February 11, 2008

Yesterday we celebrated eight months in Cameroon. I felt it well deserved, as this week in particular, I have been more productive and more satisfied with my village life in general. I have learned how to better manage my time (and not put too much of myself into obsessing over lesson plans) and I have begun experiencing other projects. There is not one defining moment, but sometime after the break in, I realized that it is in fact very possible to live life comfortably while still on guard at the same time. No matter what happens, you have to protect yourself in whatever way you can. Be it from marriage proposals, from thieves, from too many unwanted visitors, from high “white people” prices at the market, from diving into too much activity in an effort to please everyone- everyone that wants to take full advantage of their peace corps volunteer. I am learning to take full advantage instead of what matters most to me, and perhaps it happens that what matters most to me now is somewhat different from what mattered most in the past. Somewhere along the line, I hoped I would see this change in myself. Eight months in country and this feels very much like home. The majority of my days are good.

I got rastas!!! These are long, thick braids that are extensions of my own hair (See the photos!). Sintia helped me to pick out the mesh (I picked out my own weave, haha) and I went to the salon on Saturday. It took much longer than expected- close to four hours! The braids are heavy and sometimes hot, so I was pretty tired the day that I had them done, but they are fun and easy (because my hair is always fixed!) and Cameroonians love to see me with them. It gives them a sense of pride, I think, to see me experiencing their culture.

Three PCVs and I conducted PACA, which stands for Participatory Action Community Assessment. We spent two hours with my older class to have them map the community, and from that, try to decipher what the community needs are. From this, the PCVs as well as the participants are supposed to gain some better insight into the needs of the community before trying to figure out how to meet the needs. I found that the biggest problem at my school is that there is no water. Students have to walk very far just to get a drink of water- another sort of derangement in the classroom; I have been so upset with students for taking so long when they say they are going to get a drink of water. Anyhow, it sounds like something I will be working on developing. The way that it works is if the community raises 25% of the total needed costs for something (this way they are sure to maintain the project because they really see a need for it), I can set up a donation account on the PC website so that anyone can contribute. For those of you that have been asking, you may sometime get a chance to directly impact my community. But this project will surely take some time to get started.

The following day, we conducted a PC Conference at my school for the UNESCO club and Youth Week. It was great to share our goals with students and administration that was interested- even if the first question was, does Peace Corps ever send Cameroonians over to the United States to see what development is like there? Legitimately, it could really help Cameroonians to learn about the USA; it’s too bad that AFS does not seem prepared to add another country like Cameroon to their programs. There have to be other programs that I can work with though.

The defeat of indomitable Lions. I did it. I watched a sporting event willingly! I have been keeping up with the matches because the atmosphere is fun and the game is fairly easy to understand. Plus people seem disappointed when you say that you didn’t watch the game! So I started watching the games. We lost the final match last night however. I’ve been told that if we would have won, tomorrow would be officially made a holiday. Ah well, now I’ll have to teach tomorrow.

But today was a holiday anyway- Youth Day. Students paraded and some students performed skits, dances and song. I am mastering the art of arriving late but not too late, so that I don’t have to wait long for other people to start the event. As an American who is still somewhat obsessed with time, I find it better to show up late so that I don’t get impatient of waiting! It was the first time for the Centre des Femmes to march in the community, so it was fun to be apart of. I think the girls had a great time. Other than parading, Tim and I celebrated by making a couple cakes (pineapple upside down cake and banana bread) with the kids. This is a part of me that has changed as far as what matters most. These kids- Franck, and also Martiale and a few of my students that are complete sweethearts. I have been asked a lot lately if I have kids, and I respond that yes, I do…because they see that Franck is usually right behind me. I like doing fun things with the boys. We make cake and they tell me when it’s time to clean the floors. I give them respect and attention and they wash the dishes. I can ask them cultural specific questions and get honest answers. I can get the simplest satisfaction in giving them a meal they may have otherwise not had, or teaching them how to cook a cake that they otherwise would not get to make. I like to compare my house to Grandma’s house- a safe, fun place where kids can come (if they are good; I’m pretty picky these days) and get attention that they just don’t get at home. There are too many kids here to give each one the attention that they deserve. But I have a few. The only problem lies in the fact that they know how much I care now. I will have to work on finding a middle, not to spoil them so that they think Americans can provide anything they want, and by disciplining in the tiny moments that I’m usually a push over in when it comes to kids I call my own.

I helped get Franck a room in village so that he doesn’t have to walk so far from home every day, so he can just return on weekends to help his grandmother in the fields. The room costs the equivalent of eight dollars per month, and he will need a small bed and a desk for the room as well. Anyone interested to help Franck financially, you should contact me directly. Contributing to Franck is contributing to my mission and me. I am not sure if I can express enough Franck’s importance to me.

My mom called me last week, concerned about the refugees coming in from the borders of Chad and Cameroon. I can only say that there has been no talk of it by Peace Corps, which means it is not that important, and I have been told that they started fixing the problem a few days ago. In any case, I assured my mom that there is an Emergency Evacuation Plan if ever need be. There are certain measures taken in certain circumstances by the American government- including getting the Marine Corps and Air Force, even the Army involved, if that’s what it takes. But I remind everyone that Cameroon is known as the country of peace, something the citizens are very proud of. Unlike many other African countries, Cameroon has lots of food. People do not starve and suffer as much here as in other countries, so the idea of war is something very unlikely. I honestly don’t see any riots or catastrophes happening anytime while I am here.

I want to visit home! I would like to return in either May or August, whatever’s cheaper. I wish there were some sort of Peace Corps discount for airfares because it is so expensive! Most round trips going through Paris cost around 2,500 dollars, and I can’t think to leave a burden like this on my dad. So I am really hoping that maybe someone knows someone that could help me with this, or can at the least recommend some cheap airlines that even fly out of Africa?

“Hey baby you oughta be free
You gotta get out and chase all your dreams
There’s ain’t no point in you waitin’ for me
Hey baby you oughta be free
Hey baby it’s gonna be fine
You goin’ your way and me goin’ mine
We’ll be together somewhere down the line
Hey baby it’s gonna be fine

Hey baby
You’ve got to give it a try
Hey baby
Spread out your wings and just fly
Hey baby
You know that I’m on your side

Hey baby you better take care
Harden your heart ‘cause it’s lonely out there
It won’t be easy and it won’t be fair
Hey baby you better take care

Hey baby you gotta be strong
You’ve had this feeling inside all along
C’mon you’ve denied yourself for so long
Hey baby you gotta be strong”

-Bryan Adams

After a very long day, I sit astounded at the events that took place and how they took place today. After giving an exam to my younger students, I returned to the house and Franck visited for a short time before I napped and left the house for my return to teaching at the girls’ centre. I stopped by my friend Agathe’s boutique to buy some soy milk yogurt before heading up. I sat my phone down on the table, unknowing that it would never be found again. When I realized that I had left my cell, I quickly returned to an empty surface, not even ten minutes later, to see my friend Agathe who was sick to her throat and nonobservant to who had taken the phone. I headed to Nkongsamba in my attempt to block the credit and to save my number as my own. Peace Corps security awaits Monday to help me take care of this. I returned to village with Abby, to a house escaped by Sammy. I opened the backdoor and to my surprise she had ventured back to the yard. Hopefully she is not pregnant now. I felt so alone. I am so tired of feeling up and then down so quickly. I found myself in a large empty house with no contact to the outer world and no compassion from my closest companion. We decided to eat some fish and take a beer at Agathe’s boutique, who had received medicine from the hospital but who had not gone home to rest like she should have. I was concerned wholeheartedly for my friend, and before I knew it I found myself picking up empty bottles and taking orders for men in the bar area just next to the boutique. She was falling half asleep on the bench and I was enjoying the use that I was making of myself, giving change and feeling apart of something that needed me in order to directly contribute to someone else’s being that I cared for. So often you come to care about someone here, but you don’t know how to help them without pulling out your pockets. I was pulling out my heart, and something motivates me to spend more time at this boutique, secondary project or not, to be apart of something. To feel apart of something, to contribute to something.

Teaching is not feeling apart of something. I see the other teachers there, I mingle with them, and I talk to my students and I care about them, but nothing proves my useful aide to them. They derange and if they want to, they take in some of what I give them. But to do what with? I never feel productive there, for I know there is always someone that can do what I do better, and even if I did have better lessons, what would students take away from that for the rest of their lives? Am I being overly critical of myself? I feel that what has made me a happier volunteer is to quit judging myself, and to push away what I dislike and to bring in closer the little things that make me content. Like Franck, my youngest best friend. Like baking cakes and cooking meals that go proudly appreciated and enjoyed by those around me. Like cuddling with my kitten. Like pushing kids out so that I can enjoy a nap, which at times cut up the day into parts that need to be divided into two. Like calling out men’s possible and most likely intentions that most women do not. Like text messaging jokes and good things- and receiving them. Like making my bed, and falling deep into sleep between my cool sheets, one foot in and one foot out, one arm around my pillow, the other around my care bear….

You Asked What I Eat!

Poisson braise and baton de manioc. I eat this at least once a week. I always feel good eating it because it’s healthy and cheap, and plus it’s fun to eat with your hands! I can find fish a few minutes away from my doorstep, but the mamas don’t start grilling until it starts getting dark, so it’s usually something I get for dinner. The baton de manioc I can’t really explain. I’m sure it’s starchy. It’s white and has somewhat of a gooey texture- I hated it the first few times I had it, but it’s great with poisson and piment!

Piment. Oh how this is in everything, so if I didn’t like it, I would not be a very happy eater here. But everyone loves it because it’s tasty. I don’t even usually like spicy peppers and things, but I can eat piment pepper sauce until the point I get tears in my eyes and I would keep eating because it’s just good.

Koki. I’ve talked about eating this before. You will have to look this up on wikipedia too if you want to know more about it. I have not made it yet, but I hear that it’s really hard. Koki is made from mushed beans that are turned and put into leaves and cooked. I think it takes a good part of the day to make it. I can easily find koki on market day, usually served with boiled bananas or manioc, and I love it!

I can find peanuts almost anywhere. Oh there is a peanut sauce that they make here, that I made once, and it’s delicious too.

L’haricot rouge. Red beans are super easy to make and good for their proteins, so I’ve been making this about once per week. You have to soak the beans for a night and cook them for hours, but other than preparation it’s really easy to make. I add tomatoes and onions and garlic, and sometimes piment…I’m told that they are almost like the beans that Cameroonians make. So that’s the last time I serve something I make to my neighbor! No, kidding, he is a good taste tester, and encourages me to keep working at my cooking skills. Everyone know that I’m a debutant!

Achou. Oh god this is good, from the Anglophone region in the Northwest, a little weird but now I’m used to the funny texture that sticks to my fingers, before dipping it into a spicy yellow sauce and then eating it. It’s really fun to eat with your hands, I have found!

Even though Cameroonians don’t so much I eat salads frequently. I can easily find tomatoes, salad, cucumber and make my own vinaigrette.

Fruits come in seasons. There are usually bananas, avocados and mandarins. Mangoes are hard to find now, but coconuts are in the market now! I bought one yesterday just to buy one; now I will have to figure out how to crack it!

January 8, 2008

“2008 is here. Remember, life is short. Break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything.”
-Edgar, a friend

Sammy paws and chases a bottle cap around the hallway; I think she likes the sound of it clinking on the floor. She has proven to be good company to me, with the exception of her attack on one of my backyard lizards almost the size of herself, inside the house! How funny it must have been to my Carpenter next door when I ran outside of the house to ask him if he was afraid of lizards and if not, could he please get one out of my bedroom?! She’s a pain in the ass that I love, how about that. She pissed on my door curtains but then again it probably serves me right for making her wear a bandana this evening. And she sneezes on me in the middle of the night but she sleeps just next to me, and she purrs loudly when I pick her up and hold her like a baby after she’s been following me around for a while. I leave the door open and she sits right outside, observing all of the market people that walk by, but never leaves the porch. She did get to eat part of a steak yesterday; I wouldn’t leave my owner either. She must be the most spoiled kitten in Cameroon.

I saw my students again today as classes started this week. It was nice to fresh start again, but yet with a handle on things, much more confident than TL four months ago. For my own amusement, I did a lesson on saying “no” to sex with my older kids. They did well with discussion, and instead of getting upset when they started yelling over each other, I got a bit of satisfaction that they were moved to get passionate and talking about this. That means that their wheels are turning; that was good enough for me today. My little ones were excited to review the hokey pokey, and that seemed to be good enough for me too.