Pure life…this kind of life cannot be captured in pictures or words. Because when people become fascinated with pictures and words, they wind up forgetting the language of the world.
-The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Besides experimental cooking and hanging out with Tim, in addition to my teaching 8 hours at the lycee for the moment (my schedule is not fully determined yet at the lycee, and the girls centre classes do not start until October 1st), I would like to investigate further the possibility for study abroad for Cameroonians. I am going to contact someone at the Embassy to discuss what determines that a Cameroonian can study in the states, what holds them back, what helps them, etc. etc. as well as other issues, the principal issues seeming to be obtaining a Visa from the Cameroonian government and money. I cannot imagine being told that I would not be able to study abroad for reasons beyond my control. Study abroad has opened my eyes to the world, teaching me that you can never know the entire world completely, but that I can continue to experience the world as much as I can, so that I may become a better person because of it. Just the experience of traveling somewhere else can inspire and drive someone to accomplish more. So my new development project is going to be this. I don’t know what exactly to title this project, but hopefully I can do something that’s sustainable.

Things I should ask at the Embassy (Let me know if there are other questions that I should consider in regard):
· What is the Visa process (get copy of Visa application)?
· What highers and lowers a Cameroonian’s chances of getting a Visa issued to them, as a traveler or student?
· Can an American’s invitation assist with the Visa process?
· What financial assistance, if any, is available to students wanting to travel/study abroad (I may do some research on Cameroonian companies, such as Orange, MTN, Coca Cola, and airline companies that may be willing to be a part of a program that assists financially or via some discount rates those who want to study abroad later).
· How could an American university set up a regular exchange program with a Cameroonian university or any student?

How strange to begin my relationships here. To be committed to the relationships that will be more and more defined in the next two years- the support network that is essential to my success here. This group of 37 strangers that met 3 months ago. October 6 will mark 4 months that a chapter ended my life in America and my chapters of Peace Corps life began. We had a Mexican dinner this past weekend. Cheese enchiladas (made with Babybel cheese, but cheese nonetheless that can be shredded and tastes delicious) are going to be a weekly thing for us. I never realized how simple it is to make tortillas, yet we always just buy them in the states for more than they are worth. Flour is a main ingredient in my kitchen now, when I hardly ever bought any for my Denton kitchen at all. The only ingredient we need from the other side is chili powder to make the sauce. I have learned how to make a saucy salsa as well, additionally spiced with piment peppers. Piment peppers are very hot. I think my dad would just love to try some piment peppers in a hot sauce.

Yune decided to extend for a year, but she will be working in the extreme north of Cameroon instead of my village after her trip back home for about a month in January. I better understand her desire to pass down this house to the next volunteer now, because this house is closest to the village that is just next to it, still 20 minutes away by moto where Yune works. The house is situated best of the possible housing locations that already have electricity, water, and are walking distance from the market. We are going to look around at different houses and apartments so that I can get into something by November when the next agro-forestry volunteer starts at this post. It’s going to be another girl for sure. I’m already excited about new volunteers. For one, I won’t be the batch of new volunteers anymore, and second there will be new friends to meet and have over course of the next couple of years. In any case, there is a 3-bedroom apartment in a compound I hear is available near the bridge that crosses the river in my village, and hope to look at it soon.

My motivation for lesson planning and teaching has hardly been seen in these past few days. I sometimes want nothing more than to sit inside of my house without talking to anyone. Yune says that this is normal, and in addition she has also been through a phase in which she develops a hatred toward men and wishes she could castrate all men because of some of the male attitudes and advances that are irritating and disturbing. I think that most of the men here want to marry an American so that they can obtain a Visa and a ticket to a better life, there don’t even consider would ever involve issues of money or hard work. All dreams come true in America, right? You and I both know that is true, but I think that is the idea that most Cameroonians have of the states.

My marriage proposal record log:
1. A model school teacher (that really wants to know me, along with all the other white girls that taught at model school with me)
2. A random older male in Bangante who stopped me in the street
3. A random guy in a bar who offered a dowery (gifts and money that males are to give the family when asking permission to marry the daughter, in some cultural customs here) to my counterpart, and then following gave me the finger wiggle which involves a violation to the palm of my hand by a the pointer finger.
4. Does a drunk who tries to kiss me count?
5. It happened twice!
6. A colleague (whose name I will not mention here)
7. Erik the electrician, a villagois neighbor
8. Erik, a student at the lycee across from my house who has come to my house to tell me that it is his dream to be with a white girl since he was a little boy…and guess what, he wants me to be that girl.
9. Emanuel, one of my 2nde students! I am going to embarrass him tomorrow in class for this. I was appauled at his ridiculous stalker behavior that landed the family in my compound to become agitated.
10. Random neighbor who I laughed at in his face when he told me that all he dreamed about was me the night before. I don’t even think he was that embarrassed when I laughed, but at least he had stopped trying to negotiate what he thought I should want.

* this does not include random daily comments, shouting, hand motions to come over and men trying to talk to me randomly throughout my routine around village and Nkongsamba.

I am stalling. I need to lesson plan for the next week. There are dishes in the bucket in the kitchen, and before I know it I will need to start thinking about what to eat for lunch (everything takes longer here…) so that I can prepare it. Instant gratification should be something that is out of my vocabulary by the end of service here. I have heard stories of returned volunteers that go into a grocery store and end up walking out with nothing because there was just too much for their senses to take. I will guess as well that I will be more relaxed with time schedules. But I will be an alright cook, and I will know what to do with myself when I am alone. I don’t think I have ever known myself better. Maybe this has something to do with why I don’t feel that far away really from everyone back home [in America]. In a way, it seems that my friends are closer to me than they have ever been, because now is when I look back and reflect on memories and experiences that get me through the day, and this causes me to love them even that much more. You are with me beyond physical being. You’re with me in everything I do.

Makes me think of the following quote…

If we have the courage to disinter dream, we are then faced with the second obstacle: love. We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realize that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent us from going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.

-The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. You’ll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesmen fight because they are part of the human race. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.

– The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Now is the time I am finally alone, and I force myself to write this blog, or it will not become part of my routine like everything else.

Like walking the ten minutes or so from what is now my house to the girls center, down the muddy path between houses, in which 9 out of 10 of them include people outside or on their porch yelling out at me, “Bonjour!” The first day being here and feeling a bit strange, I can say that I never once felt alone. One cannot feel alone when babies are struggling to talk, yet they make an effort to get out “bonjour” to you, the American that everyone knows as a teacher, that everyone’s happy about because you’re going to help raise our children. It doesn’t get old, no matter how many times you say it.

Like bon apetit! No one ever forgets to say that. Even at the last bite, Cameroonians still feel entitled to giving you that phrase of politesse– and it’s said more as if the person saying the phrase gets more gratitude than anyone.

Like cleaning my feet from time to time on what is now my porch, scrubbing the mud and dirt off and being satisfied at how white my feet can actually become again… To look up and see Maman (the entire village calls her this) walking by and asking a question or telling me something like “Ferme la porte ou si non les moustiques vont te piquer!” –something that reminds me that she is going to look out for me.

Like market days in Nkongsamba. They happen every Sunday. Tim and I tell each other “Happy Market Day!” and we go out into the thriving streets on a quest for food and to bargain over what must be equivalent to nickels (but it’s the principal of knowing that we are no longer getting ripped off). Makes me feel productive.

Like washing my clothes in a bucket. Yes, I still do this myself! And I have been warned about the mango fly, so since a good story told by a fellow PCV, I have been very careful to leave my clothes to dry for three days in the house. I don’t know if I could bring myself to cut open my own skin to pull out a worm or fly, if it’s there long enough. Hey, you know what though… I never lose my socks in the dryer!

And boiling water the night before so that I can put it into the filter the next day.

What is difficult to become routine to is patience for what does not happen on my schedule, or the schedule that was originally put into place. The tasks that would take a few minutes take hours. Going to the cyber could be a very stressful task depending on my mood, because sometimes I cannot stand waiting for ten minutes while an e-mail is sending. Meeting with the proviseur requires a book because you were told be there in the morning…and you know you’ll be waiting. Patience is something I must reason myself into having. It’s never my schedule. Waiting will have to be done.

What else I will struggle with are the numerous marriage proposals that I receive. In the last journal that our training stage published announced me in The Mosts as “Will have the most boyfriends in Cameroon.” Although I’ve been firm about refusing, I need to have encore more boundaries. I have stopped shaking hands with men that want to greet me, because it’s happened twice that the men pulled me in to try to kiss me. His friends found it funny; I found it violating. And when I don’t tell them I am married already, I’m told that I’m never leaving. I usually chuckle, but I did become quite fearful when a maman told me that I would not be leaving because I was going to marry her son. Part of what scared me was the way that she hugged me, tightly like Mom does when she doesn’t want me to go anywhere. I guess Mom’s the only person that can do that. Recently a colleague has made some steps to making our relationship less professional and uncomfortable. He is looking for a wife, and he is trying to convince me that I do want a relationship when I feel it was already enough that I even gave him an explanation for that. At 22 years old and looking around at the many women who are my age, married and with children, I find again that I am not just Mom’s baby or the baby of the family- I am just a baby in the whole scheme of things in this world.

Routine also shall involve rides in cars that sometimes start with screw drivers instead of keys, that are filled up when four people are sitting in front and another four are in back… and having no space to yourself and you’re just thankful you aren’t embracing a smelly person. And looking out at the scenery that sometimes privileges you with the most beautiful green mountains and hills and trees…and other times looking at the shacks of houses that I remember feeling sad about when I first saw similar conditions on the bus ride from the airport. At the time, I felt that Cameroonians were terribly unfortunate and deprived. Now I feel more that I’ve just been extremely lucky my entire life. We live out of necessity here. In America, we live so luxuriously, so extravagantly. I knew this before, but now I live a life that constantly reminds me.

“Embrace the community and it will embrace you back.”

Yune Lee, my post mate in Bare

As I sit at the table of a nice house that Tim inherited in Nkongsamba, I’m reflecting on the past few days full of interesting adventures…to say the least. A common saying among volunteers is: Everything doesn’t always work, but everything always works out okay.” I have officially lived out the meaning of this phrase.

I’m talking about my house. I don’t have a house. But we will get back to that.

Last week, we all went to Yaounde, the capital, for some PC business. What they call the case (prounounce cahz) is amazing (see the video below), equipped with free internet, washer and dryer, a DVD player, and pizza delivery service close by… yes, I said cheese. Pizza, which means cheese! Did I mention that Parmesan would be an excellent package filler??! Four of us went to an Indian restaurant where he consumed hummus…hmmmm…and there was so much excitement that you would almost think it was Christmas! The Indian restaurant we went to was set up just beside an amusement park for small children, which was a little strange, but in the end I think that it added to the excitement and fun of the entire experience. I look forward to going to back to Yaounde whenever I’m supposed to or am able to (after 3 months of which I am to stay in my own province- The Littoral).

I’m officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! I took the oath! We had the ceremony on Wednesday, where we spent the last few hours with our host families and friends before we all went our separate ways to post. It was a nice but strange feeling to be liberated from being a trainee to a volunteer. No more schedules that tells us when to wake up, when to eat, what to eat, etc. etc. “We’re all grown up!” I told my Maman Merineau, just before she noticed my headscarf coming loose and fixed it. Just a few hours before I was telling her, “on va faire comment, sans toi?!”. But together, Tim and I are dealing with the strangeness of all this new and bizarre emotion of being out on our own again, more on our own than we’ve probably ever been in our lives. So I don’t feel so guilty about spending so much time together; I think that we are extremely lucky that we can process this in unity. Things are becoming petit a petit less strange.

The day after swearing in, we all took our different paths to drop everyone off at their posts with all of the books (many we borrowed from the case, and excellent resource center) and clothes we’ve had made and everything else we decided to bring and not bring. As it had just started to pour down rain, we found what was to be my house, just outside of Bare. The owner was there…oh she was there all right, but she was just starting work that she promised would be done by the 23rd. There was no kitchen, no toilet- nothing. Oh, and the one room that she was supposed to block off, was blocked off, but also was the main bedroom that was supposed to be mine. She claimed that the contract did not start until September first, and in any case, the 3 months advanced rent was not enough to complete all the work that had to be done, she told me. I could leave my things there if I wanted, but the contract doesn’t start until the first, she said. After that short conversation, I picked up the phone and called Gaby, my manager, as I walked back to the door and hollered for everyone to put my things back on the bus. I had a bad feeling, and I was not going to leave anything there. Yune had left the key for me just incase I needed it (she’s in the north right now), so I forced the bus driver, who was already agitated because he was pressed for time in getting to Douala, to take me and my luggage to Yune’s house. But it began raining heavily. The road up to her house in Bare village was more like a river with many rocks on it at this point. Before I started to cry because I realized I was homeless, and just because of the situation, I laughed. I said a little prayer, and then I laughed. I was sure we were going to get stuck, in which case the driver would have been happy because he could have blamed it all on me…and it was still pouring down…and I could not see Yune’s house. I kept looking, I kept pressing the driver, continue un peu, continue…And just as he threatened to turn around if he had to go one kilometer further, I saw Yune’s house. Home for now. He pulled up as an electric chord was caught on the top of the bus. It flickered and sparked. Joe, an older volunteer who is somewhat a father to the group, told us not to touch anything. I listened. The bus stopped, I jumped out, and voila… I got the key and I was inside, in the dark. And hungry. Ashia! After I found out how to turn on the gas, the first meal I made for myself was pasta with chicken seasoning. Maman Merineau showed up an hour later. She had to see where I would be staying, she told me. She didn’t stay long; Urielle was sick and she needed to be looked after back in Bangangte. Quelle journee! Merineau and I took a car into Nkongsamba, where I found Tim and his big, empty apartment. We spent the rest of the evening talking, checking out his apartment (he has lots of great books), cooking, and repeating the phrase, “This is so weird.”

Yune generously offered that I stay in her house with her until she leaves, when I can continue to stay in the house. Gaby was happy with this idea, and I was happy with never returning to the dishonest landlady and her house. Yune’s house is perfect, actually. 2 bedrooms. Bathroom. Working toilet. There’s also an older couple that live in a house just in front who I’m told to call Maman and Papa, and another woman that lives on the other side. It is situated between the lycee and the Girls Center, and the house has already been fixed up and evaluated by Peace Corps. Not to mention that it is already equipped with everything I need to live. And you know what else… it’s pink!