“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!