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

“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!

Madame de Baré, Tara L. Smith

(Featured in 39 Strangers Peace Corps Publication)

As I walk around the classroom as the students I proctor take a Physics test, I count down the minutes. The past four weeks of model school have been terrifying, overwhelming, exhausting, terrifying, and negative. But necessary…un mal necessaire. As I mocked being a teacher, I have begun to see what it means to be one. It means that first year teachers really are clowns, because they fall down a lot (sometimes literally), but they wipe the dirt off and they get back up again. Being a teacher means NOT being perfect. It means sharing what you know, and learning too (sometimes when you’re least expecting it, a student says something that opens your eyes that much wider). It means having patience…and at times, losing patience (although we really try not to). It means diving into your students’ world, while trying to maintain it. It’s motivating yourself, and then motivating your students. Being a teacher means that sometimes you fail. After one miserable week, I wrote a blog that worried my American mom enough to ask my motivator to call me- Madame Parks, my high school French teacher, who inspired me from the moment she entered the classroom, and who never once stopped encouraging me in the passing seven years. Knowing me so well, she put things into perspective for me. She gave me this quote: “The right thing to do and the harder thing to do are the same thing.” And the things that sent me into tears the week before seemed to be worth it, because while I had failed at some of the details, just sticking it out and around to figure it all out is ultimately what it’s all about anyway. Being a teacher means not giving up on her students, even when it gets really difficult.

At the end of my four weeks, I conclude that I still don’t know entirely what a teacher is, but I know that I am going to have those weeks when all that keeps me going is knowing that someone loves me and supports me, even half the world away. Oh, but how I look forward to those moments when a student says or does something brilliant and sends my pride soaring, or when I see that a few students were actually listening (when I thought that no one cared because the dérangers lost focus…), or when one kid tells me “ashia” after you fall down in front of everyone. Thursday, as I was writing the date on the board, I mumbled that my birthday was going to be in two days, not expecting anyone to understand- but suddenly my class erupted in singing “Happy Bird-day to you…” I stood there and soaked in the joy of seventy-two students wishing me a happy birthday (in English, by the way). The same group of kids that had me angry the day before had just made my entire week. I think that for me, being a teacher is holding on until I get to moments like that.

At the beginning of model school, I told myself that I would never smile with my students, but I’ve found that after four weeks, there comes a time when you can.

 

A good volunteer is one that stays.

– Felipe, Peace Corps Education Volunteer

One moment, you’re helping someone else get through, telling them, “Ashia”… and the next, you’re down at the bottom, holding hands with those same people, only now it’s their turn to support you and to give you their shoulder. I’m overwhelmed with the burden of everything, mostly with trying to be a teacher, a role that entails more than I currently feel capable of. I want the students to enjoy class, but I want them to respect me, and all the while I want to smile but if I do, I wonder if my kindness will be taken for granted…but then I lose my patience, and it’s completely acceptable to scream at your students as a teacher…but I feel guilty because I don’t want to be a teacher that’s angry all the time. How do teachers feel accomplished at the end of the day?? Because I feel anything but accomplished. I don’t know if I can be satisfied with the fact that one third of my students actually understood something. As a volunteer, I want my students to appreciate me being here. I want to be a good teacher (see an education training delivered by yours truly here!). I want to know my students…and I know that I can’t make that much of a difference in 4 weeks of model school, with a class in which I don’t even know the kids’ names. At this point, I’m trekking on, just to get through. One day at a time, a voice in my head says. But there’s another voice in my head that’s screaming, How can I do all this?!

Girls’ club is tomorrow. Last week, meeting with our girls was interesting. Independence was put on the negative list for women. Most of the girls then said that it was okay to be independent, but only when you are single. When you get married, you should become dependent on your husband. You should respect your husband. You should have children. Like a duty or a chore. Gay marriage came up and so much hatred erupted that I could have cried if I weren’t continuously telling myself, You’re just an intermediary. I whispered this to Sophia, and she later thanked me for it. When I left the group, I felt tense and disheartened, so much that Sophia and I had to debrief after the event. If anything, maybe I can make these girls think about helping themselves first, before they get married. I don’t think they quite got it when I said, “If I were to get married and my husband didn’t want to me to finish school, a dream of mine, I would see that my husband does not respect me.” But the girls were really happy to be in a place where we could discuss freely amongst ourselves. Some of the girls became teary eyed when we were going around, expressing what each person wanted the club to be. Ce qui cherche le trouvera, one of the girls said in her introduction. “He who seeks shall find.” I look forward to creating a more lasting club in Bare. There are already opportunities that have come up, such as the HIV/AIDS workshop that will be happening in Emily’s post. She’s a SED (Small Enterprise Development) Volunteer who will not be too far away.

My post mate, Yune, is in town to help with the Diversity Training, another thing that I would like to be apart of. If I join the committee, I could even help with the next group of trainees, an Agro-forestry group, that will have their stage here in Bangangte in September (see a tour of the Peace Corps training facility below!). My original point being…with all the things going through my head, what I really need right now is to do a little lesson planning for tomorrow, followed by putting it all aside and going to the local bar where I can unwind a little. They always said not to take things so personally as a teacher, but when professional life is your personal life, it can’t be anything but that way.

Je suis la. Just being here will have to be enough for now.

« Vous représentez l’espoir… que vous êtes ici, c’est déjà l’espoir. »

(You all represent hope…the fact that you are here already brings hope)

-David, the Peace Corps Training Coordinator

First day of teaching model school: Felt like I was being harassed most of the time by my Premiere students that vary in ages 17-20. The first example that I received was, “You are beautiful.” That’s a general truth, okay. One of the boys pulled out a camera, and was about to take a picture of me, when Anne-Marie who co-taught the class with me, snapped at him to put it away. We decided that we weren’t going to smile anymore in the classroom. As a woman, I will have to be strong and demand that students take me seriously.

First day of teaching a class by my self: The first hour of class went fantastically, from the moment I walked in, confident that things would run smoothly, until the end, when my students’ comprehension of the past continuous gave me a boost of confidence. After the second hour, however, I left the classroom less encouraged. I tried to do a listening activity, which the students weren’t used to. In general, Cameroonian students learn how to read and write the English language in the classroom; there is less emphasis on listening, speaking, and critical thinking, I’m told. In any case, my students were lost, and in the end, I considered the lesson a failure.

Day 2: I’m giving myself props for holding myself together this morning. Teaching the subjunctive was more difficult than I thought. My lesson for the first hour became a lesson that took up my two hours of teaching class today. I had to slow down the lesson to make sure that all of the students got it, and that’s okay. Teachers must be flexible and willing to slow down the pace to the class level. Walking into the second hour, I slipped on a muddy area just next to the classroom, where many students were standing outside. It’s okay! Keep smiling! I kept myself together and confident into the next hour. I was surprised that most students did not react with laughter, but with, “Sorry, Madame”. “Ashia”, one student told me, meaning “sorry” in pidgin. I continued with the subjunctive, and at the end of the day, tout le monde est arrive ensemble. We were all together, and I was snickering on my way out after motioning that my students stand up as I leave the classroom. They assumed that I did not know that standing up when the teacher enters and leaves the classroom is a sign of great respect… “You stand up as I leave, no?”

While I am feeling more and more motivated and self-assured in the classroom, one of the trainees who I think is one of the best teachers’ in the group, is talking about her desire to go home. She handled a younger class yesterday who broke down her patience, and triggered her thinking about wanting to go home. I don’t want anyone else to go home. I want her to stay strong and get through this with the rest of us that are struggling. I’m disappointed while I understand that if she can’t see herself happy, doing this for the next two years, that she should re-consider her decision. Life is too short to be unhappy.

And I am very much looking forward to life at post after four weeks of model school. I look forward to visiting Tim in Nkongsamba every week when I want to use internet and see another American. I look forward to real life projects and starting an ongoing girls’ club, instead of the one that lasts only for the duration of model school. It will be nice to listen to Amy Winehouse on my computer without hiding out in my room. While I love my host family, I look forward to evenings that I spend simply alone, in my very own home, with a few candles and with a screwdriver.

Joy in Cameroonian Life
Par Tara L. Smith
(Featured in 39 Strangers Peace Corps Publication)

The lights went on and off last night, in a way that teased us for a few seconds before flickering out again. I was walking toward the lantern to blow it out when the living room went completely dark. Merineau and the children started laughing. I joined in. It’s true that this is not for everyone. In the most daunting tasks to overcome the challenges of daily life in Cameroon, it is absolutely crucial and necessary to find joy and laughter in them. I am continuously amazed and inspired by the little moments that remind me that Cameroonians are experts at pulling joy out of life and living it. It is this attitude that I seek to bring into my culture, one that will always get me through anything it seems. I remind and encourage every other trainee to remember to laugh as well, the next time the lights cut out.

Les lumieres se sont allumes et eteigne, dans une facone qui nous a taquine pour quelques secondes avant de clignoter encore. J’etais en marchant vers la lampe pour le souffler quand le salon est devenu completement sombre. Merineau et les enfants ont commence a rire. Je me les ai joindre. C’est vrai que ce n’est pas pour tout le monde. Pendant les taches les plus decourageuses a reussir les obstacles de la vie quotidienne au Cameroun, il est absoluement crucial et necessaire a trouver la joie et la rire de dans. Je suis continuellement merveillee et inspiree par les petits moments qui re rappelle queles Cameroonais sont experts a sortir la joie de la vie et de la vivre. C’est une attitude que je cherche a amener dans ma vie.

As we walked home down the dirt path with our chickens, she could not understand why I kept giggling.

I’m hiding out in my room, the mosquito net still up from this morning. My floor is clean, after a long time, my family must feel like. This evening, Urielle, who just turned eight, asked me, “Tata Tara, why don’t you wash your floor?” I asked her how many times should I wash my floor per week? “Per week!?” She said, surprised. “We wash the floor every day.” It became one of those moments in which I feel young. So young in the presence of an eight-year-old and her seven-year-old sister that are fighting over who gets to ring out the cloth before washing the floor. So young in a house that is cleaned daily by a nineteen-year-old domestique… who once wiped off an outside chair before I sat down to peel garlic. I was trying to fit in. And much younger among every strong, hard-working African woman that knows how to prepare every meal, down to buying the live chicken.

Yes, I went with Maman Merineau to buy a chicken last week. Well, what I thought she said was one chicken. At her friend’s house, she stuffed two into a plastic sac and gave it to me. She filled another sac and carried the remaining chicken in her free hand. As we walked home down the dirt path with our chickens, she could not understand why I kept giggling. This is the safest way, to buy and kill the chicken yourself, she told me.

I don’t know that I will really fit in, but I will try. I had some clothes made with the pagne that I bought in Baffoussam. A cute dress, a skirt and top that fit me perfectly.

Me: “I’m always late in the mornings.”

Merineau: “No, you’re just always on American time.”

Three trainees early terminated and went home last week. What a strange and sad experience that was. It’s been just a few weeks now, but we’ve become a sort of family, and to see three people go all at once was saddening. One of the guys I knew was thinking about leaving early on in arrival to Bangante, and it seemed that his parents pushed him into this. When he mentioned leaving in a phone call, the parents told him that he would be a complete failure if he were to quit. A group of us were thinking that it would be a good idea for him to unplug all the electricity and water when he got home, just to give them a taste of this life. In any case, what it came down to was that this was not what they wanted for themselves, and early terminating after two weeks, in a way, sparked a thought process… This is a really hard thing that not everyone can do. Is this really what I want to do? There was never a question for me. I would not want to be doing anything else… even on a day like today.

Today the Education group did 30 minute lessons for a mock group of students, who are actually very intelligent trainers. I taught possessive pronouns, and somewhere in the middle of critique, the whole world was put on my shoulders. Like I have to be a million different things, and that’s just to survive in the classrooms here. It will be only me, the chalkboard and my students, and I have to make do with that. I’m very much afraid of failing at this at the moment. “You’re not boring”, a friend told me in regard to my lecture afterward. At least I have my enthusiasm going for me. Now I just have to better learn English! The P.C. is starting a model school here in two weeks, which we will get to teach at and observe others teach at.

There are three posts in the Littoral province, where I am going to request. It is near Douala, close to the coast, close to an airport and other transportation. I think that they speak Pidgin English there, which is a language I hope to learn in the next couple of months. Interviews for requested posts will take place tomorrow.

You don’t learn a culture. You live a culture.
– Tsafack, P.C. language trainer

It’s funny to think that it’s only been three days. Like other volunteers have mentioned, it feels like it’s been months, and I say that with the most positive tone. Time passes slower during large adjustments, I suppose. Thursday morning, I received my packet, which announced to me my family’s name, and listed that there were six in the family. We were each given a map with our home stay houses marked. I was happy to see that Stephanie would be living just next door. We now walk to training together every day, just five minutes down the dirt path, past the electricity post, trees, cornfields- oh, and more cornfields. One volunteer I know identifies her path to her home stay by a pile of garbage, if that’s enough to tell you that there are not very many landmarks.

So we packed up in the bus and headed on our way. At Bangante, families were already waiting for us with signs, featuring each of our names. When my name was called, I quickly met Merineau, and she immediately took two of my heaviest bags. I was thinking, “Man, this woman is strong and kind!” She sent me off in the van with her daughter, Urielle. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I feel so at home in her house. Granted the first night was a bit awkward, the next day during our home stay reflection activity, my word to describe my first night was “nice”. The mother and father are both teachers, but my host mom is already on vacation, so we have spent lots of time together this week. She taught me how to make la sauce which is tomato sauce with fish cut up in it, among other spices. With rice, it’s pretty good. There is a lot of fish here. The fact that they eat meat regularly is a sign of wealth, or it could be just that they keep honoring me. Being American in the community is a pleasant, although sometimes awkward, experience. Everyone stares, even the motos that pass by. I was approached and proposed to yesterday. I responded that I was already married…Other PCVs recommended that we say this to avoid being hit on too much. Actually, when I asked about having male visitors from the states, everyone said that it would be a really great thing for me, because my village would think I was married, at least for a while, and people would stop approaching me so much. Being a woman in Cameroon, I can tell will already be a very different experience from the male volunteers. My activities have included cooking, setting up for dinner, helping out -which I have been a great sport about, but my family makes it easy because it’s just the way that we spend time together. Peeling garlic is enjoyable on a breezy day when you are sitting outside with two other women peeling plantains, listening to the kids chase the chickens and poke at the goat. We have three goats in our backyard. As a woman, I have not been out alone at all, and it became extremely obvious one evening when Merineau and I went for a walk into town. We forgot the BoGo light. We walked home, hand in hand, completely in the dark. I can barely get around in the daylight on the bumpy, dirt roads, much less in the darkness. The BoGo light has definitely become a great friend of mine. Electricity and water also go out often. But we just manage. Cold showers are something that I haven’t quite adjusted to yet, but at least I am getting better about taking faster showers. And by the way, shaving? No thank you.

Merineau took me with her to a party of other teachers Saturday. It was fantastique super! Let this experience also serve as a lesson of Cameroonian time. I was told that the reunion would start at 3pm. We left the house at 4:30, but when we arrived, the party was hardly starting. Merineau and I walked around for a bit longer, and she pointed out some of the various plants that are planted here. There is so much green here. To follow, the women began the party leisurely but forcefully, each of them making speeches that sometimes turned into hymns. I was only jealous that I did not know the hymns as well, so that I could sing along. To see the heart and core of gospel music at it’s natural state was impressing, to say the very least. As we walked outside at 9pm, I looked up at the sky and saw that I was surrounded by nothing else at all but stars. The stars seemed to cup around me, and even though I couldn’t see anything else, I felt like I was surrounded by the hands of a higher being. I also went to church this Sunday. The sermon was made in French and translated into the local village language as well. I can’t tell you enough that Cameroon is very diverse. Even at home, it’s hard at times to spot when the changes from French to another language occurs between family members.

The head Director of Peace Corps came to visit yesterday! This was in celebration of 45 years that PC has served in Cameroon. We danced to traditional music and ate a great lunch. It’s not very often that the PC Director comes to a country and meets the trainees, so it was a privilege to shake his hand, take a photo, and to hear him speak like anyone of us would, with strong feelings of passion for the P.C. program and mission.

Communication. I want to say a few things about this. First of all, my latest tip is to use a tampon box to mail things in, inside the package- this will prevent theft, because tampons are the same word in French, and who wants to steal those?! Secondly, I left my phone on the bus on our way to Bangante, so my cell phone took a trip to Yaounde, arriving to me on yesterday. I go to bed around 9pm along with my family, so before that time would be best. There’s a six-hour time difference. While I mention this, I want to warn you that having phone conversations with family back home, especially so early in the program, has more potential to make a volunteer very homesick. It’s not that I try to forget about you all, it’s just that I’m really trying to put my whole heart into this experience right now. I know that you all will be there, and while I will eventually send you all my blogs and show you each and every one of my photos, it might not be so soon. PC recommends that we talk to family/friends back home at max, once per week. I agree that it’s a good idea. Letters. I know some of you are expecting letters, and want you to know that although I have been thinking about you all lots (really), I have not had time to write. In times that I could have gone into my room for personal alone time, I have been instead trying to integrate and settle in with my family. And I feel really successful so far. Cameroonians don’t really spend much time alone, and there’s always someone to talk to or to help with whatever they are doing. After all, the saying is, “we are together”! I am trying to take full advantage of this. Then there’s language training, and today we started technical training… there are all kinds of intense activities and assignments that we will have to do to be successful teachers (there’s actually a model school starting up soon in which we are going to participate a lot in). I will start my letters, but even then, that will be about 3 weeks, at the least. Sorry if you were expecting something sooner. I can make it to the internet café every so often.

You should be proud, because I did my own laundry yesterday!! Yep, last night, with a pause because the light went out, Merineau showed me how to wash my clothes with soap, water and a bucket. Yes, this is the same Tara Lynn!

To conclude this blog, I will give you a bible verse in French to write on packages/letters. The traveler’s passage, Psalms 139:7. “Ou je pourrais-je loin de toi? Ou furir loin de ta presence?” –“Where could I be far from you? Or to flee far away from your presence?”

C’est le Cameroun!

– Juliette Michenoud

After almost 2 days of traveling, we are here! The plane rides were bearable, thanks to the volunteers that kept me company, as well as a Cameroonian woman named Juliette who chatted with me on the plane from Paris. I feel such a great sense of community. She called me Cherie and told me to come to her house! I felt like an instant addition to the family. While we were sitting in the airplane, waiting to leave Douala, I noticed Juliette speaking very casually in French with a man that was sitting across the aisle, and then I saw her use his cell phone. I wondered if they were friends. I asked her if she knew the man. She repeated my question and then she laughed and replied, “Non, je ne le connais pas! C’est le Cameroun, ca! On est toujours comme ca!”- “No, I don’t know this man. This is Cameroon. That’s the way it is.” That’s just the way Cameroon is”. I’m getting really excited about host family “adoption” on Thursday.