Letter to an anonymous screamer

Dear Screamer,                                                                                                                     I can’t be sure that it’s you every time. It’s probably not. But it sounds like you most of the time, and I have something to ask of you. Beg of you, actually: Please find somewhere else to yell at people.

I try to make lemonade out of your sour morning screams and tell myself they are a good excuse to start my day earlier, but I have to tell you I’d rather be given the choice of when and how to wake. Birds would be fine. Children playing. The pitter-patter of lizards sunning themselves on my tin roof. Even the caw-ing of neighborhood roosters. But must it so frequently be you a mere few feet from my bedroom window? I get it – 6am is a perfectly natural time to be chopping wood or revving your moto for an extended period of time, and I get that yelling is a common form of communication here. I’m getting used to those things. But you have to know that someone lives in this house, and you have to know that not everyone is awake before 6am. Granted, you Cameroonians are early risers, but even if I were wide awake before the air-raid siren of your yelling pierced my eardrums, it can’t have escaped you that you’re leaning on someone’s house.

I’m not asking you to change. It’s just an issue of proximity. Let me illustrate:

A certain amount of noise is to be understood due to the occasional foot traffic around here. For an unknown reason, though, you are most often in the areas within about 20 feet of my home when your forceful wailing commences. Often closer. Your favorite spot, apparently – as this morning’s aria demonstrates – is around the area represented above by the large X. This spot is also closest to the corner occupied by my bedroom. You may have noticed that my walls are indeed made of concrete blocks and not mud bricks, but they do not – as you may think – absorb sound. Combined with my tin roof, they actually amplify and distribute it throughout the rest of the house. I also hear you in other nearby spots (represented above by the smaller x’s), but less often. If you’re wondering how I can be so sure of your exact location, I must reiterate that concrete does not muffle sound, nor does the ½-inch gap underneath my front door or the screen windows on three of the four sides of my house.

I admit that I struggle on such mornings to hold in my irritation and not run outside in my underwear. If your yelling lasted long enough for me to get properly dressed and go outside to confront you, I would. I have tried this on three occasions, actually, the latest of which was this morning. But by the time I am dressed and reach my bedroom door you have stopped. And when I reach the outside to see if you’re still standing nearby you are either nowhere to be found or too far away to avoid yelling after an old woman.

Which actually leaves me to wonder – can you hear me rustling? And if so why do you immediately stop? Is it because you know you’ve woken me and that I’m getting up to tell you about it? If so that’s messed up, because it means that you know exactly what you’re doing and you’re just playing with me.

Please, please help me avoid becoming a crazy person and setting my alarm for 4:30am so I can catch you in the act. Do me a favor: Whatever you’re saying that requires yelling, say it earlier, later, or just more quietly. Say what you need to say before you’re out of normal speaking range, or wait until you’re within such range. Or if you’re just the kind of person who yells when you talk, do it farther away. Because I’m telling you, you and me are getting ready to have a really awkward conversation where I don’t care that I’m the crazy grumpy guy outside in his underwear.


Dust tans and travel woes

It’s been a while since my last post, but for good reason: it’s been a busy month. In the last few weeks I have been traveling a lot, have picked up a number of side projects, and participated in an impressively well-organized multi-day health fair in and around the village of Messok (pics below). For an idea of the other projects I am currently working on check out the page entitled ‘Projects’.

I am currently writing from the Peace Corps case (pronounced ‘cause’) in the regional capitol of Bertoua. [Peace Corps has a number of houses throughout the country for the purpose of housing PCVs passing through the region or attending meetings or other work-related trips. Each case is equipped with comfortable beds, clean bathrooms, libraries, and internet. I can’t express how helpful these are to have, and I have to hand it to the PC Cameroon country directors for organizing and maintaining them. Not all PC countries have such a network of houses, so we are pretty lucky in this regard.] In the last few days I have been to Yaoundé, Bertoua, and Batouri on my way to an engagement party for PCV Jessica and her Cameroonian fiancé Jupiter in Batouri. The party was a great time (thanks to wonderful host Janelle), and it was really cool to meet up for the first time with the other PCVs in the East region. There are only 8 of us here out of ~180 volunteers in the country, despite the fact that the East is by far the largest region, encompassing about 1/5 of the country. It is also the least developed, which makes getting around a more difficult and a much longer process, but engenders a sense of unity among the volunteers here. Every Cameroon PCV has a travel woe story, but I have to admit that up until now I’ve been fairly spoiled. Travel in Cameroon, you see, is just not like most other places. And in the East, it is an entirely different beast. A giant, hairy, dirty, mean jungle beast.

My first taste of this was about a month ago, when I was supposed to come to Bertoua for the quarterly regional meeting, At about 6pm on a Saturday I bought a ticket for the voyage the next morning, where I was told to be at the station at 3:30am for departure to Abong-Mbang. There is only one road in either direction from Lomié – to the south, where you will find a few other tiny villages on the way to Congo, or to the north, where after 125km the network of paved roads begins at Abong-Mbang and you will find 95% of the population and 99.999% of the infrastructure of Cameroon. Needless to say the bus only goes in one direction – to the north, and it only leaves once a day – at 3:30am. When I arrived at 3:30am that Sunday there was no bus, only a handful of other sleepy passengers. And so I did what I was becoming accustomed to doing. I waited.

After about an hour I noticed people starting to trickle off and leave. Then I noticed that the man working the ticket counter (and ostensibly the man with all the information) was now nowhere to be found. But other people stayed, and not wanting to miss my one chance to get to Bertoua that day, I waited with them. After another hour or so had passed, an overloaded bush taxi pulled up to the station and 8 or 10 people piled out of the 5-passenger sedan. [All Cameroonian travel vehicles resemble clown cars, as any empty space is seen as an opportunity to fill it – with another person or two, or chickens, or plantains, or whatever.]

After the chauffeur had finished unloading the top of the car – which was stacked with bags as high as the car itself – I asked him if he had seen any sign of the bus from Abong-Mbang. He chuckled a bit and said he had seen it, but it was a ways back and that they had slid off the side of the road. The people in it, he said, had spent the night in the trapped bus, presumably trying to sleep crammed together like sweaty sardines. [This, I would later find out, is not uncommon during the heavy rainy reason, during October and November.] So after 2½ hours of waiting, I decided that I would check back later. When I checked back later in the afternoon, the bus was just arriving. The chauffeur, understandably, was exhausted and in a sour mood after having spent the last 34-odd hours in the bus, and would not be going back to Abong-Mbang that day. Considering how bad the roads were, there was no way I would make the 9am meeting in Bertoua even if the bus did indeed leave at 3:30am on Monday morning – which it never actually does.

This time, I was actually able to get out of town. I left Lomié at about 5am last Tuesday morning, after a violent thunderstorm had knocked out power and the cell phone network. Deciding it was a good time to be leaving town, there were an unusually large number of people waiting to take the bus that day. There are a few types of buses common in the East; the large Greyhound-style buses that go between Yaounde and other cities; ‘coasters’, which are a bit smaller and usually have about 21 passenger seats; and affectionately-named prison buses, which are smaller than coasters and have a grate in between the driver and the passengers (hence the name). The buses that go between Lomié and Abong-Mbang are coasters. In each row there are four seats, but Melo Voyages (the lone bus agency in Lomié) insists that there is actually room for five. On Tuesday, due to the large number of passengers, they put six – which is enough room for one cheek and a little more, but not an entire rear end. Children also do not count as passengers, no matter how old or large they are. So in my row that day there were actually ten people, 6 adults and four kids. On my left knee were two people – a woman with a baby on here lap, and on my right knee was the 5 or 6 year old son of another passenger. [It is also common to be handed a child or a chicken to hold onto for the duration of a trip, because as Cameroonians are fond of saying, Nous sommes ensemble (“We are together”).] Aside from the two times we had to get out to push the bus through the mud and the one time the gendarmes made use all get out, show our IDs, and take down all the baggage from the top of the bus in search of illegal bushmeat, I spent an uninterrupted ten hours like that. Which made the five-hour trip from Abong-Mbang to Yaoundé later that day a breeze. I have to admit, though, that there is a certain sense of togetherness that comes from trips like that. Misery loves company, after all. And nous sommes ensemble.

On each of the past three days I have also been in a bus for between 4 and 8 hours, so while I technically should have gone back to Lomié today, I’m taking the day to recoup and stretch my legs, whether PC likes it or not. Tomorrow is going to be another long day, after all. I just hope it doesn’t rain tonight, otherwise I may spend all night tomorrow crammed in a coaster like a sweaty sardine, with God knows who on my lap.

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And so it begins

The problem with having waited so long between blog posts is that I hardly know where to start. Which is actually a great problem to have. Let me explain.

But first, let me set the scene:

I’ve been in Lomié a little over three weeks now, and it is quite a place. The town itself has about 3,000–5,000 people, give or take. It is situated in the Congo basin, and its topography is mostly steep rolling hills. The landscape is thick jungle interspersed with the occasional dirt road and footpath. Lomié is actually more of a cluster, as ‘town’ seems to imply a level of physical infrastructure that doesn’t really exist. There are cell phone and internet networks here, however, which makes it seem like a veritable metropolis compared to the surrounding 120 km. There is also a daily market, two hospitals (equipped with one doctor, a few nurses, and very basic meds), a number of churches (Catholic, Presbyterian, Muslim, Adventist, Jehovah’s Witness, Pentecostal, and some others), a handful of small restaurants and bars, and a few shops where one can buy everything from eggs to soap to second-hand clothing to machetes. There is no running water, so people get their general use water from wells (to wash clothes and dishes) and their drinking water from one source I have yet to see. There is electricity, but it goes out about every 3-4 days for periods of an hour to a day. The voltage also fluctuates regularly, so the more equipped among us use voltage regulators to avoid mechanical meltdowns and explosions. There is little in the way of refrigeration, so getting a cold drink is next to impossible, and the food variety offers next to nothing in the way of dairy or ‘ready-to-eat’ cuisine. Restaurants don’t have menus, because they never know what they’re going to have from one day to the next. Of the three times I’ve eaten at a restaurant here, I’ve only seen other diners once – a group of three local men who drank their meal in the form of ‘33’, sort of the Budweiser of Cameroon. [Once when I ordered a 33 with my fried plantains and fish (which always comes whole, skin on and head attached), I watched the waitress hand some money to a local girl, who ran over to buy it from a nearby stand and then brought it back to the waitress, who then handed it to me, dusty and warm.] The daily food market offers a wide selection of starches (manioc/cassava, cocoyams, corn), spices (garlic, black pepper, ginger), some limited fruits and veggies, and protein (both dried and fresh fish, as well as a wide array of bushmeat – which is exactly what it sounds like). What the market lacks in the way of food variety they make up for in locality and freshness, since besides drying there are no other preservation methods. As is customary with expats, I’ve lost about 20 lbs since arriving in Cameroon three months ago, but this is due more to the lack of saturated fats, sugar, and cheese in my grad school diet than malnutrition. I eat less frequently because I have to prepare all my food, but my diet is actually fairly well rounded. I am currently staying at the compound owned by my host institution, GeoAid. As of last week my house was ready to move into, but I don’t yet have a number of the things necessary to live there. I’ve already contracted a local carpenter to build a bed long enough to fit my 6’4 frame, but I still have to get a mattress (which comes in the form or a large foam pad, anywhere from 4-8 inches thick) and a gas tank for my stove, neither of which are available here. But this will all happen in due time.

In any case, those are the broad strokes of my life here.

A common frustration among PCVs is that we aren’t as busy as we’d like to be. Work – and by extension, purpose – can be hard to find. It takes time to acculturate, to get to know the needs of the community, and for the community to get to know and trust us. But if the whirlwind of these first few weeks is any indication of what my life will be like for the next two years, I’m in for an exciting time.

So far I have introduced myself to a fair number of local leaders and townspeople, traveled to villages and dwellings outside of Lomié, and seen most of the projects on which my host institution is working. I have helped build plantain tree greenhouses, shown a farming co-op how to more effectively dry corn, and met with a tiny community on the border of the DRC about their development needs. I have met Baka pygmies, farmers, wildlife preservationists, shopkeepers, local dignitaries, a drunken near-blind riverboat captain, and a stuttering bushmeat hunter. I have eaten plants and animals I didn’t know existed, and I have seen jungle flora that resembles the set of Jurassic Park. And as of these past few days, I have some pretty good ideas for how to be effective within my host institution.

GeoAid International is an NGO that was set up about ten years ago by a mining company in this area in order to mitigate some of the negative side effects that go along with extractive industries. They are now independent, but see themselves as a liason between these industries and the communities in which they work. For the past couple of days, we have been traveling around southeastern Cameroon talking to mining companies about the work that GeoAid does and pitching them on potential collaboration. [The pitch: give us funding and we’ll spearhead development programs in the communities in which you work. The community gets participatory health, agricultural, small enterprise and education programs, and you get community goodwill, good press, and can be in the leading pack on the corporate social responsibility front. That and we’ll make sure you’re up to code on all the regulatory UNDP / World Bank / investment treaty stuff.]

After talking to the GeoAid Int’l staff, we’ve come up with a plan for me: my job in the next 3-6 months will be to build a community needs assessment pilot, train the GeoAid Cameroon staff on it, attend community health events in Lomié, Ngoyla, Messok, Mbalam, Ntam and Djoum, and provide feedback on how to improve such events going forward. There’s some useful overlap here too, as I was planning to conduct an informal assessment in Lomié anyway (a PACA or Participatory Analysis for Community Action for you PCVs, anthropologists, or development people out there). My hope is that this assessment will reveal some entry points for how I (either independently or with GeoAid) could be of best use to the local community, and that the lessons learned from a Lomié-based pilot study will help refine the assessment that GeoAid or its partners roll out in other communities. I have a lot of other ideas too, but I’m pretty psyched about this starting point.

But enough chatter. Here are some photos:

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I say culture, you say la culture

I’ve been so energized here.  I’ve been eating up the new culture, language and environment.  I’ve been loving the food, the natural beauty, my host family… I’ve been making friends in the community… And I’ve been propelled by the challenge and excitement of it all.  But I think I’ve also been running on adrenaline.  In the last few weeks I’ve started to feel the gravity of this experience more deeply.  To state the obvious, it’s really different here.

Living in a place like this and preparing for work like this has a lot of the same challenges as moving to any new unknown place: getting to know people, discovering your neighborhood and the other places around town, settling into a routine… but it’s got some wildly different aspects as well.  And I’m just now starting to understand how challenging some of them are going to be.

Not having electricity has been a little inconvenient, but remarkably easy to work around.  Bucket baths, frankly (and inexplicably), are still kind of fun.  Walking 20+ minutes to training each day and night is no different than what I did in a number of places in the U.S.  But the culture here is nothing like in the United States.  I’m sure that at times it is going to excite me and remind me of why I came to this place, but at times it is really going to bum me out.

I don’t mean the kind of culture we all like to soak up when we go on vacation.  I mean the kind of culture that defines a people: how they interact with one another; how they organize themselves socially, politically, economically; the values they live by, and the ones that happen as a result of both conscious and unconscious customs.  The conscious ones are the ones I eat up, but the unconscious ones – put diplomatically – can take some getting used to.

Many Cameroonians are habitually late.  For example.  I’ve encountered this tendency before, in Africa, Jamaica, SE Asia and other places.  But when you’re trying to get something done it can be insanely frustrating.  We’re warned that when you plan to have a meeting or a class you have to remind people that you’ll be starting at American time, not Cameroonian time.  Otherwise people will come in 30, 40, 90 minutes late.  And people will usually show up late anyway.

I had the opportunity recently to sit in on a local tontine meeting – a community savings and loan group that pools and lends money among the members for business and social purposes (weddings, funerals, maladies).  Even though the meeting started at the same time every month, people showed up throughout the entire meeting, requiring the money counters to go back and add the new arrivals’ savings and recalculate the totals.  By the time I left and hour and half later people were still showing up.

I read an article in grad school by a guy named Lawrence Harrison that pissed a lot of people off, including me.  (For the curious or extremely bored it’s called The Culture Club: Exploring the Central Liberal Truth).  He says:

Cultural Relativism… has permeated the social sciences, and largely because of it a widespread presumption today exists that all cultures and all religions must be regarded as of equal worth and are not to be the object of comparative value judgments. However, when it comes to the relationship between culture and human progress, I find compelling evidence that some cultures and some religions do better than others in promoting the goals of democratic politics, social justice and prosperity.”

Africa’s post-colonial hopes have been replaced by despair in the wake of irresponsible, often tyrannical leadership and frequent civil wars. In the entire continent, only Botswana has approximated the optimistic scenario.

OK then. So culture is a hindrance to the ‘right kind’ of development.  Poor people are poor because their institutions are primitive.  And Africa is the most pathetic failure of all.

How incredibly short-sighted and counterproductive, I thought.  Take this notion of time.  One shouldn’t reap and/or sow on the same calendar day every year.  It’s necessary to factor in how much earlier or later the season may be changing, the amount of sun or rainfall, current crop maturity levels, etc.  Isn’t Harrison being insensitive to the cultural and social value that a looser notion of time allows?  Isn’t such a rigid ‘time is money’ mentality an example of what frustrates the so-called beneficiaries about much of the western world’s notion of development to begin with?

But as I read this paper again I have to give Harrison a little credit.  I still don’t agree with his conclusions about culture being the biggest roadblock to development.  There are many factors that influence various levels of development, including the metrics by which you measure it.  But I have to admit that there are certain characteristics that make reaching goals extremely difficult.

Just on a practical level, if Jane promises to teach John how to plant a cornfield on Monday because on Tuesday she’s going away for a month and the planting season will have passed by the time she returns, John should show up.  If he doesn’t because his notion of time is flexible or he doesn’t take Jane’s knowledge seriously because she’s a woman (another common cultural issue in Cameroon), John either doesn’t eat corn this year or he has to buy it from someone else.  In this case, two aspects of John’s culture have unquestionably hurt him.

The challenge, I suppose, is identifying which aspects of culture are stalling a society from reaching its potential.  This is an incredibly touchy subject among development practitioners and academics, and is the reason why the annual World Bank and IMF meetings look like the last scene in V for Vendetta.  One thing I’m sure, though, is that such things have to be decided by the culture that is ready to act on its own behalf, not outside ones that want to help it ‘develop’.

As Harrison himself says, “Cultural change, like democracy and market economics, cannot be imposed from the outside, except in the most extraordinary circumstances…  Progress is likely to endure only when it is driven chiefly from within.  To be sure, the success stories underscore the importance of openness to the ideological, political, technological and institutional lessons learned by more “advanced” societies.  (The quotes around ‘advanced’ are my own, not Harrison’s).  But until a critical mass of awareness emerges in a society, external pressures for change are likely to be resisted.

My own personal cliffhanger: What do I do if what my village says it really wants is different that what I think it really needs?


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What a month: I took my second to last oral language placement exam (and did not pass), gave a number of presentations in French, attended a traditional Cameroonian engagement ceremony (pics in ‘Photo Archives’), took my final oral language placement exam (and passed by a lot), passed all my other technical exams, helped keep a friend from getting kicked out of Peace Corps, and broke a rib playing basketball.  After handing in the last of my projects this morning – recommendations to the local microfinance organization I had been working with (available in the ‘Reports’ tab), I now have zero official responsibilities left before swearing in to become an official Peace Corps volunteer.  Very anti-climactic.

On the whole, the last month has been exasperating, encouraging, frustrating, energizing, exhausting, sobering and confusing.  Every former and current volunteer I’ve talked to says this about training: “Just get through it.”  Now that I’m six days from getting through it, I’m more anxious than ever to get to my post.  At the same time, I’m glad to have some time to wrap things up in Bafia, hang out with my host family, bond with the other volunteers, and visit some of the places outside of the bubble I’ve been inside of for the past month.  Breaking a rib is never a pleasant thing, especially for someone like me, but it’s bound to make the next week even longer.  I can’t play futbol with the locals – who play harder than anyone I’ve ever seen, I can’t take off on my bike for an afternoon, and I can’t play bball with the guys I’ve played with every weekend (and grown quite fond of, despite the fact that they learned how to play by watching the NBA: meaning nobody passes, nobody shoots outside of an 8-foot radius, everybody travels, carries, and plays more with their mouths than the rest of their body).  I hardly know what to do with myself.

Do you hear what I hear?

The music started before 7am today.  It’s now midnight and it is still going.  And it does not promise to stop.  Baptisms, apparently, are the Cameroonian equivalent of Carnival.  Except you’re not invited.  Where do people find speakers this loud?

On an unrelated note, I got a message from my niece Alice Rose awhile back.  She is six.  She said she was having trouble sleeping (I can identify).  She said she couldn’t stop thinking about how far away I am and how I will be gone for so long.  My response to her seemed worth sharing:

Hi Alice, I hope you are able to sleep better. I am thinking of you too. I have the picture you gave me (the one we found in your new car the day we drove to Batavia) up on my wall at my house in Bafia, the town where I currently live in Cameroon. I hope you don’t mind, but I gave the other one you drew to my host family (the Nkengues), along with some of the pictures GrandBob took during your dad’s graduation. It made me proud that even though you’re not here with me I can still take a little piece of you and your brother everywhere with me.

I am enjoying myself very much and learning a lot here, though at times it is hard. Can you imagine if you went to a new school and everyone else spoke in a different way than you, and you could only understand them a lot of the time and had to work very hard to get people to understand you? That’s what it is like here. Most of the people who live in this part of Africa speak French, and very few people speak English. It is similar to the kind of French your mom and dad know but their accents and expressions are very different. It takes a lot of studying, and some days I understand more than others, but I’m getting better slowly.

I am also learning about how to start small savings and loan cooperatives, which sounds fancy but is basically a way for people to save and borrow money so they can plan for the future. In the U.S. we take a lot of these things for granted, but in many other places in the world people cannot borrow money easily and do not save it for the future, which makes things like getting an education, buying medicine, or just having food to eat every day very hard. But that’s why I’m here: to help people poorer than us have the opportunity to make choices that we take for granted.

I think about you and your brother and your mom and dad and the new baby a lot. Have you gotten to go out in the sailboat again? How does your new lifejacket fit? Are you practicing your violin? Did you get my postcard yet? The baby must be due any day now. Please give her a big hug and a kiss to her from me. And please do the same for the rest of your family. I miss you guys.

I forget how far away I am sometimes too, given that I’m surrounded by 42 other Americans with whom I can appreciate, laugh at, and commiserate on the peculiarities of the new culture in which we find ourselves.  But writing that email reminded me of just how far removed I am from the life I knew just a few months ago.

My brother’s family is also in the middle of major changes – a new job, a new house, and a new baby all in the last couple of months.  And I haven’t talked with him or his family since I arrived here, which means they know nothing of my life here.  While I’ve gone a number of months without talking to one or another family member before (this might seem strange, but this is just the way my family is), I don’t think as much has happened in such a short amount of time.

If they were to listen really closely, though, I’m pretty sure they could hear damn these speakers.  That will at least give them a pretty good idea of what my life has been the last 17+ hours.

Gorillas and lapins and porcupines, oh my

Today we got our posts!  I’ll be going to a village called Lomié in the far southeast corner of the country.  This place is in the full-on jungle, a day’s drive (if such roads existed, which they do not) from the DRC and Gabon – complete with pygmies, bushmeat, a massive wildlife preserve (Réserve du Dja) and every stereotypical African jungle thing you can think of.  It is in the French-speaking part of the country, but a couple local dialects are also spoken.

I’ll be posted with a fairly well-established NGO called GeoAid, whose current projects include a vegetable farm for a Baka (pygmy) group, a bread-making operation, a girls sewing group, and some health initiatives.  The region has turned a few heads recently due to increased interest in commodity excavation (such as cobalt and timer – and oh boy is there a lot of timber), so there is a pretty solid cell phone network, internet, and other infrastructural amenities.  There also appear to be a few other aid groups, NGOs, and expats in town.

I will be the farthest away from any other PC volunteer than any of the ~180 of us currently in-country, however, so I’m trying to take it as a compliment that they keep thinking they can stick me anywhere and I’ll be fine.  (The same thing happened with my homestay – I’m the farthest away from all the other volunteers and from our training building.  It worked out great, though, and my family is fantastic).  Word among the PC staff and volunteers is that the PC admins are very interested in expanding our involvement in the region, as the west is far more developed and the majority of volunteers are placed there. .  The Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD) for small enterprise development also served in the region in the 1980’s, so he seems to have a soft spot for it.  I’ll be the first PC volunteer in this place, though, and only one of nine volunteers in the entire East province, which covers about a fifth of the country.

Seven more weeks of training and the real work begins… in Lomié.

Where to start…

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My mind is racing between what to say and how to say it en français.  The stimulation is constant and accentuated by the fact that most of it happens in a language I do not yet speak or understand very well.  When my intake capacity hits its limit I don’t want to write, I want to sleep.  Aside from the first few nights of leftover jetlag and some “intestinal adjustment”, I’ve never slept so well in my life.

This is the first time I’ve been on my computer since I arrived in Cameroon last Friday (June 2), and the second time I’ve been on a computer at all.  The first was at the hotel in Yaoundé to let my family know I had arrived safely.  I am now at my host family’s house in a town called Bafia – about 120km northwest of the capital, Yaoundé – where I will spend the next ten weeks.  There is no electricity in my host family’s home, and in the rest of the city it is unpredictable.  I found out after asking my host father about the lack of electricity in the house that he just hasn’t paid the bill in months, as he showed me a bill that exceeded 350,000 FCFA (more than $700).  Maybe some of that money that Peace Corps reimburses to host families will help pay the bill.

In any case, this place is beautiful: dense foliage with tall, thick blades of grass and exotic trees, rolling green hills, deep red dirt, and cloudbursts that give off the kind of light I have only seen in the grasslands of Kenya and the mountains of Colorado.  The people are hospitable, the food is spicy, oily, and damn delicious.  I’m not the first Peace Corps volunteer the family has hosted, but I’m the first man.  My host father (Etienne) and my brother (Junior, 19) seem pretty happy about this, and have both taken me in warmly.  My host mother (Odette) and sister (Christelle, 22) are quite cordial, though they address me with much more apprehension.  (Perhaps the first example of the endemic gender discrepancy we keep hearing about).  It helps that I’m vocally appreciative of their cooking, because aside from bonjour and bon nuit my host mother doesn’t actually speak to me.  I think she’s waiting for my French to improve before she bothers.  But as long as she keeps the baton de manioc and meaty tomato sauces coming, I’m sure we’ll work it out.



I set this blog up to keep family, friends, and colleagues updated with the goings-on of my life and work here.  If you’re an unknown visitor, please feel free to peruse.  Cheers.