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I helped Bienvenu do the control of the CECA this morning. It’s been a year since I’ve really worked a calculator. Today I verified bank transactions instead of data tables. This afternoon we met with 9 motorcycle taxi-men and explained how forming an association and starting a savings plan can help them buy their own motorcycles. Then I went into town to visit the carpenter who is making my table. In a shop buying cigarettes I met the principal of the private school in town. I chatted over a beer with him for an hour or so before heading home.
I spent the day with Nico. We road to Embalakounou to meet the women’s association but instead spent time with the chief of the village. We drank a box of wine. Before it was finished he came out of his mud and stick house with a bound copy of a report of a study that the village conducted on their development needs, problems and possible means of overcoming them. The chief sat with us on benches under a tree holding a baby. His ankles thick, legs lumpy, he was suffering from the onset of elephantiasis, an advanced stage of filaria.
I took the 8am van to Yaoundé for the VAC meeting with the Country Director. It ends up the meeting started at 8am at his house. My tardiness was excused since I’m new and with short notice couldn’t reschedule my meeting yesterday. They were discussing issues with mail when I arrived. We talked about problems of trust and communication between volunteers and admin, up coming events, regional offices. We returned to the PC office for the staff meeting, which started with a painfully stupid video about conflict of interest. After I chatted with Tyrone. I’ll return home in the morning.
A.T.M. Association de transporteurs Moto
A.T.M. Akonolinga Taxi Men
I instantly think of an ATM (automatic teller machine). I can hear the modern sounds of cash. Since this association of taxi-men in Akonolinga is forming so that they can save money and get credit to become owners and chauffeurs of their own motorcycles, well ATM has a special ring to it in my ear. After explaining this, the whole rooms choose it from the list of long acronyms on the board. The energy level in the room increased. Bienvenu asked ‘C’est clair?’ (Is it clear?) Someone answered “No, c’est Caroline.”
It’s Nico’s 31st birthday and for the first time in his life he wanted to celebrate his birth. He wanted to thank God. He said that now that he’s made it past 30 he’s truly a mature man, he can relax some now. He reviewed the hardships and milestones in his life; falling in the river, a car accident, sickness, passing the Bac. With the grace of God he survived each. May he be blessed with another 30 years. We ate. We danced.
With other people’s advice I gave him a CD, but found out he has a tape player.
The road in front of my local boutique is embedded with bottle caps. It could become completely paved with them before I finish my service here.
I sat mute and useless at the women’s association meeting in Embolakounou. I trust Nico’s work but he’s very much a Cameroonian man. He has understood that I am to work with the women. My purpose in his eyes reaches no further. After we drank with the Union President.
When I got home I went to market, bought what I needed without hesitation, returned home and cooked chicken in mustard sauce with French fries.
Delphine and I walked into town looking for a cold drink. A man on the side of the road offered but when the sous-prefect pulled up and jumped out of his car he wandered off. I refused the sous-prefect’s offer. Pejero called us into his restaurant and Peter bought us a drink. Then we excused ourselves. While Delphine was buying fish, she sent someone to get her brother, Inspector Phillip Isaiah known as Jazz. Tell him Caroline is calling. Inspector before all else, he thought something was wrong. He’s easy to talk to, smart and interesting. I call, he jumps.
“I’m at your service. Really Caro, for anything you need.” Since that concluded a long discussion, I understood completely. I’m much more disturbed. I can’t crawl out of my skin. Dozens of people organize and conspire to provide me with whatever I want. It becomes impossible for me to detect what they want as individuals once the obvious motives are set aside. It’s a small polygamous town. I don’t understand who’s watching what. My co-workers encouraging a married man to pursue me… I’ve come here to learn to deal with less but I’m treated as a superstar. It’s very unsettling.
Little, gray, oblong, leaf like things the consistency of tissue paper littered the office entrance this morning. Never seen them before, weren’t there yesterday. Termite wings - some bugs grow wings, real pests shed them.
Listening to Gillian Welch CD that Liz sent, Jazz said ‘wow this really is the blues.’ Paper wings catches my ear. I think of the boys I’m dodging here while they just want to hear the blues and digest melodies & ideas from foreign lands. In small drops I give current to their curiosity. How can they expect to fly far with only paper wings?
The African family is hard to understand at times. People refer to each other as big brother and little brother when in fact they are cousins, neighbors, uncles, childhood friends or from the same village. I’ve learned to ask – ‘from the same mother and father?’ and then people say ‘yes’ or explain the actual relationship.
My co-workers asked about my siblings. When I said I have 5, they asked how many from the same mother and father. One, but I’ve grown up with 5 siblings and they all count… So you have one brother?
It’s hard to turn the tables.
Before the ATM meeting I went down to get my dining table and 6 chairs from the carpenter. I’m so short on cash I couldn’t give him full payment. He sent someone to find a strong reliable boy with a pushcart. I got some eggs and went home to wait for delivery.
I went to an official party celebrating police promotions. Luckily I was seated next to a nice man. The sous-prefect arrived just after dinner but in time to be coupled with me for the opening dance.
Jazz walked me home. The sky clear, moon full, I sang moonshadow.
What do I need? The honesty and desperation of Malgoire’s brother mixed with the engaging conversation and easy flirtatious style of Delphine’s brother and the intelligent, ambitious, earnestness of Bienvenu’s brother. An earnest jazzy bebe. Not too easy to find and they’re all so very kind and I have to pass on them all. Then there’s the old man at the local bar/ shop who’s always pleased to see me, Peter who prefers Europeans and capitalism to small town gossip and the dignified widowed sous-prefect who is looking for a new mother for his children who always wave when I pass.
The rain is strong, the current is gone.
Juliet has returned after 10 days in Yaoundé.
I’m very happy to have a proper table. It definitely changes the way I live. Juliet said that I have a women’s house now, I’m no longer living like a bachelor. She had dinner that her babysitter made waiting for me when I got home.
There were remarkable things earlier in the day, like dozens of dragon flies. Fuck! that thunder was loud and sharp. I’m gonna put my hot itchy legs under the cool rain to soothe them. Itchy bites drive me crazy.
I was going to go to Yaoundé this afternoon but was running in too many directions today. At home packing at lunchtime, Aloys came by to invite me his place for lunch. Surprise, he had been given a viper. Returning to the office I found it empty. The man from the tax office wanted to chat over a drink. The delegate from the agriculture department invited me to tomorrow’s celebration of rural women. I had plans for a lesson to learn songo (a village game). I tracked down the sister to see if her computer has a working USB port.
A kid cried when Fran, the white woman was leaving and the father told Fran, "No go ahead and leave, she has to learn that you're a volunteer and you're going to leave us all eventually anyway."
A friend, uncharacteristically drunk said 'well I have a domestic and she doesn't approve of that practice (flushing the toilet with rain water).' I enjoyed watching Michelle's amusement while he told stories. He told the alcoholic PhD that she must have gotten Bs, she was completely offended.
Half of my SED (small enterprise development) stage-mates are here in Yaoundé. I'm in happy heaven.
There’s no water running in the case. I realize I could go home for the day. This makes me wonder if I’m more comfortable or happier in the case with all my friends from training or with my wacky Cameroonian social life back at home in Akonolinga. I talked with the trainee who’s ETing (early terminating) after just 3 weeks. She was full of regret while holding a ticket home to California (via Bxl, NYC). Holding that ticket in my hands is 2 years away. I felt cornered, trapped, uncomfortable, lonely and uncertain where I should look to for comfort.
PC Peace Corps
PCV Peace Corps Volunteer
ET Early Termination. (A PCV chooses to call it quits anytime before COS. The PC puts you on a plane.)
COS Close Of Service. (This is a milestone, a special status,success. Making it through COS gives entitlement to all the benefits of an RPCV.)
RPCV Returned Peace Corps Volunteer
VAC Volunteer Advisory Committee
WWS World Wise Schools
CECA Caisse d'Epargne et de Crédit Autogérée –(a small savings and loan bank that runs autonomously in theory.)
CVECA Caisse Villageois .. (an even smaller rural bank. A village is the most rural you can get.)
Michelle and I appear to live very different lives than the others. We’re more isolated; without other volunteers near us, we both live in towns without cell-phone networks. She lives in a Muslim town. I live in an alcoholic, polygamous town. Neither of us can pull other Americans into our weekly routines. I recently realized that I’m white before I’m female because I interact more with the men (playing songo, eating viper, drinking). She’s female first but too white to be included with the women, she stands alone.
Tyrone, the PC business program director, is having a barbeque this afternoon.
Michelle convinced me and the last group headed west to stay in Yaounde for another night. (I should go back to the bank tomorrow anyway. I came to town to get money. It'd be a little dumb to go home without any.)
Six of us piled into a cab, went out for lunch and then to the market. I can't remember the last time I spent so much time laughing. Our laughter annoyed the women in the market with the best leeks and celery. She refused to sell to Lauren, in turn our star barginboy didn't get a good price.
My return home leaves me feeling divided. The town noticed my absence. People greeted me on the street and asked where I’ve been. Many have been looking for me at the office and my local store. But I see clearly today that everyone close to me wants something, that I am a resource and a status symbol before a friend or colleague. Ernest needed me to pay his return ticket. Bienvenu needed change for the phone, Delphine a loan so she can feed her kids. Juliet wanted provisions from Yaoundé and to drink my mineral water instead of her own.
I feel the wide potential of my work and the impossibility of it. What is expected of me? What has been presented to me as my work? Who’ve I been presented to as a resource? Today I notice that the possibilities reach far but the reality has been limited so far. Two months and I’ve collected very little information and while there are viable projects out there that would benefit from my attention, my access to them is limited. Mr. Adama, the chief of a micro-finance institution in Mali came to town with some Dutch students working for The Plan.
Dreaming… I’m with Liz outside in socks. There are 2 hair salons. One fancy but snobby, the other more basic where I know the stylist. I’ve been to both and don’t mind going to either. The corner reminded me of the boulangerie and bar but much closer together, maybe brick buildings in Chicago. We were in our socks. While I didn’t feel the cold, I noticed Liz had thicker, warmer, socks, more outdoor socks. Later I was standing in the same place with Rob. He was explaining why he didn’t want to go into the stylish place across the street.
I woke to loud rain. Juliet and I drank coffee waiting for the rain to end. Mr. Nnoma brought over the water and electricity bills. Bienvenu wasn’t in the office. I sat and listened to my co-workers complain about not having any money and talk about looking for jobs. After 3 hours I left. I saw Bienvenu’s wife at the market and learned that he went to Yaoundé with Collins and Mr. Adama yesterday. Kanaga, a member of ATM offered me a ride home. He accompanied me to pay my water bill. Ernest came over and we walked through town.
The guardian started his plea by saying that he needs a hole in the back where he can relieve himself. There’s a toilet inside but it’s useless without running water. His salary is just enough to feed him but doesn’t leave him money to buy boots so he can cut the grass in standing water. He doesn’t have enough money to open an account at the bank he guards. He needs a shack out back to protect him from the rain. Then if bandits come they could cut his throat right there instead of taking him out into the bush.
I only wanted to spend one thousand francs but I took two thousand out with me for the evening. That’s less than $4!
400 Francs got 2 of us a roundtrip rides into town. We went to “Club American” where the music is loud and there’s a neon light. Young crowd, some working girls. It’s on the corner across from the petite marche (open only at night selling grilled fish & oranges). Ernest found that when he goes out with me random acquaintances become his best friends. Then we walked down to listen to the ballaphones. Older, more intoxicated crowd.
I’ve spent a lot of time naming and backing up photos today. I wish I could give everyone a slideshow with commentary right now. I can’t wait for people to see and I’m not sure what they will show. Tiny visual slices of the world surrounding me. Ernest and I walked through town and visited Simon. They agreed that I’m even more open and easy going than my predecessor Richard. The electricity went out and night fell as we walked back to Ndamba. We sat in the dark outside his corner store and visited Bienvenu. I took more photos 4y’all.
Morning rain and lack of electricity reigned the day. 21:38 I’ve come home and the electricity is back on. I don’t know for sure when it returned. The mosquitoes eat me up regardless of weather the electricity is running. I came home to a branch of leaves stuck into the grate of my door. Someone was here looking for me. There’s only one person who’d leave me an honest village sign like that. Which reminds me how pleasantly surprised Bienvenu was when he heard what I wanted to say at the management committee meeting of the CECA today. Stated theobvious.
There’re a few new roosters in the neighborhood. Constant repetitive calls, reminds me of the days of broken records. I hope a few families have chicken on their menus this week. Ernest came by first thing this morning. He was worried about me since I wasn’t home last night. He wanted to know when I’ll be home from work this afternoon.
People love talking about Arnold, the new governor of California. I haven’t heard any direct news reports about it, just comments from people here. They’re amused.
I made Cameroonian peanut sauce all by myself tonight. It turned out well.
This morning I went with the president of ATM to distribute invitations to the Delegate of transport, the commandant, the commissioner of special police etc… to the association’s first general assembly meeting next week.
I visited Evans’ hair salon this afternoon. She wants help getting a loan to build a soundproof massage room and buy an imported facial vaporizer machine. I can help her build her business but not with soundproof walls.
A man told me that I need to help him find a family to adopt at least one of his children before next year’s elections.
raining again tonight.
I called Tyrone back this morning and ended up coming to Yaounde this afternoon to meet with him and another volunteer on an internal peace corps project. It’s calm here and I got a lot of e-mails sent. Tyrone liked the column I wrote for the volunteer newsletter and asked me to write a vignette on ATM for his report to Washington.
I sent so many words and stories off to the www. I felt exposed, regretting the disclosure. Then Pope sent a kind word thanking me for the effort of sending home descriptions and stories. I feel encouraged. Thanks.
I usually write a few lines in the morning but now I feel the urgency to complete the month. At the same time I don’t want to cheat the day. I’ll go visit the head office of MiFD, split up the work on the toolkit with Andrea, confirm plans for a vacation to Dja, hopefully talk to dad and get some things in the mail. Then I’ll head home. The general assembly of the CECA is tomorrow. They need to replace the board of directors. I will also teach my taxi men how to make a budget and savings plan.
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