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It's Bill's birthday. Is it still considered his birthday if he's dead? I decided his day of birth doesn't change with death. Happy Birthday Bill! If you'd had a phone I would've called.
It's been a day of e-mail and random peace corps business. Andy showed up. Jim's around. Sarah called. Lisa and Kate e-mailed. I'm still not sure what to do with life after peace corps. I have another 14 months to figure it out. Right now I have half a dozen ideas for my remaining vacation days, head full of travel ideas but wanting to get back home au village.
I choose to stay here in Mbalmayo tonight by myself, calm. The trainers and volunteers went to Yaoundé this afternoon and the last of the trainees all headed home at dusk. So I bought some warm beignes, plantain chips, a Castel bien glassé, some coffee and milk powder for the morning. Now I have the night to myself. No TV, no music. I'm free to write stories but they come with static, like pulling teeth, when I have time for them. The new trainees are great, young, curious. I have them rolling through my head, imagining them all visiting Akonolinga.
Smells linger in Shannon's kitchen. I'm in Ebolowa visiting for the night. It's a big town, nicely laid out. I'm surprised I've never been down here before. I like Shannon. I've luck on my mind. I wonder if I'm often luckier than others or do I just deal with what comes my way. It used to be such a struggle to live in the moment but I'm surprised to find that's where I've been living for over a year. But the future is creeping back into my preoccupations. COS trips, jobs, school. Husbands and babies always lurking out of reach.
I don't think I could ever work for a big firm or corporate America ‘again'. Even here in Cameroon preparing lessons with Americans out of the corporate world there's an excessive level of work just because and I feel that I'm looked upon as lazy and incompetent but I just want to keep it simple, to present info that's digestible and useful… We sat under the blaring speaker in the bush taxi from Ebolowa to Mbalmayo. The 4th of July party in the SED training house was good - burgers, beer and potato salad, my sangria and Shannon's banana bread.
Pat's eyes were shooting daggers. The case studies we prepared were hard, especially for an early morning session after the big party. Shannon later said she needs to think more about the audience when preparing classes. Monique, a language trainer helped me translate a list of modes of HIV transmission and prevention. One of the trainees is afraid of traveling so we took her with us to Yaoundé for a test run. Then we went fabric shopping with Andy and visited a place that makes beautiful batiks. I found Michelle and a few of us went out for grilled chicken.
I spent the morning running around the Peace Corps office and collecting Aides materials. Andy found some information in French about some Gay athletes who are HIV positive. Michelle and I set out to talk about Aides to the dance troupe. I expected it to be a gay male audience but it was half young girls. The session went really well, they were talkative and asked all kinds of questions. We had half of them practice putting condoms on a wooden penis. Twelve percent of the sexually active population has HIV. Afterwards they rehearsed and we went for a beer.
I needed a day of wrap up, banking, buying a cheap boom-box, getting materials for another aides project and dropping papers off at Mifed. I spent most of the day with Michelle. A little boy she knows recognized Michelle and lead us up the dirt hill and through the compound of a mosque and through alleys to the Yaounde home of a friend of hers, Yaya.
We played monopoly. I lost rather early in the game. Rap session with Kalhil, Susan, Michelle, Mindy and Matt Rip. I'm exhausted. I have to travel home early tomorrow with tons of luggage. Yuck.
I'm finally back home in Akonolinga. I visited Solange and the kids. They sent me home with mangos. Last week was the jackpot. Mangos dropped off the tree in such quantity that they were sending them to the pigs. Late afternoon I walked into town to show my face and greet some people. Juliet left for her uncle's funeral. Bienvenu is in Yaoundé for a check up with the doctor. The new boombox I bought won't play more than 3 tracks, but sounds so much better than walkman speakers. I have a bucket of hot water waiting for my bath.
I'm smack in the middle of 3 projects and Bienvenu has even more going on. Real work and coordination. It rained enough to coat the roads in mud puddles. I dropped off material to make pants and a shirt. I met a funny Anglophone man who works at the airport, he drove me home in his Volvo, his "sweedish woman". I spent the evening with Solange and Kids. They're leaving tomorrow for a month au village. I'll miss them and have more time on my hands. Bienvenu's head's full of work. I called Roger, our whole conversation was in English.
There are things I didn't write yesterday. People in town are offering me diet advice. Jules' mother thinks I should just eat hard grilled corn and "prunes" (no relation to the prunes you know) and drink beer for dinner. Then by 4:30 am when she assumes I wake, my stomach will be flat as if I haven't eaten. Beer doesn't fatten but oil, butter, too much salt, peanuts and eggs do. Emmanuel, the amusing Anglophone, said I should have other choices than the greasy sauce that Pejero served me.
I hope the ATM general assembly meeting has been well prepared.
We spent most of the day sitting around my living room talking about Peace Corps administration deficiencies. The first volunteer visitors since Pete brought me here the first night. After putting Andy in the bus back to Yaoundé, Michelle and I got motorcycle rides from Selle and Kanaga out along the road into a village. She wanted to see the forest. We then hung out at home, went out for grilled fish, passed by to Peter Lee's place. Just now I've been giving her the condensed gossip of people in town and she agreed that it's like a soap opera.
Hard to get out of bed. The morning noises next door are delayed an hour or so since school let out. Michelle is still sleeping. Karine (Juliet's babysitter) came in and sat down, installed.
The annual child swap
has taken full effect while I was traveling around Yaoundé and Mbalmayo. The town is calmer and 1/3 of the population is new. During summer vacation children are sent to stay with aunts and uncles. Children in the city go ‘au village" and village children go to the city. Last night when we were out more people yelled "hey whites" at us.
It's hard to integrate, trying to live within a culture, understand it, refrain from judgment, enjoy the people AND be an agent of change. It's not impossible but it's difficult. It takes some time to understand a culture and be welcome. It takes even longer to identify what and how things need to be changed. Preparing for my big aides education project is a real challenge. How can I convince them to use condoms? I'm preparing over 20 hours of training and it all boils down to the fact that they can protect themselves from aides if they use condoms.
They've given me a total ego boost, April, Allen, Allan and Cynthia. They're so enthusiastic, smart, open, eager. Their site visit has been quick and packed but they've enjoyed Akonolinga. The 15K ride out to Koum on motorcycles, Allen said it's been his best day in Cameroon. We saw coco plants and a 105 year old woman. Then they ate Kanga and enjoyed it. At the CECA they were focused and full of questions. They're such different individuals but all great people. I'm happy to have given them a good time in Akonolinga. They head to Ebolowa in the morning.
It was a hard day. That's a drunken understatement. Group 2 arrived discontent from Bafia, instantly remarking that my town and me are totally different but proceeded to ask whiney comparison questions and not listening to the answers. "On average how many hours are you in the office?"
I explain what I do in and out of the office.
Then they ask, "So, do you sit in the office all day?"
They calmed over drinks with my co-workers who shamelessly drooled over the American girls. Highlight: hard belly laugh when Aloys put a condom on a Fanta bottle.
This day was so long and full, it went unwritten. Group 2 was more at ease in the morning before they left. I started taking out my braids in the office while waiting for group 3. Unable to complete the task, I chopped them off to shoulder length. Bienvenu showed me the evaluations and reviews of my co-workers by people from Yaoundé during the week. Cecile and Magloire failed. Eventually group 3 arrived. We went to Coco's bar with Bienvenu (who was tired and distracted), Aloys, Magloire, Nico.
Blocked for hours by rain at La Notre eating porcupine by lantern…
It's like there are dozens of things I haven't written down. I have a silly crush floating from the back of my head to the front of my mind….
Group three is here. They don't ask questions. As the day developed they chatted a little more. I think they're as worn out by site visit as I am. Pat read 100 pages this morning. I made crepes with JoseyAnn. We lingered in the house until noon before wandering to the CECA for a visit. We went to a late afternoon meeting with GADE. It's 10pm, we're all headed to bed.
All the trainees have now gone. I can have a quiet afternoon all to myself. I think they all had a good time. Each group saw the bank, had a trip en brousse, ate Kanga, drank with my co-workers, rode motorcycles, got covered with dust, ate crepes with chocolate sauce, saw the market and crossed the bridge. I put the last group in the bus, went to market to get avocados, tomatoes and paint thinner, chatted with ATM boys and now I'm home alone with my music. I want to finish taking my braids out, hard to do while typing.
Greetings from the obscure darkness of Akonolinga.
Bienvenu was installed today as the president of the new local organization committee of the National Federation of Swimming. They plan to have a competition in the Nyong.
I've been worn out all day.
Juliet arrived after dark. She's been walking around for months with triple plus malaria. I held her sleeping child while she went to get her keys.
My hair is finally free, clean and fresh after a peppermint scalp treatment. It's so thin! I'm trying to dry it so I can go to bed and not wake with a cold.
I spent most of my birthday alone, caught between cultures. I'm tired of feeling like I buy friendships and alliances. The words "It's my birthday" almost left my lips several times but I knew that would result in owing people celebratory beers and a big bar tab. The electricity was out so I couldn't finish my work. I came home and read, slept, relaxed, enjoyed the solitude. I've had very little energy recently. At dusk I walked into town, had grilled fish at the Cave. A doctor came to Juliet's to hook her up to an IV with Malaria medication.
I was en forme today; got some good work done with Juliet in preparation for next week's peer education and Aides workshop. I'm already proud. …
It's been a long time since I've walked through town alone. It felt great. Strangers greeted me "Bonsoir mama/ madam" I ran into people I needed to talk to and a few extra friends. My breakfast beans mama ran to catch up with me and we walked back to Ndamba together. …
The power outages are becoming more frequent again and it's making it harder to get my work done….
Frogs are chanting in the rain.
I've become more aggressive than I've ever been in my life. Over the last year I've been more aware of the conflicts I bow away from, of the authority I could have that I don't impose, of how mild I am compared to the world around me. Space is negotiated. Kisses, kindness, ripe tomatoes, prices, friendships, time – all negotiated. I overreacted to a man in the bus who stole my seat and almost burst into tears. I thought of Liz remarking on how high strung I was in New York and realized that I've surpassed that level of aggression.
I did an 8am session with Fran and Ted on Sustainability. How can you effect real change and leave a lasting improvement? The steps are slow and small. The class was well received…
I got a ride back to Yaoundé with Gaby and Dr. Sammy…
A Peace corps vehicle took me to Standard Charter to cash my SPA check for 1,105,000 CFA. Then I took the cash to my bank to deposit it…
I met Cheryl at the caz and we headed up to Felice's post for our first Center province meeting. Felice greeted us with a Mexican fajita dinner.
A whole day in Mbandjock. Felice is thrilled to have visitors. We talked Peace Corps admin business in the morning before taking a walking tour of town. Sosucam, a local sugar factory is the main industry in town. Felice is an English teacher and we ran into many of her students. The Baccalaureate results were just announced over the radio. Only 8 students in town passed! The math section failed because they had no math teacher. We visited her friends. Out for drinks, the school principal sat next to us openly making out with a women who isn't his wife.
I'm home functioning on 2 1/2 hours of sleep, my body is extra heavy. I am tired. We were up late talking, spilling our hearts, sharing our stories. We now have some solidarity in our province and we're ready to welcome the new volunteers. The idea was that we'd get up at 5 to catch the first bus out because it's Sunday low travel. At 4am we napped. From 6:30am to 10:30 we waited. Then Cheryl and I bounced along the dusty road squished in a jail-like van. We arrive back in Yaoundé with brown dust dripping off of us.
I need to turn off and sleep well. My Aides program starts tomorrow. 18 people have registered, only 6 ATM taximen. The head of Peace Corps sent a message asking which day he should visit with James from Washington. The Doctor who is supposed to help me this week couldn't be found. Andy is sending Christian from Douala to participate (and stay in my house). Everyone in the office has reports to complete this week. I hope there's electricity tomorrow because I still need to print the pre-evaluation questionnaires. I have a lot prepared. I hope it doesn't fall apart.
I've been suffering from morning after syndrome – that is writing the morning after. Today I'm back in line, hopefully tomorrow in even better form. I was nervous this morning before the grand training began and was frustrated by the afternoon. It was an acceptable opening day but felt out of control. Now Christian is here from Bandjoun. His first impression didn't sit well with me. Andy told him I'm nervous and the taximan from the bus station took him to the white woman who always speaks English. He says my host family is upset that I haven't stayed in touch.
Today has been much better. The training advanced, I relaxed. Now we have a lot left to accomplish in 3 days but the wheels are greased. I'm fully prepared for the rest of the workshop. Christian explored town, found himself dinner. Roland just sat on a stool in my kitchen saying she doesn't like to see me alone and explained that she's the outcast servant in her uncle's house. She misses her dead father. I was surprised to learn she's 18 years old. She seems younger, such a gentle, scared, humble child. I told her my door is always open.
Do I still have to write 100 words, even after a long global e-mail? The Aides workshop advanced with the Doctor's 3 hour lecture. He was informative, animated and frank. I even learned several things. When told that people don't use condoms because their hands are dirty and the oil on the condom collects microbes spreading diseases, he said come on now, we all need to follow basic hygiene. The condom isn't all that you touch when having sex. If you have pimat (hot pepper) on your hands and touch private parts, it stings. N'est pas? The whole room cringed.
Day 4 of the workshop was calm and focused. It's amazing to already see skills develop and learning put on display. We reviewed what we learned from the doctor yesterday, discussed the differences of culture between villages and town and how that effects the spread of aides, we outlined a plan for breaching the topic au village in the local language. Then Kanaga and Assama sat in the hot seats answering questions posed by others acting like the old village men. They even responded to the accusation that they'd been paid by the whites to lie about this fictitious disease.
An open water swimming competition took place this afternoon in the river Nyong. The swimmers were lead out to the center of the river standing in pirogues, far enough away that we couldn't see their faces from the bridge. A whistle was blown, the Cameroonian flag waved and they dove in and swam a 100 meters to the inlet where people usually do their washing. A majority of the swimmers were imported from Yaoundé. Nobody on the local organization committee knows how to swim. We watched the races and a stroke demonstration from rented chairs lined up on the bridge.
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