Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Settling In

The central region is warm all the time, with nights somewhere in the 80's. When we pulled up to the Peace Corps compound all of the host families were awaiting. There was one family per volunteer but each volunteer would have two families; one for the first five weeks and one for the final five weeks. Thus families and trainees were called up in pairs. The greeting of the family involves several hugs and kisses for each member. I became distracted for a moment by a small Cameroonian boy when I heard some fellow trainees calling my name. I looked over and they beckoned me up to the front to meet my family. I went up and hugged and kissed the fathers from my two families. Actually, they were not my families. My fellow trainees misheard. This elicited laughter from both groups and I humbly returned with a smile on my face to wait for my real family with the rest of the Peace Corps trainees. I met my two families shortly thereafter and went off to my new home for five weeks.
Packed on the bus to the Central Region.
My second host family in the small rural village.

My mom from the urban (first) host family.

My urban family consists of 8 people; a seven year old sister named Poupe, an eleven year old sister Princess, a thirteen year old brother named Jeannot, a brother my age named Olivier, a sister my age named Messina, a mother Dani, and the matriarch grand-ma Rosalie. Messina is my main contact. I eat meals with her and she knows my whereabouts each day. We converse daily in French and she has shown me how to cook, do my wash, do dishes, and find my way about town. I have one more older brother but I rarely see him and forget his name.

The house is great. The first thing one notices is the small canal that separates the house in two. My two older brothers live in the smaller section on the right, and the kitchen, bathroom, shower, living room, and the bedrooms are situated in the other section. The backyard is a small plantation garden to supplement their grocery shopping. They have cassava, manioc, sugar cane, plantain, prune, citrus, and a few other edibles growing. There is also a cooking shed for grilling fish and meat on a wood fire. This is also where they store petrol, but in a side room. The well is right in the middle of the backyard. Chickens, lizards, and a stray dog frequent the backyard.
My bed.

My desk.

Living room.

Dining room and younger brother Jeannot.


Poupette and Princess.

Front porch.

Cooking hut for meat and the well.

My first dinner was cous-cous and casava and it was pretty good. Much better than the cous-cous I have received at restaurants in the US.

Every night of the week we have prayer at eight at night. It usually lasts around forty minutes, and thus far I have heard about the sins of prostitutes eight days in a row and counting. It isn't particularly interesting but I use the time to reflect and think about the future. One night after prayer we had a hot dessert drink which was called 'boit du mais', at least I think. It is boiled maize which you take with sugar or condensed milk or both. I added a bit too much condensed milk, which made it super sweet. I didn't tell my family and simply finished it.

In my room is a desk, a bed with mosquito net, a chest, my water filter, and a bureau. I live with two cockroaches who I am too lazy to kill right now. They have woken me up once looking for my sugar.

During my first day of training I woke up early to go for a run and see the town. My brother Olivier went with me. We ran a loop right near my house that lasted for twenty minutes. Even after cooling down for half an hour and then showering, I was still perspiring. Training for the first week was pretty bland. It was essentially orientation for medical information with some agricultural orientation and three French classes. Most of the information was given to us already, so if you had read it, it was merely review sessions.

On Thursday September twenty third all of the trainees went to a ceremony in a nearby village where most of the health trainees live and the agro trainees will live. The chiefs from the two villages were both in attendance (a bunch of agros, myself included, will be living in a second rural village next to the first) to welcome and demonstrate their appreciation for the Peace Corps trainees. On the way I made a joke that there would be some Africans in grass skirts with body paint dancing around to tribal music. I was correct.

My right nipple area is tender. My first medical mystery.

(Update, the nipple is fine. It resolved itself on its own. At least I hope.

Step Two

The flight went off without a hitch. Upon stepping off the plane I was hit with a wave of heat and started sweating. A few Peace Corps workers awaited us and took us off to a hotel in Douala. Traveling in Douala, or Cameroojn for that matter, is quite intense. There are no traffic lights, taxis stop in the middle of the road to make change with other taxis, and the roads are packed. There is a sort of common respect for each other on the road. People take their turn and it seems to work out.

The hotel was very western style. There was air conditioning, running water, and a pool. However no water in Cameroon is potable from the tap. One must filter or boil their water. The first meal was delicious and contained many favorite local cuisine. Grilled plantains, grilled fish on the bone, pineapple, rice, potatoes, green beans, carrots, and super hot sauce called pimoah(?) that you can put on your food. This is all cooked as one can imagine in America. Boiled, grilled, sauteed, etc. The night was sultry.
Hotel dinner.

See the pool?


Douala night.

We filled a bus and took off for Yaounde where we would officially begin our orientation in country. The scene was amazing. Lush, thick green flora peppered the entire countryside. The road was paved but full of pot holes. Our bus passed many cars and incited excitement and apprehension when the driver attempted to pass and a turn was approaching. The vegetation was too thick to see anything beyond the turn.

Yaounde is a great city. It sprawls out tons of houses and markets. Taxis abound and you have to be careful where you step. Our next hotel was similar to the one in Douala. Nothing interesting happened except I was able to ride in one of the taxis during our orientation (imagine lots of meetings and paper work, except in Africa).
View from the room.

Some locals.

The lush countryside.

The central region is only a two hour bus ride north of Yaounda. Here I will be here for ten weeks. 


Philadelphia, PA. I arrived at the hotel around eleven am. Rooms weren't ready yet and I looked to my left to see a group of young people sitting around. They looked to be of the Peace Corps so I wandered on over to see what they were about. We got to talking and exchanging names before Mark asked if anyone wanted to go get something to eat.

A group of us took off toward Chinatown. Marc and myself were the only two from the Philly area so we lead the way and discussed where we grew up. After eating some five dollar Vietnamese sandwiches we headed back to the hotel for the start of orientation. The line to file our paperwork was pretty long and a few of us in the back of the line decided to play cards to pass the time.

After filing into the meeting room we all sat down for a fairly reassuring orientation. The facilitator was Jessica and she went over a lot of expectations and concerns we had. Nothing new or major, but warming nonetheless. Everyone seemed to be good, quality people. The next day began at 6am.

At 6am we shuffled over to a medical clinic where we all received yellow fever vaccinations. The nurses were professional yet fun and we finished up quickly. Then we loaded up the bus and headed off to New York City's JFK airport. Along the way we drove through my hometown to enter the turn pike giving me one last goodbye.

There was little traffic to be seen on the way to New York. No problems in the airport either until we arrived at our gate and the sky was raging with storms. Someone must have pissed Thor off because the rain was coming down nearly horizontally and lightning was lighting up the sky. We could not board and no planes were allowed to fly in this weather. However it was a temporarily flair of the wrath of gods as the storm subsided about an hour or two later. Everyone boarded the plane only to be met with another delay as only one runway was in use at the time. Our plane left after 9pm. The original plan was to leave at 6:30pm.

My comrades in arms

We arrived in Brussels a little after 10am and the captain informed us that we missed out flight. Throughout all of the commotion, one particular volunteer stood above the rest to coordinate a new plan to travel to Cameroon. Cay. She was also the only one with an international cellphone. We ended up in a hotel near the airport for the night. We booked onto another flight, but this time to Douala which left the next day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

See ya later.

It is Tuesday. I leave for Cameroon on Thursday for possibly two years in the Peace Corps. I can't wait. I am lackadaisically finishing packing and getting ready to go into Philly to spend my last night with my old roommate from college. I will probably get some dinner in the city and tomorrow get some dim sum from Chinatown for breakfast. Not much else to say yet, but I had a blast seeing all of my friends and family this summer.

Take care.