Tuesday, October 4, 2011

5000 CFA for Three Weeks

A few months ago I settled the issue of my lease with my landlord. Most volunteers settle this issue when they immediately get to post, however since my first six months of rent were already paid for I figured I could get away with putting it off. Also when I first arrived I could hardly understand my landlords pidgin and I didn't feel like navigating a lease with her. Now I can gather pretty much what her generally meanings are even if I don't understand every word.

In pidgin words can blur together and even though much of the vocabulary is the same as English, it can be pronounced completely differently. For example, early on my landlord approached me and said something that sounded like “wata bee don com” in phoenetics. Wata means water, which I understood. The rest sounded like a blurr, especially since she said it so fast. I thought she was asking me if I had running water but she shook her head. She tried a few other things or minor variations like “wata bee der todey” or “na wata bee der”. After a minute or so we were getting nowhere so she called for her daughter who repeated “wata bee don com”. However this time she made a gesture with her hand; she rubbed her thumb against her index and middle finger as she said it. This is the universal sign for denero. It finally dawned on me that she was saying “the water bill has come”. I asked “ha much” and she told me 2000 CFA. So I paid her and that was that.

Back to the rent issue. After six months at post my landlord asked me to pay for the next six months. I decided it was time to fill out the lease and see if the Peace Corps could start paying me rent. Due to an error in paperwork the Peace Corps had paid me rent for  my second six months during my initial moving in and I had spent it. I could have paid better attention to my accounting but I didn't think anything of it. The monthly allowance is ample and you can survive well enough without spending much of your money so I never bothered to pay attention to the accounting statements. They had given me five of my next six months rent already and I had spent it moving in without realizing it.

I contacted the accountants of Peace Corps Cameroon and they informed me that I had already spent the bulk of my rent for the next six months. They also no longer will pay several months of rent in advance and volunteers must pay rent monthly and turn in monthly receipts. I think this is a silly amount of work since to send in reciepts you either have to wait for a volunteer to pass by on their way to the capital Yaounde, or take your chances via snail mail and have your reciept arrive in two to twenty weeks. I spent the majority ofmy next monthly living allowance and paid her for four out of the next six months and promised to pay the final two the following month.

Unfortunately a “wata bee” and “light bee” in addition to medical costs reduced my wallet to 5000 FCA with three weeks before the next payday. Like I said before, to turn in my medical reciepts and get reimbursed it could take anywhere from one to twenty weeks and there is a risk of your mail never arriving. So I decided to lead a simple life and see if I could manage.

Luckily I had recently bought some eggs and oats. I already had a supply of noodles and cooking oils as well as spices. I ate oats with milk powder and honey for breakfast. I splurged on these little fake cheese wedges and hot sauce for my eggs for lunch. Noodles or rice and beans were for dinner(rice and beans costs 200 CFA for a plate that will fill you up from the wonderful food mommas). After some of these things ran out I resupplied but it was pretty easy to spend absolutely nothing for two of the weeks. A few of my farmer friends occasionally stopped by with some fruit so I also had that too. Buying more eggs and oats ate up 3800 CFA but by then I was almost done with the three weeks. One day I checked my bank account and discovered the accountants paid allowances. To celebrate I grabbed a beer and ate some street cow meat for 1000 CFA.  

The 5000 CFA translates into roughly ten bucks for the three weeks, though purchasing power certainly is different here than in America. Unfortunately a similar situation happened the following month after I spent a little too much money reuniting with some volunteers and then paying for travel deep into the bush for work(I had to pay off the other two months of rent as well). The second time around it was fun and I had a bit more money to boot. Funny enough, before and after these little setbacks in my wallet, my diet already consisted of primarily oats and honey, eggs and cheese, fruits, vegetables, noodles, rice, beans, and with money the occasional fish and beer.