Six months ago, I arrived at Washington Dulles Airport. After three years and three months in Cameroon, my time with Peace Corps was over…
Before I left the North, I wanted to go see the famous cattle market in Adoumri, a village outside of Garoua, held every Thursday. It’s the largest cattle market in the North region.
Joe, the current Peace Corps Volunteer there, doesn’t have regular reseau (cell phone network). It’s only in certain spots in his village. So, I called him, optimistically, and I didn’t get through. Text messages sometimes go through, so I texted him to say that I would come to his village in two days. I also talked to Bouba, our regional logistician, drew me a map of Adoumri, and told me to go ask for the house of Joe’s landlord.
When I got to Adoumri, I found a moto taxi who, when I told him the name of Joe’s landlord, took me to his house. Joe’s compound is connected to his neighbor’s compound. His neighbor told me that Joe had left that morning to go to the market with his landlord, and that I was welcome to sit and wait for Joe. I love how hospitable people are to strangers. The mother fed me some delicious yogurt, which they sell in the market. While I was there, she also shaved her kid’s head:
After about an hour, Joe appeared, pleasantly surprised to receive his first visitor, sine my text never went through. He had only been at post for a few days at this point, and he was carrying various items that he had purchased to furnish his mostly empty house: buckets, cups, utensils, etc.
Off to the market! (and round 2 for Joe)
We first got lunch at a meat stand. Joe had also already eaten with his landlord, but he was kind enough to eat with me again. Look at him, sitting on the ground, with a bottle of water by his side. Classic Peace Corps Volunteer.
Then, the cattle market!
And more cattle!
And even more cattle, in another field:
And of course, obligatory sunset shot as we were leaving Adoumri:
Living in Garoua, it often feels like there’s just nothing to do. When other Volunteers come into town, it’s the same thing: use the internet at the Peace Corps office, maybe watch a movie or TV show, go out for spaghetti omelettes or street meat. It’s easy to forget that occasionally, exciting things do happen, in the regional capital…
A few weeks ago, my coworkers and I were invited to a CD release party, of a local hip-hop trio known as Salaam. One of the members came to our Saturday radio show that morning to publicize the event.
As the flyer says, the event was supposed to start at 15h, or 3 pm. I got there at 3:30. The DJ was still setting up the speakers and whatnot. L’heure africaine, as people like to say…
I went back home. Came back at 4:30. One of my co-workers, Nafi, was there, but it still hadn’t started yet. Left again to go to a meeting at 5 pm – as I was leaving, one of the group members gave me a free CD. Cool beans. I then came back after the meeting, and the release party had finally started. I had never seen the place so full. (The restaurant Sahel Burger just opened up in August, and it’s already a favorite among Peace Corps Volunteers, because of their delicious shawarma. Sometimes, though, it feels like we’re their only customers!)
First, Ebah, the MC of the event, talked about the importance of hip-hop in his life and in the community. Then, they had a sort of “bidding” process, where people bid on the first CD. Ebah started it at 1000 FCFA, which is about $2. The guy at my table offered 1,500. Then someone else offered 3,500. Then 7,000. Then 16,500… then, finally, the woman at my table bought it for 20,000 ($40)!
Afterwards, people then bought CDs, at the normal price.
I bought two for Bouba and Boubakari, who work at the PC Garoua office, and got a picture taken with the group. Who knows, maybe they’ll be big one day, and we’ll see them on Trace Africa…
One common goal among PCVs is to get to all ten regions of Cameroon. And at the end of June, after the National Girls’ Forum and after 2 years and 9 months in Cameroon, I finally made it! Becca, a fellow PCV in the North region, and I went to the East region to visit Grant, a PCV in Lomie, and to see the Dja Faunal Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site, 13 km away. (Well, okay, the Yaounde-Ngaoundere train actually goes through the east on the way… but I had never gone past the train stop, obviously).
Here are some highlights that were not captured on film:
- we all met Pgymies
- two of us got ants in our pants. Ferocious, biting ants that stuck to our skin
- and… one of us fell into a stream (“You’re a trooper! You just got up and kept going!” “Well, I didn’t really have a choice, did I?”)
And the photos:
My moto-taxi driver got a ways ahead of the other moto, and he had to stop anyway because the road was so muddy. So, I took this picture while waiting for the others to arrive, much to his amusement:
Then, we walked to the forest, and the adventures began!
Abandoned Pygmy homes:
Our guide had a whistle to attract animals:
Clearing the camp area (since 90% of the area is untouched):
Setting up the tent:
Our guide made this bench:
Waking up, ready for Day 2:
And the day continues:
We were so excited when we got out of the forest. Unfortunately… we then had to trek back for an hour because of the construction on the bridge on the way.
At the end of June, 30 Peace Corps Volunteers were invited to attend the second annual National Girls’ Forum, sponsored by Peace Corps Cameroon and PEPFAR. Location: Kribi, one of the most popular beaches in Cameroon! The theme of the three-day forum was “Keeping Girls in School. Each PCV also invited along a counterpart and a teenage girl. I brought Nafi and Bawane, one of our peer educaters.
The day before it started, we went to the fish market for lunch:
Then, onto the forum!
Opening remarks by our Country Director, Jackie:
Presentation by RENATA, the network of aunties in Cameroon, one of the NGOs who spoke during the forum. They do a lot of work on gender-based violence.
For the last session, we broke up in small groups for Best Practices. Nafi and I presented on the Reglo Girls’ Empowerment Program, our peer education program. (We didn’t have a projector, but we made do)
At the end of the day, a bunch of us met on the beach across the street from the hotel. For the vast majority of Cameroonians, it was their first time on the beach! It was fun to see people experience it for the first time. A lot of people were terrified, and we Peace Corps Volunteers had to coax people to even go to knee-high water. My girl, Bawane, said to me, “I got water in my eyes! It hurts. It’s salty! There’s salt in the water!” Oh, the things we Americans take for granted…
Day 2: Alim, who is with Education Fights AIDS, an NGO based in Maroua, presenting on IGAs (income-generating activities), as a way for girls to earn money to pay for school fees and expenses:
Afterwards, there was the IGA fair, where a few PCVs gave demos and explanations on how to do certain IGAs. I gave a presentation on how to make mango jam, neem soap, and neem lotion.
Day 3: One of the best sessions was the session with just the girl participants, where several strong, amazing women told their stories:
We then worked with our counterparts and girls on our action plans, before the closing ceremony. The NGF organizing committee:
We were really excited to get our certificates:
Bonfire the last night:
The next day, I went to the waterfalls with a few other Volunteers. It’s one of the few places in the world where waterfalls fall directly into the ocean.
Our guide insisted that I take a picture of the people fishing, but the guy on the left doesn’t look too happy:
For Reunification Day, May 20th, the biggest holiday in Cameroon, ACMS co-sponsored an event at the Franco-Cameroonian Alliance in Garoua. Hundreds of teenagers came out to watch this huge show/concert, with dancers, singers, and other performers, to compete in the “Woila Urban Battle.”
Our peer educators came to hold educational talks with the attendees, most of which were in our target age group of 15-24.
Look at them promoting the ABC strategy (abstinence, be faithful, use a condom) and talking about HIV.
At our stand, where each person who purchased a ticket was given a free copy of the 100%Jeune magazine (people really seem to like them here)
Remembered to take a photo with Nafi, my amazing colleague:
It was my third and final Reunification Day in Cameroon. Now, I have just 6 and a half months left in Cameroon!
Somehow, even with access to Internet almost everyday in Garoua, I still manage to be months behind on my blog…
At the end of March, ACMS was invited to participate at “journée portes ouvertes” (open houses) at two different high schools. Here’s some health club members, getting ready to march, wearing t-shirts from ACMS. Behind them are girls with “Orange” t-shirts, from the French telecommunications company… Hooray walking advertisements.
We had stands each day, and four high schoolers from one of the health clubs helped out with the condom demonstrations both days (we did demos of male and female condoms).
The next week, we also attended an activity at another high school, where they held a ceremony to mark the end of their extracurricular activities. First, each club got the chance to march. The Health club again wore t-shirts from ACMS and marched with copies of the ACMS 100%Jeune magazine:
Afterwards, the obligatory group shot, where we were photobombed by the Sports club (where did they get that vuvuzela, I wonder…)
Then onto the ceremony, which included lots of performances:
Teachers even come up to dance with their students:
In Cameroon, to show your appreciation, it is encouraged to give dancers money. Two methods: You can stick it right on their forehead or body, or you just throw it at them if you want.
In lieu of money, Nafi, my co-worker, made me get up and give the dancers copies of the 100%Jeune magazine.
Me: “Wait, do I throw the magazines on the ground, or…?”
Nafi: “NO! You throw it AT them!”
Um, alright… As usual with my life in Cameroon, awkwardness involved, but somehow all socially acceptable. Or at least amusing, to all of the hundreds of people watching me.