8 adults plus 1 infant on a 4, at most 5, passenger car? pas de probleme! That is how I ended my week-long site visit. The hour-ride back back from the provincial capital consists me twisted like a human pretzel sandwiched between Kat and a big mama holding her infant child. Thank god for all those years of yoga, or else my back would seriously hurt now. Crazy stories aside, this was the best week I have had since boarding that plane in Philadelphia on June 4th. Let me start from the beginning.
Last Saturday, I met my counterpart, Gabriel (the person from MC2 – a microfinance institution that I will be working with). He didn’t come to Day One of counterpart workshop, therefore not making the best first impression. He is nice enough though. A pretty quiet guy that asks interesting and sometimes strange questions. I think some of those are attributes of culture differences. On Sunday, the two of us began our journey to my village. This was my first time travel in Cameroon sans the Peace Corps transport. We took the “Jeannot Express”, and Agence, to the provincial capital. Now, let’s talk about this Agence. It’s sort of like a bus. You go to the station to buy “tickets”, which is a flimsy piece of paper that no one checks. Then you wait forever. There is no schedule of when the next bus will arrive. So we waited – for 40 minutes – not bad. Except it takes that amount of time to get to the provincial capital. These agences are similar to those old school VW vans. They are designed for 3 to a row, but rest assured that we squeeze 4 to a row to maximize efficiency. To be honest, the agence experience wasn’t as bad as I imagined. We arrived without much problem or discomfort.
Once we reached provincial capital, we had to take a “taxi” to our village. The only thing these taxi resembles the same meaning of the word as we know it in the USA is that they are yellow. C’est tout. My counterpart and I were squeezed in the front passenger seat. There were four people squeezed in the back seat, and a goat in the trunk – yes a live one. Let me tell ya, when you take one of these rides, the phrase “click it or ticket” means absolutely nothing. This was
probably a toyota corolla, as most “taxis” here are. They are at least 10 years old. Speedometer, gas gage, and all other important indicators don’t work. On this particular ride, the doors don’t have the plastic cover, just a sheet of metal. The driver had conveniently made a door handle out of duck-tape. The ride was only a bit longer than half an hour, but I had lost all sense of “personal space”. I was way too close for comfort with someone I just met, and my thigh
was up against the shift-gear. Yes, the car is manual and the driver is shifting while my thigh is leaning against it. Oh, did I mention there is no real standard of emission, so I am either getting high or delirious from the exhaust fume while the goat is baaa-ing for background noise.
Anyhow, we made it au village alive and in one piece. Then I take a short motor ride to my future house. I haven’t taken a motor ride in 10 years. The minute I put on my helmet and hopped on the back of a moto driver, I felt childhood. *sigh* that was a good feeling.
I am replacing Kirk, a volunteer who is finishing his service next week. I stayed with him for most of the week, getting familiar to the community and him showing me around. My village is tiny! I think population is anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000. Not sure. Things in the village aren’t centrally located, so it feels very sparse. From my house, I have to walk 25 minutes to the carrefour to purchase basic essentials. Carrefour here does not refer to the French Target or WalMart equivalent; it’s simply the french word for intersection/crossroad. I can get the basics (onion, tomato, fruits in season, Nido (powder milk), etc.) in my village. Everything above the most basic needs, I would need to either wait for Market Day, which happens every 8 days, or to a neighboring town. Luckily, the provincial capital isn’t far by car.
My house is really big and the neighborhood is beautiful. The village is sort of in the mountains; lots hills and great air quality. I don’t have running water, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I’ve taken the best showers this week without running water! We boil half of the water to make the shower nice and warm! It’s heaven! I have an “outhouse”. It’s a latrine, but in a house with roof, walls, and a door. I’ve never actually seen a latrine since all the squat toilets I’ve experienced had a porcelain pot. This is literally a one foot hole. Fabulous. Like the motor rides, I felt quite at home doing my business in squatting position. I actually quite prefer the latrine over toilet. Most all bathrooms I’ve visited here are pretty stinky. The plumbing doesn’t work quite the same and there is always a lingering stink.
Several very exciting things happened this week. One is the amount of great food that I consumed and also made. I am quite sure that I did more cooking this week than I ever did. The yummy goodness consumed include: starbucks coffee (kirk had his parents send him ground
starbucks coffee. he has a drip filter that I will inherit. Send those coffee, friends. I am in Africa, but all there is to buy is Nescafé!), pancake (twice! Kirk had maple syrup sent from home. yumm!), mexican style lentil & rice, quiche, fried rice, hash-brown, omelets, alfredo pasta, and vegetable stew. I am quite proud of this considering a year ago, I remember writing, “my tortelini was not good, so I ate them really quickly.” Mind you, all these cooking are from scratch! Unfortunately the general store on the corner does not sell pie crust or pancake mix.
Another very exciting thing happened when Kirk took me to the Chinese store in the prov. capital. He said he stumbled upon the store last year when he was searching for Christmas lights and he thinks the owners are Chinese. I was excited! Sure enough, the owner and I became instant best friends speaking away in Mandarin! He’s from mainland China and has been in Cameroon for 9 years. His wife and him live upstairs from the store and his son works in Douala. We exchanged numbers and he said to call him if I need anything, and if I need food, he’ll even have his guys drive it to my village! He asked to make sure I have somewhere to live. I told him I may need some help painting the house. He said, “you need remodeling? no problem!” He wants me to come over sometime so him and his wife can make me a good table of Chinese food! I can’t tell you how excited I am at this new connection.
Other exciting things include visiting two other current volunteers who are posted near me. Nora is about 15 min. motor ride away and Emilie is about 15 min. by car. Both of the girls have gorgeous apartments with great decor! I can’t wait to start decorating my great house! The thing about taking after a boy is that the house is bare, but that’s alright. It’s been a while since I could go crazy with my interior design skills. It’s a bit more difficult without Target, Pier One, Home Depot and the like. I’ll make it work!
Great food and warm bucket baths aside, yesterday I had one of the most relaxing days I’ve had in YEARS. I don’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed. Four other trainees and I were staying with Emilie and we made food and watched movies ALL DAY. The period that come closes to yesterday were probably those glorious movie nights we had in high school. We started with Juno, then episodes of The Simpsons, The West Wing, then Royal Tennanbaum, and finally 4 hours of Sex and the City. Yesterday, I was temporarily in America. I spoke not a single word of French, hung out with all Americans, watched American movies/tv shows, ate alfredo pasta and vegetable stew, all in the comfort of a fabulously decorated 2nd floor apartment with crown molding.
I can’t wait for training to be over so I can hit the dirt road running with projects. Mom, Peace Corps is going to teach me/force me to learn all the “wife skills” that I lack. I will come home knowing how to clean, cook, fetch water, and maybe even sew, maybe!