Monday, March 31, 2008

organized brain

i’ve been putting off writing in—no, more like starting—my Peace and Freedom journal for some time now. the procrastinator or perfectionist in me??? alas... there’s always that proverbial “tomorrow.”

anyhow... i left the house once today. Sundays are still slow as ever here. i went out to buy bread and bananas. came back with eggs, too. not a totally useless day though. i read all morning. washed clothes all afternoon. and organized my room a little.

no longer living out of my bags. clothes are neatly folded and in piles on the floor. over plastic bags, of course. need to delve into that trunk now and get some of the things in there arranged, too.

you know... that’s an all too uncanny metaphor for my brain. the trunk, that is. full of things yet not always in an organized, efficient, or easily accessible manner. nice! :P (i guess that means “tongue-in-cheek.” it’s been in so many of my letters lately.)

lights aren’t back on yet. funny. need to go to SONEL [info on the then recently American acquired utility company: from AES Corporate or Business Wire or the IFC] tomorrow to get this meter thing worked out. i’m out of electricity before even officially having electricity.

tomorrow Madame Laisin (that’s the Principal’s name) and i do protocol, i think??? never really set a time for it. seeing as i never really left the house today.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

day 4, wum

the lights are out. it’s nice though. i like the soft light of a glowing flame. serene and comforting. they had a candle lit in the mosque. one candle. i’m so at ease there. often don’t want to leave. it’s familiar.

i was thinking about that. fond and familiar things, that is. between maghrib and ‘isha prayer tonight. all day really. the strangest things from home come to mind and warm my heart. strange because back home they were taken for granted, more-or-less.

common place things. things i wouldn’t normally associate with the concept of “home.” West Virginia. country music. hmmm... now i’m at a loss for the other little things that i was thinking of today.

anyhow... in the mosque. another fond and familiar thing. i felt at home. familiar sights, sounds and smells even. bare feet. rugs. mats. long flowing fabric. musk. a man’s beautiful voice reciting the fatiha. i’m also somehow less of the foreigner in the mosque.

i find the Fulani and Hausa people are much more respectful of my “personal space” and not as surprised with my presence... or at least it seems so. i think it’s just their way. the PCVs up North mentioned that. the people are just much less in your face.

went with Florence to the Principal’s today. ate well. got food to take home, again. washed clothes in the morning. they’re hanging in the house. no lines outside. Omaru asked about going to America. if it would be possible for him to continue his studies there after his technical high school degree. we talked a little about it. what to say, really?

i’m happy here. granted it’s only been 4 days, but i’m happy. i hope all will go well with school. insha’Allah. i’m liking this place. the people. the pace. being alone... time to think. my own routine and schedule. can’t wait for moms to visit.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

king lazarus

also 8/31/2001:
so... i finished reading King Lazarus (originally Le Roi miraculé, by Mongo Beti) a couple of days ago in the slum. what to say? some parts were great. the idea behind the title. a Chief who comes back from near death after being baptized... so they call him King Lazarus. but there were times, entire strands of the plot even, that the book didn’t stay together, for me at least.

the character Chris for example and his entire role in the plot. he symbolized the educated, young, rebellious generation... a threat to the colonial status quo. fine. but Beti really didn’t integrate the character into the plot that well. how does Chris affect the interaction between the Priest (Leguen) and the Chief (Mendouga)? that’s the heart of the plot.

anyhow... i’m at a loss for precise words/phrasing. suffice it to say that a few strands in the novel just weren’t woven together well. stayed separate in my mind through the end. maybe i expected Beti to tie things up a little more intricately in the end. he didn’t. the ending just kinda fizzled away. not a very interesting or dramatic dénouement. on to Anthills of the Savanna. i think maybe Chinua Achebe has set the bar too high??? we’ll see...

a quote from the kind note Adam gave me before my posting to Wum... i didn't post the note here, but in hindsight the quote ties in well with the themes in Mongo Beti's books: “The powerful have always been willing to baptize the status quo and name it peace while the impotent have regularly been accused of being troublemakers when all they seek is justice.” –Sam Keen

day 3, wum

my landlord came around today to look at the house. he lives in Bamenda. retired principal. has a son in Kansas City. seems like a nice man. things are coming along pretty slowly on the house. carpenter came today and fixed the front and bathroom doors. also made me a little cutting board. Davis is his name. he should be making me a bed when Kenneth gets back. hope he can make a few other things, as well... chairs, stools, table, wardrobe, etc. curtain rods, too.

the Principal and i visited the District Officer today. he’s Francophone. good to have french. really need to continue with it. we’ll finish the rest of the required protocol on Monday. tomorrow Florence (the lady who runs the off-license down the street) and i are going to the Principal’s around noon. need to do much laundry in the morning. much laundry. also need to find a place to put a line up for drying my clothes. we’ll see...

the boys and i just ate some fayn chop (i.e. good food). agusi pudding, plantains and rice. the 2 former foods having been donated to me by the Principal. i don’t as of yet know her name! oh... the boys i ate with (my little neighbors) are Hamza, Petel, and Patrick Henry. i need to work on my pidgin skills. rice cooking skills, too.

Friday, March 28, 2008

wum nice


Wum is nice. drive up from Bamenda was beautiful. different from yesterday’s to Ndjinikum. more valleys and rounded hilltops. rice fields along the way. the road was paved for barely ¼ of the route. not bad beyond that, but not great. i can see why it used to take days to get here. met the Principal. interesting woman... full of character!

Kenneth, the house's caretaker and the Principal were quite surprised to see me. expected my arrival next week, not this one. water and electricity weren’t connected. water is on now. no lights though. working by bush lamp. ate well. spaghetti. setup the water filter. sleeping on the mattress on the floor. no bother. tiled floor was cleaned today. well. Thank God.

it's a big house. 3 bedrooms. 1 bath. 1 storage space. 1 kitchen. large parlor. hot-water heater. nice front yard overlooking main road to Nkambe. no back yard. there is a little plot to the side of the house available for my gardening needs. i hear there may be an agro-forester posted here come Dec/Jan... nice. amazing how things work out. nice town. nice house. nice folks.

i prayed at the mosque in town. met the Fulani chief’s son. Omaru. promised to bring me fresh milk and eggs. nice, quiet young man. i’m content and thankful. hope all goes well for Adam and Kay at their posts tomorrow. Adam left me with a great little note... truly a kind human being. hope to see both of them soon.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


got to do some email today in town. after we dropped Natalie off at post in Ndjinikum. beautiful place. surrounding hills are spectacular. town is quaint and had a real “Alps-sy” feel to it. like Geneva, Kay said. Nat’s got a great house. big and well built. really quite a nice place.

we met Nat’s landlord. nice man. lives down the street. a colleague. teaches physics. saw her school. unfinished. down in the valley, a little from town. 100 cfa fair along the main road. still cannot get over how quaint Ndjinikum was. great little town. i’m sure she’ll enjoy it. and hope she stays safe.

anyhow... we made it back into Bamenda. emailed. nice. ate and shopped a little more. peanut butter! all is well now. we leave for Wum tomorrow morning. early 8am.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

bamenda slum


we open bank accounts in bamenda today. also do some shopping... essentials for post. i’m thinking some kitchen stuff, some bedroom stuff. then one room at a time. just need to figure out how much money i’ll need/should take back to Wum. spent the past 2 days/nights here in the bamenda slum (volunteer co-house). the days have been slow... reading, writing, relaxing.

we had a mexican feast the 1st evening. our welcome party. and another mexican spread yesterday, leftovers and what not. much alcohol on the first night made for an interesting 1st-hand exposure to the volunteer social scene here. a little drama, too. not everyone participated... some of the PCVs are a little more mature than others.

Kay was a bit annoyed about all that... understandably. really made one doubt the benefits of coming back to the Bamenda house to relax. last night was tame, though. we sat and talked after dinner. shared funny stories... PC stories. about “wacky-vacs” and things to do when you’re bored senseless at post. it really is a good group.

kept thinking that i’ve just got to continue to keep an open mind about the people here. just as we all did when we 1st met our stage. many of us agreed that we may not have befriended each other under different circumstances. but beyond those barriers (labels and stereotypes) i got to know great people.

same here. patience. no judging. keeping an open mind. deal with people one at a time. get to know them. yet another positive aspect of this entire experience... the exposure to so many people, ideas, and ways. both American and Cameroonian.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

why now?

before i move on to the next stage in my peace corps story, from training in babadjou to my posting in wum... i'd like to address something that's come up recently as i share this blog with the people around me.

a couple of friends have asked me how i’m doing this and why now? how am i sharing such intimate experiences and emotions so publicly? and why after all these years? i’m glad they asked. b/c i hadn’t explicitly thought such things through. the two questions are directly related. in fact, i think the answer to the second question (why now?) answers the first (how?). it’s about emotional distance, objectivity and time.

as my brother omar put it, “things need to settle before you can reflect back on them with fondness... things like [broken] bones in your arm and freshwater parasites.” yes, the scars have healed and the bones set and settled... both the physical and emotional scrapes and breaks, of course. and i think all the parasites are now gone! i’m no longer as wrapped up in these events as emotionally as i was when they happened or in the first few months or years that proceeded them. in short, emotional distance... not distant, but removed enough to approach objectivity.

on some level, it’s almost like reading about another person. that’s part of who i am in there in those journal entries... but it’s no longer all that i am. and there’s some distance in that, as well. i can, somewhat objectively, read and analyze what i was thinking/doing/writing... with the full weight of that 2-year experience and the succeeding 5 years. though it’s about much more than just years. there’s maturity and growth in hindsight, as well... time is a big part of it, but it can’t just be measured in years passed.

as for intimacy and privacy, i think there are some internal mechanisms at play there that i’m not always conscious of... and, thus, that readers are probably not aware of. first, this has been a gradual process. i started rereading my journals about a year ago. then typing some of them out and sharing them. then, more systematically, typing out entire journals and looking for patterns. finally, late last year i started posting them. i think that gradual process helped ease me into all this.

second, there’s always been some vagueness in my journal writing. things i just didn’t write or go into detail about. i can’t say that i very consciously followed rules or knew when and what to self-censor... but rarely, if ever, do i write about other people to process issues that i have with them or about incidents that are deeply troubling or disturbing (physical pain notwithstanding). third, and perhaps the final filter, is the fact that i’m still editing out a few things as i post the entries... both for my own privacy and the anonymity of family, friends and colleagues. it isn’t much, but it’s enough to make me that much more comfortable with what i’m posting.

being comfortable enough to share all this now stands in stark contrast with how and what i kept to myself, kept inside and didn’t share when i first came back from cameroon... there certainly wasn’t enough emotional distance then, with all the fresh scars and broken bones i came back with. there was also the fear—no, anxiety—in answering the inevitable “so how was it?” question... even from family and friends. or my anxiety at not knowing where or how to start answering that question... fear of rambling and having their eyes glaze over. all that has dissipated now. i’m much more comfortable in my post-peace corps skin... and confident about what that experience meant and means to me.

my peace corps years are basically the only time in my life that i journaled as much as i did... not sure why? processing, catharsis, coping... documenting, recording, analyzing. trying not to forget. knowing that i’d want to and better remember this (read this award-winning essay, better remember this, by a volunteer from kenya). knowing, subconsciously, that i’d need to revisit some of these events to learn from them or move past them... or to write about them. whatever it was, it felt right. and it was never much of a burden. in fact, it was a way to ease the burden of loneliness, confusion, boredom and frustration. to say nothing of all the good times and epiphanies that i tried, in part, to capture in some of these entries.

all parts of our lives are important... perhaps equally so. but some parts stand out for learning, growth, pain, maturity, exposure, experience and amassing the raw material for patience, wisdom and presence. the time that stands out in my life were my 2 years in cameroon... and the next few years (these very years i’m living now) in which the rawness of that experience is gradually being shaped into something less rough, more refined and more conscious. insha’Allah.

unrest in cameroon last month

you may or may not have heard about the riots in cameroon late last month. it certainly made the news. but unless you were digging a little deeper than just headlines and a few brief paragraphs, you probably wouldn't have gathered much:

BBC News | Africa | Cameroon Head Blames Opposition (2/28/2008)

it seems like a taxi strike on increased fuel prices in douala sparked more general rioting (and, in some cases, looting) in cities like yaounde, bamenda and kumba... the riots being attributed to everything from frustration with cost of living increases, attempts at altering the constitution to extend the president's term in office, to youth copycatting the violence in kenya.

IRIN, the Integrated Regional Information Network (part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), has a series of 3 brief articles that are worth reading on the situation:

-Douala Burns as Taxi Strike Turns into General Rioting (2/25/2008)

-Unrest Spreads to Yaounde Even After Taxi Strike Ends (2/27/2008)
-Not Quite Back to Normal (3/6/2008)

there are a number of more detailed articles posted on the US-based Friends of Cameroon website. and an interesting blog post on Peace Corps Cameroon's response to the rioting (to evacuate or not?) from a volunteer currently serving in the country: CONSOLIDATION Vacation, by Tim Hartman.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

bye-bye babadjou


a little before 6am. Saturday morning. last day in Babadjou. PC will be here shortly to take my stuff. quiet night yesterday. Maya and Mirabelle were here when i got back from Dschang. Das didn’t come in until after i went to bed. packed my clothes yesterday. kinda sloppy. was just tired. long day wore me out... i missed prayer. the ceremony ended before noon, but i forgot it was Friday.

Mayor of Dschang spoke. then David. then Delegate from the ministry of education. then our Country Director. then our Ambassador. his “speech” was unimpressive. the delegate spoke well. David, too. Mike from the TEFL bunch even gave a little speech in French. we took many photos.

only once did i have to hold back the tears yesterday. not sure why exactly then... our CD was talking about our commitment to work on the HIV/AIDS issue here. maybe really the only solemn moment for me. the oath of service was too formal. but what the CD said touched me. it sounded heartfelt.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

dschang morning

early morning. day of swearing in. got up around a ¼ to 5. slept a little past midnight. was out with a bunch of the trainee crew yesterday, from both babadjou and dschang. our CD bought us a drink after a 2-hour-plus griping session about training. feedback, no holds barred.

we then went over to the Phoenix. a restaurant here in dschang. took a while! i slept some. was patient. with the food. and the service. in terms of timing, that is. we ate late. left late. went to bed late. i just bit my tongue, though.

i suppose these next 2 years might be just that... an exercise in biting my tongue. all the better, perhaps. one can never gain enough patience.

Ibrahim was kind enough to let me use his room to pray in this morning. good man. generally speaking. wish i’d spent more time with him. sure we’ll see each other again. Ramadan, insha’Allah.

the sun is coming up on Dschang. there’s a heavy mist. rained in the evening so the trees and grass are still wet. birds are chirping away. it’s cool but comfortable.

Friday, March 14, 2008

peace within

May today there be peace within.
May you trust your highest power that you are exactly where you are meant to be...
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith...
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you...
May you be content knowing that you are a Child of God...
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love...
It is true for each and every one of you.
-St. Theresa

...a prayer i copied down for Kristen during one of our last days in Babadjou.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

think positive


morning was fine. Das and i sat down for a quiet breakfast together. something happened as soon as i got out of the van at GHS (Government High School) Santa though. crabby. bitter. frustrated. tired, emotionally and physically. like i got up on the wrong side of the bed. Summer School graduation was just barely bearable. sat there looking as uninterested as i could. Westerman (our sandwich shop guru) was drunk. very drunk. his little apprentice made mediocre food.

all the while there was my man Mike. cool. calm. collected. and totally patient. i know i can be that way, too. i want to be. it’s healthy and the only way not to go insane. but i’ve just had it here. i want to go. badly. but i don’t know if i want to go to post. not that i don’t want to go, but i know that’ll be tough. strange day. think maybe the next few days will be strange as well. way to think positive, no? think positive.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

never let go

another Tuesday night in Babadjou, but the last Peace and Freedom for a little bit. i went 1st and said only a few words. but then i was inspired (by what people said and read) to read the poem mama sent. in Arabic then a translation. i’m glad i shared. Greg explained his idea on continuing Peace and Freedom in written form. i think it’ll work. well.

we’re all to procure books and begin to write in them. anything. share experiences. write quotes. draw and/or paste pictures. whatever. just genuine. then, whenever we meet another stage-mate we exchange books and go on writing all the same. the books will be exchanged over and over... so everyone will have a chance to write in many of the books with or without getting their own books back. at COS (close of service) though, you get your book back. along the way you share and read, read and share experiences and we continue learning and growing from and with one another. wonderful! i love my stage.

Robert said something that i tried hard to remember today in his Peace and Freedom. something a friend wrote to him recently: “it must’ve been very hard for you to leave to Africa, but i didn’t see it.” indeed, how can you put such a myriad of emotions into words when whenever you try there’s a lump in your throat and tears in your eye? you swallow your emotions and hold back your tears as much as you can. on the outside you look stalwart. on the inside you’re crying out to be hugged, loved and never let go of.

that’s how i felt before leaving. now i’m here. glad i am though. in many ways glad i left, too. b/c i have a feeling that when i get back i’ll have a little better idea of how to express my emotions; how to cry, how to say i love you and how to ask to be hugged... and never let go.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

imperfect perfect

sitting here on the couch in the staff house... chez diarou and jean. kinda been a slow day. will probably be a slow week, as well. did some # crunching today with grades. a little again tomorrow. our APCD should be here. the CD the next day. then Summer School graduation, then Dschang... for our swearing in ceremony.

so i've been daydreaming of going up North and/or becoming an agroforestry volunteer... but i think i’ll be staying in Wum for the next 2 years. agroforestry can be a secondary project. especially when i find out who'll be posted close to Wum from the agroforestry program. maybe we can team up? Kim, one of our PCV trainers, thought that would be the best way to get my plant fix.

the North will have to wait... maybe a visit will suffice? maybe it’ll get me thinking about all this again? never really thought much of the comment at the time, but something my peace corps recruiter back home said comes up often... “don’t try to make this perfect,” it’ll come out that way if you roll with it and make the best of it along the way. more or less.

Monday, March 10, 2008

last saturday in babadjou

Cameroon 1884-1985: A Hundred Years of History
Dr. Victor Julius Ngoh

Pre-Colonial Cameroon
V.G. Fanso

above are a couple of books on Cameroonian history recommended by Benjamin, our pidgin language trainer. not sure how, but the topic came up in one of our one-on-one pidgin classes. anywho... i’ll look into the books.

i spent my last Saturday morning/afternoon here in Babadjou at home. some went to Mbouda. i washed clothes, my bedroom floor... and just hung out. need to start packing actually. we leave next Thursday. also need to send a few letters home before we leave. hope mail isn’t too bad at Wum.

Here's an interesting article on Cameroonian history, from a decidedly Anglophone (i.e. English-speaking or of the NW & SW provinces) perspective. Francophone vs. Anglophone politics is a volatile topic in Cameroon, and I'm not endorsing this article's perspective... simply sharing what I think reflects the history and culture of the part of Cameroon that I spent most of my time in.

the botany of desire

a fruit, a flower, bud and a spud... i’m wrapping up this book The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan. great reading, Pollan’s style and the content. 4 sections. 4 plants. 4 human desires. the relationships b/w plants and people. specifically, how we use them and they, in turn, use us. the apple and sweetness. the tulip and beauty. marijuana and intoxication. the potato and control.

each section has been intriguing and thought-provoking in so many ways. his mix of science (natural and social), folklore and history. very interesting. all the more b/c i’ve experienced all 4 desires myself and found satisfaction in the plants associated with them. never realizing how much the plants were using me as much as i was using them.

the apple and bud are things of the past now. both forbidden fruit, if you will... one i’ll go back to (apples, of course), one i won’t. flowers i still see here. and they still enchant me. mama sent me a page out of a nursery catalogue from home. she said she remembers me when she sees flowers. all the flowers in the pages she sent were, of course, tulips... coincidence? there are no tulips here, but flowers and beauty nonetheless.

then, potatoes... it is potato season here. potatoes, potatoes and more pommes de terre (literally, apples of the earth!). just finished a meal of potatoes... coincidence? i read about potatoes. agriculture. control. everyday i pass fields of potatoes. watch farmers planting them. people harvest them. and i eat them. i want to get into that chain as a grower myself.

reading about all these plants (especially potatoes and organic farming) so makes me want to get out into the field. no doubt i will. but i want it everyday. i want to work with plants as much as people. here and back home. to teach and grow... me, people and plants.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

fond, familiar and friendly...

“...those are really the two main reasons i came to Africa; peace and freedom.” -Kay

1 more “Peace & Freedom” before IST. the name of our session grows on me more and more throughout training. Kay’s quote was great. her testimony, too. about being so close to us yet not really telling us about her real self. what she was like at home.

but what is your real self? i think we’re all still finding that out about ourselves. and that’s a BIG reason why we’re here.

Don Williams, Kenny Rogers and West Virginia!... never thought things so typically American would remind me of “home!” i’m truly finding out what home is here. the fond, familiar and friendly... country music and Wild, Wonderful!

i am, in so many ways, an American. yet in so many others i’m not. and “the fond, familiar and friendly” can be anywhere. maybe here, too??? insha’Allah.

learning language

John Ngugi Wa Thiongho (Kenya)
-The River Between

Kenjo Njumban (Cameroon, NW)
-The White Man of God

Wole Soyinka (Nigeria)
-The Interpreters

...a list of African authors/book titles from Andre.

it’s early in the morning on Tuesday. my brain was so language fried yesterday afternoon. i sat down to translate some of my presentation with Francois. it was interesting. French is actually starting to make sense... now that we’re leaving, of course.

the presentation will, i believe, turn out to be a good exercise in French... not to mention patience and quick thinking. not sure how much more i’ll translate. i got home and did laundry yesterday well after sunset. then ironed my clothes and slept.

after sitting down with Francois for a little i went to Pidgin class (more on Cameroonian Pidgin). too much language for one day! it’s always so funny how much French we end up using in Pidgin class. in responses. in translation. and even to comprehend. most of them just by habituation. that’s what comes out now.

it occurred to me that i don’t really ever (that may be too strong a word) want to learn a language as i did French and now Pidgin. just too intense. not really at my pace. still, i am looking forward to “picking-up” a few more languages.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

mira pregnant

Diarou was right. Mirabelle is pregnant. i brought up the topic today while we were both doing laundry on the balcony. she just laughed and asked if Das told me... i denied, but i don’t think she believes me. anywho... i pray they’re blessed with a healthy child. maybe a boy. maybe i can help them name him/her.

the lights are out... took a tough bath just now. bones aching. from that and laundry...

...lights just came back on. lying here in bed debating whether to iron my pants now or not. could get up early and do it. could just wear them wrinkled.

i had a long conversation with Francois this afternoon. all about my cross-cultural presentation topic. we spoke at length about death and mourning and so many other things in regards to culture and religion. he has a background in anthropology so we both went off on tangents often. tradition and modernity. cultural values and logical reasoning. faith and explaining it away. it was nice getting into all that... religion, sociology, etc.

i find my topic interesting, comparing death and mourning across cultures. there are some issues with comparing what i describe as an ideal of a Muslim context and the reality of a West Cameroonian one... not really accurate. also an issue saying all that and then some in French. we’ll see.

i'd like to ask Diarou about the history of the North. how the people became Muslim. when?... whether they moved there, were conquered or converted. if there is a local/native culture underlying or mixed-in with the Muslim culture and how it manifests itself. talking to Francois really got me excited about reading the literature and history of this country. looking forward to that.

the talk also got me thinking about the future... how i want to keep up with the religion/sociology/anthropology aspect of my education, but in what capacity? higher degrees? just reading? conversations like today? i.e. formal or informal.

the same goes for plants; form or informal education and career choice??? and teaching, where does that fit in? the work Francois did with an NGO in Kribi on forest conservation and local cultural perception of their work is attractive. a mix of natural and cultural resource work.

so many questions to address in 2 years. don’t know how/why i thought i could plan the rest of my life (it seems like that, at least) from here?


found this wrapped around my bread tonight during dinner... funny b/c i was telling Greg and others how i get the urge to kick people in the butt when i see them pee comme ça.