Thursday, November 27, 2008

subhan Allah!

...just finished with a 2-hour email session here in bamenda. wrote to the country director of peace corps morocco. God helep with that! seems like [an internship at the botanic garden in] Limbe this summer may be possible. got a positive reply from Dr. Ndam. only that the garden may be too wet during that season. rainy, that is.

anywho... i'll ened with one thought. Suhaibu [muhammadu & ibrahim's older brother] came to visit after Friday prayer in Wum yesterday. we talked about a bunch of things. we got into ethnic diversity among Muslims, among other equally interesting topics. at regular intervals, Suhaibu would marvel and say "God is so wonderful!" and say it so sincerely that it touched me.

subhan Allah is what i suppose he was translating... i like it! God is so won-duh-ful!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

walking to wum


Sarah got in yesterday... still waiting on the rest of the crew: Chris, Heather and Mike. should be here this afternoon, insha’Allah. Sarah caught a ride with this French family that happened to cross their path.

she hurt her knee and has some pretty bad blisters... she’ll recover though. says the trek was beautiful. worth it. that there was just about no one out there. not even at Lake Nyos. they slept by a river one night, and in what seems to have been a cattle path on another night.

said they woke up to cows all around... kinda scary. i’d like to make the trek myself. Maggie seems to be down, as well. i’m sure we can get a couple other folks to come. we’ll do it from Wum to Nkambe though. just for a twist.

well... everyone arrive safely. the day before yesterday. they were a sight! cracked me up. everyone was in pain. sore. tender. battered. blistered. but in high spirits. said the trek was well worth it. beautiful country. interesting stories. they really were too funny.

got a couple of photos... but nothing could capture the sight of all of them walking ever so gingerly to the taxi park. still, i’m sure a sense of achievement helped to sooth the pain... just a little.

we got to rest/relax at the house. God bless mama! had 2 good meals (dinner and breakfast) and 1 good night’s rest. and i got a kind note from Sarah & Chris (with a box of ma3moul as a gift!) back in Bamenda:

“Thanks again for being an awesome host to your dirty, crippled guests."

Monday, November 24, 2008

EE notes for NWP

these are my notes and feedback, as the new NWP EE committee rep, to my fellow PCVs at the "the slum" (Northwest Province volunteer co-house in Bamenda) from our national EE committee meeting (held in Yaounde on 2/9/2002):

Sunday, November 23, 2008

full of grace

2/12/2002 (part 3):

i'm in the process of writing Rama that letter about kids in Africa. in depth and interesting. that said, my letters home still aren't flowing that well...

i'll end with a quote from Mike:
"don't feel bad that you're struggling... Peace Corps is like this."
...and a quote from David:
"...some people, for reasons clearly unknown to me, walk gracefully down here on earth. And those of us fortunate enough to be touched by them as they give of themselves live better lives, and learn to treat others better, as modeled by the graceful ones."
Mike is a graceful one.

Monday, November 17, 2008

bicultural, bilingual

2/12/2002 (part 2):
had a series of interrupted, interesting conversations with Cheryl in Yaounde. we’ve only sat and spoken to each other twice... so it was nice having such comfortable conversation with her now. she has quite a personality and a head on her shoulders. not to mention class.

we talked about family, moms, brothers, marriage, our biculturalism and Africa... Cameroon, Mali, South Africa and Morocco, in particular. she’s thinking about extending service for a year in Mali. Bamako, actually. had some advice for me about Morocco, too.

about bilingualism... won’t go into depth now, as i’m tired. i’ll elaborate later. basically, every time i go from Francophone to Anglophone Cameroon i come back thinking/speaking French. can’t just turn it off. it confuses me.

i guess it’s the same when i come back from Syria to America. it takes a while to readjust to the different zone and – hmmm... mentality? it's the same confusion that has me wanting to start writing English from right to left and Arabic from left to right (see 4 languages post). i wonder if that confusion translates into, or is reflected in, the national cultural identity of Cameroonians?

during the African Cup of Nations i couldn’t help but be totally amused by the commentary. 5-10 minutes in French, then 5-10 minutes in English. even the pre/half/post-game shows were simultaneously bilingual! 2 anchors... one Francophone, one Anglophone. and often one will be speaking directly to the other (or their respective guests) in one language and receive a reply in another.

“can you say IDENTITY CRISIS?!” i don’t know???... is it forced? is it working? it is strange... at least to me. and talk about a legacy... colonialism’s, that is.

well... i guess i’m not that tired. i did elaborate. that’s all i have to say about language here, for now.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

cramped discomfort

2/12/2002 (part 1):
two days later [from the tired outline]. here we go...

the trip(s) to and from Yaounde were rough. did the Bamenda-Baffousam-Yaounde thing on the way there. cramped and uncomfortable. HIGHLY! had a friend traveling with me, from bamenda... and he had it worse!

in Yaoudne, the EE [environmental education] meeting was short (relative to the journey, that is)... good group. more on that later...

saw a bunch of PCVs, too. talked to Adam in Bamenda. he’s leaving (ETing) in June. on good terms, of course... he's probably known for some time now. Kay was ill and in Yaoudne. Nat, too. spoke to Kay... she’s leaving her village for another one, also in June.

not sure, but Kristen may still be unhappy with her post.... didn’t see her though. cannot confirm. Robert moved posts, as well. still in the SW though. that’s it for our stage... but i also saw and spoke with a bunch of other PCVs in Yaounde.

had an extended conversation with Mike. i vented. again. totally. was looking for advice. maybe even some inspiration. tough though. i kinda dropped or bounced a lot off him. he did ask one interesting question:

“ideally... if you had it your way, what would you do or what would you want to accomplish here?”

good question. what is/are my goals? figure those out, then go for it... just do it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

tired outline

things to write about (just an outline... ‘cuz i’m tired now):
  • trip to/from Yaounde... talking to a few PCVs
  • EE stuff... write up house feedback & things to ask Mike
  • Bilingualism... mine, Cameroon’s and identity crises (or at least language confusion)
  • Carton rouge aux travaux les enfants... letter to Rama on Youth Day
btw... the Indomitable Lions won the Cup of Nations over Senegal: 3-2, on penalty kicks. glad i left Younde... must be nuts there now!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

village project 2

material & labor:
-35 cement bags (4,700 cfa /ea.) = 164,500 cfa
-6L fuel for delivery (500 cfa /ea.) = 3,000 cfa
-labor, water & sand (community contribution) = ~33,000 cfa
-subtotal (materials & labor) = 200,500 cfa

-total (subtotal - community contribution) = 167,500 cfa


-approx. 15 young men in village to assist w/labor.
-their schedules will rotate over course of project.
-need to meet & confirm before work commences.

extra funds?
(200,000 - 167,500 = 32,500 cfa)
-will look into small project for these and ask about using them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


wicked sh%t happens here in Africa... was listening to that True Love, True Crime series on Network Africa/BBC this morning. can’t say all the entries aren’t a little melodramatic, even exaggerated. but still... the ones about rebel soldiers killing infants and chopping off people’s arms are all too real. and all too often corroborated by the news itself.

rebel soldiers in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Congo, Ivory Coast... and the list goes on and on. just depends on the relative stability or instability of African nations at that particular time and no African nation seems immune. i’m sure all have suffered through these same stories of faction fighting, tribal warfare and general lawlessness.

what a mix in some of these countries... religions, tribes, races and, of course, political ideology (or power struggle to put it simply). that’s what it ends up being, but always under the guise or split along the lines of differences in people. people.

Tony Blair said that Africa is the scar on the conscience of the world. indeed... Africa has a lot of people to blame for its present situation. but will they fix it? can they fix it? my brain is not totally in gear here... need to stop...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

walk fast or far?

"If you want to walk fast, walk alone... If you want to walk far, walk with a friend."

-Zimbabwean proverb... heard it
last night from the South African
Rev. Eddie Makue [see his bio, PDF].

Sunday, November 9, 2008

to see whole

There exists the argument that some returned volunteers have gained insight into the damage they have done to others - and thus become more mature people... The damage which volunteers do willy-nilly is too high a price for the belated insight that they shouldn't have been volunteers in the first place (from To Hell with Good Intentions, 1968).
i've been struggling with these words for a few days now... what they mean. how to understand them. the implications. for me and for others. for this kind of work (international development). for the ethic they could inspire. for a deeper understanding of our roles. and for a greater awareness of – for lack of a better word – the system(s) we're all a part of. actually, there is a better word... wholeness.

i had 3-4 conversations with good friends about illich and his ideas this weekend. they helped me realize that it's not about just stopping... ending international development. as if that were possible. indeed, many people are benefiting and i don't have the right (or the power, really... i'm not sure anyone does. even illich must have understood that) to just stop it.

it's not about that. it's about change. no matter how slow or gradual... and it does change. it is changing. international development, that is. not just what work is being done but also how it's being done. "it's a matter," as one of my friends put it, "of unlearning paternalism in exchange for partnership."

it's also about intention... the theory of change i believe in is that change comes from within. this is hard for me to describe or fully articulate, but people only have the power to change themselves... and that can be quite powerful. but it can also be tenuous... the control we have, even over ourselves. which is why i'm so interested in presence.

presence, as i understand it, is less about having control over the situations we find – or, if you like, put ourselves – in... and more about how we deal with them. this takes awareness. a greater awareness than i had while i was in cameroon. and often a greater awareness than i have in my day-to-day, even today. even at the 'simple' frustrations in life, whether it's waiting for a bush-taxi or a metrobus.

this lack of awareness had me looking (and i'm still looking... b/c it's hard to unlearn these things) for specific answers to the situation i was in. a young american overseas trying to help. there was more than that, to be sure... i was also trying to learn. understand. respect. adapt. did i do damage? i'm sure i did. less than others? perhaps.

but it isn't just about me or any other volunteer or kind of volunteer (muslim, multicultural, bicultural...). it's also about the change occurring in the people, and the countries, we were working with. change that we didn't have very much, if anything, to do with.

and there's more... a change in the institutions doing development. brought on, in part, b/c of their understanding of past and present failures, and the need to change. there are many voices speaking up right now about peace corps needing to change [see the Fall 2008 'Worldview'; PDF, esp. pages 20-21]... to pick only one institution in the behemoth that is international development. a very small player, at that.

so the bigger picture emerging is a set of factors changing... coming together to change. one of my friends asked me to stop trying to isolate any one of those factors in the hope of finding change in it alone... she asked me to think more whole. it's about the change in everything coming together.

which brings me back to illich... there's certainly something to his "to hell with good intentions" argument. there's a lot to it! "scathingly accurate," as another friend pointed out... and compelling. and yet there's more. i.e. there's a bigger picture that illich's argument is only one part of. what is it? i haven't figured it all out.

i've gotten glimpses of it... and the experiences i've had and the people of wisdom around me are helping me see more. this blog is helping me see more. that is, in part, why i'm doing this... to see more. to see whole, insha'Allah.

Friday, November 7, 2008

don't come to help

If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home. Work for the coming elections: You will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell. It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don't even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as "good," a "sacrifice" and "help."

I am here to suggest that you voluntarily renounce exercising the power which being an American gives you. I am here to entreat you to freely, consciously and humbly give up the legal right you have to impose your benevolence on Mexico. I am here to challenge you to recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the "good" which you intended to do.

I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status and your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help.

Ivan Illich, from To Hell with Good Intentions. 1968.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

an impact?

i'm not sure where to start with the previous post... to make an impact. how do i reflect on my thinking then, through how i think presently? ellen was right about indoctrination [see the 3rd comment]. i feel like it's been a steady process of unlearning a lot of what i've learned growing up. not just in school, though that's probably where it started. but also through work and in life.

there are at least 3 issues that come up for me as i reread what i wrote more than 6 years ago in that post:
  1. most importantly, what does making an impact mean?
  2. what do i mean when i write about a place called "Africa?" what "Africa?"
  3. how do i begin to address the last line in the previous post, for myself... where am i needed most?
while all 3 of these issues are certainly worth deconstructing, i'll only be focusing on the first one. for now.

so what does that mean? "to make an impact or a difference in a small village." i suppose i was referring to (international) sustainable development. peace corps training was my first introduction to that concept, explicitly. i'm sure many a peace corps volunteer has struggled with the idea. we often talked about it... were we making a difference? what would make us more effective? how could we have more of an impact?

and how is that measured, exactly? in the number of people reached? students taught? farmers trained? or community development projects executed? for other agents of international development, perhaps it's more easily quantifiable or more tangible... like miles of road built or rural infrastructure constructed. tons of food produced or local income generated. to say nothing of attempts at quantifying "quality of life."

i can't help but notice how all these are external measurements... how about the difference or the impact made within? on ourselves... as humans. reciprocally. reflexively. b/w people. not just "development agent" and "beneficiary." how do we begin to measure the depth of human exchange or relationship?

and what if that exchange, by definition, is not reciprocal? what if the relationship, no matter how "human," is not at all of mutual benefit? the thoughts of ivan illich come to mind [thanks to ellen for sharing in an early comment]... and what he describes as a likely "new awareness" for "North American do-gooders":
...the awareness that even North Americans can receive the gift of hospitality without the slightest ability to pay for it; the awareness that for some gifts one cannot even say 'thank you' (from To Hell with Good Intentions, 1968).
i'm not sure what to say, really... there's more from illich. much more. and i'll let him speak for himself in the next post. yet i can't help but wonder (without going too much into it here) about the 3rd question i raised above, "where am i needed most?" and is it simply a question of where?... or what? and how?

to make an impact

looks like Mali will be playing Cameroon in the semifinals of the African Cup of Nations. they beat South Africa in Kayes [western Mali] today. Cameroon plays Egypt before the semis... don’t think that’ll be a problem.

reached Weh today. Maggie and i, of course. took the road to Esu a little out of town to this rock outcrop. nice view. whole thing took a couple hours. introduced Maggie to Pa Wango on they way back.

she thought he was cute. he is. also sensed he’d be a great person to sit and talk to. he is. i cannot believe i neglected to introduce him to mama. bad form on my part. especially b/c he’s got kids in the Maryland/DC area. alas...

a note. Maggie and i had mexican last night. got to talking about posts and PC admin. after dinner. especially as i got a package with some memos in it... Grace [PC staff from Yaounde] came out to visit her brother, the State Counsel.

anywho... we were talking about posts. my opinion is put volunteers in small, remote villages and give them a post-mate. that towns like Wum (and by implication, anything bigger) are too big for volunteers to make an impact.

Maggie agreed that it’s difficult to make a difference in larger towns, but that that is the challenge. to make an impact in towns like that. Africa is heading in that direction... urbanization, that is. and that’s an important step in development.

it’s easy to make an impact or a difference in a small village... the same needs to be done in towns, though. and that may be the setting where we’re needed most.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

c'est la vie...


...and the days just keep marching on. indiscriminate. the passage of time, that is. but i won’t go there. i nobi in mood fo philosophizing.

i have been speaking more pidgin as of late. maybe that speaks to how little i’ve been in the classroom? and that shall only get worse. or is it better?

will no longer have 3rd year now. i’ve actually only had them all of 2 times this term. one class with 3A, one with 3B. but let’s not go there, either. i know i will have to soon, but not tonight.

been exercising these past few days. eating ravenously as a result. all is well there...

went out to visit Mu’allem [literally, teacher] Gibreel’s compound. man passed away last Tuesday. left behind 3 wives and 12 kids. people here were real shook that first day. good man.

i think i only met him once or twice. didn’t speak to him more than once. had to see a pic to remember his face. his compound is way out there. about ½ an hour by motorcycle down Bu Road. then a five minute walk down and up a hill.

the road is bad at parts. rocky. Ibrahim [Muhammad Omaru's brother] took me... wasn’t the comfiest ride, but i’m glad he took me. Sani [Ibrahim and Muhammadu’s older brother] was there.

Gibreel lost a wife a year or 2 ago when lightening struck the compound. i saw her/his orphans today. people die all over the world, everyday. c’est la vie... so why does it seem like it happens more here? why does it seem so much more unfair here?

gotta amend that tired cliché to something like c’est la vie en afrique... doesn’t make it any more fair, but at least a little more realistic.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

beautiful morning

...was a big moon over africa last night, as well. big and beautiful. but neither drove me to write home or write in here. i'm still in a bit of a letter-writing funk. been writing in here regularly, though.

it's Wed morning. Maggie and i rode out to Lake Wum. was a little worried about getting their late... for the sunrise and for some quiet time before people arrived. didn't miss either in the end. sun rose over the ridge around the Lake soon after we arrived. no one else was there. guess people don't go on weekdays.

beautiful morning. beautiful lake. good conversation with my new post-mate. about Cameroon. about home. heard the children singing the national anthem [MP3 audio] across the fields from the school there. that was nice.

anywho... spoke to the PTA president and HM of the Nursery School this morning. about how to approach painting the doors there. seems we'll have to discuss the matter at the next PTA meeting to find out for sure.

that's sometime next week. in the meantime, i'm going to do a little research and/or some campaigning to see if the parents will agreee to paint the doors themselves. even the SDO. we'll see what happens from there... if/when we get there, that is.