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Alright, these are all out of order. I am not devirused, but I tricked my flash drive into letting me use these pictures.

Here is my haul from a market day. From the top: the houe/torture device - 2000 cfa/ 4 dollars. tzo pineapples for about 80 cents, onions for 60 cents, garlic for 60 cents, prunes for 40 cents, black beans for 40 cents, white beans for 60 cents, potatoes for a dollar, guavas for 40 cents. All seems rela cheap, right? But we don't get paid in dollars, and nor do Cameroonians. Nonetheless. Bounty.










This is my rad caba. Feast your eyes on the wonder that is a neon cupcake dress. I feel like the happiest giant five year old when I wear it.

















This is me and my muscle, and the compost pit that took me 4 hours to dig, and a week to recover from digging. Darn that houe. My hamstrings look great though.





Here is my host family in Bangangte, the morning of swearing in, and my departure from chez eux.
From left, mon pere Jean, mon frere/cousin Cedric, mon frere/cousin Jores, ma soeur/cousine Anna, mon frere Valdes, ma Mere Berthe, in the front mon frere Joel, et moi.







Here is a crazy looking moth on the outside of my house, n'est-ce pas? I see lots of rad moths. Like the cheeto moth. I'll save that one for another time. When I have a picture of it.







Here is my living room. To the left, the guest room & my room. To the right, the mini-door into the kitchen, and after that, the mini-door into my bathroom.



Here is my little house! The two-thirds on the left is mine, the third on the right is where Jane lives. America garden on the left, Cameroon garden on the right









Agros on swearing in day! With Christina, our tech trainer in the front, and Tiki, our APCD on the right.




The view from my front porch. Those pointy roofs mean that someone special lives here, I think. All the chefferies have roofs like that, but so do other places. I still have many things to learn.



Love love love!!!!!
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Bonne Année, mes amis! That is a happy new year to you!

TO everyone who has left a comment or sent me an e-mail, you are super! Gosh! It is nice to have even a little pixel contact to home. Hi hubby! Hi Georgia & Monte! Hi Gail & Grady! Hi LJ! Hi Mom & Dad! Hi Barby & Dave!

Alright. Let's recap, shall we? I haven't written this up beforehand, so my thoughts may be a little scattered, but darn if i'm not getting dece at typing on a french keyboard!

Christmas. Had mes amis Henry and Christina over. I drew a christmas tree on paper and put it up on the wall. We had arts and crafts time and made ornaments. Dinosaur in a santa hat? check. Andy warhol lady in a wheelchair? check. Pretty poinsettas? check. We made pizza, and banana pancakes, and burritos, and we ate lots of cheese and olives and cake. So, if you are worried about me starving, please don't. If you're worried about my access to cheese, please do.

I also had to faire some protocol in Christmas, which meant a lot of awkwrd sitting and waiting. Met the Sous-Prefet. Seems like a guy. His house is ginormous! Well, at least the living room. He is the authority probably the biggest in town besides the Chef of course. His living room had 2 TVs, 17 easy chairs and 5 couches. Yup. But they still do laundry and dishes by hand in buckets, and cook over a 3 stone fire. Cameroon is just full of contradiction.

On the way to Bafoussam this AM saw a girl in a pink satin dress carrying a bundle of logs on her head. This did not strike me as odd. Everyone here carries logs on their heads. And everyone wears some wacky stuff. Absolutely normal. And yet, when I put it into words, or America context, i find myself... a little baffled.

So, Christmas, big WIN. In fact now, as I sit in the cyber cafe there is an 8-bit electronic christmas soundtrack playing from somewhere. It has been for the last hour. No signs of letting up. Feels like home?

On another day this week I went with Marie Noelle to Bameka to see a baby and meet a farmer who is part of a GIC i may work with. The baby was just darn-tootin adorable, maybe a month or two old. Her hair was so soft, and she could grab my fingers like a champ. Sat in the mud brick kitchen holding the baby and listening to Marie and the baby-mama and her mom and her mom's mom, and an old guy who showed us to their house all talk in Nguemba. It was nice to be around people. The man was bilingual ( well, trilingual if you want to get specific), so we parler-ed un peu in english. Some more peeps showed up and then it was time for lunch. Couscous de mais and cuille. Oh cuille.

Let me devote a paragraph to cuille. I hear that there are foreigners who like this dish. Good for them. Cuille is a gelatinoform, mucilaginous being that one serves by pouring through your hand and then cutting off by closing your thumb and forefinger around it. You take a piece of couscous, which is like cornmeal mush, and wrap it up in cuille, twist it off and pop it in your mouth. If you're coordinated. Or if you actually want to put it in your mouth. Marie told a HILARIOUS story of another volunteer who tried to wrap the couscous raditionally by tossing it and tossed it right onto his head. Ha ha ha ha ha. I began to wonder if accidentally tossing this might be a good way to get through it. Now don't get me wrong, the taste of cuille is alright. It is the texture. People describe it as snot-like, but it is much more viscous. Like egg-whites with a vengeance. I find myself gagging at each bite. When I finally get through an acceptable amount, I try to wash my hands. Ha. Water does nothing but create a slimy goo all over my hands. I resort to wiping it on my hands.

But. To refuse food is rude. Pretty much when you show up at someones house, you can't expect to leave without getting fed.

Anyway. We walked out to the farm, it looked pretty rad, they are digging a canal system to keep it watered in the dry season. The guy talked to me a lot about things. I'll be honest, I pick up maybe a quarter of the words people are saying. Sometimes I think I can piece together the general idea of the sentence, but this could just be me imposing my ideas about what they might be saying onto their words. I know, I know, I need to be more pro-active, ask them to repeat themselves, even if it takes 5 times. But. Gosh it's hard. Sometimes I feel like I've taken an oath of silence, I speak so little and when I do, I am never sure that I am saying what I mean, and it is usually pretty simplified.

Right-o. So we leave Bameka, return to Bamendjou. I greet the chief the wrong way. He doesn't seem offended, but Marie is a bit aghast. You can't just WAVE at the Chief! We go to see a woman who is en deuil, in mourning. We pass a woman's group. They are nice in their matching dresses. One of them gives me a big ignam (yam like tuber). We continue on to chez le Widow. We sit in the dark kitchen. She is upset, and disheveled. Marie explains to me that sometimes when you are in mourning you do not clean, you do not wash your hands, change your clothes. We are given food. I get another ignam to take home. I've also received a lot of beans today, from Marie and the baby-mama's gramma.

Exhausted. Next day, I check to see if my moringa seeds have germinated. Score! 7 out of 11! I make a little pepiniere, just 30 polypots, nothing fancy like sand or manure, just dirt and seeds.
Still waiting to see if any of my pansies or sage or cilantro will come up. Oh wait, yes, the pansies are beginning to! Seeds, plants, wow, what a miraculous thing, eh?

Monday night I am pretty sick. I won't go into details, but let your truly awful imagination run wild. Tuesday I feel like I have been hit by a truck. I take three naps. Make some Gatorade (thanks Nura!), and shaking it up feels like I have just walked 20 miles. EXHAUSTED.

Luckily Wednesday I am better. The good thing about being exhausted is that I have been sleeping through the night. Maybe there are less sounds. Maybe I feel a little safer? Maybe it is just exhaustion.

Wednesday. I try making foccaccia, in my grande marmite. How does one bake without an oven, you might ask? Take a giant pot. Put some little cans in the bottom, enough to support whatever pan you are baking in. Put said pan of baked goods on cans. Close lid to giant pot. Cook. I have successfully made cake here, even! Gosh. The foccaccia turns out alright, nothing special beyond fresh baked bread-iness. I try to do some handstands against the wall, to decent result. I do some yoga outside in the sun. I try to do an Ultimate TaeBo video, but I am laughably uncoordinated. I spend some time dancing around like a spaz.

Gosh, so it sounds like I'm not getting a lot of work done, huh? You're right. I have this concern, too. Well. It's slow going. I've been looking through a lot of Nura's old project materials, writing things on a big to-do list on the wall. What I really need to do is get out, and meet some more people.

One of the priests, he is anglophone, is going to show me around to some schools soon. That will be good. He is very nice. When I left the church (aka cyber cafe) the other day I saw one of the other anglophone priests I have met. He is joking around with a few kids, and he has an infectious laugh. He says, "they asked me why I am so big, I told them it is because I have eaten a whole pig!" and he breaks down into laughter again.

I get asked a lot here what my religion is, what church I go to. I respond that I am a free-thinker, une penseur libre. This doesn't really satisfy anyone. The catholic church is a huge presence in my town. I am not really big for religion, as you may know, and there is a part of me that worries the church is just another part of the Western machine that is eating Africa alive... but i feel like the church in Bamendjou is really a good influence. It is hard to say because I am barely a drop of water on the top of an ocean of culture, which is to say via dramatic metaphor, I don't know what is going on around me. But. They sure are nice there.

Anyway. New Years Eve. I think I might go buy some jam, maybe some pants. I love you all!

Bonne Année!
Zararama

PS: to add to my ever-growing care package wish list: Emergen-C. western africa bird book.

PPS: just read Eat Love Pray. Great book. Makes me want to drop everything and travel across the world in a quest to find myself... oh wait.
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the internet! again! so soon!

in bafoussam to do some christmas shopping, and shopping shopping. the holidays are not the time to start big work projects, it turns out, so i am relaxing and trying to get myself all together.

what is the upside of cat shit on your toothbrush? you can use the toothbrush to clean the cat shit off of everything else in your purse! ha ha ha. it was truly ridiculous. the juxtaposition of cat shit and toothpaste, cat shit and hand sanitizer, gosh, cat shit and everything. i don't think i will be getting a cat.

but then i saw the kittens playing in my moto helmet and it was just the cutest thing! cats may be the devil, irresistible and evil.

successes for this week:
- beat egg whites stiff using just a whisk. it only took 10 minutes. take that, forearm!
- made cake in a marmite oven. it even tastes delicious. i barely burned it!
- planted some pansies, cilantro, sage. turns out the dry season is a terrible time to plant. roh rell.
- started treating some agroforestry tree seeds. so i can plant a few more things in the dry season.
- went over to the house of a lady here. she is very enthusiastic about how much she has worked with PCVs. i was warned she may be crazy, but she has been nothing but nice and welcoming to me. i sat and watched her finish building her porcherie and played with her adorable kids. it felt SO nice to be around some people.
- spent two nights in my house completely alone. the first i heard noises and flipped out with paranoia. the second night i read a woman-centric self help book and slept very well, thank you very much.
- started running again after 5 days off.
- cleaned, cleaned, cleaned. there is still more to clean. i may be an inefective cleaner, but gosh darn it, i keep starting.


went to a fete on saturday, which turned out to be a funeral, which wiped the big, dumb, i-have-no-idea-what's-happening grin off my face. i replaced it with a solemn look that still said, i have no idea what's going on here. lots of talking. the priest spoke in french. a guy translated it into patois, and three words became twenty. there was a marching band made up of a trombone held together with tape, two trumpets and two drums. they played 'when the saints go marching in'. they were pretty good. more speeches. some wailing-type call and response from various groups. half the people left with the coffin. i stayed seated, with the other white people ( my medical officer and his adorable family, the guy from winrock). after the rest of the people came back, we ate, then we danced. it was... fun! and bewildering. and a really long day.

no anti-virals yet, so pictures are still a no go. sorry! i am working on it.

much love to you all, and a very merry christmas. you are all in my hot dust filled cameroonian heart.

zarrrrrra
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It’s been awhile, eh? Excerpts from my life.

25 November 2009

Woke up sad today. Maybe melancholy is a better word. I thought I woke up to the sound of a whisper in my ear – “mer mer”, but when I opened my eyes no one was there. A single piece of gravel hitting the roof. A cold bucket bath. Walking to class a little girl told me I was pretty. But I can’t shake this feeling.
Watched P & H kill two turkeys. It was pretty awful. P slit the first one’s throat, it bled out for a long time, but it was still alive and blinking. He had to cut the head all the way off before it died, even then it flapped & twitched for a long time. The turkey H killed almost flapped free. It was spraying blood. All over. It also twitched headless for many minutes.

29 November 2009

Got back from our last field trip weekend. It was so nice. We went to the Northwest, which is gorgeous. It is mountainous, mountains with roung tops, then geometric drop offs. They look like dinosaurs sleeping. We went to a GIC for the first night. There was a stream and a nice chill in the air. We were coerced to dance awkwardly with Cameroonians. “Now she will do it with the director”, “a succulent lady”, “a responsible lady”. Cameroonian English doesn’t quite translate into American English.
The next night we went to Saboga, a totally creepy botanical garden. It was beautiful, but in some ways it didn’t feel like Cameroon, with the manicured lawns. Also very Cameroonian, very Christian… creepy statues, empty baptismal pool, disparagement of a mosque, maze-like things, a monkey in a cage.
To Do:
Family photo
Pack (filter water)
Clean room
Make plan & to buy list

1 December 2009

It is 5:17 in the morning. My to-do list is untouched. It was meant for a different sort of day. I can’t sleep. As soon as I wake up, I just see this guy laid out prone in the dirt. He ran his moto, drunk, into the corner of the fence at the Bar at 6:35, just as I was about to leave. Everyone ran outside to gawk after the loud bang. I was hesitant to walk around the corner. I don’t like to be a gawker; I didn’t want to see; I didn’t know what to do if I saw. L looked and immediately turned around. “Oh my god.” P was there. Someone called for me but I was hanging back. I went around the corner. His moto, on its side, butted up against the corner of the fence. He is prone, head turned to the side. P & I start talking about moving him. We get H to help. We put him in some form of C-spine and roll him on his back. He is breathing, sonorously. P decides he should be in recovery position. Right. What do you worry about more – C-spine or aspiration? His face is cut up, but not gushing and he is unconscious. Incontinent to urine. Once he is on his side, his breathing sounds clearer. It appears to be deep and regular. There is a crowd of Cameroonians, kids & adults around us. Did I mention there is no ambulance coming? There is no ambulance. We Americans talk about how we don’t know what to do, who to call, whether we should be involved (no, but you walk away). From here, my bad feelings only increase. Protocol is lost, because at the point he goes to the hospital, all spinal precautions, head injury considerations will be lost. If we take him to the hospital we will be financially responsible, and we don’t have a car, or know where the hospital is.
He starts opening his eyes. His pupils are equal but maybe not reactive to light. I didn’t check, just asked L. He was, oh shit, unresponsive to verbal stimuli? He couldn’t speak, or answer any questions. Here we are between a fence and an embankment, a ditch and a latrine. Some Cameroonians start to get involved, moving him, get him into a sitting position, oh this is not how it is supposed to go. He is still verbally unresponsive, holding his left lower leg. It looks like it might be broken. We are looking for how to extricate ourselves from this situation. I told A to get a chair, god knows why, this man should be on a backboard (oddly unavailable at a local bar, or this entire country). Some Cameroonians start talking about a car to the hospital. Many have said he is just drunk. Is he drunk? Probably. But also head-injured, which I try to communicate. This is so messed up. What if we walked around the corner and he was dead? What if his moto had gone 5 feet to the left and hit N? What if I was a good enough person to stay and make sure he was okay and treated in the necessary manner, regardless the difficulty, cost, confusion? I don’t know. He wasn’t, he didn’t, and I am not a good enough person. I walked away. What would Jeremiah do? Not walk away. What would my EMT teachers do? Not walk away. In the U.S. this is abandonment. I walked away. We walked away. What do you do? Earlier in the evening when the patron was slapping his daughter’s face in the bar, what did we do? We sat. We witnessed. Talked about how uncomfortable it made us. But we did not do anything. In Cameroonian culture, some tapping is expected. I hate this. But I don’t know what to do. So I sat. Did nothing. I walked away from an injured man.
If I came to Cameroon to save the world, I am certainly not doing it. I am witness to a different way of life. I am witness to my choices and actions and strengths, but more often my weaknesses. I am not saving the world, I am not even sure if I am saving myself.
Walked home with H, P, L & A. N & A went home the other way. The moon was almost full and very bright, but it was too cloudy for stars. I was quiet. Confused. Guilty. Worried.
I don’t know if he got to the hospital, I don’t know if he is alive. If he is alive, it is in no part related to the actions I took and did not take.
And every time I wake up or try to sleep, I see him, laying there prone.
I still need to pack.
When I was leaving, I had to walk up the embankment, a little kid grabbed my arm to steady me, help me up. I didn’t know what to say to my family when I got home. I wanted to talk about it but I couldn’t. I don’t know how to say in French “a moto crashed”, “unconscious”, “EMT”, “guilt”. Even if I had the words, I am not sure the concept would be communicated… how different it is in the states, how helpless I feel, how I feel responsible for a drunk guy who drove his moto into a fence. My host-dad asked how my day was. I just said it was difficult and went to my room and sat.
My host-mom called me for dinner. I thought about telling her I couldn’t eat, but it was easier just to follow her. When I sat down in front of the food I realized how much I didn’t want to eat. I served myself a little rice & sauce, but chewing it was a purely mechanical act. I told my family I was feeling sick and went to bed early. Tried to distract myself with pictures, music, movies. It kind of worked. I got so tired, but when I turned off the movie and lay down, all I could see was him lying there prone.

7 December 2009

WOW. What a week. Swearing in. Matching outfits. Party time. Sweetness. Hoteliness. Not much sleep. Morning grogginess. Agro-house madness. Departures! No. Many hugs. A few tears. West, we are last to leave. A packed van, piled high with bikes. The Yaounde bus took out a sign with its bikes. A laugh among a tear. We leave Julie on the side of the road to find a car. Aislynn & Kate at the agence. Henry & Christina at the far marché. Liz & I find a car to Baham & Bamendjou. It is packed with bikes lolling out the back. We share the passenger seat. How did I end up with 7 bags, a water filter bucket and a bike? C’est trop!
Drop off Liz, chez elle. Onward to Bamendjou. The driver asks if I am married. Oh thank you, Cameroon, for your awkwardness. I arrive chez moi. I nap for many house. Unpack some. Sleep encore. The travel was much less bad than I imagined, not hellish, but only mildly irritating and overpriced.
Friday. Run. Shower. Breakfast. Organize self. Catch moto to Baham. Mil francs. Beautiful. Bumpy. Baham. Meet Liz on the road. We find a car to Bafoussam. Six cent francs. Arrive at Supermarché Sim, aka white man store. Julie arrives soon after. Much drooling over food stuffs. We walk across Bafoussam to the bank. Bafoussam is much more pleasant by foot than by car (though objectively, still not pleasant). It is sunny and dusty, but on foot I can get my bearings and I am not nauseous.
The lady at the bank is very helpful and speaks in English. Even though we are minus some papers, we all withdraw money successfully. Try counting money inside an envelope in public. Turns out I have Liz’s money and she has mine. We go next door to the other supermarché, while we wait for Kim and Alec. They arrive chez le banc and when all is said and done, we go in search of lunch.
Julie & I split a grilled fish, plantain chips and a salad. I drink a refreshing Schweppes Ginger. Wendy pops by for a while. Quel coincidence!
Alec parts, and we the ladies go to the marché. It is big and maze-like. After asking directions and walking past many overalls, we find the vegetables. Eggplant (real purple ones!), green beans, green peppers, garlic. A treasure trove. Popcorn. A mami tells me that she has the best onions in the market. I am swayed. I buy onions. I have no complaints about them.
We walk back across town to the first supermarché. The day and the sun and the heat begin to wear. I go a little nuts at the supermarché. Pasta! Couscous (the mediterranean kind)! Jam! Honey! 2 types of cheese! Goodbye money, hello delicious. Outside we wait for everyone to finish. There is a soft serve. Cent francs. Yes please! Is it the best soft-serve ever? Hardly. But have I ever enjoyed it more? And with more brain-freezes? Every bite was heaven-agony. We walk to the Gare-Routiere carrying our growing piles of goods.
It is farther than I remember. I carry a bag on my shoulder and a box in front of me, my moto helmet swinging from my hand making everything a little harder than necessary. Upon arrival, I learn that it is not the place to catch a car to Bamendjou. Rather than head back into the melee of Bafoussam, I choose the fast escape and snag a ride to Batie. In Batie, I catch a moto to Bamendjou.
Which do you prefer? A moto forced to go slow on bumpy-forever dirt roads or a moto too fast on pavement? Everyone tells me to choose an older moto driver who will not go too fast. I believe them, entirely, but I have no idea how to pick one driver over another. I tend to go with the first one to call out to me and claim me. The worst way to pick a driver? Probably. But. So far, so good.
Saturday morning. I run, shower, breakfast, dishes, laundry. Henry comes to Bamendjou! Niceness, niceness, niceness. We talk, go for a walk, to town and also out the middle dirt road.
For dinner we make couscous (Mediterranean) with veggies, walnuts (thanks Nura!) and raisins, and also sautéed eggplant. I open the box of couscous to discover bugs. Ugh. Gross. I did not envision these guests to dinner. I try to come off as cool, and try to sift the couscous. The majority of the couscous is too large to go through the sifter. I take a breath and begin to pick the bugs out of the couscous with my bare fingers. For those of you just joining, this is probably the first time I have ever intentionally touched a bug. Happily? No. But I pick little red bugs and white worms out of the couscous until it is acceptably bug-free.
Did I mention that with the mefloquine dreams, I dream about bugs? Trapped inside my fingers, squeezing them out of my cheeks. In the middle of the night I am never sure how unreal they are.
Sunday, I laze. TV and crosswords.
Monday morning, I run. Hundreds of students walking past. All staring. Yikes. I smile, and am glad to reach the fork in the road. On the Chefferie road, there is more dust than people, and I can greet everyone. I trip over myself, I say a few words to some mamans, I frighten small children. Running is good, but at 7:30, the sun is already hot and cars & motos kick up dust which gets caught in my teeth.
Shower. Breakfast preparations. My counterpart stops by. We talk briefly. He has to go to the mairie. We make tentative plans to meet again soon. I eat an egg, a banana, a cup of hot milk, fried dough. Fail a crossword. Wash dishes. Make a grand to-do list. Do some cleaning. Finish a crossword tout par moi-même. Debug the rest of the box of couscous. Organize some shelves of stuff Nura has left. Eat more. Go through my resource CDs. Cook dinner (potatoes and avo). Watch a movie. Become frightened by knocking at gate. Turns out to be Etienne, my cultural counterpart. He is very nice and talks to me in Enlish, but it is still late. I write in my journal. Now it is ten. Was that knocking on the gate again? I hope not. I prefer the daytime. Night alone is… night alone in a strange country.
Last night I stood outside with Jane & we talked about how it is to be in an unfamiliar place. The stars were beautiful, but I do not know them. Yet. Yet.
10 Dec 2009
Today. Woke up before seven after a night of vivid, constant dreams and stomach pains. My hamstrings are still painfully tight after digging the compost pit on Tuesday. I decide a run is necessary: 1. What else am I going to do? 2. I need to get in the habit. 3. It will put me in a good mood. 4. Ow, my hamstrings. Brush my teeth. Go for a run. I decide to run for longer today… my body has been adjusting fine to the half hour runs. Thursday morning, it is very quiet. Head down the Chefferie road and say Bonjours to the students walking to town.
The girl who ran with me the other day gives me a big smile. The big group of high school girls say Buenos Dias, and giggle when I ask them Como Estas? I run past the chefferie. Some kids are not shy and give me such big smiles. I am called la Blanche, ma Soeur, ma Fille, Mami, Madame, Nura and once I think Zara.
I run 20 minutes and turn around. On the way back, I am passed by a boy walking. Oh, how I’m slow. As I start to pass a girl maybe 12, and a younger boy & girl, she says something about la blanche, laughs, and they walk faster than I run. I tell her my name is Zara, not la Blanche. I feel like she is making fun of me, but perhaps I am wrong, and I find it hilarious that they are walking as fast as I run. I say this, and oh my, they are so strong. They laugh and eventually I outpace them. I pass the other boy who passed me and make it home sweaty, red, exhausted and mal au ventre.
I bucket bathe. There is not enough water pressure for the shower today; even if there were I couldn’t face that cold torrent. For breakfast I make eggs and canned mackerel on bread (I’ve been craving protein). It looks terrible, tastes fine and is quite satistying. Also coffee, and the rest of the bread with honey. I do the dishes from the last 2 days and as I finish the water doesn’t even trickle out.
I have missed about 8 calls from my counterpart. I call him back. He confirms I am chez moi and says he is coming. Perfect. I try to dry-wash my shoes. Not much luck. I sit and read about starting a nursery and Moringa trees. I am excited to see if I can get Moringa to grow here.
Eventually Maturin shows up and we discuss many things. We look at my protocol letters and decide to deliver them Monday. I ask where I can find a houe, a machete, sand, manure. I ask about groups I might work with, individual farmers. I ask about the Engineers w/o Borders project, finding tutors for French & Ngemba and making a map of the area.
I stumble on French like I’m eating marbles. Maturin is patient and helpful and I only really catch about half of what he says. He sees my confusion and repeats himself. Encore. Et encore. After a while, I run low on questions and he has somewhere to be. I am free to clean/arrange house til Monday.
Tomorrow is market day. I will get supplies for the week, then go to Bafoussam to meet up with Henry.
After Maturin leaves, I attack the pantry shelves in a slow frenzy of cleaning and organizing. I dust away spiderwebs, spiders and chase weird looking bugs out of my sight. I line the shelves with some pagne I bought and decided I don’t really like for clothes. I find some trail mix! Unopened! With banana chips, nuts, chocolate, raisins! Booty! (thanks, Nura).
As I am trying to put things back on the shelves, I get hungry and frustrated. There are still 3 piles I haven’t returned to a coherent spot: spices I probably won’t use, premade seasoning packets and the mystery bags.
I find the squash I picked from the garden Tuesday still sitting outside my door. I look through recipe books for a squash soup recipe. Decide to wing it. Spend 45 minutes peeling, cleaning, chopping and deworming the squash. Sauté the squash in some olive oil, add salt, pepper, ginger, curry powder. Add some onion. Add some water. Add some bouillon cube. Simmer. While the squash cooks, I go through the guts to save some seeds for planting. When the squash is soft and delicious, I mash it up with a wooden spoon and add a cup of milk w/ a little vinegar. More salt and pepper. It is delicious.
I eat it from a big fat mug, and read the Joke by candlelight. It’s only 4:30, but the sun is weak and facing the windowless parts of my house.
I’m really enjoying The Joke (Milan Kundera). I think I will need to reread it. It’s not a book for skimming, it’s heavy with words and ideas, but hard to put down. Still haven’t finished the Pollan book, which I am also enjoying.
Yesterday, I felt blah. Not unwell, but not well. After my run and breakfast, I took a 2+ hour nap, even though I slept 10 hours the night before. I don’t think it was just too much sleep, I didn’t even really feel like eating. No fever, but no motivation to do anything. I read some magazines, watched some TV. Amazing how I can detach almost as easily here as in the U.S.
I don’t sleep the night through. I toss and turn, too hot, too cold, dreaming vividly, hearing mysterious sounds, imagining a crazy man inside my house. Everything seems too real in the middle of the night. My dreams are so real as to be exhausting rather than restful.
I got real excited looking through the ECHO seed catalog. They have so many things. We get 10 free seed types. I will wait til I know more about here, but I am excited about a high-altitude Moringa variant, Quinoa, some soy variants and a bunch of other veggies, legumes and AF trees.
I go back and forth here, between really excited about all the things I want to do and really introverted and unsure of where to start and afraid I will fail at everything, even making an effort. I don’t think I am alone in this dichotomy, but I am alone at post. It is lonely. I need to find a way to integrate more into the community. Put myself out there. Equally scary as in the U.S., but in a different way. Here I feel more willing to be outgoing, but I feel lost and disoriented as to how to enter the culture and community.
Tomorrow I need to go by Jane’s school so we can go pay the water bill.
There is a definite demarcation on each of my big toenails which appears to be in conjunction with my arrival in Cameroon. Interesting.
Water has been out for 9 or 10 hours. I really need to fill the bidon next time it is on.

12 December 2009

Home again, home again. Met H in Bafoussam yesterday. Went to the market yesterday. Bought potatoes, onions, garlic, green beans, prunes, pineapple, guavas, white beans, black beans, a houe. People were very impressed with the houe. Tu vas cultiver? La blanche va cultiver? Oui, je vais cultiver. Ca c’est bien! Où? Au champs? Oui, au champs. Walked back with Alice. She has 7 kids. Damn!
M & D called. It was good to talk.
The car to Bafoussam was so hot. Never have I transpired so much. Before I got in the car I met a girl who thought I was Nura. She wanted me to take her to the states with me. It turned into a pretty good discussion. Her name is Aurianne (?), she is 19, she studies math & science. I hope I see her again. Anyway. Got to Baf. Drunk man in car asked if I was French or American. I asked him, Qu’est-ce que tu penses? What do you think? The other ladies laughed. I walked to the net café and found Henry.
We went to Akwa (bar/restau district), got some salads, plantain chips, beer. Had some nice convo about our weeks. Talked to Guylene (?). H called his parents, I sat and read The Joke. Some guys bought me a beer, but I refused it. I had enough beer already, and I didn’t know what accepting a beer would indicate. We went to the supermarché to get fixins for pizza. I also splurged on some jam and raisins.
Home. Finally, the water returns after 3 days. I flush. Fill the bidon. Fill 3 buckets. Wash dishes. Re-evaluate water usage. New music.
After 10 PM. I’m exhausted. Bonne Nuit.

15 dec 2009

Feeling homesick. I’m not sure for where though. My life/home has been so impermanent. I guess I am homesick for people and for familiarity. But here is not so strange. Chances are I would be doing much the same things were I in the U.S.. Doing some chores, avoiding other chores, missing people who weren’t near, not interacting with people who are near, wishing I was more motivated, over self-introspecting. Two years is a long time.
Made gnocchi last night. It was a big messy undertaking, I made way too much, didn’t use enough flour, trashed the kitchen, spent all evening trying to keep up with my own assembly line. But even in my mistakes it was fun. That is the good thing about having so much time, I guess, I am even enjoying cooking and cleaning.
Did my dishes. The water pressure today is INSANE. All my buckets are full already though. Finally ran, after 3 days off. It felt good. I went late, after 8, and there was barely anyone on the road. I think I prefer saying hi to lots of people. But nature is nice, too. I saw a rad black bird with bright red under its wings. I am fine in the days, but at night, I am up every few hours with a very unhappy stomach.
Yesterday went and delivered some protocol letters with Maturin. He is working on a calendar for me of meetings I can attend to meet people. Some discussion of who I should be working with. Things are feeling so slow moving. Am I being too hard on myself, not hard enough? I suppose it’s only been a week and a half since I got to post. Patience, Zara.
There is an Agro Fair starting in Bafoussam tomorrow. That would be cool to see, meet up with some other West volunteers. I don’t know if Maturin has anything planned for me tomorrow, tho. Hopefully I will get some manure & sand soon, so I can start a little pepiniere, try out the Moringa seeds, some others. Wondering when I should plant veggies. It seems like dry season is not the ideal time. It is SO DRY. It is hard to imagine that there has ever been rain, or that there will ever be rain again. Not til April or June, I guess.
On the sides of the roads, everything is BROWN. So brown. I thought it was all dead, but it’s not, it’s just covered in a thick layer of dust. Oh dust. So much dust.
Last night when I was making gnocchi, I had a visitor. People love to visit when my hands are covered in garlic. She is a leader of a local group. I guess she was not Nura’s favorite person. She seemed alright, very excited about how much she has worked with Peace Corps volunteers. I am taking it all with a grain of salt. Met my landlord yesterday, too, or rather, my landlord’s brother. He seems alright. I couldn’t understand the majority of what he said. But. He seemed real nice. Going to see about getting the house repainted before I pay rent. Once I figure out how to say that in French.

17 december 2009

it is now. in a cyber cafe in bafoussam, struggling with the french keyboard. you have to shift to type a period. the non-shift option is a semi-colon; do the french really use so many semi-colons? here with some other volunteers to check out an agro expo, prize-winning veggies and animals and all. i think it will be fun. i had pictures, but the virus on my flash ate them. just glad i got the post transferred here. hopefully i will have some for you soon; instead of just 8 pages of text.

love to you all!

(to those of you who have asked about packages - my address is the same, altho i am now a volunteer not just a trainee. glass breaks. tupperware and ziploc bags are always appreciated. nuts are a luxury, like walnuts, yum. some tea or coffee wouldnùt be remiss, gingery or chai type things for tea, pre ground type things for coffee. seeds - flowers or tasty veggies, perhaps. candy, always. magazines. little scented candles if youve got them lying around unwanted. candles and good smells are useful here. if you want to go nuts and rock some toms of vermont toothpaste, i wouldnt be sad. also, jeez, packages are expensive, i really dont expect you to send me any, but if you want to do something nice, shoot me an e-mail. it is really truly good to hear about all the events in your life, little and big)
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meant to have a post but i have been virused. at the catholic church across the street from me, the only internet in this business. french keyboard. baffling. hopefuly more soon, i have an 8 page update of the last month all typed up. see if i can get virus free.

love you all! site is good, but challenging, my familiar challenges and new Cameroon style challenges.

happy holidays!
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Tried to post this yesterday, but the electricity went out. Bummers.



Should you ever visit Cameroon, heed the steps. Even in nice houses and office buildings, the stairs here seem to have been planned one at a time. Their heights vary according to no particular reason, as do their widths, slants & angles. I have yet to fall down them, but only due to extreme amounts of caution.
On the other hand, the main room of our training center is set at two different levels. One half of the room is set about two inches higher than the other. This I fall off daily. (Luckily, a fall of two inches is only mildly surprising).

So, cultural tidbit aside, qu'est-ce qui se passe? What is up? Time flies! Les temps volent. Voler is the french verb for to fly and to rob. I didn't make a connection until now, connecting it to time. A mere dozen days remain for training. Apres ca, we will all go our (kind of) separate ways (my closest PC neighbor will be 15 minutes away by moto, my furthest (and favorite) agro buddy will be a few days travel). I am revelling in the silliness the space of fifteen 20-somethings contains. When I get to site I will be glad to start working & planning in earnest, but for the next 12 days I plan to make the most of mes amis.

This weeks' dinner was a wildly delicious potato gnocchi, pasta & garlic bread with three sauces - spicy tomato, creamy cheese & pepper and basil-licious. We also had sweet tunes and a bonfire. Did I mention we are (talking about) starting an a cappella disco group? I know, right? I am doing (theoretically) mild-to-moderate back-up singing.

Maladies checklist. So far our stage has been full of many of the tropical entrees offered here, as well as a smattering of other mishaps. Illnesses and suspected illnesses include: typhoid, malaria, dysentery (!!! many kinds), mono (?), syphilis (?), insomnia, worms, bike brake lever impaling, chiggers.... and a hangnail. Don't worry. We are tough.

We spent yesterday in Bafoussam, a city of confusion. I can almost guarantee you that I will become lost in this city (it is my regional capital, a mere 30 minutes from my site, and contains such wonders as my bank and supermarkets that sell cheese and peanut M & M's. Did I spend more today to buy a small packet of peanut M &Ms than to buy the two heaping plates of food that were my lunch? Yes. Yes I did. Also, Bafoussam has soft-serve and a pool. So there). I have always felt that I am pretty good at orienting myself and not getting lost, but Bafoussam confounds me. In addition to having a church shaped like a pirate ship, it appears to have been planned by a baby on heavy drugs. THere is no logic. It merely spreads like an illogical fungus. We traversed the city several times over today, and I can barely make sense of the main drag. I take it back. I can't make sense of it at all. It just so happened that every once in a while I would recognize something. Aha! Supermarket that sells cheese! Roundabout of death! Naked crazy man!
The roads of Bafoussam are paved in the sense that there is cement, and one might imagine it intended to be a paved road. Unfortunately, the roads achieve a state of pavedness comparable to perhaps how Vache-Qui-Rit compares not to cheese. Is it paved/cheese? Only in the loosest sense of the word. One learns to appreciate it when one lacks all other options. The "paved" roads/Vache Qui Rit are better than the dirt roads/nothing at all, but not by much. Alright, I lie a little. Vache Qui Rit is way better than the roads of Bafoussam.
Aaaah, Bafoussam, confusing, bumpy, polluted, over-trafficky dirty city. There's a special place in my heart for you. And a special place in hell.

So. Yesterday we went to Bafoussam for a field trip. What did we see?


1. A rad NGO called Winrock International that is working in Cameroon on improving post-harvest methods & technologies. A big obstacle in Cameroon agribusiness is getting food from farm to market. Poor roads, lack of infrastructure, transportation costs, no control over prices, seasonal food availability and worth. A big solution is food transformation. Winrock is working to create awareness, interest & technical knowledge of some food transformation machines. One is a gas powered dryer for drying fruits, spices, fish, etc. Another is an improved type of grain mill. They are doing research now on if the oil-press they have is a cost-efficient solution compared to imported oils.
Winrock finds local metal-workers who fit certain criteria (enough equipment, motivation to market these products, location, etc) and teaches them how to make these technologies (& how to fix them). Winrock also does publicity to increase awareness & interest in the products, like letting an interested party use the dryer for a week to see if it would be a worthwhile investment. Pretty cool. The focus is on the project being sustainable after Winrock is done with it. Unfortunately, the equipment is moderately expensive (like, $400-$600, which is A LOT here, but it is a great entrepreneurial opportunity, and great for food security).

2. We visited another NGO, this one local to Cameroon. They do lots of work with agroforestry related topics, and they love Jesus. We went to see a shop where they fabricate improved cookstoves. What is an improved cookstove? Let me tell you. Most women here (and I mean women, though I don't mean to be sexist, the mention of a man cooking is usually followed by raucous laughter) cook with the three stone method. A giant marmite (pot) is balanced on three rocks and a fire is kept underneath. An improved cookstove encloses the fire & focuses the heat upwards. This improves it in two ways... 1) health, there is less smoke, and 2) conservation, it requires much less wood. At meal times, the air here is straight up SMOKY. My family here has a gas range, but does almost all the cooking over a fire. Why? Traditional food takes a long time to prepare (hours! days!) and traditional families are large. And gas is more expensive than firewood.
Great, right? Except when we go to the shop that is making these stoves, the NGO contact is not there, and the guy left in charge is not impressed with us. He doesn't want to talk to us about the stoves because we are getting in the way of his work time. Fine. So the guy from the NGO gives us a quick rundown while stoveman stands and pouts. Someone asks how much one costs. He shakes his head, refuses to answer and walks away.
Here is a business tip.... if you want to sell something, talk to your clients about it!! I know, I know, sounds crazy.
After How Not to Conduct Business 101, we go to see cane-rat elevage. What is a cane-rat? It is a giant, and supposedly delicious, rodent. It is more similar to a guinea pig with a tail (blown up to grand proportions) than a rat. Don't worry, people eat regular rats, too. And they are also giant.
Anyway, giant rats in cages. They don't like strangers. I have never tasted one. I am still coming to terms with knowing the animals I may eat. Example: my family got chickens. Pleasant! We then had chicken for dinner... Fresh.

All for now, mes amis.

All my love to you, and all the love from Cameroon, too.

-Zara

PS: Bristol, your package was the most amazing thing in the world! Unfortunately, two of the four glass jars shattered. Did I brush off the candy and eat it anyways? Oh yes, I did. No internal bleeding yet. Also, you are the most amazing person ever. It was like Christmas in November in Cameroon. The silly putty and playdoh are especially amazing. You know me. Thanks for knowing me. Thanks for sending me love.

PPS: Those of you who are considering visiting, consider this. Dry season is between November/December and March. I can't have visitors until after March 2010. Probably the longer I am in country, the better we can navigate, and the more cool things I will know to show you. Regardless. I hope you do come and visit me, because we will have a great time.

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Here is some stuff I wrote during site visit.

1 November 2009

First day of site visit. Couldn't sleep last night. Drunk & itchy & feverish. Rain in AM. Diarrhea. Nerves. Took my first moto to the Total (gas station) in Bangangte. "Combien a la station Total?" I ask the old man on the moto who has stopped for me. "Pour vous, cent francs." I put on my moto helmet - glasses off, helmet on, glasses back on, chin strap tight - & I step onto the moto. With my left hand I grip the metal seat behind me with a death grip. I keep my right hand on the driver's shoulder. My helmet bounces between my big pack & the driver's head. Terrifying.
Get off the moto at the Total. Jean-Jacques, the counterpart of Liz is there. Some health stagiares are there. I am feeling like I could spend some more time in bed & on a toilet. Henry & Liz arrive & we part to find a car to Bafoussam.
We wait in the Gare for maybe twenty minutes before we can fill a car to Baf. My first bush taxi. Imagine: A small hatchback. In the backseat, we are four people. It is cramped, but not unexpected. Henry & Jean-Jacques share the passenger seat. I am distracted by texting but when I look up I realize there are four people in the front. I had heard about, but not seen, the under-driver spot. The driver is sitting on top of another person. And driving stick. Props. (This is called petit-chauffeur).
Bafoussam. Yikes. I learn later that it is called by other PCVs, " the second worst place in the world", after Gary, Indiana, of course. My experience is limited to a brief roadside stop & a traverse to one of the Gares. We are quickly shuttled into a car going to Baham. Like before, I get into the backseat where there are already two people. This time, two ladies with hips more prodigious than mine are occupying space. There is not room for four butts. Liz sits on my lap. I am a little worried when the car is being manually pushed out of the lot backwards with no power & a series of clunks & thumps. Miracle of miracles, we move forward under our own power. Only to stop again. Indeed, the car felt a little empty. A slight old man wedges himself in between the driver and the door. And we depart. Did I mention the frequent road stops? Tolls must be paid. And by tolls, I mean some legs are getting greased.
No road flares? Use branches in the middle of the road. A van is on its side on the left of the road. A car is spun around and smashed on the right side of the road. The accident is far enough past that no one is near the cars. Liz and I look at each other & cringe. On va faire comment?
We arrive in Baham. After a few minutes my counterpart arrives on the back of a moto, still sporting his Peace Corps pagne baseball cap. He finds another moto & tells me to get on the first. This moto ride is nothing like my first. This moto ride is nothing like my first. It is maybe twenty or thirty minutes, some of it on washboard dirt roads, some on gready mud, swerving as best we can around giant ruts and puddles. Again, my left hand grips the rail below me as though that one hand has the strength to keep me alive. My right hand on the shoulder of the driver. I'm not sure why. Maybe so he doesn't forget I am there. Maybe for reassurance? My pack is still strapped on my back and my helmet is limited by it & the driver's head. I look forward on the left side of the driver's head. Watching the moto ahead with my counterpart on it gives me an idea of where we will swerve.
I lean forward on the uphill, willing the moto to continue moving. I tense on the downhills when he cuts the power to conserve gas. Free-falling. After a while I feel some level of comfort in the minor leans and sways the moto takes. Still, when I get off the moto in Bamendjou, my legs are shaky.
We stop at the market to see if the Chef is there. He is not. We take a short tour of the market. It is market day, which occurs only every 8 days here. (In Bangangte, the grand market is twice a week, with a smaller daily market). The Chef is still gone, so we hop back on motos to go to (!!!!) my new house.
Oh yeah, I met my duplex-mate at the marche. Her name is Jane, she is anglophone & very nice.
My house is AWESOME. A billion, billion thanks to Nura, who was the volunteer here prior to me (who also left me big shoes to fill). Bam, living room with a set of raffia furniture. Bam, a bookshelf FULL of books & movies and... a scrabble dictionary? and scrabble? and boggle? Bam, a bedroom with a fully made and swanky bed and useful things everywhere and... Gatorade mix? Bam, a second bedroom with a made up bed and... a mini-fridge? Bam... A bathroom with a toilet & a sink & a shower... with running water?! Bam, a kitchen with gas burners & a stocked pantry... with falafel mix? Bam.
My counterpart finds a locksmith to change the locks (PC regs). Then he leaves b/c there is a funeral/mourning at his house. I wander a bit, discovering more treasure (gum, basket full of magazines, french press).
I realize I am incredibly hungry. In my inventory I have: a round of Vache que Rit (laughing cow cheese, the most therapeutic thing I have found in Cameroon, after friends & beer) & a Plus bar (think ferrero rocher, but in bar form, and not quite as nice). I mange the plus bar and make a shopping list. With excitement & trepidation & my new jelly-shoes (all the rage here and why not? easy to clean, easy to dry) I head down the street to the market. It is a 5 or 10 minute walk. I say some bonjours. Enter the market for a cursory lap. In my head I play word games. "Le premiere fois, je vois; le deuxieme fois, je chois." On my second round I buy some things. Onions, garlic, spaghetti, tomatoes, water. One of the boutique Mamis asks me if I am Nura's sister.
Yes, I say. It is my first day. I am only here for a week, but I will return in December to live. She is nice and says she is open every day. Onward. I buy some prunes.

Diversion: what is a prune? Also known as a plum or safout, it is a purple fruit about the size of an egg but more elongated & cylindrical. In the center is a huge seed. There are a few millimeters of flesh around the seed. To prepare it you roast it on a grate over a fire, or dry fry it in a frying pan for a few minutes. It is also known as bush butter. It tastes like some sort of heaven, a hot conglomerate somewhere between artichoke & lemony hummus. Yum.

Diversion complete. I buy some goyaves (guavas) from a girl. There is some confusion. I ask how much for un tas (a pile) & I think she says 150. Okay, I say. She then proceeds to put almost two piles in a sac. The girl at the next spot makes fun of my french and laughs like a hyena. I am not clever enough with french to say anything in response. The girl hands me my guavas, then tells me I am missing 50 CFA. Okay. Fine. Other girl makes fun of me more. I take my enormous bulging sac of guavas and flee the marche.
Walk home. Beat the rain. Cook some prunes. Eat a wedge of laughing cow. Text some friends. Look thru Nura's old stuff. Read her notes from early on. Look through her resource materials. Read a trashy gossip magazine. Get a call from my counterpart that I don't understand at all. Cam-french is hard enough face-to-face but over the phone it is impossible. Something about the meeting I am supposed to have today with my NGO. What about that meeting, I don't know. It is now 45 (or 75) minutes after that meeting was supposed to occur, so I'm wondering if it was cancelled. Truly, I don't know.
I am hesitant to start cooking dinner, lest I be called away mid-chop. (Un petit blague, a joke, chop is the pidgin word for food, and to eat, and also I plan to chop some veggies). (You know I am okay when I am making bad puns).
And thus I sit & wait because I know not what I do, where I am or what to expect. It is a little lonely. I am hesitant to immerse myself in a book or movie because I am not sure I can crawl out of the American culture and back into Cam-life.

LATER
I begin to prepare dinner, peeling and chopping garlic for a tomato sauce. A knock comes on the foor. Jacques, my supervisor at CADEP is there. We introduce ourselves & invite him in. He sits and we alternately talk awkwardly and sit awkwardly in silence. He tells me some about CADEP. It is based in Bamendjou but works in other places, too. They work with agroforestry & also community health. Chez nous, they are very closely related, he says. He tells me I should pick one thing to focus on, that I should do agroforestry work like I have been assigned, that I should have a desk at CADEP to meet people, instead of having them to my house.
He lights up when I ask about his family. He tells me that his father worked with John Granville, who was an ED volunteer here some years ago (10? 10+?). The Granville also worked in Sudan after PC, where he was killed. In the village here, he is a legendary man. I believe there is a statue of him, and they held a large funeral for him.
Jacques also tells me that he requested a man (and I am a woman), that his daughter is la blanche also (albinism is not uncommon) who I can take back to the US and raise as my own, and that when I leave, I can give all my stuff (that I am buying from Nura) to him & CADEP.
I'll take it all with a grain of salt. After he leaves, my night progresses romantically. The power goes out and I cook my pasta by candlelight while listening to Al Green, Stevie Wonder. Nura calls to check on me. I watch an episode of the Office & head to bed with a book. It is the nicest bed i have slept in in a long time.
I wake up a little disoriented and sideways on the bed. Consider the shower, which blasts cold water into a corner behind the toiler, under a creepy spider. I decide a bucket bath is still the way to go. There is also a giant fluffy towel. It is also the first time I can walk around in various states of undress. Aaaaah. Independence.
My voisine (neighbor) Jane greets me while I am bucket bathing. Our bathrooms share a wall which is open at the top 6 inches or so. We can hear each others' music/TV at all times, too. It is comforting though, because Jane is very kind.
I start cleaning my dishes from last night and heating water for tea. Jane asks me if I have gotten bread yet and I say no, and go with her. The bread has not yet been delivered, so we go across the street, where a Mami is making fresh beignets. Jane buys me 4. How nice!
The beignets are delicious and so is the tea. I listen to the Beatles and R&B and now is now.

Thursday 4 Nov 2009,

Sunny. Ran this AM, to the Chefferie and back. Yesterday I ran towards Bakang & back. Getting ready to leave today. Today to faire protocol in Bahouan, then on to Batie to chill with Wendy and Liz and Julie. Friday to Baf for banking etc. with Jessica. Saturday, pool? Friday night in Bamougoum?
Cleaned up the house this morning. I am looking forward to coming back.
Yesterday was the moto ride from hell. Maybe not. It was probably pretty typical. Jostling, jangling. It could have used a sportsbra and a bite guard. My lower back... my whole back felt like death.

The Emotional Processing of Riding a Moto
1. Fear. Oh god. I am going to die.
2. Discomfort. Ow. I wish I were dead.
3. Anger. We spent an hour on the moto and the chef is not even there?
4. Acceptance. Okay I get it. I'm going to be on here for a while. I may die. It will hurt. Oh and it's kind of pretty.

Running is nice. It is very beautiful here. Once I say bonjour, everyone is very nice. Nice Nice Nice.


(Didn't write about it... spent a night in Batie, Wendy made us onion rings, ranch potatoes & salad. It was amazing! Her nickname is Posh Corps, and her pad is sweet. She is my closest neighbor. Also she is hilarious. Friday in Bafoussam we had several meetings. We ate delicious grilled fish and plantains. Ran into Kate in the bank. New banking procedures, ie, draw a map of your neighborhood. We (Liz, Julie, Richard, Kate & I) head to Liz's house for the night and make amazing grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. She has kittens. And a hot water heater. We are too poor to get to the pool so we bail and head back to Bangangte on Saturday).

9 November 2009.

Played a game of women's soccer yesterday. It was fantastic. Girls from maybe 11 to my age playing. There were 3 or 4 good players, several enthusiastic players and some timid buy happy players. Lots of fun. Julie got SO mad at the guys who were telling us what to do. At the end we did some stretches & exercises. Julie had us do push ups to prove to the guys we are strong. They laughed. I surprised myself by doing 5 push ups. Guess I'm getting stronger. I think it's the laundry.
Cedric, Lauren's brother, was reffing. It was nice of him to do that, and he seemed into it. It shocked me how few of the girls knew the rules- how to throw in, the difference between a goal kick and when the goalie gets the ball. Oh, the ball. It was plastic & only half inflated. That made things interesting. I would love to get these girls some training, a real ball... some were playing in jellies, and ballet flats. Merde!
But like I have believed before, I think that sport is great for girls' confidence & health & empowerment.


TODAY.

High points of the week... getting mail!!! Thanks Mom, I got two more letters and pictures! It was so good to see you and Dad's faces! Nice brussel sprouts and artichokes! I showed off your pictures. Gail, I got your letter! It was AMAZING. I have written a letter back, but I need to rewrite it legibly. Also, thank you for the pictures too. It is so nice to see home.

We had a halloween party thursday. NICE. I made a bunch of masks and hats. We tried to do breakfast for dinner, but vastly underestimated the number of people there. We made pancakes, french toast, potatoes & hash, and eggs. It all got eaten very fast. I bought food across the street to eat. There was much imbibing. I had some good conversations. Took Hana & Jackie home to stay at my house. I slept on the couch.

We went to an elementary school to watch some current volunteers teach some Enviro Ed sessions. It was pretty awesome. They are good at what they do. The kids seemed into it. There were some teachers there too, observing. We made old trash bags into rope, learned about what to do with trash (recycle, compost, burn, down the latrine), and learned about how to treat water. Kids here are cute and LOUD. Don't give them whistles. Ever.

I've been getting along with my family. We have some conversations. The only two I can really talk to comprehensively are my dad and my youngest brother. I love my youngest brother. He is 11, and he is always singing and dancing. Nice.

All for now. E-mail me?

PS: If you are feeling super-loving, like you want to send me a package, packages have been arriving here safely (if a little crushed). Write in red ink and draw crosses on it if you want to be extra-cautious. Some things I would love to get include: walnuts (found some at the house and they were the best thing EVER!), CANDY (something with chocolate and maybe peanut butter, tic tacs, gum (the little 5 packs of juicy fruit hold up well. Other gum melts in the humidity)), good smelling candles you want to get rid of (i never liked them before, but they are real nice for nights without electricity), movies or TV shows(DVD or on a flash drive?), magazines (girly ones? I have a zillion copies of the new yorker), cheese flavored crackers, pictures of home, pictures of you, hand sanitizer, whatever silly thing you can think of.



ALLLLLLL MY LOVE!
Zara
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my home for the next two years? Bamendjou! site visit next week. I leave tomorrow. wish me luck! Text me, call me! More next weekend.
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Cameroon. Life is sporadic, erratic. Good days. Bad days. Got our mountain bikes today. On Thursday we find out our sites. November we do a one week site visit. Visited a fish farm and a beekeeper and a medicinal plant garden on Friday. Have reached the level of french I need. I feel like I am in a valley between English and French where I can't speak either very well.

Alas, today when I have a chance to use the internet, I do not have words. I haven't been writing on paper and it is hard to think off the top of my head. I hope this picture will tell you everything that is happening with me.


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Let's start with a pictures! I stole this one from Richard, thanks buddy. I owe you a game of scrabble. This is the majority of the agro and health volunteers in the JFK airport, waiting for our flight.

Backmost row: Nick, Austin, Julie, Carl, Cody, KK, Harley. Second row: Anais, Andrea, Kim, Tim, Jessica, Liz, Kate. Third Row: Murielle, Kim, Jackie, Amanda, Moi, Stef, Lauren, Aislynn, Paige. Frontmost row: Richard, Paul, Kelsey, Christina, Hana, Henry, Stephen.



This was the view from our hotel room in Yaounde. Bangangte is smaller, with fewer buildings and more greenery, but pretty much the same concept.










I haven't really taken many pictures because as often happens in large group settings, when one person brings out a camera, seven people bring out cameras. So I haven't. But I do plan to steal more pictures from people, and take more pictures. So. Look forward to that.

Also, a shout out to Alec, SED volunteer from June, thank you for letting me (and all of us) use your internet.

A small survey.

What is my nickname here? La blanche. This is the name I am called by everyone in the street. Yes, it means "the white". No, I am not offended, and it is not meant as an insult.

What did I have for dinner last night? Taro. It is a tuber, cooked and then pounded into a paste. It has the texture of soft playdoh with none of the flavor. It was served with a cold yellow sauce and eaten with my fingers. Hmm.

What is my new favorite food? Plantains! What a miracle! I could eat these every meal of every day. Fried, boiled, roasted... YUM! The greens here are also really good, and the beans, and the spaghetti (sometimes served with potatoes mixed in). Eat your heart out, Dr. Atkins, Cameroon is carb-a-licious.

What do I talk about with my family? Not much. Still having some communication difficulty. It turns out that their first language is not French, but a local dialect, hence the strong accents. It also turns out that it is not even local to here. Anyway, here is a synopsis of our daily conversations: it is time for me to wash. It is time for me to eat. They are leaving now. I am leaving now. I have returned. I am eating. I am full. It was good. Okay. Yes. I don't know. I don't understand. I am going to sleep now.

A man came over two nights ago and started talking to me. I didn't understand. My mother is laughing. "He is speaking patois!" She says in French. The man continues speaking to me and laughing. "I don't understand you," I say in French. He continues speaking and laughing and then leaves. "He is so funny!" my mother says in French.

What do I laugh at? The men wearing furry earmuffs in 80 degree weather. The moto drivers wearing puffy jackets in 80 degree weather. Baby goats. The custom mudflaps on motos, with handpainted Adidas or Nike symbols, that say "King of the Jews" or "Very Boy. Very Very Boy". The authenticity of brand names here is not of importance - hence the boy walking through the market, a metal bowl of bananas balanced on his head, the bowl dubbed "NIKE" in blue marker.

Nice: Rain thundering down on a tin roof. The smell of a kerosene lantern. Warm lantern glow in a dark house. A small cat.
Less nice: Rain thundering down on me in the latrine. The smell of a wet latrine. Cold LED glow on the roaches in the latrine. A small poop.

Today is Sunday, which means laundry. Laundry is hard work here. Scrubbing clothes with soap. Wringing them out. Scrubbing them with soap again and pounding them into the cement. Wringing them out. Rinsing them. Wringing them out. Rinsing them. Hanging them up. Waiting 4 days after they dry to wear them to prevent mango flies from growing under my skin. (Alternately, ironing. Actually, both, because I would love to go for 2 years without digging living organisms out of my skin.)

I also washed: my shoes, my floor, my moto helmet. This took the better part of 5 hours.

I am starting to communicate more with my family, just the last day or two. We still don't get real complicated, but it is improving.

LJ, if you are reading this, and I hope you are, I want you to know that they were playing "Call on Me" on the TV one night and it made me real happy.

Do we have electricity? Yes. It goes out often. Pretty much every night, several times. My family has a TV which is almost always on. I don't plug my stuff in very often, because I don't have a voltage regulator (yet) to prevent surges from blowing up my stuff.

Do we have running water? Hmmm. We have a spigot outside. And a well. Call it what you will. Water tends to come out of it, and we have a lot of buckets to put it in.

Do I drink clean water? Yes. I boil it and filter it, or put bleach in it. Sometimes all three, when I'm feeling ambitious. I have been in good health.

Am I learning a lot about Agroforestry? Funny you should ask. Yes! We went on a field trip to APADER on Friday. It is a local farm that does research on improving agroforestry techniques, has demonstration plots, and a nursery. What are the main goals of agroforestry volunteers? Using multi-purpose trees (MPTs), which are just what they sound like. Improving soil quality & preventing soil erosion. Teaching poor farmers how to generate income from agriculture. Teaching kids about saving the environment. So, all in all, pretty awesome.

What is a MPT? A multi-purpose tree may have several of these purposes: Preventing soil erosion, increasing nitrogen content in soil, increasing phosphorus content in soil, creating biomass for compost, food for animals, food for humans, wood for burning, medicinal value, flowers for bees. Cool, huh?

The main goal is to help poor farmers (at our eventual post) increase their yield so that they can feed their family and make enough money to feed their family, and to prevent the soil from being completely exhausted. About 60-70% of the population in Cameroon is involved in some form of subsistence agriculture. There was a big economic crisis here in the mid-80s, early-90s related to the drop in world food commodity prices and the devaluation of currency here. Thus, people grow food to eat. What this also means is that more land gets used by more people. There used to be a fallow period of about 20 years to let the soil regenerate. Now it is more like 5 years, or nothing. Fertilizer is prohibitively expensive. So, we are going to learn how to compost, and teach others to compost. The land here is very hilly, and most farmers plant parallel to the slope, meaning that the soil and soil nutrients wash down into the valleys. So, we are going to learn about contour bunds, which are planted perpendicular to the slope and prevent erosion. There's lots more cool stuff. I'm pretty excited about it.

Anyway, all for now I guess. Maybe I will have more pictures by next week? Love to you all.
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bonjour mes amis. i write to you from qa luxurious cyber cafe in bangangte. french keyboards are a little different: azerty; not qwerty. this will be brief i only have 15 minutes and the internet is very slow.

one: i love cameroon. beaucoup. it is beautiful, the people are nice, my host family is great.
two: this is the hardest thing i have ever done. it is very hard to go home to a family where we do not understand each other very well if at all. i did not realize how intense the language barrier would be. i did a bit of crying over it all but i think i am done for now. it will be a long slow process but i think that i will get there eventually.

my stomach is still getting used to the copious amounts of palm oil, but all the food i have eaten has been delicious.

what is my day like§ let me tell you. i wake up on my big wide bed under a mosquito net. carry my TP out to the latrine behind the house and practice my aim. i am no sniper. this is at six am, but my host family is already up and scrubbing the floors. i brush my teeth with bottled water and spit outside. i bucket bathe in the douche inside; a small room with a tile floor with a small drain. apparently i can also pee here at night, have not tried it. my host mom has breakfast ready for me, though no one else eats any. it is a giant omelet and a baguette with margarine or chocolat. also a cup of instant coffee: i walk to the training center a five minute walk: 4 two hour classes a day with a break for lunch: i finish at four thirty and walk home: rest: try to communicate with my family; have dinner in front of the tv zith ma mere et mon^pere and sometimes my oldest host brother; the other 4 to 6 kids eat elsewhere or at another time; then they do homework while my mother and father prepare baked goods; i go to sleep early and have mefloquine dreams;

all for now: much love: write me or call me: email me for my number; hearing from home anything at all would be really great: REALLY;

i am very happy and healthy;
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Probably the last time I will have a chance to use internet before we move to Bangangte on Thursday. After that, I don't know. Thought I would include some writing I have done over the past few days, which I am glad to have because my brain is currently in that post-lunch lull + week of sleep deprivation.

18 September 2009
We are flying over the coast of Africa! It is finally becoming real to me! Wow. We all crowded around the windows to see, and I got a big smile on my face. My heart races to think that in 4 hours we will land.
Also, props to Brussels Airlines for great food. Camembert? Yes please. I thought I was done with fancy cheese - any cheese - for 2 years.
Our flight from New York yesterday was delayed almost 2 hours, so we spent a good 4 hours or so in JFK just waiting. Once we got to Brussels we only had an hour fifteen to make our connection... and go back through a long security line. Someone finagled to get the 32 of us in the priority line... until a boss came back & rudely kicked the last 8 of us out, told us to go to the back of the now-even-longer security line. We made it through security with 15 minutes til boarding and had to run to catch a shuttle to the T terminal. We all just barely caught the shuttle that dropped us at our gate just as boarding began. A little nerve-wracking? Yes. Separation & delay & english is no longer the default language (tho everyone spoke it). I also didn't have a boarding pass from Brussels to Yaounde. Luckily, they did not ask for one going through security & I got one printed at the next checkpoint.
We are all in various states of sleep deprivation & excitement, but we are on our way!!!

18 September 2009

In Cameroon! Wow. It is amazing! I have seen very little, just what was along the road between the airport and the hotel. This place is green, green, green! It looks very tropical, all sorts of trees I've never seen before, muddy streams, red, red dirt. People are everywhere along the sides of the roads. Carrying buckets & giant loads on their heads, sitting at umbrellaed tables selling bananas & other fruits, walking home from school, playing futbol, riding motorcycles the wrong way. The traffic is intense (though Yaounde is paved). Imagine a 4-way intersection with no stop signs, no stop lights, no lines on the road, no orderly rules, just cars driving through whichever way they can make it. No accidents yet! There are small buildings everywhere selling building supplies (quincailleries), auto supplies, furniture. A man carries one of his shoes balanced on his head and the other in his hands. A few blocks later I see a boy with a shoe on his head & one in his hand. I like your style, Cameroon!
Speaking of, Cameroonians dress very diversly, but stylishly. Men all wear pants, some wear nice jeans. Fancy button-down shirts, t-shirts, a sweater vest & Kangol hat. Ladies wear brightly colored muumuu type dresses, matching blouses & skirts, trendy clothes, jeans, heels on muddy streets. When it starts to rain & red mud washes down the streets in streams, some people roll up their pants, carry their shoes & walk barefoot. Clean shoes & clothes are very important.
Some young men wave at our Peace Corps caravan as we go by. I wave back. I think it will be difficult to move into a more subdued role around strangers. No one really makes eye contact with you, or smiles at you, I've noticed. I unfortunately am in the habit of making eye contact & smiling. I think it makes us both a little uncomfortable.
When we get out of the van at the hotel, there is a gendarme holding some kind of rifle-y gun. I am under the impression he is here for our safety (later confirmed). Still, an unexpected sight. In the hotel is once again our cluster-mess of bags & people. Imagine 32 young adults, each with 3 or 4 bags they've packed their lives into for the next 2 years. We are a big smelly pile. Did I mention we have been traveling for 2 days without a chance to shower or freshen up?
I start lugging my bags up to the 3rd floor. At the 3rd floor, the numbers start at 100. The 4th floor, 200 & finally the fifth floor I reach my room. Two small twin beds pushed together (I have a roommate, she is great, hi Lauren!), a table, enough space to put our bags down & turn around. There is a small bathroom with a sink, a toilet, a bidet & a shower stall minus walls or curtains. There is no toilet seat (turns out to be non-essential, also turns out other people have them), but I am grateful for TP & flushing abilities for a few more days.
Back downstairs for dinner. Our appetizer/salad is half an avocado sliced in a fan with a scoop of tuna, corn & an olive on top, next to two tomato slices. Delicious! Why did I never think of this? I am looking forward to lots of avocado (note: haven't had any more since!). Dinner is a big plate with fried fish, oignons, some sauce, boiled potatoes & a mountain of white rice. Also crazy delicious, but I get full quickly. I've been so anxious the last month I've had trouble eating. A much smaller portion size suffices. For dessert is a plate of some sweet mild orange fruit with lime. Papaya! Tasty.
At the Yaounde airport we came down the stairs to find our Country Director. He shakes all our hands as we walk by & laughs at the gigantic grin I have on my face. We meet more of the PC Staff...
God, Cameroon is so beautiful! I feel super loopy, since I got off the plane.

19 September 2009 7:17 am

Uhhh.... sleepy! The bed was comfy, the A/C worked all night, I got to sleep by 9 but the wedding party (actually the night club) 3 floors down really PARTIED with bumping, BUMPING music til 5 am (a nightly occurrence). Only slept fitfully & sleep deprivation pervades. Brushed my teeth for the second time using bottled water. I need to learn to stop touching my eyes. I do it a lot. Oh yeah - took my first malaria prophylaxis last night. Hello, mefloquine. No crazy vivid dreams yet (at least not abnormally so). Next challenge for the AM - shower with no walls/shower curtains. I think we even have hot water but I am not holding my breath (oh yes, we do).

20 September 2009

Feel like such a shut-in. Not allowed to walk around w/o a national ID card, so not much time spent outside. Very little interaction with anyone Cameroonian. It feels a lot like the first week of college. I know that this will all change soon.

21 September 2009

Yesterday went to dinner at Country Director's House & met his family. What a super-nice family. Giant snails! On the ground, not for dinner. Lots of bats in the sky. A lush tropical backyard, our chair legs sank into the lawn, we ate at tables outside under big tents with colored light strings & burning mosquito coils (oh the sweet smell). The food (and beer) was deliceuse. Typical Cameroonian salad (corn, tomato, onion, tuna, etc), veggie egg roll, fish croquette type thing, fried thing, baton de manioc, green beans, njama-jama, fish. All around enjoyable, everyone in fancy dress. We went to a night club afterwards (the one that shakes our hotel), on a fete night (end of Ramadan). Wild! It was packed, hot & sweaty, the mirrors are steamed up (mirror dancing, obviously) & the fog machine was sporadic and asphyxiatingly dense & sweet. The guys were a little handsy, but I was never (very) uncomfortable. Some were a lot better about backing off when I said NO. I will definitely have to learn to be more assertive in saying no. It was nice to dance & move & experience a little of the culture.

21 September 2009 - now

A bunch of us are all sitting around now on the internet. We had Medical Orientation this morning and got our med kits. Fun! Got a few more vaccinations, had some pain au chocolat, had brief medical intake interviews. My PCMO did not believe my weight and made me get on the scale. I guess I'm pretty muscly. Ha. I kid.

Anyway, we have two more days of classes and then on Thursday we move in with our host families. I am so excited!! It will be nice to be moving forward with learning French and taking classes and living in a community. I am so thrilled to be learning about things that are directly related to something I will be doing. Finally! Our schedule for the next week goes something like, classes from 7:30 to 4:30 (i think), 4 classes a day, mostly language and technical training, but also cross-cultural, medical, safety and security. Saturday is a half day. Sunday is no class. Actually, that is pretty much the class for the next bunch of weeks. In November we have sit visits, which is where we spend a week in our potential site, getting to know our counterpart and the community, with a current PCV host. Super great.

I am still real tired, but I am also so happy and excited. Everyone here is really wonderful and I am glad to have so many new friends that I have only known for 5 days (though it seems like it has been much much longer).

I should have a cellphone this week! I hear Skype is the cheapest way to call Cameroon, though some phone cards are pretty good too.

Also we played charades the other night and it was all good. How bout that.

Love love love! Zararama.
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I'm in Cameroon! It's beautiful!! Green green green & red dirt. We are in the city now, but go to our training site next week. The food is good, the toilets are american and our hotel has hot water & air conditioning! What luxury! The volunteers and staff are great.

I don't know that I will actually get to the internet very often. We will see. Love you all!
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Je suis dans Philadelphia.

I woke up at 3:30 am today to the realization that the sound of the alarm was not just part of my dream. Crawling out of bed was a tragedy, but with a noble cause. Got into the shuttle van at 4:00 am. Listened to the suth'n gentleman tell me stories about bison and i don't know what on the way to the airport. Slept completely on the flight from Eugene to Denver. Arrived in Denver 7 minutes before I had to board my next flight. 70 gates, and 15 minutes later, I arrived in perfect time to board.

Unfortunately, my bags did not run so quickly and I arrived in Philadelphia to find myself traveling very light. Hopefully, theoretically, please, my bags will be delivered to the hotel tonight. On the plus side, I didn't have to wrestle giant bags to the hotel! I also managed to spill half my water bottle in the bag with my laptop and paperwork pertinent to today (though luckily not my really important paperwork). Also, bonus, my laptop still works!

Anyway. Struggle to understand the very simple transportation situation. Finally get on a shuttle. Meet another PC volunteer. We talk. Walk around a bit, find cheesesteaks for dinner. Meet another volunteer. Part ways. I attempt to iron my clothes for tomorrow. Not bad. Not good, either.

Now, I will be passing out. 10 hours of sleep over 2 days is Not Enough.

Excited for tomorrow. And nervous. All my love.
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What's the time? Night before departure time! Boodoo da doowoop boodoo da boowoop. I depart scenic Eugene tomorrow at 6 am. Which means I depart scenic my sister's house at 4 am. Which means I depart a warm cozy bed at 3:30 am. Which is in Slightly Less Than 7 hours. Aaaah, you say, seven hours, a decently restful night of sleep before a thrilling journey! To which I reply, HA. AS IF. Even if I hadn't spent last night in the San Francisco airport wrenching 4 hours of sleep from a couple of chairs in a freezing terminal, I will certainly not be getting 7 hours of sleep tonight!

While I am packed (technically, mostly), my head and probably paperwork is all out of order. I need to come to terms with what I have where -- in my brain as well as in my bags. In fairness to my sister & brother-in-law's generous hospitality, I should probably clean the upstairs which I have sullied with my mess-making. I would like to go through my old photographs to bring along some choice cuts. Showering would be appropriate. Procrastinating at this late hour? A must!

In the last 3 weeks I have not spent more than 3 days in any one locale. I am in a dream-like, fairly delirious state, which I find is conducive to wrapping my head around the journey I'm about to begin. Nothing is real, it's all a dream, SURE, I'm going to be in Cameroon in a few days.

Anyway. The last three weeks have been really wonderful, seeing family and friends and being fed enormous amounts of cake. Mostly the family and friends part was really wonderful. How can my life be filled with so many great people? I don't know. I'm very lucky. I will miss you all. I'll be back though, in 27 short (and medium and long) months.

Enough procrastination. My eyelids grow heavy and yet my to-do list remains. I will be in Philadelphia tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday I will leave for Cameroon. Friday I will arrive in Cameroon. And then...???

(Also, my phone will be thusly shut off on Thursday or Friday).

LOVE!!!!
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On the Peace Corps website, they have language lessons specific to Cameroon. I downloaded them, as suggested, and have been reading the transcript. So far my favorite phrase they have included is: "Ton père est polygame." (Your father is polygamous - informal). Say what? Zara is going to a different country! Also, how would one formally call your father polygamous? And to be honest, it kind of sounds like a yo' mama joke. But. Cultural sensitivity. Polygamy? Cool. Do it. I won't. But you can.

In the section on prepositions, I have two favorite phrases, which I plan to use in conjunction.
1. "Qu’est-ce que tu fais sous la table ?" (What are you doing under the table? - informal).
2. "Est-ce que nous devons aller derrière ce bâtiment ?" (Should we go behind this building?)
I will be sure to use these phrases on a daily basis.

More PC prep today. Dropped a cool hundred on 3 months of birth control (we have to provide the first 3 months of prescriptions). That is generic, too! My insurance covered all of zero of that because I am not due for a refill until the day after I leave. Luckily I had a rockin' pharmacy tech who managed to knock of fifty dollars... bringing it down to one hundred. Current cost of PC expenses through-out the last year? I refuse to add it up. I'm sure it could have been done cheaper, but I am putting myself into the poor-house, on the way to the poor-house in another country.

I also went a little nuts in an outdoor store and walked out with some necessities, but also a travel hammock! Twenty dollars! What a deal!

I drove today for probably the last time in 2+ years. It was wonderful. I was in such a good mood I barely even got road rage when I was following a car going 20 below the speed limit that passed 11 turnouts before pulling over, or when the car in the opposite lane decided to use my lane while going around a blind corner. Regardless, I did enjoy it, so some thanks are in order:
1. LJ, thanks for letting me borrow your car today and all the days in the past. You are my hero.
2. To Poison, Pat Benatar, the Pixies, the Zombies, Steely Dan, other artists on my random play - thanks for making songs that can be sung so raucously in a car.
3. To Biggie, Tupac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, DMX, Atmosphere - thanks for making me feel like a gangsta without having to bust a cap on anyone.
4. To Digital Underground - thank you for writing the best song ever, "The Humpty Dance". Lyrics like, "I like my oatmeal lumpy" and "Hey fat girl, c'mere, are you ticklish?" make me bow down to your genius.
5. To Highway 41 south of Yosemite - thanks for your gentle curves. You are so fun to drive on.

I have some info for Family & Friends regarding travel and mail that I will be sure to put up soon.

Til then - a plus tard!
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I've been practicing un peu French at work when French guests come in. I am pretty good at telling them the cost of their items in French, and they are pretty good at correcting my pronounciation. I told one couple that I had to practice my French because I am going to Cameroon and they said (en francais), "in Cameroon, the French is not so good." To which I replied, "My French is not so good either, so that is okay!"

I also wrote myself a welcome to Cameroon letter. I already got a response from future Zara. How is this possible? A time machine is invented in the next month. She told me to bring more gum.

Preparations. Wow! So much is going on. I've been working overtime, but no more, because I am really glad to leave my job. Four more days of it - EVER. Ryan and Julia came up for the weekend and with Laura and I we had some pretty awesome lady time walking and talking and picnicking and napping and talking more.

PC paperwork is ongoing. Yesterday I got my ticket to go to Philadelphia for staging. I get to Philadelphia approximately one day early. What does this mean to me? Dance party. After all of 24 hours of staging (business casual - what does that mean? I have what I consider to be a professional t-shirt... no collar though), we fly off to Cameroon via Brussels.

Today I spent packing. It was a day-long, mentally intensive process. First, I made five piles - things I am taking to Cameroon, things I might take to Cameroon, things I am keeping in Oregon, things I may or may not keep and things I am getting rid of. Then I figured out what I am taking on my first week of US travel that I am also taking to Cameroon. And then what I am taking in the US that I am not taking to Cameroon. Then I put the rest of the stuff I am bringing to Cameroon in a box. That took me approximately 8 hours. Hmmm. Perhaps I am not the most efficient packer. Nonetheless, the day of obsessive organizing soothed me.

So. Tomorrow, a drive to town to get a few last items (a prescription, another business casual shirt (non-tee)). Sending off my belongings to Christy's house. Next week: my last week of work, my 24th birthday and my departure from Yosemite. The next week: Outside Lands in SF, a visit to SLO, and then off to Denver. The next week: Oregon and Chicago and back to Oregon. The next week: Philadelphia and Cameroon! The next approximately 114 weeks: Cameroon!

Schmoverwhelmed.