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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!

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I have been invited to serve as an Agroforestry Extension Agent (Peace Corps Volunteer) in Cameroon!!! I have been dreaming of joining the Peace Corps since I was a wee 15 year-old. Nearly 9 years later, including an entire year of a slow-moving, arduous, emotionally fraught application process... I am going into the Peace Corps!!!

In case you are wondering about the title of this blog, I will present you with this history lesson from the Peace Corps Cameroon Welcome Book that really stuck with me:

Since the journey of Hannon the Carthaginian in the fifth
century B.C. to Mount Cameroon, which he named the
“Chariot of the Gods,” the country’s fortunes have been
subject to many fluctuations. In 1472, sailors from Portugal
entered the Wouri River estuary and were amazed by the
abundance of shrimp; they named it Rio dos Camarões, from
which Cameroon got its name.

I will be leaving to go to staging in Philadelphia on September 17th. From September 19th to December 4th, I will be in training (technical, language, health & safety) in Cameroon and living with a host family. From December 4th of this year until December 4th, 2011 (!) I will be living at my individual post working as an Agro volunteer!

What does an Agroforestry volunteer do, you ask? Well, it's pretty cool. I will be educating and providing training to farmers about the benefits of agroforestry technologies to improve production, provide windbreaks, renew soil nutrients, prevent forest depletion. I will be helping to establish and maintain nurseries, evaluating needs that can be met with agroforestry, and helping set-up medicinal gardens!

I obviously have a lot to learn myself! I'll also be speaking French and likely another language. Je dois practiquer beaucoup plus! As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I will also have the opportunity to be involved in secondary projects. Some examples of these are setting up women's groups, HIV/AIDS support groups, helping with a running team, teaching about nutrition. Secondary projects seem to cover the area between a community's needs and a volunteers interests/skills. Awesome!

What else? Send me a letter! (Or a care package) I know that it would be wonderful to have a word from home as I am in a whole new country and culture. Here is my address for September to December:
Zara Sykes
Peace Corps Trainee
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 215
Mail can take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks to arrive. Be sure to write "Air Mail" and "Par Avion" on the envelope. Mail on boats takes even longer! If sending packages, "bubble envelopes" work best. If sending any food items, put them inside a ziploc bag. This will reduce chances that bugs or rodents will devour them. Number letters sent so that I can determine whether any letters do not arrive (I will do it, too, fancy, with roman numerals!). Theft of packages does occur. When writing the contents of the package on the outside, making it seem undesirable rahter than awesome may reduce the chance of theft and increase the chance that I will get awesome booty from you. I hear insuring packages is not a bad idea. I don't know how expensive it is. I don't expect big packages of love, but I would love to get a short note and a picture of you! I will even send you a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE, yeah?) if you want.

I plan to send myself a welcome letter!

So what next? I have 5 and a half weeks before I leave! I have a bunch of paperwork to do for the Peace Corps: passport/visa applications, updated resume and aspiration statement, get loan deferments, work out my financial arrangements for the next few years, etc. I am quitting my job in about 2 weeks, yay! From about August 30 til I go to staging on September 17th, I will be traveling to see loved ones!

I also have to figure out how to pack for two years in 80 pounds!

I am still in shock that I will be living in Africa in two months! Happy shock.