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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.


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.

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.


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.