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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)