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Well, it's been a while, blog. 2 months, it seems. One was very busy. One was very unbusy.

Since I last left you, I got to welcome all the new Agro/Health Peace Corps Trainees with Paul. It was crazy and fun and exhausting. Where our stage had a week in Yaounde to take care of everything, the new stage had 3 days. Except then they missed their connection in Brussels (really, a plane can't wait for 50 people?). And had to fly into Douala the next day. So they had 2 days and it was nearly all traveling!

How busy were we? The night that they got in, after they got into their hotel rooms and ate dinner, we had them start filling out forms... at 9 PM! We stayed up til 2 AM talking and got up at 6 the next day to go to Yaounde. They got in on Saturday and were in Bafia (their training site) by Monday. Paul and I were still running around getting them phones and regulators and finishing paperwork until Wednesday or Thursday. Gosh.

After that crazy sleepless, no-time-for-more-than-a-bite-of-food week, I headed back to post where I felt oddly directionless. I only had a month until I would be leaving post again and all my work momentum had pretty much dropped off.

So. There was that month. Of not much happening.

Then at the end of October I got to go back to Stage and co-teach some sessions for the Trainees, which was a blast. Well. More the hanging out with the trainees than lecturing about fertilizer chemistry. Alright, and it was mostly Richard who was doing the lecturing because he is a brain. Then I was home for a few days. Then I went to the West Halloween Party (as a maybe-creepy doll) and then I went to Yaounde....

... to pick up my parents!

Wow! It is weird having my parents here in Cameroon. It is like I am finally realizing that it's not all a crazy dream. Or alternately that the dream is crazier? We spent a day in Yaounde (ice cream!) and grabbed a (surprisingly) nice bus to Bafoussam and spent a few days at my post. We walked over to Baham one day to see Fovu and the Handicap Center and that was fun, though a really long day.

Then we headed to Buea to climb Mt. Cameroon! It was a little stressing and confusing to have so little say over how the trip was planned, but on va faire comment? We let the Ecotourism guide company buy our food and it was very Cameroonian. 12 loaves of bread. Maybe 2 kilos of rice for one dinner. 6 sacks of wine. To that I said, "No, my parents don't drink." The lady replied, "No, it's okay, this is wine even children drink." Oh, Cameroon.

The first day up the mountain was.... 6 hours of straight-up climbing. We gained 1800 m elevation, or about 6000 feet. No switchbacks. Just. Straight. Up. The last 600 meters or so I counted steps. Well. To 20 over and over again. Sometimes I would forget and get up to 30. Or 40. By the time we got to Hut 2, our bivvy for the night, I was absolutely DONE.

The plan was to summit on day 2 and hike down to Mann Springs and to go to the rainforest for day 3 and to come out on the beach day 4. Alas, the Rainy Season intervened. Day 2 we got rained in and spent the day playing cards and napping. Oh, did I mention that 10,000 feet is COLD? Even 5 degrees north of the equator. It dropped below 50 F at night. Brrrr! I was a cold Zara.

We met some other hikers on the mountain, Melinda and Joe, newlyweds from the Bay Area (California, represent!) and a radio reporter from Germany (who hiked like she was made of steel). Melinda and Joe made a summit attempt on our day 2, but got rained out. On day 3 we went for the summit and hoped to get to Mann Springs. The German (Bettina) had left at 4 am for a summit attempt and we met her not far up the trail. She said she had made the summit, though we later determined this not to be the case. (She didn't want to discourage us).

Up up up up up. It wasn't as steep as the first day, but the altitude was breath-stealing and I was getting at least a full inhale-exhale with every single step. As me and my Dad slogged uphill, my Mom was bouncing off the trail left and right to pick up trash, to take a picture, to pick some mint. What a lady! It was foggy and cold and windy and it got foggier and colder and windier as we went up. Visibility was rarely more than 20 feet. After 2 and a half hours we got to Hut 3 and we and all the porters were freezing (they more so than us). Samuel, our guide said we should go back down. We agreed, since the weather was awful and we figured he knew the mountain better than us.

But when I walked out of the hut, Samuel started going UP the mountain. I went back and told my parents we were going up and we continued. Up. Up. Up. Cold. Cold. Cold. It was much flatter from that point, but the visibility dropped and the temperature dropped and the wind kept roaring. I could barely see Samuel's figure in the fog in front of me and I would turn around and wait until I could see my parents barely emerge from the fog behind me. (I took the lead because I was so excited for the summit! My mom stayed back with my dad).

We could tell we had reached the top ridge when the wind started ripping so fast that you had to lean your full body weight into it in order not to tip over. We passed false summit after false summit after false summit and always another lurking shadow would appear in the fog. Until finally I see Samuel throw himself down sitting with his back to the wind and we were at the top! All the sign pieces were strewn on the ground and I found two pieces of a sign, one that said SUM and one that said IT. SUM IT!

My parents were close behind and one of the porters came up, too (previously unbeknownst to us). We took a few quick pictures and then beat a hasty retreat. On the way off the summit I realized I couldn't feel my hands (4 layers and a hat and two hoods, but no gloves, oops!) and I looked down to see that they were looking pretty yellow. I unzipped my two outer jackets and jammed my hands in my armpits, but then the wind was coming from the front and wanted to blow my hoods off. I grabbed the hood ties in my mouth and ran down the hill grinning into the wind.

The descent back down to Hut 2 was warming but quad-jarring. Sleep came easy. Day 4 was 1800 meters straight down. I was slow slow slow. We got off the mountain and ate some chicken and plantains and watched a National Geographic special about mysterious elephant deaths. Then we headed to Limbe for HOT SHOWERS.

The hotel in Limbe was really nice, and being on the ocean was nothing short of INCREDIBLE. I love the ocean and I can't believe I've been away from it for over a year. What a mistake! The hotel even had a pool, though I never got in it.

Day 2 in Limbe we went out to a private beach at a fancy hotel and played in the ocean. Before I went in my mom asks, "Are you sure you want to wear your glasses in? That is how I lost mine in Hawaii." I say, "Yeah, I'll be fine, I'll just hold on to them if I go under."

Always listen to your mother.

2 minutes later and I am bliiiind. At any rate, the ocean is fun regardless of whether or not you can see. I spent some hours throwing myself into and over waves and I think it is the first time I've played in the ocean since I was 6 in SLO. We head back to the hotel for more hot showers and then walk to town for dinner (shrimp!). Being blind is bizarre and discombobulating and I reflect on how many people in this country probably can't see very well or afford glasses (which cost about the same here as they do in the states, what is up with that, Cameroon? Need some Zenni Optical up in here).

Sunday morning we head to the bakery and then the Agence and after 3 hours we head towards the West. Amazingly the whole trip goes smoothly and we hop from Limbe to Carrefour Bamougoum outside Bafoussam to Marche B in Bafoussam to Socada in Bafoussam to Bamendjou.... where I have my backup glasses!!!! Being blind and traveling a new route in Cameroon with my parents was terrrrrifying, talk about the blind leading the blind.

Cat is happy to see us and my Dad is happy to see Cat. I think they are in love. We have a big dinner of green beans and couscous (de Mediterranean) and bread and sardines (Cat gets the tin and is a happy cat). Then packing. Then sleeping. Then up early to go to Yaounde. Too much travel!

We got to Yaounde yesterday and got train tickets this morning to go up to the North on Thursday. Exciting! It's rainy now and it's nice to take a little break from vacationing so hard. 2 days to gather our thoughts and laundry and watch some movies and play some games.

Pictures now, updated!

Love you all!

I put my mom to work in the garden. She is a good worker. She planted an herb garden and some salad veggies. Thanks, Mom!

Fresh gnocchi and pesto. Yummers.

My Dad loves my Cat. Apparently my Cat is freakishly tiny.

Turns out my mom loves pagne, too. Yaaaay, pagne!

My parents at Fovu sacred rock site. With his beard and white skin and sombrero, little children kept thinking my dad was a juju. Juju! Juju!

At the Handicap Center in Baham. I let the newest resident try on my glasses. He was ADORABLE! Kept running up and hugging me. :) They think he is deaf. When he first got there he ran away... like 30+ km away. But someone found him and got him back.

Mom and I walking back from Baham. Lookin' classy.

Before heading up Mt. Cameroon. We were so naive.

In the forest it was humid. My glasses were all fog. But they were glasses!

Mom and I on Mt. Cameroon. She is energized. I am exhausted.

Hut 2 Luxury suite. Polished wood bench bed. Mouse butlers.

Preparing potato soup in our out of doors kitchen. Day 1 was beautiful.

Day 2. Mountain. Why you dey vex me?

SUM IT. One plus one na one.

Bisoh, Samuel, Dad and Me. In gale-force winds. But happy!

Samuel made Dad a walking stick so that going down would be easier. They are fwiends.

Emmanuel watches as Bisoh and Isaac's friendship grows. Can you believe we had 4 porters and a guide? Felt very weird. Very weird.

After the mountain. Back row: Samuel (guide), Isaac, Samuel (porter), Emmanuel. Front row: Random guy, Bisoh, Me, Mom, Dad (you probably guessed those ones).

No longer blind! Cooking green beans! Happy!
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Camp in Bandrefam was more challenging than in Baham. The girls were older and less involved. Several already had babies. They had trouble believing that HIV exists in their village, despite the testimonial and a recent SIDA death. I think that there were still some benefits (I hope), but by the end of the week, we were completely and totally and utterly drained.

Bandrefam itself is very different from Bamendjou. It's a small village, maybe 4,000 people and everybody knows everybody. This means a few things. For the girls it means that if they buy condoms, everybody knows. They don't even talk to their friends about sex here! For Julie it means that everybody walks into her house all day and if she has coffee or cocoa or bread, everybody knows and they ask for their part.

Also, the main water source for the village is a robinet (tapstand) that is turned on every other day for half an hour. !!! But it's often broken for months at a time, like when we were there. Then you have to walk down to the source to haul water. Fill a bidon, put it on your head and hike back uphill for 15 minutes. Julie has a 30-liter bidon, which we can't carry full because that is over 60 pounds on the head. She also has 15-liter buckets, which are difficult to carry because the water just slops over the sides if you aren't careful. I also carried the food across village on my head everyday. Rice for 40 is heavy!

We also carried dishes down to the source to wash them and washed our hair down there. There were about 20-30 other women and children down there, too, washing clothes and legumes and children.

It is easy to see the benefit of many children here, they do so much work! One boy was telling me how he has been carrying water since he was 3. And how he can carry a full bucket on his head without spilling any. I don't doubt him. On the other hand, everyone is hungry in the village. I tease Julie about not being able to say No to anyone, but you say no to a hungry child. Try it. Especially after they help you carry water. Especially ever.

We also celebrated my birthday in Bandrefam with vegan chocolate cake! Yummmm. I'm 25 now! Quarter of a century. Mid-20s. All that jazz. And running in Bandrefam was nice because it was so much flatter.

Anyway. After the long and exhausting week in Bandrefam I came home to Bamendjou. And it really felt like coming home. I had a smile on my face as we hit the Baf-Bam road and I anticipated seeing my little house and my little Cat and speaking my little patois.

I spent a glorious day at home relaxing and sleeping and cutting my hair. The second morning at home I went for a run, and then got a text from my APCD that I had to be in Yaounde TOMORROW OR ELSE I CAN'T BE A HOST! It was already 10 am, and Yaounde is a 4 to 6 hour ride from Bafoussam. Oh tiring world. I packed up all my dirty clothes, left my dirty dishes, locked up again, apologized to Cat, and hit the road.

In Bafoussam I found the bridge where on cherche (one finds) the private cars to Yaounde. Often drivers will pick up passengers to cut down on gas prices. I had been talking about this in Bandrefam about how we'd probably only do this under safe-feeling conditions, ie, not all guys in the car. But in racing and pushing to get inside a car (which I do, within 2 minutes, much better than waiting 2 hours at an agence) I realize that I am in a car with 3 other men. Ah well. The fates are kind, right?

Our car breaks down halfway between Bafoussam and Bangangte. Oh jeez. Now what? It's already such a late start for going to Yaounde! But luckily the guy driving is some sort of bigwig and he calls someone and they bring out another car and a mechanic to fix the old one. So an hour wait and we are on our way again. Just 4 of us in one car... it was luxuriously spacious. Upon arriving in Yaounde (a car-full and confusing city), they drop me off at the roundabout right by the Case. Excellent.

Yaounde. It's the first time I've been back since the first week we arrived. Bizarre. The Case (pronounced cause, the volunteer transit house) is full of folks from my stage and some others. I snag the last free bed (of 30ish). Jeez!

Yaounde. Days are spent in the Training Designing Workshop, where we plan the training for the trainees arriving September 17th. It is satisfying but also a bit mind-numbing. Evenings are spent socializing and appreciating the fine foods Yaounde has to offer. I spend my nights crying or trying not to cry about my ex and his new GF. Lame-o. Drama even in Africa, n'est-ce pas? But it keeps me from staying up late and drinking, and I get up early every morning to run.

Running Yaounde is kind of great. It is more anonymous than villages and I can choose how many hills I want to include (some, but not all). There are still the guys who derange ("I love you!"), but there are also hundreds of other people faire-ing le sport and running, stretching, footballing. Also it makes the rest of the day much easier. I can run 45 minutes without stopping now, so, boo-ya.

Also we watch music videos on Trace (Ciara, Rihanna, Soprano, P Diddy, Ice Cream Truck...), track championships, tennis championships, the occasional movie. TV is weird.

On the weekend after TDW we have a faux-beach party. Bikini tops, water balloons, margaritas, salsa, ping-pong, dance party goodness. It is nice to have a vacation from village-life, even if just for a few days.

I also manage to find some time for pagne shopping (oh my gosh, so much pagne) and some grocery store shopping (ice cream? I eat a liter in a night, I stock up on quinoa, soy sauce, tapatio). One night we go out for indian food. Mmmm, chana masala and daal and paratha and a free dessert of gulab jamun (sp?), which is cheese-y fried dough balls in cumin-honey.

3 days of TOT (training of trainers), which includes giving a faux presentation to get feedback, and it is time to leave Yaounde. Gosh. Finally.

I leave the Case by 6:45 am, and am at the agence by 7. A porter from a different agence grabs my bag and I have to chase him down. He tries to get me to choose them through trickery and lying. Finally I just grab my bag and start dragging it and him across the mud yard. After a minute he lets go and I go buy a ticket at the correct agence. I snag a window seat in the back row of a giant bus and wait for an hour while it fills completely.

The bus ride takes a good 5 hours, and is more crammed than most of my Baf commutes. Something in my leg is pinched and I can't unpinch it. Oww. It still hurts today. After 5 hours I make it to Baf and meet up with Liz for lunch at les Arcades. Then I swing by the Post Office for packages/letters galore! I'm juggling 5 bags by this time and make it to my gare.

I got home yesterday after 9 odd hours of traveling. I met a young woman on the car from Bafoussam to Bamendjou and she helped me carry my things home and we sat and talked for a while. Well, she talked. I was exhausted, but it was also a story I could not end. She asked if I had noticed the cuts on her lip. Yes, I had, I said (they were very noticeable). And then she started telling me about her faux-husband (they can't afford to get married, but they've been together for 3 years). How he had hit her. Just this one time. Never before. That he didn't mean to make her bleed. How her mother advised her to leave him. But if she did that she would have to go work with a cousin who is part of a church that eschews medical care. And that is not in her heart. How her grandmother advised her to stay. How she can't read or write and other men who have proposed to her have dumped her on finding this out. This man, however, is paying for her to learn to read and write. What do I say to this? Sure, in America there are resources for battered women, resources for illiterate adults, resources for finding a job, perhaps even more understanding men and family members. But here, what do I say? I asked her what she wanted to do. She wants to stay with him. I told her that I didn't think that there is ANY reason for a man to ever hit a woman, regardless of if he leaves a mark or not. I told her that in America that is illegal and he would go to jail. But. What do I say? Also she has a 12 year old daughter who lives with her mother in Douala. Who she can't afford to send to school.

Anyhow. Today. I slept 13 hours last night. The West is FREEZING! I am wearing a hat and a sweatshirt and my toes are like ice. I need to clean my dishes, the hair off my bathroom floor (from when I cut it two weeks ago), unpack... Sunday I am meeting up with some other Westies to do Yoga and deliver packages. Wednesday I am going back to Yaounde. Friday the new trainees arrive, FIFTY of them. Wow. Then I have something like a month at post. Then a week at training. Then in November my parents come for a month+. !!!

Who's a busy lady?
It's me.Camp in Baham. One day the rain was pouring on the tin roof too loud to do anything but play. So we played.

Making sure the two anglophone girls understand the anatomy lesson we are going over.

Liz & I prepping for camp one morning.

Taking photos with the summer school we were not involved in. Every picture is better with la blanche? Oh Africa.

Explaining how a female condom works in a Tangui bottle vagina.

Washing my hair at the source in Bandrefam. Plenty of spectators.

Carrying the not-full bidon. Probably still 20 L, ~40 pounds. Julie and Kim carried it up the steep part. I took it for the "easy" part at the end.

Blowing out matchstick candles on my vegan chocolate birthday cake. Yum.

Anika, Liz, Kim and I at Julie's house.

Oops, I cut all my hair off!

Parting thoughts... Doing the girls summer camps was my favorite thing I've done so far and it really reinforces my dream of doing women's health work. Really.

Also, all my love. It's been 51 weeks in country. Next week I will celebrate my one-year anniversary with the arrival of the new trainees. Even though we've been apart for a year, you are all in my thoughts and I can't wait to see you all again! Love love love love LOVE.

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Home again, home again, after a long week in Baham doing girls' camp. Wow! What an experience.

I've come home to a very lonely cat. I'm sure he'll be very sad that I'm leaving again come Sunday for another girls' camp in Bandrefam.

So. Last week. I had my site visit. It was fine. I was far too stressed before it happened. My APCD came, we talked about how post is going work-wise and health-wise and whatever-wise. We visited Marcel and talked about the water project. We visited Marie Noelle and saw her community farm and then went to Odile's farm in Nkonkouo. Then we went an talked to my supervisor in village about how my counterpart is a flake. I also don't get along great with my supervisor (he is the one who thinks I should be a man and give him all my stuff). Then we went back to my house and had a big delicious lunch! Then my APCD left.

Then I had some really good conversations with my ladies. They also don't like my supervisor, but they do like me and are glad we are working together. They were disappointed I was leaving for 2 weeks to do the girls camps, but we are going to do a marcotting workshop when I get back.

Friday evening I left for Baham. It seems so long ago. I don't even remember what bed I slept in that night. Saturday morning Christina came and she and Liz and I went to the school where we had a classroom and tried to find some peer educators. After waiting a while (and prepping for the week) we walked downtown and found one girl. She said that she would find more girls to bring.

So Saturday and Sunday were more laid back than planned, but we had fun with the peer educators and talking about what it means to be a peer educator and a woman, what is puberty, how can you prevent HIV/AIDS, STDs and pregnancy, what is the immune system, what is HIV/AIDS, etc.

Monday morning we arrived to find not very many girls. But there was summer school in the morning and we stole all the girls from there. Which gave us a larger variety of ages than we planned on. Instead of 11-18, we had 7-18. We went around and had everyone say their name, their age, their grade and what they want to be when they grow up.

Hmm. It's hard to remember the order that everything happened in. Christina gave some great health presentations, including one on the fecal-oral route that had ALL the kids attention, from teeny to grand. We had an activity where all the kids drew/painted a woman that they admire and then presented it and spoke about why they admired her. All the little girls said the same thing. She is pretty and nice. But when we got to the older girls there were some really interesting things said.

Julie came on Monday and Liz and Julie were amazing with planning all the activities for the camp. Truly. Truly truly truly.

On Wednesday, I think, I gave a presentation on women's and men's reproductive systems. It was a lot of fun. I got to explain what puberty is, what a period is, how you become pregnant, what happens when you're pregnant, what a clitoris is, what the function of all the organs are. We also had a question box so people could ask questions anonymously (though most people were pretty comfortable asking questions) and we got some verrry interesting questions. Some of them were kind of worrying (one girl asked if you could get pregnant the first time you had sex, and then later asked why you would miss a period) and some were really good discussions (should you tell your family if you have HIV?).

Thursday we had a visit from an HIV-positive woman. She came and spoke to us when we were doing training and Julie and Liz got her to come out for this camp. In the morning we went over biology of HIV/Immune system stuff, and then she did a testimonial. It was really eye-opening for the girls. They were very surprised to see that she was a strong, healthy woman and also had been living with HIV for over 10 years. The girls asked some really great questions of her, too, and they were sad to see her go. Many girls got her number. Even this morning, a guy came to ask for her number. It's crazy to think that something like 5% of the population of Cameroon has HIV and so few people know about ANY resources.

Today we went over STDs and family planning/contraception. We also did a lot of review and questions and true/false games. The girls really learned a lot! It was good to see how much more they knew about HIV transmission and about their own bodies and about how to protect themselves. We also did condom demonstrations today, and of course that was HILARIOUS. We even had a female condom and showed how to use it on an inverted water bottle.

Our only drama was Thursday afternoon. Is it possible to make it a week with 40 girls without drama? I would guess no. We were trying to do an activity for self-esteem. Each girl wrote her name on a piece of paper and then we passed them around the room for every other girl to write a compliment on it (this was with just 28 of the older girls). Unfortunately, some girls started writing mean things, too. Really mean things. And then there was an accusation and a denial and an angry fight that ended in tears (which are NOT okay in Cameroon) and I cried to because I was so upset (which is NOT okay in Cameroon). We had a talk with 2 of the girls who had been writing mean things (though there were more) and of course they were only writing mean things about girls who had said mean things about them and everyone's feelings were hurt because of insults. We had some serious discussion, but the day ended on a low note. In the evening Liz, Julie and I remade each paper with only compliments. The girls definitely all smiled when they got them today.

Anyway. The end of camp was nice (what an exhausting week!) but also sad. A lot of the girls went out of their way to say thank you and we thanked them, too. I think that everybody got something out of the camp (even if it was just a free lunch) and I'm hoping that it will continue to effect positive change in these girls' lives.

Okay. Photos!

PS: Also it was sooo much fun to spend a week with the girls! We baked dessert almost every night. Zucchini bread (twice), pumpkin pie and chocolate cake with frosting. Yum yum!

PPS: Oh and on another day one of the girls started having a lot of trouble breathing and was crying and beating her chest. It was very scary. After it passed we talked and I guess she has a heart condition, some kind of palpitations. Some other girls went to get her mother, who sent a raw egg for her to drink. Normally she has medication but they are out. Oh, Africa.

PPPS: Oh yeah, and the new German volunteer in Baham has arrived. She is getting thrown into the mix quickly!

Camel and me. She was a sweetheart and very shy. She always helped to clean up without being asked.

I made my first pumpkin pie in Cameroon! We didn't have cinnamon, but it was delicious.

This is Prestige. She is drawing a woman she admires.

This is Hornelle. She is drawing a woman that she admires.

Caren is telling us what she likes about the woman she admires. I'm pretty sure she said that she was "jolie" et "gentille".

Gaelle is talking about the woman she admires, I think it is one of her teachers.

Jafercine is telling us about the woman that she admires.

Sonia is showing us the woman she admires. I think that this is the first time most of these girls ever used paint!

Yollande is telling us why she admires Julie. I admire Julie, too.

I'm talking about a woman I admire. Can you guess who it is? It's my mom!

Anne drew her brother and sister. I think her drawings are adorable. She was very shy and quiet the whole time. Every once in a while she'd smile, though.

Chocolate cake with sucre glace. Mmmmm.

Adorable baby goats next door to Liz. They were very loudly playing hide and seek outside her room this morning.

Here are all the girls when Madame Njiki (president of a living with HIV group) came to visit. She is on the right in the yellow skirt. The girl furthest to the right is Aline, Liz's neighbor. She is 12 and has the cutest laugh and is still refreshingly naive and innocent and open.
Girls playing jumprope during a pause. They also played a lot of circle dance games.

Prestige in a cape and Megane on a stump.

Julie is explaining our next activity.

Christelle, Marie-Claire and Anika watch HIV education movies in French.

This is Fanny. I've met her before at Liz's. She's sweet, but also has a pretty tough exterior. She was one of our peer educators. We had problems with her showing up late and teasing other girls. But she also broke down in tears and ran off when falsely accused of writing insults. She brought me fresh corn and a pineapple, and I convinced her to come back the next day. It's tough being a teenager, and more so a girl and more so in Cameroon. I think we'll stay friends for a long time.
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Sometimes I read other PC blogs (less often now that I'm a volunteer) and they explain that the long stretches of time between posts are due to busy-ness. Well, it's rather the opposite for me. I haven't been posting as frequently because, gosh, I haven't done much lately!

So let me regale you with the minutiae of life in Cameroon.

Zara's Adventures In Piment Land

Today is Market Day. I've been missing market days pretty often over the last months due to illness or, more often, wanting fresh food less than I want to deal with a big crowd. But my mental state has been climbing lately (I attribute this primarily to my resuming a regular exercise schedule). So today I set off to market.

I walk to the center of town in my matching pagne top and headwrap (and jeans, which fit for the first time in 6 months, thanks again, exercise), swinging my basket and smiling at all the ladies I pass (and kids, and some of the men).

Once at the market, I start along my habitual route, stopping first at Marta's stand. We shared a taxi back to Bamendjou the other day, though it took me a few minutes to recognize who she was away from the veggie stand. She's busy, so we exchange a quick greeting and her lovely daughter (whose name I forget) helps me. (I buy some tomatoes).

Onward, onward. I stop and buy some ginger from one lady, some piment from the next, some onions from the next. I stop and get some garlic. I hear my name, and my friend (who is 9) Kevine is there with some of her friends. I love her! I say hello and reach out to put my hand on her shoulder, and she flinches away. I miss living in a country where hitting your kids is both looked down on and illegal. I ask her how her vacation is, and she asks why I don't come out to Balatsit. I tell her I'm busy and that I don't know if I would see her if I went out (if I knew I would, I probably would go out there! Such is my social life).

I wander on through the market, but don't see a tamis (sifter) or beans, which are my two must gets. I remember seeing some beans that were ok, so I start on another circle of the market.

Some big tasty looking pineapples draw me in and I'm not in the mood for bargaining, so I probably overpay (you know, 60 cents for 2 giant, perfect pineapples, what a ripoff!). Then I see that she had beans, too, so I get a couple boites. Excellent. A little further on I see my friend Vanelle (who is also 9, and friends with Kevine), sporting a big head of hair (in the summer girls have hair! During the school year buzz cuts are de rigeur) and playing cat's cradle. We exchange some greetings.

I take a different path around the market and I'm starting to resign myself to finding a tamis in Bafoussam tomorrow, when all of a sudden I run into a man who has nothing but tamis! I examine them for quality and pick two that seem nice. He wants 1000 for them. I know this is too much. I offer 700. He says 850. I say 750. He says, okay. Actually he says, give me the money, which is what vendors say when they agree to your discuted price.

My basket is full at this point, so I am carrying the two tamis in my hand. This is apparently HILARIOUS. At least 8 people ask me if I am selling them before I get out of the market. What a hilarious thing!

I stop and get some bananas and an avocado for Cat. My last stop is to get more prunes. Yum! I'm out of little money by this point, so I have to pay with a mille note. The boy selling prunes sends the younger girl next to him selling something I don't recognize to get change. While I stand and wait, the woman on the boy's other side starts a conversation.

I try to explain a little about what I'm doing, but in retrospect I think she still thought I was with the church. She asks if I know Pere Stanislaus (the Polish priest), and I say yes. We exchange names. I'm Izara and she is Emilienne. She lives out in Toumi and I tell her I was working on a farm there recently. I get my change and we part with smiles. I wish I ran into ladies/girls I meet in the market more often.

Walk home, greeting and smiling at everyone. I unpack all my groceries and get ready to prep piment. If I don't grind all my piment right away, it goes bad. My last piment melted and dried up in a hanging basket and I used absolutely none of it. So I put on my piment gloves, throw my 200 CFA worth in a pot to wash and get out my grinding stone.

Grind, grind, grind. This is not as easy as Cameroonian girls make it look. About halfway through (200 CFA of piment is probably a liter or liter and a half of piment), I realize that there is some piment inside my gloves, on the back of my hands. And it is burning. I don't really want to take my gloves off halfway through and have to clean up twice. So I work through it. Grind, grind, grind.

My right wrist gets sore, but my left hand is horribly uncoordinated. My arm is also very tired (post work-out). I have a small/flat grinding stone that I put on my counter and then I grind it with the grinder rock on top of that. In a traditional kitchen, the grinding stone is usually pretty large, on the ground, and sporting a smooth concave surface from lots of use. Girls grind on it bent over in half, using both hands for leverage on the grinder. I think their way is much more efficient.

I eventually get it all ground, the backs of my hands still burning. I fill up a 6 oz jar with pure ground pain (I mean, hotness). I wash everything that piment has touched before I take off my gloves. I managed to get piment on a lot of things. Oops! Finally I take off my gloves and start my wash. First I rub oil all over my hands (the hot oil is not water soluble) and then I wash that off with Dr. Bronner's.

Hmm. The backs of my hands are still burning. Maybe I'll try some acid to react with the alkaline of the piment. I mix vinegar in with the piment puree (reminders of hot sauces back home, also helps preserve it). I pour the end of the vinegar over my hands. It helps.. momentarily. I try oil again, and my hands are smelling like salad dressing. I wash again with soap.

Oww. The backs of my hands are still burning! Maybe I should have taken care of this when I first realized... I find some very old limes in my fridge, cut them open and start rubbing them all over the backs of my hands (which are visibly red and irritated). This provides some relief, when I'm actively rubbing the lime juice in. I've also read that salt is supposed to help. Well, nothing to lose! I dump salt all over the lime juice on the backs of my hands. It doesn't really do anything except make me think about tequila.

Eventually I get fed up with rubbing lime on my hands, and I wash it off. Then I decide to write a blog about how silly I am and how flipping hot the peppers are here. And in case you're wondering, my hands are still burning, but not as much as before the lime.


What else is going on? Minutiae. So, I lost my tamis, I think it got a bit ruined after my last cheesemaking experiment. Earlier this week I really wanted some pancakes (because I didn't want to walk AAAAALL the way across the street to buy eggs... I even made eggless pancakes). I opened my flour, and gave it a shake to see if there was anything crawling about in it.

There was. I miss worm-free flour. I was on a good run for a while, getting flour from the supermarche and being worm-free. But. Then there was the worm in the crepes. And now there's this big mealy fellow. Not having a tamis, and really wanting pancakes, I decided to sift the flour through a piece of gauze-y fabric. That took about half an hour for a cup of flour. But my pancakes were delicious and comfortingly worm-free and I even had powdered sugar to put on the top, which was a revelation.

Later that night, I decided to try to make some tofu from soy flour (because I was craving protein and still didn't want to walk across the street for eggs). It was going along, until I got to the step where you strain out the solids. I tried straining through the gauze-y fabric again, but nothing doing. The night ended with soy slurry splattered across the kitchen, multiple fabric types full of soy slurry and me feeling frustrated.

So. I now have two tamis (ha ha, how hilarious! Am I selling them?), one for flour and dry things, and one for wet things like cheese and tofu. Boom.

Alright, alright, I suppose I'll talk a bit about work related things. Only so you don't think I'm completely useless. My APCD is coming for a site visit on August 11th. He'll spend the day here to see how I'm doing and what I'm doing. I'm pretty nervous about this, seeing as I don't have much to show. But everyone is telling me not to worry and that progress is slow. I imagine I'll keep on worrying 'til it's over.

On Tuesday I had a meeting in Bafoussam with Liz and RIDEV. Theo wants to apply for a USAID grant for an HIV/AIDS project, and even if we don't get that grant (which is highly competitive, they're only awarding one or two in all of Cameroon) he wants to have a strong proposal to apply for other grants. Liz came up with the idea of working with traditional practitioners in the fight against VIH/SIDA (as it is known here).

So, we're in the very early planning stages of that. I'm pretty excited about it (probably because I know a group of traditional practitioners here in Bamendjou). The plan goes something like this: Write questionnaires for Tradipraticiens, general community and health care providers about VIH/SIDA and traditional healers. Assess data. Identify one behavior to change. Work through DBC framework (a very organized Designing for Behavior Change process to make actions as effective as possible), and then write an action plan.

Also on Sunday we're having an 80s Dance Party. So. Spandex! Neon colors! Dancing! Fwiends.

Much love to you all. Really. SO MUCH LOVE TO YOU.

PS: Oh yeah. Gross story. I got a chigger in my foot. What we call chiggers here are different from what you call chiggers in the state. Cameroonian chiggers burrow into your feet, unbeknownst to you. Then they grow an egg sac that is the size of a pencil eraser. Then you find it. Then you have to cut it out. And then maybe you cut open the egg sac, and the guts, and you are squeezing out eggs and green goo and trying not to throw up. And then after you get it all out, there's a hole in the end of your toe and a weird blood-bubble. And then you never feel like your toe is quite clean, and you briefly consider just chopping the whole thing off. GROSS.

PPS: Oh yeah. Exercise. So I've been doing this silly workout video, 30-day Shred with Jillian Michaels. I'm half-way through today! I am definitely getting stronger and exercise does all sorts of good things to my brain. Here's why I like it so much: It's a 20 minute workout. It's pretty hard to convince myself not to workout for 20 minutes when I first get up in the morning. Especially when you never do any exercise for more than 1 minute. Also it's pretty simple stuff, which is good because I'm really uncoordinated. Also it entirely kicks my butt in 20 minutes. So. You know. If you're looking for a workout video. I'm planning to start running again after I finish the 30 days (I don't think I could handle both right now). Anyone want to do a marathon in a few years?

Here's some pictures, because I can:

The post-chigger blood-bubble on my toe. Gross. One of my friends asked if I had pictures of the extraction. No. I don't. I have to say that the thing that makes me shudder with disgust more than anything is the thought of something living under my skin. Once I found it, I could not rest until it was out.

This little piggy went to the market and then got piment all over and cried wah, wah, wah, all over the internet.

Piment is soooo pretty. And soooo painful.

Obligatory artsy picture of my grinding stone. I'm so meta.

Here's the chard-pine nut pasta I made the other night. It was delicious! I'm so bored with my usual foods. I'm working on expanding my culinary repertoire. You can find my recipe for it HERE.

Bristol, thank you for the watercolors!! I've been painting quotes'n'things to put up around my house. This is an excerpt from Ash Wednesday by TS Eliot, and it's one of my favorite things. I also painted a mantra I've been using a lot. "Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile." Speaking of mantras and breathing, the volunteer who is replacing Wendy is a yoga teacher. Also, I bought Wendy's yoga mat. So. Expect to hear about yoga in the future. Also Cristina worked for Conde Nast for lots of years. The West is getting fancified!! New volunteers will land at post in mid-August, and new health/agro volunteers will be getting to country mid-September. Which will mean I've been here for a year...

Love love!