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Last week, my housemate Jane was telling me how strong Nura (the volunteer I replaced) was. How she would walk from Bamendjou to Batie, Baham, Bafoussam, even Dschang and Bangangte. Which is pretty impressive. Bafoussam is a 40 minute car ride. Bangangte is a few hours in a car. 37 miles, according to GPS!!!

While there is certainly a part of me that wants to create my own name for myself here, it got me to thinking. Why not walking? I love walking. So last week I walked home from Batie (95 min). Yesterday I walked to Baham (118 min) and today I walked from Baham back here (125 min). I love walking!

Benefits of walking over taking a moto:

- I notice so many more things! Instead of just knowing what parts of the road are particularly bumpy, now I know where the dirt turns from clay to sand, where there are incredible vistas from the top of a ridge, where there is a particularly interesting tree.

- I get to meet more people! Instead of breezing past on a moto and giving a half-smile from under my helmet or a half-wave from my death grip, I can say hello to all the Mamans working on their farms, the kids walking to school.

- Less dusty

- Cheaper

- Good exercise

- Better for the environment?

Alright, I'm reaching now. I just love experiencing the world as a pedestrian. It was the same in Humboldt and Yosemite. When you walk, you build a relationship with your environment. When you drive, you exist in a bubble. Not to say driving doesn't have it's place. I'll be taking a car to Bafoussam on Thursday. (Downsides to walking: sweat, sweat, sweat! and blisters. and dirt.)

Speaking of existing in bubbles, one of my friends here got a compliment from his counterpart. That he is very un-American, because he isn't as private as Americans tend to be. (This after stopping to enjoy some palm-wine with some guys he had met once). I'm glad for him, but the truth for me is that I AM very American. I value my privacy to a degree that I think honestly offends Cameroonians around me. When I am out and walking around, I am happy to greet people and have conversations, but when I am at home, I close my door and I want my space to be my own. I'm learning so much...

I fell when I was walking home today. I was distracted by a plant on the side of the road and slipped on the gravel and bumped my knee. What a klutz! Luckily there was no one around to tell me, "Patience."

I walked past the Ecole Publique de Batounta (a village or quartier halfway between here and Baham) and it was recess. All the kids shouted Bonjour and La Blanche, and I waved and smiled at them all. I love the kids here. I also kept stepping in potholes because I was distracted by waving. What a klutz!

I greeted the Mamans on the farms with an Olia, Maman (good morning, in patois). Some replied with just a Bonjour or a Merci, and some asked me questions in patois, which I didn't understand. Sometimes they would then repeat themselves in French. You have come? Yes. Sometimes they would go on and on in patois, laughing. I love the Mamans here! They work so hard. And they are so forgiving of my ineptitude in patois, and french, and the culture.

Here is what I know how to say in patois:
Olia - Bonjour
Autzoca - Bonsoir
Nda - Bonjour
On Intia - Bonjour
Tchamba'a - Thanks

While I was at Liz's I looked through a book she had bought about Baham. It had a linguistic map. Tres interessant! I wish there were better maps of the area here. Anyway, we are in the Nguemba linguistic area. Yup.

Whenever I cross the street to Laur's boutique to buy bread or eggs or TP or what have you, her husband tries to teach me more patois. He will say something in patois. At first, I would just say I didn't understand. Then I would just repeat him. Now I repeat him, and ask him what it means. But I forget to write it down and then I forget it. I'm really forgetful here!

Djudju - the day before market day. I don't really have any time to use this word, but there are meetings on djudju.

OH. When I was walking TO Baham yesterday, I ran into two men who stopped me to greet me. Let me say that the last few weeks I have been extremely frustrated with the guys around here - I am not your girlfriend, fiancee, or wife and I have no desire to be. If you really want to be my friend, stop asking me to go somewhere with you and ask about me. I have no qualms about being friends, but you're not treating me like you want to be my friend. Alright. Rant est fini. Anyway, these two men who stopped me were a relief. One had been walking the same direction as me and had stopped to greet the other man. He offered me some kola and the other man suggested that me and the walking man walk together. Okay. It's not as though there was much of a choice, am I going to stop and hide? But we speedwalked and he speedtalked and I tried to keep up with his strides and his french. He asked if I was a tourist, if I wanted more kola, asked me why i was walking instead of taking a moto, told me it is good to exercise, talked about what he was doing but his french was too fast for me to understand. Once we reached the highway, he caught a moto and I declined and it was altogether a (fast, but) pleasant interaction. I was in such a good mood, I greeted the next man I passed. He asked me what I had to give him. I sighed and told him nothing. He kept talking and I ignored him and kept walking. Oh well.

So. Kola, you ask. What is kola? Kola nut. Traditionally significant in Cameroonian culture (and other West African cultures). Something you would bring as a gift to a Chef, or offer to guests. The seed of Cola acuminata. About the size and shape of a large unshelled pecan. Pink. It breaks apart into irregular sections. To do things properly, you would give a section to each person in the group. You chew it up, some people spit it out after chewing, most don't. The taste is comparable to chewing aspirin. The texture is somewhere between a raw carrot and wood. It's high in caffeine! People here also eat it when drinking beer. Beer and Kola is the Red Bull and Vodka of Cameroon, except it's mostly old men who drink it instead of the cool kids at the club. Apparently Kola is good for asthma, hunger pangs, hangovers and depression. But too much of it may be toxic. It's also what puts the caffeine in your Coca-Cola. The more you know.

Alright. All for now. Love.
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Thunder! It's grey and ominous and thundering outside. Fantastic! It poured rain yesterday for a few hours. On the tin roof it drowned out all other noises. It was the first real rain here since... probably November? The real rainy season isn't supposed to start until April, but I am not complaining about a little cool-off.


Coffee. Cake for breakfast. Yum. Market day. Irritating guys I choose to ignore. Nice ladies in the market. Carrots, celery, onions, garlic, piment, potatoes, pineapples, limes. Kids I recognize say hi on the way home. Taxes online - confusing with two W-2s, the Peace Corps one is incomplete, my bank is different... I spent 2 and a half hours working on them only to have the browser crash! Aaaah! Luckily the website had saved what I had done and my taxes are filed! I didn't file state tax (again) because they owe me a refund of $25 and it cost $27.95 to file through the same website as free federal tax filing. Anyway, federal refund, too! Yay. Made my favorite lentil recipe here... oh gosh it is tasty and makes me feel like I am home (in Humboldt) and it is healthy. I also made some more hot sauce with piment and vinegar and garlic. Washed carrots and celery and put them in the fridge. Today, so far.


When I went to Bafoussam, walking from the gare to the town center, there were a couple roadblocks up. I wasn't entirely surprised, I figured that they were just out to make an extra buck. A little further up the road, I see a row of rifle pyramids stretching into the distance. On the side of the road is bunches and bunches of military. There is no way to walk past the rifles without half of them pointing at you. Guns make me really uncomfortable. More uncomfortable than the military guys shouting, "La blanche," and "Ma cherie".

HOWEVER, there were two soldiers walking hand in hand and laughing about something with big smiles on their faces. Reminder: homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon (not technically anymore, but definitely culturally) and hand-holding between men is way okay. But... gosh, America, please let people be openly gay in the military!!! It is real cute! (Alright, there're more serious issues involved in the debate, this was merely my rambly train of thought).

I found out later that all the soldiers were there for the installation of the new Governor of Bafoussam. Who knew? Not me! Or Wendy, who is expecting 20,000 books very soon that the last governor told her he would provide storage and guards for. Plans, who needs 'em?

I ate lunch in Baf while I waited for the Supermarché to open again (they close for lunch). While I was sitting eating my Banane Tapé (unripe bananas deep-fried, smashed and deep fried again) and drinking my Schweppes Ginger, men came pouring out of the bar across the street. Two men are fighting. The shirtless one smashes his bottle on the cement and another man picks him up around his shoulder and between his legs and carries him into an alley to break up the fight. People gather in a semi-circle and watch the mediation, and I leave. It's 2 o'clock.

After the supermarket (no cheese, I spent all my money at the tailor) I get in a car to Batie. There are cockroaches living in this car. Crawling on me. Gross. I peg my pants so they can't crawl up my pants. They were crawling ON my pants, after I peg them, they crawl on my bare ankles. Gross.

In Batie I go with Wendy to observe the business class she is teaching. She is way rad, which is impressive with a class of 30-ish. It is interesting seeing things start to make sense to people. She does an exercise where the class adds up how much a beer and cigarettes and PMUC (lottery) costs over the course of a year. Enough to buy two motos! Some people are very impressed. There are a lot of people here who find money for a beer or two every day, yet think they don't have enough money to do X with. Logic pervades, but there are those who think that life without beer is not really living.

Delicious food made this week: Hummus, falafel, pita, peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies, eggplant/greek olive pizza, cheesy squash pasta, one-egg cake with chocolate sauce.... I'm not the only volunteer who cooks way more than they ever did in the states. I think it's a combination of massive amounts of free time and a longing for home-food.

All for now. Love!!!
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I walked home from Batie to Bamendjou today. I'm not exactly sure how far it is, it took an hour and a half. It was really nice to be walking outside, especially the first 20 minutes where I didn't see anyone. I have more than enough alone time here, but it is all inside my house. It is harder to go enjoy the outdoors and be alone, due to the very regular dispersal of people.

Here are some pictures from my walk, I'm too sleepy to formulate words right now.

Leaving Batie... lots of eucalyptus. C'est beau.

I live across from the giantest church. It was nice to see it in the sense that I knew home wasn't forever away. It still looked pretty far away though.

This was carved in the embankment by the road. I'm not sure what it is. There were more faces, too, afterwards. Kinda freaky.

There's the church again, only a few minutes away!

Here are my feet, dirty and with new blisters. Ow. They hurt.

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Today was 11 February. Also known as Fete de Jeunesse, the translation being something akin to Youth Day (Party Time).

I went down to the grandstand by the Mairie (Mayor's office) to watch the festivities. First, the national anthem, and a really, really long speech. Then, we had several Majorette groups (or minorettes, as they called themselves). Girls from 6 to 16 in matching uniforms doing somewhat synchronized dances. It was incredible (when they were dancing) and hilarious (when they were totally disorganized). Then there was a traditional dance/drum performance from the students of one of the local high schools. Then the parade. For every school in Bamendjou, a flag carrier, a sign carrier bearing the name of the school, and then many children of the school marching in lines, from smallest girls up to biggest girls, then smallest boys up to biggest boys. First all the primary schools, then all the secondary schools.

Let me tell you, Bamendjou has a LOT of schools. Some of the marching was more enthusiastic. Some schools sang songs as they marched. The secondary schools also had signs for their clubs. The Red Cross club had a plant in the crowd who fainted as they went by and they picked him up and put him on their stretcher.

Towards the end, there was also a Tae Kwan Do school who did a demonstration, and then the marching band of 8 finished off the parade.

So. Pictures!! (I took nearly 400, almost all of them of students marching. It was like a 3 hour parade).
Approaching the parade grounds... Jane's teacher friend, hand-holding, a legion of students.

National Anthem. That's the Mayor in the Background.

Check out the one-white glove. The one glove style is not only popular with Michael Jackson, but also the Majorettes of Bamendjou. Also seen: lace capes. Yes, please!

Traditional drums, pre-beating.

Dancers, with shell noisemakers on their legs and athletic shorts on their heads. No joke.

The start of the parade was the Ecole Maternelle, or pre-school. Teeny tots.

Teeny tots were excited about marching, even after standing around and waiting for half an hour. The kids here (mostly) have amazing patience!

Yeah, he's into it.

Kids on the fence watching the parade.

Other clubs included: Environmental Club, Computer Club, Non-Violence Club, and an all-guys Ballet Club from the Catholic secondary school.

Hoop-spinning, fo sho.

The sewing section of the Catholic vocational college. See, there is the pattern and they are all wearing it! I am not sure why the model is white.

Oh, gosh, what was a miniskirt on the other majorettes was floor-length on this minorette.

This makes up for the 400 marching photos. Cool, huh?

Til next time.

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The internet is dangerous to have. I need to remind myself that it is to be used as a resource, not as a source of endless distraction. Guess which I've been doing more of!

It's been cloudy and cool the last 2 days, much like Humboldt weather, which is LOVELY. Last night there was some rain on the tin roof, and I felt very relaxed.

So in using the internet as a resource to stop using the internet as a source of distraction, I've been working on a journal/lifebook project. I've been doing some reading at zenhabits.net which is great, and working on positive thinking! I need more art in my life. In a doing art sort of way.

Here are some tiny pictures of what I've done:

As part of my positive thinking, I've been reading chakra affirmations. I don't know much about chakras, but I like the idea of focusing on these different aspects of life, and the words resonate with me. It makes me laugh, if nothing else, when I fall over into a bucket and then tell myself, "I move easily and effortlessly." And who doesn't need more laughter?
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Can you take a step forward and back at the same time? Is that a step sideways? Or a little dance, like the Charleston? I digress.

Had a meeting Saturday to go over the applications for the Young Scholar Program. When I woke up Sat, I realized that we still don't have any money, we don't even have the possibilities for getting money in the amount of time we need it (3 weeks) and I felt totally unprepared. I think that it is a great program and it has so much potential. But I also felt like we were going about things the completely wrong way. So I texted Liz and when we got to RIDEV we had a discussion, and we are going to slow it down and rework our plan such that we will start the program in October. This gives us time to: get financing, plan our sessions better, learn how to speak french better, use more feedback from last years program, and we'll have a 6 month program instead of a 2 month one.

What a weight off. But also, the two things that were keeping me so busy last week, the Engineers without Borders and the Young Scholars Project are now pretty low on the horizon. This gives me a lot of free time and less direction.

I'm hoping to get into some more agroforestry related work, like i'm supposed. I'm going to get in touch with my counterpart this week and hopefully we can plan to meet with some groups and farmers to do some needs analysis and plan some formations. I'm also going to expand my teeny tiny tree nursery.

This last week has been pretty tough mentally, and all the other volunteers I've talked to (from our stage) are feeling the same. Huh. Must be the lunar cycle. Ha ha, I am kidding, it probably has to do with culture shock and adjusting expectations. I've also got this theory about alternate universes...

With the delish pine nuts my lovely, amazing parents sent, last night we made some homemade pesto and homemade gnocchi. What fun, how easy but time consuming, how delicious, what a mess. Also got a killer deal on some expired Edam, more than 50% off, not even a spot of mold. Thanks for the tip, Nura.

I've been feeling off and on mad homesick, but it is strange because I think most of the things I am homesick for are more from the past than from home. I would miss them even if I was aux Etats-Unis. There continues to be a wealth of things I spend a lot of time thinking about that I entirely fail to understand. Time does not equal comprehension. Luckily I have some really great friends who let me ramble on and on and on about every thing that crosses my mind.

So we did end up reading through about 14 of the young scholars applications. That America-centric part of my brain was surprised more people didn't say the U.S. when asked where they would live if they could choose. More than half said Cameroon, with some Canada, France, Germany thrown in.

I think the most shocking thing I read was in response to the question, what do you do to contribute to the development of your community? One student listed a lot of things, including that they don't practice homosexuality. What a totally different world!

Anyway. Hope all is well where you are.
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so february, huh.

yesterday was a frustrating day, which i haven't had in a while. i forgot how lame they are. woke up after a super-realistic nightmare (i dreamed i was HIV positive and was having to tell everyone important to me) and i wasn't sure it wasn't real for a few hours. caught a car to Bafoussam, drunk guy in the car (at 8 am) kept telling me how he was going to get me pregnant and i was going to have triplets. kept giving me lectures on how cameroon is africa in miniature and there are more than 258 languages, and telling me about the triplets we were going to have. I started ignoring him, which is awkward in a car for 40 minutes. eventually he started hitting on the lady next to him, talking about how he slept with other peoples' wives. classy.

got to baf in a rotten mood, and all the hisses and kissing noises from guys (which is a standard way to get someone's attention here, it is just hard to get over how uncomfortable it makes me in my cultural perspective), and it was pissing me off after drunk-car-guy. i went to the bank before the meeting, and tried to use my ATM card for the first time. i didn't remember my PIN, so i kept trying things until it locked me out. it turns out they hadn't given me my PIN with my card. the guy at the bank was all, "why didn't you ask for your PIN?" and i was like, "I didn't know, is it not obvious that i am way out of my element here?" except that it was in french and i wasn't actually so sassy.

so i had to run to my meeting (or hop on a moto, rather) before i could get my card straightened out. the meeting was... frustrating. working in a group is hard enough when you all speak the same language. Instead it is me and Liz struggling with french, and 3 or 4 folks from RIDEV speaking fast mumbly french. Theo was not there again so we didn't have his translating abilities or keeping us on track abilities.

I think I am going to learn a lot from this Batir l'Avenir project. Because we are going about it the entirely wrong way. And there are going to be a lot of mistakes to learn from. We don't have financing for the program yet, which is going to start in less than a month. The way we are planning it is terribly disorganized, the language barrier is intense. During the meeting I went from sitting up straight, to leaning on my elbow with my forehead in my hand, to leaning back in my chair with my arms crossed and glaring. I think the next logical step would be to throw the table.

Things improved. We ate lunch. Grilled fish and fried plantains, yum. Got the bank stuff straightened out, one way or another. Got some expired cheese from the supermarket. Went to the post office to see about getting a PO Box. I had to ask the lady to repeat her instructions about 10 times, but she was nice about it. Caught a moto to my Gare, caught a car back to Bamendjou. Hot hot hot. The driver was nice and opened his door when we hit the paved parts so there was occasionally some airflow.

Is sweat not amazing? Cooling by evaporation. Love it.

When we got to Bamendjou there were approximately 30 people waiting for a car to show up and they started pushing to get in before we could even get out. I had to shove through a crowd, got my glasses knocked off and almost fell over. Survival of the fittest.

Bought some avocados (4 for 20 cents!!!!!) and some ginger, couldn't find any pineapple or veggies, and headed home.

At 8:30, after dark, someone was walking on our roof. Jane and I started talking and they left. She said, "Maybe it is a thief." Feeling safe. Not.

Read for a while and talked myself down and got so exhausted I had to sleep. Of course everything was fine.

Today is cleaning day! Slowly. Did my dishes, cleaned the top half of the kitchen, cleaned out the fridge and did the compost. I still need to wash the floor (Jane reprimanded me), and get all the little piles I've started organized and into non-pile form.

Ate a delish avocado and balsamic vinegar sandwich.

Groundhog day today... think I'll get another 6 weeks of winter? Ha. I miss winter.