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It has been a long 3 weeks! I've been without internet for 11 days, and getting it back feels like I'm running across a field right into internet's waiting arms. It's very romantic, and laze-inducing.

So. Let's see if we can catch up a little. About a week and a half before IST (In-service Training, a week-long venture I just returned from), my counterpart finally showed up.

Finally! It had been 2 months! And what does he say to me? "Zara, you abandoned me!" Which makes me feel how exactly? It makes me feel angry. Because I have been trying to get in touch with him for a month. Then he asks about the work I have been doing. What work? Alright, half my frustration at this point is at myself for not going out on my own to find work. We make it through an awkward conversation and I don't cry until he leaves. Success for the day.

A few days later I go to meet my supervisor, who I had bumped into on a run. He is not there, because even though he told me to meet him Wednesday, he thinks that Wednesday is Tuesday. Cameroon time knows no bounds. My counterpart is there though, and we have a more rational/less emotional meeting and make plans to do a farm visit with a farmer and meet with a Traditional Medicine Practitioners group in the week before IST, which he has (against my unspoken wishes) agreed to come to.

The day we are supposed to go visit the farmer, he says he will come by to get me at 7 am. I normally get up at 8:30, but I was awake and ready and waiting at 7 am. And 8 am. And 9 am. And 10 am. And 11 am. And 12 pm. And around 1 pm, I head to Bafoussam, because I have plans. Oh, also I was supposed to meet my supervisor that morning. I run into him on the way to get a car and he has forgotten about this meeting. He does, however, call my counterpart and ascertains that he is, in fact, somewhere else.

A day or two later, I go for a run and then fall into a deep sleep. Apparently, during my post-run nap, my counterpart comes to get me for the Tradipracticiens meeting, which he has not informed me is that day. I sleep through it. After I wake up and he attends the meeting, he comes to get me to go see the farmer. We get there and the farmer is not there. C'est la vie, n'est-ce pas? But I take a look around the farm (pineapples, eucalyptus, bush-pigs, guinea pigs) and the farmer shows up eventually and he is real nice and seems excited to work with agroforestry and my mood switches immediately into I-AM-SO-EXCITED-ABOUT-THE-POSSIBILITIES! and I run my mouth about agro-fo and how I'd be happy to subsidize seeds if he would let me use his farm as a demo. I got to hold a guinea pig. It was real soft. They eat them here. I haven't.

Anyway. IST approaches and my anxiety increases. Can I just recommend to anyone who ever has to take a malaria prophylaxis: consider NOT taking Mefloquine/Lariam. It make-a you go crazy.

IST! I head up with Liz. Her bag gets (accidentally) stolen on the way to Bafoussam, but she has a great driver who helps her retrieve it. Thanks, buddy! We caravan up to Foumban and the Baba Palace Hotel. Fancy place. Hot water, private rooms, delish lunches. Thanks, Peace Corps!

On the first day of IST, all the counterparts show up more or less on time -- except mine. I am already stressed. I have a little breakdown in the middle of the session and leave in tears. Luckily I am surrounded by buddies and they take good care of me. I return and eventually my counterpart shows up... 4 hours late. By this point I had planned to do my post-presentation alone, and then he shows up and throws me off again. We have some serious communication issues. I manage NOT to leave crying again, and also we make it through our post presentation without me crying. He makes some bold-faced lies about the work we have been doing together. He doesn't want to look bad. Imagine that.

IST continues with long sessions for 8 hours a day, and then the 31 volunteers reunited from afar spend about 8 hours an evening hanging out. Add in meals and travel (the health volunteers have a different hotel - NO thanks, Peace Corps), and sleep is coming in at about 4 hours a night. This is not a pace I can keep and I eventually admit defeat to sleep and do not get all the hanging out time I crave. But the body needs what it needs!

It was great and amazing to see what all the other volunteers are doing at their posts. Truly. It was really nice to converse with so many friends, to listen to them play music, to play games (Banana!) and to feel at ease.

Alright. Let's get some pictures in here.

Oh wait. PACKAGES!!!!! OH MAN!!! Thank you so much: Mom & Dad, Gail, Barby & Dave, Juli (LJ's mom) and LJ! Everyone was real happy to share in fruit roll-ups and america candy! I am saving the nuts and emergen-c and tea and drink mix and science magazines for myself. Well. I'll share the magazines. Also, Mom, thanks for the next 6 letters I got from you. Also, Micah Bisson, whoa, thanks for the letter buddy! It was a surprise and hilarious.

Ok. Pictures.

This is Mt. Mbappit, or something to that effect, in Foumban. It's beautiful country out there. This is above a rice-farm that we visited. The farm was currently dry and out of season, but it was a beautiful plain that is great for rice. We also visited a rice mill. There was a chicken with chicks hiding under it. I wish I had a picture of that for you. It was ah-do-rable.

Here is a group of beautiful Muslim ladies who are part of the GIC we visited. Also note Tiki, our APCD (program director) on the right, arms behind head. Nobody puts Baby in the corner! Foumban is a mostly Muslim town, like 75-90% (my french numbers in that range are not great), but this GIC has Muslim and Christian members. Good for them. I am always excited to see different religions getting along.

Here is a man who works with a Heifer International project in Foumban. (Mom and Dad, remember than Christmas you gave me a donation to Heifer? It is so cool to see it in action). So, Heifer (HPI) donates an animal and training to a group in a community (it has a very stringent application process). When the animal reproduces, that group/individual has to pass the offspring on, along with training, to another member of the community. Great, n'est-ce pas? I hear that while Heifer is involved it is very successful, but once they are not checking up on the project anymore, it doesn't always go as well.

This project had like 4 cows, though I think only one of them was producing milk, which was their thang. They gave us some cold delicious pasteurized sweet whole milk yogurt drink. It was the best thing I had tasted in a long time. Yum. Thanks, cows, HPI and Foumban group! Also, they were feeding the cows with forage from agroforestry trees they had on the property. Gooooo Agroforestry! Did you know a cow can produce something like 20-30 L of milk a day? Jeezy-beezy.

Our last day, we visited the Palace in Foumban. It has a great museum. We couldn't take pictures INSIDE, but I did get this one of the mural. I like how it depicts the modern Chefs with sunglasses. That's progress!

Here is a partial list of the rulers of Foumban. Note the one who was a ruler for only 30 minutes. Does that pique your curiosity? Story goes, the last 3 or 4 chiefs before her (she was one of 2 or 3 princesses) were not of the ancestral line. She was given the rule so that she could reinstate it to her son. And hence that line rules again.

So what cool things did I see in the museum? A few local written languages (one syllabic, one letter), some wild and beautiful jewelry and traditional clothes and decorations. Some truly eerie relics of violence: The goblet affixed to the top of an enemy's skull. The shirt covered with sewn on tufts of hair from enemies killed (and it was COVERED). The calabash gourd encircled with a web of enemies jawbones.

There was also a whole room devoted to one ruler who was a giant. They said he stood 2.6 meters tall (something like 8+ feet). There were giant clothes and bracelets the size of hemorrhoid cushions. His ceremonial bells were WAY bigger than everyone elses ceremonial bells. And while his name was spelled Mbouombouo, it was pronounced Bobo. Call me endeared! I am curious how much of it is myth. Is he like the Wizard of Oz, or was he significantly larger than the average man? I guess I will never know. (Until I get a time machine).

We also went to the artisan village to buy souvenirs, but it was a little disappointing. Partly I was sick. Partly everyone was real grabby/pushy/YOU MUST BUY THIS. Partly it's a kind of tourist-y area so they were charging SO much more than necessary. Partly because a lot of stuff was imported from other countries. I got a bracelet and called it a day.

I was real sick by the end of IST, from a head/chest cold to the n/v/d (nausea/vomiting/diarrhea for those of you not keen to the nursing abbrevs). I have to say that puking up fish is probably one of the most foul things that I have ever done, and I may have completely lost my taste for my favorite protein source in country.

I'm back at post and things are starting to get busy tomorrow. I very much need to do laundry, and re-clear my garden, and plant my garden, and clean my house, but also go to a meeting and a gathering tomorrow, a handicap fete on saturday, and a youth-program/weekly planning with my counterpart (yay) on Sunday.

I'm still pretty tired, even though I've been doing 12 hour sleep catch up nights. So. I'm not sure at this point what I've already written and what I've forgotten. I'll try to update this a little more regularly/coherently/sanely.

Love to you all!!!!

PS: It is officially rainy season. Au revoir, la poussiere! Bonjour, la boue. (Goodbye, dust! Hello, mud.)

PPS: I've officially ridden a moto in a pencil skirt - forwards and side-saddle. Forwards involved some ankle-twisting, tripping, leg-flashing. Side-saddle is a little tipsy turvy. Pencil skirts are not ideal travel clothes. But I got all my pants dirty.