0 com
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!
0 com
July 10th already. Times is flying. The last two weeks have been site visit for the new SED and ED volunteers. They keep saying things like, "Wow, so you've been here for a year already?!" It's only been 10 months. And somehow it feels like less. In 2 months and 1 week, it will be one year in Cameroon. And yet, at this time a year ago, I still didn't know where if I was coming here or anywhere. I hadn't had my final interview yet. Bi-zarre. Time flies. Time steals.

So since the last blog, I went on 4 more farm-plantings on two long consecutive days.

Day 1 went like this: meet up with ladies and walk out to Toumi. Plant trees on farm. Eat macabo and njama-njama. Walk to Toumgouo. Plant trees on farm. Eat pomme-pile, bananas and mangos (fresh from the tree we were sitting under). Walk to Marie-Noelle's. She cookes some manioc (cassava) for me that the ladies gave me but I didn't know how to cook. It is delicious. Home. 11 hours of patois.

Day 2 went like this: Plan to wake up at 7 and meet at 7:30. Hear knocking on gate at 6:30. Groan. Yell at gate. Leave at 7:20. Buy bread to eat on the run. Meet at 7:30. Walk to Bakang. Somehow getting everyone to the same place takes 3 hours and a bit of back and forth. Rain threatens. Plant trees on farm. Eat green bananes in ?? sauce. Walk to Mboum. Run from rain. Sit inside 'til rain stops. Plant trees on farm. Eat spicy veggied rice. Walk sloooooowly home. 8 hours of patois.

None of the farms was closer than an hour walk from me or from each other. We saw a lot of country. Between Bakang and Mboum, we heard the rain come. It was insane. It sounded like we were next to a rushing river. It was on the hill behind us, where we had just come from, and you could see the rain overtake the trees and fields in a powerful line of grey pouring water. After we'd run from it (though we were a ways from it), we stopped and laughed.

Earlier on the walk to Bakang, I saw two kids walking on the road. The girl was maybe 8. Her knees were the widest parts of her legs by far. Her younger brother's stomach protruded in a way that a full belly cannot. They just stared as they walked past. I guess it's the famine time right now. The stores from last year are used up, the crops aren't ready yet and there's no money. Later we walked past a mother on a porch with 7 kids. Her face was so drawn and thin. I don't see this much hunger where I am in Bamendjou, but when I head to the outer reaches it's impossible to avoid..

So often I feel like my impact here is impossibly small. A drop in the ocean, if that.

Julie, another volunteer, was telling me about a recent donation in her village. Some millionaires came and painted their health center (which didn't need paint) and donated all these new fancy hospital beds and bragged about how much money they spent (18 million CFA ~ $36,000). But the hospital didn't need more beds. They need money for medication, food, preventive care. It's so frustrating here to see development work that is just a photo-op and does nothing for the people in need.

I went up to visit some other volunteers for a big 4th of July party. We had hamburgers, hotdogs, mac & cheese. America time. I busted out my hammer pants, Obama shirt and statue of liberty crown. It was nice to spend time with everyone, and I met some of the new volunteers there, too. I can't explain just how nice it is to be with other volunteers. I'm learning a lot about loneliness here.

I was in Bafoussam this morning for a meeting (fish and baton de manioc for breakfast, yum). I saw the rainclouds heading in, so I figured I should head home before the rain made the road impassable. Alas, I was late and the rain was early. On the moto towards my gare the rain poured and I was soaked. I took refuge in a car, but then there was some commotion and they said that car wasn't going to go to Bamendjou and if you wanted to go, run to that prison bus. Always one to follow a crowd, I follow to the bus. It is very full, but one of the men from the car tells me there is a spot. I squeeze on and can't even get my butt onto the seat. Of course, before we leave 2 more people are in the same row. (Prison bus is 3 lengthwise rows of seats in the back of a truck/bus... 9 to a row that comfortably accomodates 6, everyone buried under their sacks and babies). They demand 800, more than a normal car journey, but by the time we leave, the rain has cleared and I'm wishing I'd held out for a car or moto.

We take the long way around, through Bahouan, which means craaaaaaaaaawling up long hills, while our hipbones are pinched together. We head down a steep hill and we're pressed together enough that the 9th people at the back squeeze onto the seat. Ow. The girl next to me is complaining, and I'm struggling not to. The girl on her other side says, "Ce n'est pas toi seul." It's not just you. Somehow the girl next to me complaining makes it easier for me not to. I focus on the babies across from me. There are three in a row, two of the mothers must be new. Every once in a while they bend down to touch their lips or their nose to their baby's forehead. It makes me smile, and they shyly smile back. I talk some with the man next to me. He's a lawyer in Yaounde, but home for a family reunion. He talks about how the roads in the East are much worse.

Another conversation concerns first wives treating second and third wives' children worse. It slips in and out of patois, and my attention comes and goes. I hear bits of another conversation, about how there are people who will buy children to eat. Would you like to know how much you have to pay to eat a child? Is it 300,000 francs ($6000)? 3,000,000 francs ($60,000)? 300,000,000 francs ($600,000)? I can't tell you because I'm not a very good eavesdropper in French, but I hope that I misheard it all and that it was an ugly rumor anyways.

And it goes. It rains.

I hope you all are well.


Odjile and Marie-Noelle planting Acacia in Toumi. I got reprimanded again for not bringing my machete.

Katherine resting after we planted at Toumgouo. She is my favorite of all the ladies. She is always smiling and she never yells or complains. Even on her farm she was calm and rational.

Girl in Mango Tree at Toumgouo. Everytime her older sister saw her in the tree she threatened to beat her with a stick. She never did, but I think life is tough for a kid here.

From left: Odjile's adorable son, Ulrich, moi-meme, Odjile's tree-climbing daughter.

Marie-Noelle, with manioc sticks for planting (vegetative reproduction?), Odjile with baby and wood, and Martine doing the notes for the day's work.

Ulrich, carrying firewood. Everyone else calls him by his village name, Talla Fundop. He walked me home the second day, since we're neighbors. We walked past a big group of guys his age playing marbles. They were all yelling and joking at us in patois. Poor kid. I hope for his sake they were making fun of me.

Walking home from Toumgouo. They make it look easy, but it is HARD to balance stuff on your head. Also, the loads are often too heavy to lift onto your own head. Sometimes I come across ladies on the side of the road waiting for someone to help lift their load onto their head.

Martine & Marie-Noelle in Bakang. The hill just falls away. It's so steep!

Ulrich (Talla Fundop) enjoying bananas and sauce. I'm so happy when I see kids getting enough to eat here.

When I came home from the fourth of July, I found that my mushroom spawn jar had... spawned. Beautiful Oyster Mushrooms.

Again. Love.