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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.