Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Well, I've now been in Panamá for a few weeks -- a week in the capital and some weeks at post.

So far, things have been going well.  Some thoughts:

1)  Húmedo -- its quite humid where I am even during rainy season.  The fan is almost always on in my room.   My mom says it sounds like Manila.  Or my post in Cameroon.

2)  Los Contrapartes -- My counterparts seem motivated.  I just talk to them about some of my ideas and they run with it.  I don't get the "We can't do that" answer.  Of course, its still early, but hopefully we can keep things moving. 

3)  Teléfono Inteligente -- I returned my smartphone after 1 day.  Well, I couldn't actually return it for some strange no-return policy reason.  So a fellow PCV, who felt sorry for me, bought it from me.  The smartphone was just too much.  The only fancy feature I wanted on the phone was a flashlight.  Back to using a dumbphone.   

4)  El Cuerpo de Posh? -- at my post, I have constant electricity, a cellphone network, a decent internet connection and running water that's potable.  Oh, and street lights.  Yeah, pretty posh. 

5)  La Musica -- current song in my head, Richard Thompson's Keep Your Distance:

Friday, August 08, 2014

Mexico …

… y otras cosas. 

Its been an eventful few months since I went off to Mexico a few months ago: 

1)  Mexico By Bus --

Image above is from my Facebook Places map.  I sometimes think I only travel so I can put virtual pins on that map.  It also looks like I need pins in Eastern Mexico.  ¡Me iré proximo tiempo!

2) Peace Corps Reboot (Or Response) --  a lot of movies nowadays are reboots of old films -- Batman, Superman, Star Trek, etc.  Probably due to a lack of original ideas, as the reboot of 21 Jump St ironically says.  Well, I also have a bit of a reboot -- Peace Corps.  I've been invited to be a Peace Corps Response volunteer in Panama promoting environmental education.  I'm scheduled to fly out in early September. 

I was actually surprised to be invited for this assignment since the process took quite a while.  The assignment was supposed to start in July, but I wasn't notified until it was practically 1-2 days before July.  On the day I got the email, I was already making backup plans -- I was at a TEFL school in Guadalajara, Mexico getting information on how I could enroll so I can get an English teaching certificate.  I figured I was going to be teaching English, not environmental education.  Well, as Ryry, a former PCV buddy once told me, "Have a little faith, man."

3)  SoCal -- after getting my invitation, I needed to get some medical check-ups and also take care of some paper work.  I decided to go to San Diego, thinking I'll head back to Ensenada, Mexico while waiting for Peace Corps to clear me.  It would also give me more time to continue speaking Spanish.  Alas, Peace Corps wanted my passport so I ended up staying in San Diego instead of leaving the country.  San Diego wasn't bad.  Cheaper than staying in the Bay Area. 

4)  What Cellphone? --  I still don't have a functional cellphone.  Haven't had one since November.  When I left Cameroon, I decided not to get a sim card for my phone since I would be traveling from country to country.  I relied on other people's cellphones (Thank you!) or I used public telephones.  A few months ago, however, I decided to get a sim card for my phone since I was expecting job interview calls.  When I tried to buy one, though, the guy said they didn't make sim cards for my dumbphone.  The US discriminates against dumbphone users!

Nonetheless, I managed.  Not really sure how I survived without a cellphone for 8 months, but its possible.  Note to self: never make a collect call from a payphone using Legacy.  Side benefit of not having a cellphone:  less chance of becoming a smartphone zombie

Friday, June 06, 2014

La Vida Recientemente

I’m not sure I chose this life or it chose me yet. I do know that life “back home” did not fit with my philosophy of how I wanted to live.
-- Expat in Mexico

1) Leaving the US -- When I got back to the US from Latin America a few weeks ago, I was thinking about what to do next. I knew I wanted to keep working in the environmental field, but I also wanted to live overseas. Those two together are not easy especially without a Masters degree. So I decided that if I couldn't work in the environmental field overseas, I'll teach English. That'll be my backup plan, my Plan B. I can always volunteer on the side at an environmental organization while teaching English. So after I took care of things like selling my car and meeting with some friends/family in California, I left the US and headed to Mexico. I was going to be an expat. Indefinitely. This should be interesting.

2) Latin America, Take 2 -- the last time I was in Latin America, all I did was sightsee my last 2 weeks. It wasn't always fun though. Sometimes I felt like the guy in the song Man in a Suitcase by the Police. I sometimes felt like I needed a break from traveling, weird as that sounds. Those two weeks were hectic and kind of burned me out -- heading up north from southern Guatemala all the way to Mexico. Buses, hostels, tourists, sight seeing, repeat. So next time I do something like that again, I'll try to stay more than 2 nights so it wouldn't be as stressful. Unless the place is really awful.

3) Hostels in the US -- I have to say that hostels in the US are very different from hostels in Latin America. I stayed at a couple of hostels in Berkeley, LA and San Francisco, where there were people living there indefinitely. That was weird. In Latin America, everyone in the hostels were travelers, not locals.

4) Things I've Lost While Traveling -- my Cal baseball cap I've had for ages, lost somewhere in Mexico on my way to Bacalar.

5) New Hobby:

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Tres Mundos

After being in Guatemala for nearly 2 months, I realized I moved in three circles or types of environments:

1)  The Spanish School Circle --  my first environment.  What better world to start with when living in Latin America?  Most of the students I met were very friendly.  Maybe its because we all had something in common -- we were all going through the painful process of trying to learn or relearn Spanish.  Its paid off though.  As they say, "No pain, no gain."

2)  The Volunteer Circle --  whether its through the volunteer database of Entremundos or the organic farm group of WWOOF, this circle is where I found myself after relearning Spanish.  The first organization I was with, I didn't meet too many travelers.  That was great because I was forced to speak Spanish.  Also, I got to learn more about a culture by being immersed in it (ie no other foreigners to speak to).  The second organization had more volunteers and most of them didn't speak Spanish.  Plus, the bosses spoke English to the volunteers because many of them didn't speak Spanish, which was unfortunate.  Nevertheless, I was able to practice my Spanish by speaking to non-English speaking staff.  Lately, I would just reply in Spanish when Guatemalans started speaking to me in English. 

This circle is probably my favorite because it directly applies to what I want to do career-wise and I learned quite a bit just by talking to the staff members.  For instance, I learned the sad truth that ecotourism in the mangroves generates so little money in comparison to sugar cane farms, which can be detrimental to the mangroves.

3)  The Hostal Circle -- usually the world of backpackers who are out to do some sightseeing or just to have a good time (ie party).  Most of them travel in groups, either they're couples or are a group of friends.  Some of them are traveling solo like me.  I'm in this circle right now since I have less than two weeks left before I head back to the US for a week or so.   On the plus side, I learned about how the word "ecotourism" is thrown about to entice customers.  Its also a world where you'll meet a fellow traveler and then after a day or two, you'll say, "Well, have a nice life" because its doubtful you'll ever see them again.  This world is not my favorite world to be in.  But hey, what are you going to do when you're on a budget and want to sightsee?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The PI and Cameroon

Just got back from the Philippines where I saw many similarities with Cameroon.

1)  They both sell a lot of things in small, plastic packets in small boutiques (or sari sari stores).  Everything is apparently the opposite of buying in bulk -- whether its coffee, flavoring mixes (maggi cubes in Cameroon or sinigang mixes in the PI), detergent, etc.  Every ten feet, there's one of these boutiques.  Now if the PI would just get their heads together and sell hard liquor in small plastic packets…

 2)  They both have great hikes to mountains -- Mt. Cameroon and Mt. Pulag.  The difference is that Mt. Pulag seems better maintained and not as trashed.  It may have something to do with more conscientious hikers.  We had to watch an orientation video at the visitor center before our hike, advising us not to trash the mountain.  I'm not saying that was the reason Mt. Pulag seemed better maintained, but it may have helped. 

3)  Speaking of trash, they both burn their trash.  They both, however, reuse their beer/soda bottles, so I suppose that's something.  I did see some locations in the PI that separated their trash into recyclables, trash, organics, etc.  I didn't see any recycling facilities however. 

4)  They both have merchants who walk the streets selling their goods.

5)  They were both colonized by European countries white people -- Cameroon by the French, English and Germans and the PI by Spain and the US. Colonial mentality is still alive and well in the Philippines as evidenced by its skin whitener billboards. 

This post was written in honor of my blogging buddies, Marj and Bill:

Photo right before the hike to Mt. Pulag. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cinq Autres Choses

Mac:  I don't know how to play chess.
Rob:  Don't worry.  You don't wear glasses so you're not expected to know how to play.

1)  Top Five Funny PCVs I've Met -- just like the DOW Jones, the top 5 often changes.  So the current top five are Emily, Rob, Ryan, Ryry and Luke.  Or Ashley.  Disclaimer:  I have no credibility regarding this list. 

2)  Chess -- There's about 150 PCVs in Cameroon.  Out of that 150, I only know of about 5 chess players, much to my chagrin.  Alas, PCV culture in Cameroon is dominated by board games involving dice. 
3)  Campo -- finally visited Campo-Ma'an National Park:

It was ok, except for a couple of glitches -- we never saw any wildlife other than a few flightless(?) birds and our rented tent leaked and soaked me and my friend's belongings.  There were other things that could've gone better, but hey, on the bright side, it wasn't that  far from Kribi. 

4)  T Minus Less Than A Week -- my bank account is closed, I have left post and moved all my items to the capital, I said my goodbyes at post.  All that's left are interviews with the bosses, PC paper work, medical check ups and a taxi ride to the airport in less than one week.    

5)  PCVs -- I also want to do a shout-out to some of the PCVs who have made these two years quite memorable:

There's other PCVs of course during the two years.  They're just not in the picture.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tu Dis Tomate, Je Dis Tomato

A look back at some of the conversations I've had with Cameroonians:

1) Cameroonian: "You should leave a mestizo child before you leave Cameroon. You should also try tuba, a type of traditional food."

2) Cameroonian: "When someone calls you 'le blanc', 'ntangan', or 'chinois', that should not be a problem. You should not be offended."
Me: "So its ok if I call Cameroonians 'le noir' or 'evindumot' (Bulu for black person)?"
Cameroonian: "No, that's offensive."

3) Gendarme: "Tu fais quoi au Cameroun?" ("What are you doing in Cameroon?")
Me: "Peace Corps."
Gendarme: "P Square? Tu chantes?" ("You sing?")

4) Cameroonian: "Ce n'est pas Chine. C'est Cameroun." ("This is not China. This is Cameroon.")
Me: "Ce n'est pas Chine? Oh, merci pour l'information." ("This isn't China? Oh, thanks for the information.")

I sometimes think my sarcasm will get me in trouble one of these days.

5) Me: "I have a pretty sizable front yard. I should turn it into a demonstration plot with two rows of crops surrounded by agroforestry trees or shrubs."
Cameroonian: "That's not a good idea. We don't farm our front yards here in the south. You can farm on the side of the house, but never the front yard. This is not Western Cameroon. To be well-integrated in the South, you have to be like Southern Cameroonians."

So I guess that means I should go deep into the forest and slash-and-burn my way to a farm if I wanted one.

6) Cameroonian: "You should marry an African woman because she will be submissive. African women are not like the women in the US."

7) Me: "Tu as le petite Fanta?" (Do you have a small Fanta?)
Cameroonian: "Non, c'est juste ça." *He points to a bigger size Fanta.*
Me: "Fanta normale?" (Normal Fanta?)
Cameroonian: "Fanta moyenne." (Medium Fanta)

8) Me: "C'est comment, uh… Attend, C'est Bertrand? Non, Marcelle, n'est-ce pas?"
Cameroonian: "Non, je suis Augustine."


9) This one happened just a few days ago at a bar:

Cameroonian: "J'ai soif. Tu m'achete une biere." (I'm thirsty. Buy me a beer.)
Me: *no response. I just walk away.*
Cameroonian: "Tu es 'shish'"(You are cheap.)
Me:  *I turn around and walk towards him.*  "Est-ce que tu me connais?" (Do you know me?)
Cameroonian: "J'ai soif. Je veux une biere." (I'm thirsty. I want a beer.)
Me: "Pourquoi est-ce que je dois acheter une biere pour toi? Je te connais?" (Why should I buy you a beer? I know you?)
Cameroonian: "Je suis ton frere." (I'm your brother.)
Me: "Quel est mon nom? Si je suis ton frere, quel est mon nom? (What's my name? If I'm your brother, what's my name?)
Waitress: *saying something in agreement.*

I walk away and leave the jerk at the bar. Yeah, I think its time to leave Cameroon.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Just Sayin'

I don't get why Facebook is always telling me what my profile page should look like.  They tell me I need a cover photo.  All of a sudden we need a cover photo.  If you don't have one, they'll just make your cover photo some grayscale image.  Good thing that that's what I was going to make as my cover photo anyway.  I'm a minimalist like that.  They also tell me my profile is only 80% complete because I don't have info like my hometown.  Really, Facebook?  Facebook has become that annoying paper clip in Microsoft office:

Just let me log on, man, because as Hasan Minhaj said, I just need to see who checked in at Pinkberry.  Or find out what people had for lunch.  Note:  I had no idea what Pinkberry was before doing an internet search.  It's apparently a SoCal thing.