Sunday, December 16, 2012

La Vie en Ville

I have moved my post.  Although I am still in the South, I am no longer in the bush (or "en brusse").  I have moved to the city.  Since the move, I suppose one could say that I no longer am doing the "traditional" Peace Corps experience of roughing it "au village".  Some may say that I'm now Posh Corps.  That's probably true to some extent.  Here's some comparisons between my old post and new post:

1)  Old post -- small town.  Maybe 5,000 people at most.
    New post -- A city.  Maybe 45,000 people.  That may or may not be a good thing.  More people means more people who will try to annoy you. 

2)  Old post -- electricity was rare.  We would have months without electricity.
    New post -- Electricity almost everyday.  It may disappear for a few hours, but always comes back the same day.

3)  Old post -- overloaded bush taxis to Ebolowa, the second closest city, about 100 km.  The closest city, Sangmelima, is about 65 km, but bush taxis don't go there.  One would have to take a motorcycle.  In the bush taxi, people sometimes sat on people's laps or would sit in the trunk or on top of the vehicle.  Here's a photo of me sitting in the trunk of a bush taxi, which had 16 people at the time (4 people in the front seat, 8 people in the backseat, and 4 people in the trunk):

New post -- Buses are relatively comfortable.  So far, no one has sat on my lap or vice versa. 

4)  Old post -- dirt road to the city, although the road to Sangmelima is currently being paved.  I've had to get out of the vehicle several times to help push it out of the mud.
  New post -- paved road to nearest city.

5)  Old post -- I was one of two non-Cameroonians in town.  Well, there's more non-Cameroonians if you count some merchants from Niger.  Here I am with Abdul, one of the merchants:

    New post -- there's another Peace Corps volunteer in the city and there's also a French-owned fancy hotel with a swimming pool and wifi.  There's probably other non-Cameroonians, but I haven't met them yet. 

6)  Old post -- One cellphone network, which went out for about 7 months.
    New post -- At least two cellphone networks here and I'm sure a third one also works. 

7)  Old post -- no internet.  Although I suppose I could've tried a wireless key, but that only worked if the cellphone network was working, which wasn't for most of my time there. 
    New post -- about 3 internet cafés and one could purchase a wireless key from 2-3 cellphone networks.  The network also allows me to use my cellphone to access the internet. 

8)  Old post -- I had a pretty big house -- 3 bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen.  Here's a photo of me in my living room with my friend, Alino:

We appear to be pretending to read something. 

The only thing not posh about the house was that I used a latrine.  Compared to people in town, that latrine was pretty posh though (i.e. it wasn't just 4 walls of corrugated aluminum slapped together with an uncovered pit).
    New post -- I share the house with a family and another renter, so that's 3 separate units in one house.  I have a bedroom, a living room, an indoor bathroom, with an outdoor kitchen being constructed.  Not as posh as the one at my old post. 

9)  Old post -- lack of vegetables.  Probably one of the things that I wish my old post had was more variety of vegetables.  Pretty much all they had were tomatoes, onions, ginger, bananas and plantains.  Sometimes avocados or celery, pineapples rarely.
New post -- vegetables (especially pineapples) aplenty.

So those are some of the differences between the two posts.  How will the next year turn out at my new post?  On va voir!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Un An

Well, this is kind of a late post because my one year anniversary in Cameroon was back in August.  In any case, I'll post some photos from my first year in Cameroon.

August  -- I arrive in Yaoundé with 8 other trainees.  We've been selected for a French immersion program in Ebolowa:

September -- 45 more trainees arrive in Yaoundé.  Here we are attending a Cameroonian talk show:

October -- probably one of the perks of being an Agroforestry/Environmental trainee is the fact that we get to go on field trips.  Here's some of us during our visit to the West region of Cameroon:

November -- I go to the South region to check out where they're sending me:

December -- after nearly 4 months (3 months for most), we swear in as volunteers:


January -- I arrive at my post, not sure what to do.  I decide to check out a fish pond in a nearby village:

February -- I lose a ton of weight.  Part of it has to do with having to prepare all the food myself.  Its either preparing it myself or eating bush meat, which I try, but decide later that its not for me.  Here is a photo of my friend, Fabrice, who is giving me some cooking tips:

March -- I visit a local beekeeper:

I also went to Bamendar for IST and Kribi for vacation, but I already posted those photos elsewhere.

April -- I attend a water seminar in Bamenda:

May -- My boss pays me a visit.  Since I was heading to Ebolowa afterwards and I didn't want to be in an overloaded bush taxi, I decide to hitch a ride with them to Ebolowa:

June -- Garbage is a problem, well, pretty much anywhere, so I tried to follow the three R's.  Here, I experimented with various polypots -- one made from plantain stems courtesy of the Peace Corps Cameroon agro tool kit, one from plastic, and one from a coffee bag:

Of course, the neighborhood kids saw these polypots and pretty much destroyed the plants I was trying to grow.  It was a sad day when that happened.

July -- I attempt an agroforestry demo plot:

Its not an easy task in the south though where slash-and-burn rules.

Well, that's already one year of photos, but here's a bonus pic from August 2012:
This guy has some grubs (ie bugs, worms) in this bottle.Yup, the locals eat them. 

Anywho, on to year 2!  On y va!  Me nge ke!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

La Malchance

I seem to be having a string of bad luck at my post.  For example, my Kindle keeps freezing every ten minutes.  Its only a year old.  It makes a good paperweight for my hard copy books though:

 My laptop is about 5 years old so this one is not as surprising.  The mouse button stopped working and the wire on the adapter appears to have burned off:


Then I came home one day to find the lock on my front door broken:

I don't think anyone tried to break in.  I think its just not a good quality lock and it might have been damaged when I pulled out the key, not noticing it broke.  Although the lock IS only a few months old.

Of course, I can blame these things on poor quality, planned obsolesence (ahem, Kindle), or bad workmanship.  But I'm going to be like the people in my southern Cameroonian town and just blame it on sorcery (ie black magic or 'mbengbe' in Bulu).

Monday, July 23, 2012

Les Livres

Its true that volunteers read quite a lot of books during service. Sometimes we read books that have never interested us before, as the video, So you Want to Join the Peace Corps, claims. That happened to me when the battery on my Kindle ran out, which by the way only lasts one week if you read more than one hour per day. Anyway, since a previous volunteer had left a book at my house that was a collection of Jane Austen's novels, I ended up reading about 20 chapters of Pride and Prejudice. Its actually pretty interesting so I'll probably end up finishing it. Anyway, here's some interesting quotes from books I've read (reread) during my time here in Cameroon:

 " … he quit it to create what later would be called a blog but at the time was just a weird form of communication." -- The Big Short by Michael Lewis

"I learned that a long time ago, you're not paid back for the bad you do nor the good you do. It all comes out uneven at the end." -- Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick

"Since countries with larger poverty problems get more aid, those countries have little incentive to alleviate their poverty problems." -- The Elusive Quest for Growth by William Easterly

"But I've barely had three months training!" -- Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings 

"Besides, that was blackmail, which I am told is very wrong." -- Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

"'I made one decision based on money in my life … and I promised I'd never do it again.'" -- Billy Bean in Michael Lewis' Moneyball

"We keep passing unseen through little moments of other people's lives." -- Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

"After the soil is degraded, no longer usable [for farming], many families join the millions in city slums." -- The Peace Corps' Soil and Water Conservation for Small Farm Development in the Tropics

"… we should do only those things that people cannot, or in the beginning will not, do themselves." -- Roland Bunch's Two Ears of Corn

I also finished Jared Diamond's Collapse, where I learned that deforestation and overpopulation are apparently bad.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Le Travail

Just to prove that I actually do work at post, here's some photos.

This first one is of a fish farm in Ebolowa that I visited with a farmer from my town. It turns out that the two farmers were related. I guess that's what the Peace Corps is all about -- it brings families together:

This next one shows a tomato farm of Ahmidou, a farmer originally from the Western region of Cameroon.  Although he is of Bamoun origin, he can speak Bulu, the local patois, after many years in the South. I'm hoping to exchange some technical knowledge about farming with him:

This last one is a photo of a village near my town, where I visited a potential site for a water source:

On the way back from the village, we saw a couple of bush meat hunters carrying two dead monkeys. We stopped to talk to them for a while and I pondered taking a picture of them with their kill, but I decided against it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Facebook's Influence

Perhaps due to Facebook or Twitter's influence, my journal entries (electronically and on paper) have become one to two sentence entries. Hence, the following blog entry with one or two sentence descriptions of recent events or thoughts:

1) My French is as good as my Tagalog, which means that its not great, but I can get by.

2) Speaking of languages, I have found an effective way to learn Bulu, the local language in my village. I just take a French college textbook and translate the lessons into Bulu, with the help of a tutor, of course. This method gives the lessons more structure and less randomness.

3) The sound of Cameroonian drums is pretty awesome. Except when its 5 in the morning, in which case, its annoying.

4) I'm glad that Cameroonians sell rice in the market because frankly, I am Asian and bread is no substitute for rice.

5) I learned how to prepare coffee without a coffee maker (i.e. I use a strainer). A strainer works well with tea leaves as well.

6) I believe in carpooling as much as the next guy, but fourteen people in a car (ie bush taxis) is freaking ridiculous! Thus, I am going to explore other modes of transportation such as a motorcycle. If I just accept the status quo, nothing will change, right? I was thinking that perhaps they could have a bush taxi that has less people but would cost more. Like those VIP buses. VIP bush taxi perhaps? I bet there are people willing to pay extra not to sit in a car with 14 people.

7) Whenever someone says 'Ni ho' or 'Chinois' to me, I feel like I'm in a Seinfeld episode because I feel like shouting: "I'm not Chinese!" And then quickly adding, "Not that there's anything wrong with it."

8) I think solar panels would be great in Cameroon since its an equatorial country and gets more direct sunlight than non-equatorial countries.

9) An acquaintance brought a girl over to my house (his cousin) one night and offered that I sleep with her. Awkward. I declined.

10) Cameroonians love putting the maggi cube in all of their cooking.

11) Had a pretty good meeting with the Forestry delegate at my village. Among other things, I learned that one can sell bush meat at restaurants as long as one had a permit. Of course, the question is: how many have a permit?

12) Recent books I finished: William Easterly's The Elusive Quest for Growth, Roland Bunch's Two Ears of Corn, Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty, Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, and Michael Lewis' Moneyball.

13) I never liked eating raw onions until I ate them with hot pepper sauce and braised fish.

14) Speaking of braised fish, I can no longer eat the braised fish from the street after buying fresh mackerel and realizing how small the street mackerel is.

15) I think I should've brought a portable water filter to Cameroon. Or learn how to make one a la Les Stroud. I've been to meetings where so many water bottles are handed out, which sort of contradict the Environmental-friendly philosophy of my position.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

La Vie en Brusse

Things I've done in the past 4 weeks:

1) eaten snake, antelope, hare and porcupine. I draw the line at chat tigre (apparently a tiger cat) and monkey. It was a bit unexpected and a little shocking when someone showed me a monkey head that was part of a carcass being prepared for dinner.

2) not see another American. Although I did see another European since the Catholic priest is from Europe and has been at my community for decades and can speak the local language fluently.

3) drank quite a bit of Top or Fanta but rarely any beer like 33 or Mutzig.

4) had more electricity than I would have expected considering I supposedly live in the bush (the Congo basin according to the map). People tell me though that the electricity will disappear during the rainy season.

5) said the sentences 'je ne comprends pas', 'pardon', and 'qu'est-ce que tu as dit?' quite a lot, which means I still have a ways to go before I'm fully fluent in French.

6) used the text-to-speech feature on my Kindle which made reading more interesting, like a robot narrating the story.

7) occasionally pondered whether I can forego the familiar comforts of American life. Comforts like the easy availability of a nice, fat burrito.

8) finished some good books like Jon Krakauer's Where Men Win Glory, Michael Lewis' The Big Short and Dave Eggers' What is the What?