Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Site Visit


I found out my post the day I was released from the hospital. It was Friday. I came in about an hour late and everyone else already knew where they were going. I got some hugs from people I hadn’t seen in a few days and then was led over to a map of Cameroon with all of our names push-pinned to our posts. Someone pointed out my name. I didn’t really know what to think right away, but after learning some details about my city, I began to think it was a good fit. It is located in the Littoral Province. It’s a pretty big city that makes most of its money from coffee and cocoa, but since the prices dropped in the 90’s, they have never completely recuperated. Most peoples’ counterparts are managers at MC2s, which are microcredit banks. My counterpart works for the organization that controls all of the MC2s. That means I’ll get to travel a lot, learn the microcredit thing inside and out, and make sure the banks aren’t corrupt (corruption is probably the number one impediment to development in Cameroon). I was pretty excited.

The next day all of our counterparts traveled here for a two day counterpart workshop. The workshop served two purposes. One was to get to know the person we would be working with the most over the next two years. The other was to introduce any of the ounterparts who had never had volunteers before to the Peace Corps’ small business program and to American culture. The cultural exchanges are always the most entertaining. One example from the session: “If you have a female volunteer and you tell her every day that she is beautiful, she will take it as a come on and might feel uncomfortable coming to work.”

The workshop was Saturday and Sunday, so Monday morning we left to go see our new hometowns. I traveled with two other trainees whose posts were on the way. It was my first of many rides to come in a bush taxi. Everything between villages is “the bush,” so any ride that you pay for to get to another village is a bush taxi. They’re quite interesting. You can either get a car or a travel agency. Pretty much the only difference is the size of the vehicle. The cars are pretty much all economy size and the travel agencies have mini buses that kind of look like 12 passenger vans. Something we learned in one of our cross-culture sessions: “The white man designed the back seat of a car to fit three people. But you can easily fit four or five and that’s not including any small children, chickens, or goats that can fin on your lap.” This lesson is applied to every vehicle in Cameroon, and I think most of the rest of Africa too.

Even if you go to the travel agencies, there is no schedule for departures. You go, buy your ticket, and wait in the vehicle. When the vehicle is full, really full, you leave. Sometimes this takes more than an hour or two, but I was pretty lucky. Also, while you’re waiting to leave and whenever you stop along the way, like to pay tolls, the market comes to you. People sell anything from fruit to baked goods, candy to tissues. I’m doing my best to describe it, but I don’t think you could truly understand it without experiencing it with all 5 senses.

We dropped the first two trainees off at their posts and I did the last leg of my journey alone. I was dropped off on the outskirts of my new town and hopped on the back of a moto to go to the house of a volunteer that is living there now. She’s the volunteer I’m going to be replacing, so it was actually my new house that I went to. I don’t know how fair this is, but essentially the bigger your town, the nicer your house. I’m not complaining because I have a pretty big town. I have an entryway/dining room, a kitchen, a sitting room, a master bedroom, two bathrooms, and two extra bedrooms. I have running water and electricity, and because there have been three volunteers in this house before me, everything is completely furnished. There is even a decent library already there, too. Because I’ll still get a move-in allowance to buy all the things I already have, I’m thinking about buying a small hot water heater for one of the bathrooms. Cold showers are one thing that I don’t think I will ever get used to!

I don’t think I can explain how beautiful this town is. It sprawls out from the base of a mountain, and while there are houses and businesses everywhere, you’re never more than a couple minutes walk from nature. There are all kinds of small paths that are almost jungle-like with their tropical trees and rustling creeks. There are paths that go up the mountain too. I can’t wait to climb it.

Because it’s the rainy season, there are always clouds. Sometimes you can see the whole mountain, and sometimes they cover the peak. Other times you can’t see it at all. It wasn’t until the third day of my site visit that I realized there was another mountain! It’s a little bit farther away, and I found out that it’s actually an inactive volcano in the neighboring province. It’s bigger than the closer mountain and has two beautiful crater lakes. I’ll definitely be checking it out too.

Most of my time at post was spent just walking around and discovering the town. I bought croissants and baguettes from the bakery (not as good as France, but way better than the US) and fresh fruit and produce from the open air markets. It was really liberating to be able to cook for myself, too. Not that the Cameroonian dishes aren’t good, but the spaghetti and garlic bread that I mad was really comforting and reminded me of home. It’s making me hungry just writing about it.

While the first four nights were like a vacation, the last night was a chance to really let loose. I got in another bush taxi and made my way back to another big city where a volunteer is stationed close to our training village. I met up with seven more of our trainees. We went to a couple of bars and then went dancing ‘til late in the night.

Overall, it was a great week. It was nice to take a break from the rigorous scheduling of training and gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to be a Peace Corps volunteer and to integrate into the culture.

Until next week,


Holly said...

I'm just curious, where in the Littoral are you going to be potsted? I'm a TEFL RPCV and was posted in Yabassi.

lesly said...

Well again you amaze me. It was really good to hear your clear, healthy and rested voice over the phone after such an ordeal! Wow. I cannot believe how sick you were and you had taken all the meds and shots to avoid this. Makes us remember even more how much help is needed in the world. Thank goodness you got to the hospital even though it sounded bad.
But I have to admit it is pretty badass to say you had this in Africa, your grandkids will love it!
Miss you, I will call soon. Your new post sounds fantastic too! Maybe all you needed was the good 'french' afterall. It cures everything I think!

lesly said...

I meant to write french bread!