Saturday, October 13, 2007

Living Alone...But not so Lonely (Finished, with Pictures)

October, 13, 2007
October, 21, 2007

So I'm living in this big house all by myself. I'm the only American living in the quite large town of Nkongsamba (I'd say at least 100 000 people). Everything that we heard before we got here told us that we would be, well, lonely. There would be lots of down time - time for self-reflection, for wondering why we're here. We would read loads of books. The closest volunteer might be two hours away. So far...Not true. I do wonder why I'm here quite often, but it's not because of all the down time - I don't have any. In about 4.5 months time, I've only read 1.5 books and the one I finished was the last Harry Potter which is pretty hard to put down. I'm constantly moving and don't feel like I even have the time for the self-reflection I would be doing in the states. So why am I not lonely? Let me see if I can shed some light on the matter.

First of all, let's be honest. I'm not living alone. From the second I got to Nkong, I've been sharing my aparttment with numerous ants, cockroaches, mice, and lizards. They don't really keep me company, but they definitely keep me occupied. If I don't bleach the countertops after every time I prepare food, thousands of tiny ants come marching in from who knows where. The cockroaches are pretty hard to get a handle on. One of the downsides of having this place already furnished before I got here is that they already have hundreds of hiding places. I'm constantly finding them in places when I think there's already nowhere else for them to hide. I don't like killing them so I don't spray insecticide. When I find one, I trap it and toss it outside. The mice don't really creep me out as much as the cockroaches when they catch you off guard, but they can be destructive. I kind of chase them from one hiding place to another too. They've taken up residence inside both bathroom doors, a bookcase, and a wardrobe. I even found them nesting under my mattress! I don't know where they are now, but I feel like i have the upper hand and they might be leaving soon. Lizards don't bother me so much. They're usually just on the walls outside but occasionally they'll run through.
Thousands will come for the tiniest of scraps
One by one I toss them outside
A cozy little mouse dugout in my bookshelf
Another one in my wardrobe
What I saw when I lifted up my mattress one night
They've got no fear

So other than critters, I hang out with Americans all of the time. There are two volunteers in Baré which is 10 minutes away. I teach a management class every Friday at the Girls' Center there. Tara also teaches there as she is an education volunteer, so I see her at least once a week on her turf. She comes to Nkongsamba at least every Sunday, which is market day, to stock up for the week. Nkong is also the closest place she can use the internet and it's where she does her banking. Yune, the other Baré volunteer is gone a lot because she is helping with the training of the new Agro and Health volunteers right now, but she is going to be replaced by someone we'll probably see all the time. Ben lives in the bush not too far from here and stops through Nkongsamba every time he travels. Autumn lives about 45 minutes up the road and does banking here at least once a month. There are also others that find excuses to come hang out. And why wouldn't they? It's a cool town and I've got a great house (especally with the addition of the hot water heater). Autumn and Emily, the next volunteer up the road past Autumn, also come down sometimes for work related stuff. They are both posted at MC2s (microfinance banks) that ADAF supports. There are trainings here once a month and sometimes they come down for those. I also see them whenever I go to one of their Credit Committee meetings or do an audit of their bank. So I see Americans a lot - so much so that It doesn't even feel like my French has improved since 've gotten to post.

The last reason I'm not lonely is because I'm constantly busy. Things in Africa just take longer. There's no other way to explain it. While I'm not traveling, I only work half-days at the bank. That's because everything else that I do takes longer than I'm used to. Buying things takes longer; the bank, the internet, and other errands take longer; preparing food takes longer; doing dishes takes longer; cleaning takes longer. The idea of time and the resources available are just not what we're used to. When I got to post, I would make a list of 5-10 things I wanted to get done in a day and would only be able to do one or two. The only headway I've made on this is that I pay my neighbor to wash my clothes every weekend. I still have to wait for them to dry and iron them though.

So, lonely? Not so much. I feel like these two years will be over before I even realize it. I'm busy, but trying to make the best of it too.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Wish List

So my mom has been asking to send a list of christmas ideas. I thought I would create a separate page that I could keep updated. It's kind of funny...there's quite a lot more than the first list I published having only been in Africa for a few weeks. That being said the same disclaimer applies: DO NOT FEEL OBLIGATED TO SEND ANYTHING. DO NOT FEEL GUILTY FOR NOT SENDING ANYTHING. I'm doing just fine.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Cameroonian Surrealities


Things that make me say “Huh?”

  • Menards: (For anyone that has never heard of it, Menards is a home improvement store in the mid-west.) As I was coming home from a bank audit in a bush taxi, we stopped to pick up more people headed our direction. Whenever you stop, the market comes to you. People run up, slide open your windows, and try to sell you anything from pineapples to toothbrushes. The guy that came up to my window had a blue Menards shirt on. In a circle on the chest it said “How May I Help You?”
  • Trumpet: Almost every morning when I wake up I can hear someone practicing bugle calls. It might be coming from the military school nearby, but he makes lots of mistakes and plays for about an hour so it sounds like he’s just practicing.
  • Road Construchtion: There is a pretty big lack of infrastructure in Cameroon. Police don’t have cars, there’s no garbage collection, no sewer system, ambulances don’t exist, and mail can go to P.O. Boxes but not to your house…But for some reason, road construction happens faster here than in the U.S.
  • Safety on the Job: On the road going north out of Nkongsamba, there’s a one-lane bridge 40 feet over a small but raging river. Upstream, they’re constructing a new bridge. In case anyone falls in, attached to a rope attached to the current bridge is a life preserver thrashing back and forth. I said a little prayer because I was sure it would work better than the life preserver were it needed.
  • Bathroom Tile: A lot of the dead are buried in front of their family’s house. Those that have the means put up a gravestone covered in ceramic tile. It’s usually blue and white and whenever I see one, I’m always reminded of what you find in a bathroom in the states.
  • Addresses: They don’t exist here. The streets don’t have names. The houses don’t have numbers. But people ask you for your address all the time.
  • Coke: When I opened up my bank account with 2 other Americans, there was a decent amount of waiting. Either because he considered us preferred customers or because he was interested in my 2 female friends, he took our drink order and brought us 3 bottles of Coke while we waited.
  • “I’m living in Africa:” No matter how many times I say it, it still feels weird knowing it’s true.