Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Arriving in Cameroon – Take II

June 17, 2008

Last week I had a chance to relive the excitement and fear of arriving for the first time in Cameroon, this time on the faces of others. Tara and I were chosen to be the two volunteer hosts that welcome the incoming group of trainees. That means we would greet them at the airport and stay with them for their first five days in the hotel in Yaoundé. It would also mean lots of work and responsibility.

We showed up in Yaoundé a couple of days before their arrival to start getting ready. What tat meant was stopping by essentially every Peace Corps staff person in the office and figuring out what they needed from the trainees. It was anything from the IT guy needing them to sign off on guidelines before using Peace Corps computers to immigration forms so that they could get national identity cards. There were also three things that most of them would want/need their first week in country. They would need their US dollars changed into CFA. \The banks here don’t like to do it and/or charge big fees, so we needed to figure out who in the office would be going to the states and wanted to buy dollars. Cell phones – for safety and to be able to talk to their loved ones, we went out and priced phones at the two big competitors. Voltage regulators – you don’t just plug an iPod or a laptop into the wall here because of the power surges so we went and priced these too. During any free time, we stalked the new kids. Peace Corps gave us photos and résumés for everyone so we could start getting to know them and almost half had already found each other and started a group on facebook.

Saturday night they arrived. We met 38 trainees at the airport with the Country Director and lots of other Peace Corps staff. I was surprised at how excited and alert everyone was after 24 hours of traveling. It’s interesting, what I remembered from my arrival in the airport exactly 1 year ago was fear, but what I was seeing on their faces was excitement. They looked ready to go. There wasn’t a single bag lost during the trip so we loaded up everything and everyone on a big bus and headed to the hotel. We all had dinner at the hotel, and despite everyone’s excitement, everyone went to bed right after.

The next day was set aside for relaxation and recuperation. Most everyone took advantage of the free time to do some very small-scale exploring of the capital. Because they had arrived at night, this was their first chance to see Cameroon – people selling things balanced on their heads, what the shops and bars look like, and Yaoundé’s crazy style of driving (which looks normal to me already). While everyone with jetlag was out exploring, knowing how busy the week would be, I took a nap. That night everyone got fancied up for a nice catered dinner at the Country Director’s house. The US ambassador, Cameroonian government officials, and Peace Corps staff were there to welcome everyone to Cameroon. The food was great, but there were about 7 people that got sick later and the speculation was that it was this dinner. If getting sick was something they were afraid of, they got that out of the way early. Welcome to Cameroon?

The rest of the week, for the trainees, was filled with training sessions. They were getting more shots, learning about diarrhea, getting an introduction to Cameroonian culture, and getting ready to move in with a Cameroonian family. For Tara and me it was nonstop all over Yaoundé and the Peace Corps office. We exchanged their money, bought the things they had signed up for, filled out forms, gave a couple of the training sessions, gave back the Cameroonian money that was still owed them, and answered innumerable questions at every step of the way. It was all stuff that we knew we were getting into. We were the ones that had requested the job. And while it was worth it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, it was way more tiring than we could have expected.

Thursday morning everyone repacked their bags to be loaded on two small buses and prepared to leave the capital for the training village and their home-stay families three hours away. Thinking back to how I was a year ago, words like naïve and clueless come to mind. I remember looking at our volunteer hosts and thinking “Will I really be that integrated and comfortable after one year?” They might have had the same thoughts going through their minds, but it didn’t come across to me. It was a great group. They all seemed mature, adventurous, and ready to take on anything. I think they’ll all make great volunteers.



Anonymous said...

Who else in country got the PCV pictures and resumes? Did the trainers participate in the selection of the PCVs on behalf of the government or was it another agency in country?

Does the Peace Corps training facility have a store? What did they sign up to buy? Does the store take orders before they get there?

Is there anyone who will exchange dollars who doesn't charge a fee? Is it legal to exchange money with someone who isn't a bank? The best rates can usually be found there.

Did they find out why everyone got sick? It's usually the water and it's a good idea to get over it right away.


mama said...

Hey Tim!! I have lost contact with you until now, when you posted on Sarah's blog and I found your address:) I have read several of your latest posts, and you are a very busy person--"making a difference" I am quite sure. On behalf of the parents of the new class of PCVs, thanks for taking good care of them on their first visit in country!!
I have sent your blog to a friend, Ron Branson, who has hooked up with Sarah via her blog and they are working together on an amazing project with our church--The Journey--and the inmates at the IN Women's Prison. More info to come! He is trying to help in Namibia via internet with business plans, etc, and thought your life would be interesting to check out.
I had best intentions of keeping track of you, but have fallen off the wagon--you are now on my tool bar of easy hits, and I promise I'll be more diligent about keeping up! Thank you for your service, and your insight! Hey to your folks!
Jo Ellen
PS, I guess I am posting as mama--but can't seem to navigate away from the page to change it-oh well, I do agree with you in your last post about it taking a village......I'll be your "mama", too!! After all, I have a picture of you, Joe, Sean, BJ holding Tim Mosier on our refrigerator!!!