June 17, 2008
Last week I had a chance to relive the excitement and fear of arriving for the first time in
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
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.