Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Au Revoir Cameroun

July 31, 2009

I am writing this blog from my hotel room in Casablanca, Morocco. My two years with the Peace Corps are finished and I’m on my way home. I’m no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) but not quite a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) as I haven’t made it home yet. It’s this weird state of limbo where everything feels like a dream. I won’t see Cameroon at least for a few years if ever again. And I’m going back to Denver to live with my sister in a house I’ve never seen and a city I’ve only visited a couple of times. The past is already a blur and the future is almost completely void of the known. Everytime I drift out of sleep, in the middle of the night or on a plane, I have to remind myself where I am and what I’m doing (the fact that I’m reading a book about a paranoid schizophrenic probably isn’t helping either). I also was never supposed to see more than the airport in Casablanca. After missing my flight and them losing track of my baggage (including Saki) for over three hours, I’ve now been put up in a lush hotel and just finished an amazing buffet dinner, also on the house. The only downside to this impedement is that they won’t let Saki in the room with me. The only option was to have him locked up in his cage in a storage room (Sorry Saki! If I could explain it to you, I think you’d understand that it was worth the pain and effort to come back with me.). They would let me check on him every hour or so if I wanted, but I think that would just make things harder on him. Luckily, he’s turned out to be a great traveler. We were able to take a walk earlier on this incredibly flat, sandy Saharan earth through a residential neighborhood under development. Once again: surreal – bull dozers and cement trucks passing by in this strange mix of Arab culture and post-French colonization. Morocco seems like a really interesting place, but I feel like you’d have to know Arabic to get a real taste of it.

I had a good friend of mine recently remind me that I owed at least one or two more blogs before I threw in the towel. It’s been a little while since I’ve posted an entry. The reason is that these last few weeks at post were also eerily dreamlike. They somehow flew by and dragged on at the same time. There were a couple of weeks with constant visitors as the new Small Enterprise Development and Education volunteers came on site visit. Rhet and Rachel, a recently married couple, will be replacing me in Nkongsamba. It was great to get to know them and to show them around the intricacies of the town that took me the greater part of two years to really get to know. The week after the site visit was just used to pack up, say my goodbyes, and snap all of the pictures I’d been meaning to take but hadn’t for fear of looking like a tourist. Then, I left Nkongsamba for the PC transit house in the capital. Instead of transitioning from Nkongsamba to America, I transitioned from Nkongsamba to Cameroon around a bunch of Americans to America – a smoother approach. The week in Yaoundé is to finalize all administrative paperwork and get checked out for any parasites or other endemic maladies that might have been picked up along the way. That being done, I took a bus to Douala and hopped on a plane for Morocco. Once I leave Casablanca it looks like I’ll have to spend a couple nights in New York City (one more than expected) before making my way to my new home in Denver.

I’m planning on putting one last blog entry up to describe, as best I can, the readjustment process, but I might need a little prodding for it to happen. Right now, all it feels like there is to say is ‘Au revoir Cameroun.’


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Saki Revisited

June 30, 2009

Here are some pictures of Saki. In the last ones I posted he was still a little puppy.

These first three are from January when we hiked to the top of Mount Manengouba together. I try to take him on a hike at least once a week, but we've only gotten this high twice.

Still in January, one of Saki's favorite treats is coconut. I always have to help him open it though.

By February, He had outgrown his old sleeping spot.

Lounging around the house (the rest of the pictures are all very recent)

Doing whatever necessary for treats

His new cage. He seems to like it now; lets see what he thinks after the plane rides.

If I'm on the bed and he wants attention, he'll rest his head on the edge. It's pretty affective.

Daddy's boy

Monday, June 22, 2009

Next Steps

June 19, 2009

The end of my two years of service with the Peace Corps and a big transition in my life is on the horizon. I’ve had a few people ask me ‘what’s next?’

Since being in Cameroon I’ve definitely reinforced the idea that I don’t need to be finding the job or picking the career track that makes me the most money. First and foremost, I want to be satisfied with the type and quality of work that I do. I’ve also learned that unlike the majority of people, I’m very comfortable getting up and talking in front of groups of people – my time studying saxophone performance probably eliminated the last of those fears. Add that to my knack and fondness for math and critical thinking, and the conclusion is something that I never thought I would say: I want to be a high school math teacher. When I first had the idea it sounded crazy even to me. I thought it would pass after a couple of days or weeks. But it hasn’t. It’s been about three months and the more I think about it the more I want to pursue it.

My plans for the next year start with me flying from Cameroon to Denver, with my dog Saki, to live for a while with my sister, Michelle. My parents will fly out for a week to visit shortly after I arrive. I’ll probably take a week sometime thereafter to go visit the rest of my family in Indiana and maybe a side trip to see friends in Baltimore. Once I’ve settled a little in Denver, I’ll probably look for a job with a non-profit in the area as I start filling out applications for grad school that would start either the summer or fall of 2010. Peace Corps has some great fellows programs that cover huge chunks of tuition and start you in the classroom right away. I’ll probably look there first, but might also check out Teach for America and some other inner-city programs.

Luckily I still have a few more weeks of 7 Habits classes to teach that are keeping my mind occupied. Otherwise it’d be in another continent. I’ll try to put up some Saki pictures for next week. He still acts like a puppy, but looks all grown up!


Saturday, June 13, 2009


June 13, 2009

In my request for feedback a few weeks ago I got an interesting note about depression. Here is the gist of it:

“Being a Cameroonian living now in the US, the one thing I notice here that really put me off is Depression. I mean I never seen anybody being depressed in Cameroon even though we don’t have it there easy… So do you think I’m right about Depression not being common in Cameroon. And if indeed I am, how do you explain that people are more depressed in the US with all the facilities to life they have?”

This topic came up in a conversation I had a few months ago. It’s very interesting because I agree with the reader. I don’t see depression in Cameroon either. Why? I’ll explore some of the possibilities in this post, but please keep in mind that I don’t really have the basis to have a professional opinion on this matter.

Firstly, there is a difference in culture – collective versus independent. If someone in the US is sad because a loved one died or they lost their job, generally they’ll want to be alone, to work out their problems, emotions, and thoughts on their own time. We might do something nice like prepare a meal for someone that recently lost their spouse but would by no means impose on them that we eat it together. Cameroonians, on the other hand, will generally tackle their pain or sadness together, either as a large extended family or as a community. A Cameroonian burial is a much longer and involved process than in the states. In some tribes the wife of the deceased will wear black and sit on the living room floor, even sleep there, for an entire week as family and friends fill the house and give their condolences. I remember in my Peace Corps training someone suggesting that we not tell people we are sad because in American-speak that’s usually code for “I want to be left alone.” In Cameroonian-speak it would more likely mean “I need you to stay with me until you’ve helped me overcome my sadness.” Being sad is not really a normal emotion save for prescribed times like when you’re dressed in black sitting on your living room floor. Or even during the long burial process, there is a certain time when everyone else allows themselves to feel sad and cry about the loss. To my American eyes it looks quite bizarre when that prescribed time for sadness is over and everyone seemingly goes back to normal. What does this mean regarding depression? Well, it might mean that a Cameroonian would be more likely to seek out help before an American, that he would see unexplained sadness as abnormal and work to rectify the situation immediately.

Another issue is pharmaceutical companies and psychologists. I think it is safe to say that depression is over-hyped and over-diagnosed in the US. Either the cause or an effect of that is that prescription drugs for depression are over-advertised and pushed very hard on medical professionals. There was a study a couple of years ago that showed that a lot of people being diagnosed with depression were in fact just sad because of concrete circumstances in their lives. One reason that Americans seem more depressed than Cameroonians could be due to this factor. Depression is in your face so often that maybe we’re not as depressed as we think. Either we’re being diagnosed wrong or we just think lots of other people are depressed because of how much advertising we’re subjected to. Or maybe the rate of depression is high and it’s precisely due to these issues. Maybe all this talk about depression is making people depressed. A constant worry about whether or not you’re depressed, whether or not you should take Prozac or Zoloft could eventually create a placebo effect that turns your worries into reality. Our minds often have more power than we realize.

Another possibility – fish. I think I remember reading that Japan has the lowest rate of depression of any country that has conducted such a study. Many people attribute that low rate to omega-3s, something found in fish oil that is said to counteract depression. The fact that Japanese eat lots of fish and therefore take in large quantities of omega-3s is a possibility for why they are so rarely depressed. Cameroonians also eat lots of fish. Even if you don’t have the money to eat fresh or frozen fish, you will still most likely flavor your sauces with dried shrimp and other small fish. The North, being much farther away from the sea, though, has a much more beef-centered diet. It would be interesting to hear the opinion of someone from the North regarding Cameroonians and depression.

Looking beyond psychological and nutritional possibilities, maybe it’s genetic. Maybe the genetic code of Cameroonians simply doesn’t allow for depression and Americans have an overabundance of people with the ‘depression gene’. This would be the easiest way to explain this matter. And maybe what I was saying with regard to Cameroonian customs is an effect of and not the cause for a people without sadness. I think I have a mild cycle of depression and it didn’t stop when I got to Cameroon. Of course I could never consider myself 100% culturally Cameroonian and being vegetarian I don’t eat fish, but this could still indicate that it’s a genetic and not a local phenomenon. There are several pockets of Cameroonian communities in the States. Having plenty to miss with regard to their homeland, food and culture, it would be interesting to know if they still go without depression.

Whatever the answer, there is one thing that the reader alluded to that I completely disagree with and that’s the idea that ‘facilities of life’ should diminish depression. One thing I’ve learned being here is that the human body and the human mind are incredibly adaptable. I often tell the story of Victor Frankl to my 7 Habits classes. His family was exterminated, and he was imprisoned and experimented on in a Nazi concentration camp. But despite all of this mental and physical torment, he took comfort in finding space between a stimulus and his response – his ability to choose his reaction no matter how dire his situation. He knew that this freedom was one quality that the Nazis could never take away from him. He found a way to be mentally at ease in a death camp! No matter what the circumstances our body and psyche will work to find some level of comfort in its surroundings. Circumstances are never objective. They are relative to each person and even in time. What has a negative affect on me now might be completely neutral in one year’s time. It’s very possible that a 15 year old will suffer through more stress and anguish when her first boyfriend breaks up with her than someone else when their mother dies. It is in our nature to try to make things objective – a middle school boyfriend is less important than one’s mother, life in the US is easier than life in Cameroon – but life, and especially our emotions, are not that way. Along these same lines, someone who has three houses, five cars, and a yacht probably has a bigger desire for stuff than someone living without hardly any amenities. Often the more stuff we have, the more we want. When we have very little it’s more likely, though not always true, that we learn to like and live with what we have. Jesus alluded to this when he said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” If anything, the facilities of life and the stuff that Americans have more of don’t make our existence easier but just create even more desires which could in turn cause depression

I’d be very interested to get more opinions on this subject, whether you’re Cameroonian, American, or just have an idea, let me know what you think. And if you’re a psychology student looking for a thesis or a reason to fill out a Fulbright application, maybe this is your ticket.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Lessons I’ve Learned IV – Proud to be an American

June 6, 2009

Joining the Peace Corps and moving to Cameroon wasn’t the first time I left the United States. I’ve been to Canada and a few places in Europe, but it’s the first time I’ve lived abroad. For this and maybe some other reasons, it’s the first time I’ve really identified myself as an American. Before, it was just where I happened to be born. I didn’t think it really changed the person I had come to be. I knew that it changed the circumstances and opportunities I had grown up around but I never realized how American I had become.

One thing I’ve learned about myself since joining the Peace Corps is how culturally American I actually am and how proud of that fact I have become. I have heard some people say that America doesn’t have a culture – that all of our traditions come from elsewhere, that compared to Europe or the rest of the world we don’t really have our own set of customs. I couldn’t disagree more. Look at the fourth of July, Halloween, Easter, and Christmas – Americans have very specific traditions for these and every other holiday. Then there are some countries who complain of their culture disappearing. What’s replacing it? McDonalds, Pizza Hut, the NBA, and R&B – American culture. But our culture goes deeper than what we do and eat and listen to. It goes to the core, our way of seeing life and the way we think life should be. Americans have a strong desire for hard work, efficiency (sometimes too much), freedom, and democracy. While we don’t live in this utopia, we still strive for these ideals. We have a need to give equal treatment and opportunities to all. I like that. If a CEO of a Fortune 500 company wants to buy a copy of the Economist in an airport press shop, he’ll still wait for the 5 year old kid in front of him wanting a candy bar. He might think in his mind that he is more important and know that he’s in a bigger hurry than the kid, but he will wait nevertheless. This is something I took for granted before joining the Peace Corps. It’s easy to think that concepts like ‘unalienable rights’, ‘a more perfect union’, and freedom of speech are just things that we learn in school, only important for judges or politicians. But these concepts seep into our very being. We come to respect them without even knowing how important they are to us. We are very lucky to have the principles of our nation created by the founding fathers. They were very enlightened men. And those principles do not exist only on old parchments on display in museums. They exist in the hearts and minds of Americans.

One very concrete event and advance toward that ‘more perfect union’ was the election of Barack Obama. I have no need to hide the fact that I am a big supporter of Obama, but even those who don’t like his policies must admit that his election was a very important step in moving reality closer to our ideals. It brought us closer to our ideals of racial equality. The actual election of Barack Obama didn’t change the reality of the US or its people but there was a shift of paradigm, or our way of interpreting that reality. There are many who believed there was a glass ceiling for blacks or other minorities. There are still plenty of hardships to overcome but no more ceiling. And that paradigm shift was not only for Americans or of America. I think I am safe in sayting that the majority of Cameroonians see themselves, or at least think they are seen by the West, as second-class citizens of the world. The election of one of their own, an African American with a Kenyan father, into the highest political office in the world brought with it respect and pride for those outside of America too.

But Obama’s campaign was about more than race. It talked about our ideals and hopes in just about every domain – about not settling for what we have but always striving for what we want and know to be right even if it seems unattainable. A simple example of this is gaining the necessary intelligence to win a war on terrorism without torturing detainees. Agree or disagree, it’s your right. Before boarding that plane for Africa, one could have rightly labeled me as an idealist. After two years a lot of realism has seeped in about the possibility (or lack thereof) of changing the world but I still appreciate the importance of ideals. We will never make it to that perfect utopian society, but if we don’t try to move towards it we’ll stay in the same place forever.

Barack Obama is just a man, but he represents a lot to a lot of people. I’m proud he’s my president. I’m proud that he stands for my ideals. And I’m proud to be an American.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lessons I've Learned III - Frankness

May 26, 2009

If one were to generalize Cameroonian and American culture, they would find that Americans are generally more frank – they share what’s on their mind. Cameroonians on the other hand will be more likely to tell you what you want to hear – ‘The bus will leave in 5 minutes.’ or ‘The item you’re looking for will be in stock tomorrow.’ It’s not that they’re lying; in their culture they’re just being polite.

Something that I’ve learned about myself since being in Cameroon is that I’m frank. And not just in the sense that Americans are frank – I take it to a new level. Maybe you’ve noticed that in my blogs. But I’m not sure I was always like this. I think living among a culture that will tell you what you want to hear has pushed me in the opposite direction. I want to know what’s going on, to cut through the BS and not play games – honesty at all costs. Here is a typical conversation that I might have while waiting for a bush taxi to leave.

“How long will it be before the bus leaves?”
“Five minutes.”
“Is it really going to leave in five minutes or are you just telling me that? I’ve already bought my ticket. I’m not going to go find another bus to take. I just want to know if I have time to go eat a croissant.”
“Maybe 30-45 minutes.”
“Thank you!”

As you can see, sometimes it can be very affective. And the man that told me the bus would leave in five minutes wouldn’t be offended at all. He knows the reality and in some way I think he respects a foreigner that understands him so well. Or at least he’ll get a good laugh.

But this quality of mine also has its down sides. Just a couple weeks ago, nearing the end of my service when I think I’ve figured everything out and I can navigate Cameroonian culture without problem, I stuck my foot in my mouth in a pretty big way. I was trying to secure a classroom where I could teach my 7 Habits adult class. Once, at the beginning of my service, I gave a business class to adults and used a government office devoted to community development. The man in charge let me use the classroom but charged me to have it cleaned after every class. I didn’t know then, but found out later that the money I gave him for cleaning just went into his pocket. In protest, I tried not to work with him anymore, but here I was in need of a classroom. Using the classroom I had used before would be the simplest way to get these classes off the ground and I didn’t have much time. I went in to talk to the same man as if there was no problem whatsoever – I just wanted to use the classroom again. We worked out all of the details regarding availability, number of chairs, everything. It was all set. I was ready to get up to leave – I remember putting my hands on the arms of the chair to stand up when he said ‘…and you’ll pay for the cleaning like last time, too, right?’ I wasn’t upset, just a little surprised that he would go there. I said very clearly and calmly no, I needed the classroom but wouldn’t pay for the cleaning. He pushed a little harder for the cleaning money and so I said, still in the same calm manner, ‘last time I was new to the community and to Cameroon. I didn’t know better. You tricked me. No hard feelings, but this time I’m not going to pay.’ This didn’t make him very happy, but I knew that I was right so I pushed it a little further. I told him that many of my Cameroonian friends had also told me that he had gotten the better of me. At this point he asked me for their names. I told him that the prefecture gives him a budget to pay for the cleaning of his offices and that he didn’t need my money. He refused, showing me a broom in the corner and claiming he was the one that did most of the cleaning (even though he has a secretary and several other employees under him). Then I brought up the fact that that the classroom was rarely even cleaned after our classes. This comment didn’t make him very happy. I asked him how much he had paid the local neighborhood boy to clean the classroom each time. I had given him 9000F to clean the room 12 times – way more than enough. He took this as a direct implication that he pocketed the majority of the money and was furious. ‘Every franc that you gave me went to the cleaning of that classroom!’ Oops! It was here that I realized that while still speaking calmly and without emotion, being more and more frank with the details was only getting me into more and more trouble (yes, I should have realized this earlier). He would absolutely never admit to what he did. If so, there was a possibility that it would come back to bite him. This was a chance he was not willing to take. He would deny, deny, deny until his face turned blue. What he needed and what I should have done from the beginning was to stroke his ego. I should have approached the situation saying ‘I know I paid for the cleaning last time, boss, but this time I don’t have the money. The classes are for the development of the community. I’m a volunteer and don’t have a salary. You’re such a big man in the community. I was hoping you could cover the cleaning this time.’

What actually happened was that I spent about an hour trying to smooth things over. After a lot of talking, he told me that I should write an official request to his boss for a partnership between the Peace Corps and his office. He claimed that he didn’t get any credit for the last class that I gave and this way he would be able to put it into his report. I thought it was implied, though it wasn’t stated, that this way I wouldn’t have to pay for the cleaning. It turns out that this was just a hoop to jump through, a way to tie up the process in bureaucracy. He was quite surprised when I showed up the next morning at his boss’ office to deliver the request. Obviously I didn’t read between the lines to know that he was just trying to get rid of me. The request is still collecting dust. I just think it’s funny (and quite ironic) that to get rid of me he asked for the creation of a partnership.

I ended up going to the mayor’s office to request the use of the town hall for the class. He agreed and didn’t charge for cleaning. Classes start next Tuesday. I’m still not sure if this quality is something that is going to stick with me when I get back to the states. Honesty at all costs has its good points and a lot of people find it refreshing, but it could probably get me into as much trouble when I go home, too.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lessons I've Learned II - Mission Statements

May 20, 2009

I’ve learned that mission statements not only have an enormous impact on setting goals and direction, but they also help to motivate you to keep moving in that direction. Here’s mine:

Personal Mission Statement
Tim Hartman
Created: March 17, 2008

Because through giving comes wealth, I will always seek to serve others first. I will accept everyone and defend those not present. I will be giving of my time and talents while cherishing opportunities to be alone, to think, to meditate and evaluate.
I will never assume I’ve figured it all out, always seeking to further my understanding of why I’m here. I will keep a calmness around my life that brings myself and others peace.
I will use solid judgment doing my best in everything I do, refusing to be discouraged by setbacks or failure.

This is what I created in a period of soul-searching after the national strikes in February 2008. I was frustrated, feeling that Cameroonians didn’t have very much motivation to improve their quality of life and I needed, once more and more seriously this time, to pose myself the question ‘What am I doing here?’ I took a few days off and rented a tent by myself on the beach in Limbé. I did a lot of evaluating, reading, reflecting, and of course relaxing. This was one of the very tangible outcomes of what I called a ‘fix myself’ vacation.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lessons I’ve Learned I – How to be Happy

May 16, 2009

Since joining the Peace Corps and being sent to Cameroon, I have changed and learned a lot. I remember writing in one of the essays in the application process that I knew I would change – I didn’t know how but I knew it would be for the better. That’s been true, but even after the change, it’s hard to enumerate the lessons I’ve learned. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a go.

The first, and probably the most important thing I’ve learned is how to be happy. I’m pretty sure that everything that I learned in this domain I knew before I came, but I’ve come to a higher realization of its truth and have been able to put it into practice.

Firstly, happiness is not sought. You can’t find it in money or things or places or even relationships. If flows naturally out of peace of mind. Virtually none of our unhappiness comes from the situations that we find ourselves in. It comes from our reactions and emotions to those situations. We have the power to choose our reactions and we have the power to control our emotions. Therefore we have the power to be happy. It’s easier said than done, but is very possible.

Secondly, the present moment cannot be changed. It is as it is and accepting it is a prerequisite for being happy. This necessarily excludes regrets about the past and worries about (but not planning for) the future. There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world and probably in our own lives as well. There are many examples that we can find where life simply isn’t fair. We don’t have to condone any of these things, but if we ever want to be happy or make a positive change, we need to first acknowledge and accept their existence right now.

I’ve learned that I personally will always have down times. Since being here I have found that I have small cycles of depression. When I thought I completely understood the lessons above and then went into one of those cycles, it was quite scary. I thought I was in complete control of my life, able to make proactive choices to better my future, my happiness, and my being. But I found that that wasn’t the case at all. Despite my continued ability to make those proactive choices, I had very little energy and found that I couldn’t get rid of my desire to stay in that sad state. What was the answer? Back to the lessons I thought I understood – accept the present moment. If I can’t get rid of the desire to remain depressed, it makes no sense to be mad or scared of it. It is what it is. I remind myself that it will pass, I spend my precious energy on maintaining my commitments, and I stop trying to change what I’ve learned have no control over. And if ever a problem arrives that I know won’t pass, that fact won’t change the answer that needs to be applied – only the difficulty in applying it.

Also related to my self-reflection and being happy is my choice of work. Ever since my first day at post, I’ve taken very seriously some advice from previous volunteers – don’t do ineffective or unsustainable work just to give yourself the semblance of being busy or productive. I refused to work with people that I thought were only motivated by selfish reasons and I did a lot more reflecting than doing. I analyzed what I thought was wrong with Cameroon so I would know where I could feel the most effective, and I reflected on the past and current approaches to development in search for answers to why it didn’t seem to be working. Although it took me a long time to get there and I’m not proclaiming to have found the answer, I did eventually reach conclusions on these fronts. And those conclusions led me to work that I felt rewarded in doing. My conclusions, essentially, were to take a more hands-off approach. I can’t change any other person – only they can. And the change needs to be at the core, not on surface or what I consider secondary issues like raising average salaries and building structures. Bubbles burst, but your foundation remains in tact. I realized that as an American, one of the biggest opportunities I’ve had to develop at the core, in my character, came from books – from the solutions and lessons that others have already learned, experimented with, and implemented. That led me to make lots of book donations to promote a love of reading and to take one specific book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and share it in detail with as many people as possible.

It was a very bumpy road learning this lesson, but I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.


Thursday, May 7, 2009


May 6, 2009

I’m kind of conflicted. Now that the majority of my work is finished, I actually scheduled the writing of one blog per week in my agenda. It’s something that has started to get neglected as of late and I wanted to make it a bigger priority. What I’m conflicted about is what to write. I think the biggest reason that my blog has been successful is that I’m brutally honest and my entries tend to be more in essay form than in here’s-what-I-did-today form. I try to choose interesting subjects that I’ve been reflecting on for a while because of the situation I’m in. My perspective is one that very few of my readers have ever had yet the themes affect everyone, even if only because some of your tax dollars are coming to this corner of the world. So in forcing myself to write one blog a week, I’m hoping that I don’t turn it into a weekly log of my activities, but that I can find enough interesting topics to keep you all engaged. I’ll leave the here’s-what-I-did-today stuff to the Twitter users. (Is that actually popular in the States? I still don’t believe it.)

That being said, that I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to keep up the quality, I want your help too. Being stuck in my own perspective and having been outside the US for 2 years now, I can easily forget what might be interesting to someone living in the western world. Please write comments. Please ask questions. My responses to my mom’s book club turned into a great blog. It’s because they asked about all the things that I forget to write about. I’ve made this request before and gotten almost no response whatsoever. I know you’re out there! I have a counter on the blog that gives me all kinds of interesting statistics – what city you’re in, what site you came from, what terms you put into the search engine to find my site, how long you stayed, etc. (yes, I sometimes feel like a stalker looking at them all) So please give me some feedback. It’s really easy to make comments; you can even do it anonymously. It also motivates me to write more and better entries.

Until next week,


Wednesday, April 29, 2009


April 28, 2009

Sorry for the hiatus…having lots to do and feeling lazy at the same time makes for a severe shortage of blogs. I am kind of glad that the ‘10 cents a day’ blog was on the top of the page for so long, though. It’s one of my favorites. So what have I been doing for the last weeks/months? Finishing up. I got to my post in August 2007 and my two years of Peace Corps service are nearing an end.

Almost the entirety of my work right now is with my Club Success’ in nearby high schools. It’s a class based on the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I wrote about it back in November when there were two. Now there are five, and with the end of school year fast approaching and a party in the works to join all of the clubs together, tying up the loose ends is keeping me quite busy. I’m really proud of the kids and I think I can already see some of the positive results. After the class is over, I plan on giving a class of the same material to adults.

Literally speaking of the end of my PC service, I attended my Close of Service (COS) conference at the end of March in the capital with all of the rest of my training group that has made it thus far. We met in Philadelphia with 39 and at COS conference we were 26. Losing a third is, I think, a little more than usual but it was still great to reunite with friends that we hadn’t seen in over a year. And we’re still hoping to meet up with some of those who left for medical or personal reasons at future reunions.

Peace Corps treated us really well putting us up in probably the nicest hotel in Yaoundé. It was on a small mountain with our rooms’ balconies overlooking the pool in the foreground and the entire capital city in the background. We also had three really nice buffet meals a day. I felt stuffed for the entire conference and at least a week after.

The conference itself consisted of doing a lot of paperwork and planning logistics for our departures – things like our plane tickets home and closing up our posts as far as things like rent and utilities (for those that have them). My biggest headache right now is doing everything I can do get Saki, my dog, home with me. I decided to take cash in lieu of my plane ticket in order to take care of all the details but it’s proving more difficult than anticipated. I’ll keep you updated. Also during the conference, we spent a day at the embassy for a question and answer session (things like people looking for fiancé visas) and to talk about career opportunities in the State Department and elsewhere.

That’s all for now. I’ll be blogging a lot more – hopefully once a week – when my workload slows down in a few days.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ten Cents a Day

February 28, 2009

Looking at this picture reminds me of commercials I used to see in the US asking you to sponsor a child. “For only 10 cents a day…” they would plead. “Sponsor a child today.” Looking at this picture, what do you feel? Do you feel like you should take pity on her? Seriously. Stop and take 30 seconds to look at the picture and think about whether she is in need of assistance and why.

Yes, her button is broken – she’s wearing second-hand clothes. And yes she needs to wipe her nose. She also has a somewhat longing look on her face. Beyond that though, what is it? In my mind it’s just programming – clever marketing that has taken root designed to pull at heart strings and purse strings. Now don’t get me wrong. I have no idea what those organizations that take your 10 cents a day are actually doing. I haven’t seen any of them at work in Cameroon. Maybe they’re doing amazing work for kids that don’t have enough to eat or wouldn’t otherwise go to school. I’m not mad at the organizations. I’m mad at the stereotypes that I let myself be coerced into without even thinking about it. And I have a feeling I’m not alone in holding these stereotypes. Maybe I’m only alone in being able to notice this one because I’ve been living in Africa for almost two years.

Like almost every other introspective contemplation that I have in Cameroon, this one also leads me back to the ‘development question.’ What is it that people really need? Why are some countries considered underdeveloped? What are the criteria and do they really want to be developed? Peace Corps doesn’t send volunteers to Canada or Great Britain because someone somewhere decided that they are not in need. But how do we decide who needs what kind of help? To be fair to Peace Corps, each host country has to request volunteers. But then how do the host countries decide what they need. I think a lot of the ideas of what one considers ‘developed’ are relative – that is, compared to the West and Western standards, Cameroon is underdeveloped as is much of Africa. But if development is relative, in 75 years let’s presume Africa to be living at the exact same standards as Americans are now and America to be somehow 75 years more developed. Are we still going to say Africa is underdeveloped? I would probably strongly disagree if someone tried to argue that the US is underdeveloped today. I think most if not all of Americans would also strongly disagree, and would have done the same 75 years ago as well. But if development is relative, then that means it’s not about a selfless approach to meeting a set of standards that we deem indispensable to every human being. It’s just a game of catch-up – maybe a never-ending game of catch-up.

Now, I do think that there are some standards with regard to health care and education that are not relative and that are actually somewhat agreed upon. People have the right to drink water that doesn’t make them sick and a right to a decent education, for example. There are actually a decent number of NGOs and development organizations working on some of these problems. For the sake of the argument, let’s put those aside for now.

When I think of development, what normally comes to my head are roads and bridges and buildings and economies…and conquering poverty, like the girl in the picture – the idea of development that somehow established itself in my head. People need clean water, but do they need running water? Maybe a family is used to using kerosene lamps; do they need electricity? Paved roads? Automobiles? Where do you draw the line? Or, with a relative idea of development, do we keep moving the line farther and farther away like leading a horse with a carrot.

I occasionally hear some conspiracy theories about the white man trying to keep Africa down. I couldn’t disagree more with them, but we have to admit that we’re not playing on an even playing field. It is suited to those that are already ‘developed.’ We might not be cheating, but we did create the game. The idea of a capitalistic democracy was created by the West because it fit really well with our independent culture. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with it, but it is much harder to adapt, for example, in a collective culture like Cameroon’s. And now there is no longer a choice of whether or not to adapt it. It was decided by colonizing forces long ago and it is too late to go back. We’re stuck in this strange quandary with one puzzle piece left that doesn’t fit no matter how you force it. Cameroon and the rest of Africa, without outside influences, would have eventually developed into their own unique first-world identities. Sadly, we’ll never know what that image of Africa would have looked like.

We’re about to either hit a dead end or start going in circles, so let’s look at the question through a different paradigm: would you rather be a happy-go-lucky poor person or a miserable rich bastard? The idea is who cares about development? People want to be happy. If someone is living in a shanty town without running water but is a part of a loving family, has supportive friends, enough to eat and is not constantly sick, what’s the problem? Is the question how much stuff one needs to be happy or how one can be happy? They’re two entirely different questions. The person seeking the answer to the first question will probably never find enough stuff. The person seeking the answer to the second question, as in my case, will probably find little clues and tidbits of the answer along the way. And he might even find the quest just as enjoyable as the possibility of ever finding an answer.

Maybe it seems like I’ve changed my outlook a bit. It might seem that today I would disagree with what I wrote in the “What’s wrong with Cameroon” series. I don’t. The idea is not that there is nothing wrong with Cameroon – there’s plenty. But I could write another series on what’s wrong with the US or probably any other country after living there for a year or so. The idea is that while some or all of those problems might be causing a look of ‘underdevelopment,’ creating a look of ‘development’ won’t fix the problems. A lot of problems came from the West telling them what their societies were supposed to look like. And examining my thoughts while looking at the picture at the top of this blog, I don’t think we ever stopped. We still have an idea that African society doesn’t look the way it should, and that we need to fix it. I don’t think that development aid should be cut off, especially not in the areas of health and education. But maybe a more hands-off approach or more leadership by the part of underdeveloped countries would help. Maybe the founding fathers got it right when they said our unalienable rights were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Maybe the developed world should take the approach that my parents still take in raising me: “We just want you to be happy.”

Underdeveloped countries have a steep hill to climb and no one can change that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t smile while walking uphill.


* I took this picture in the traditional animist household I visited in Rumsiki. The girl lives in a nice walled compound with her dad, several moms and plenty of food to fill her belly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The North, Part III - The EXTREME

February 16, 2009

While Genevieve and I were in the North Province, Angie was great leading us around and acting as our tour guide. And when we were ready to head to the Extreme North, she turned into a travel agent telling us about everything we needed to see and do. She even gave us a list with information and phone numbers to guide us on our way. The first thing on our list was Rumsiki. Rumsiki is a small town out in the bush nestled away among these strange peaks and not much else. It’s become a tourist attraction because of the scenery and also the Crab Sorcerer (we’ll get to him later).

We took a bush taxi from Garoua, in the North, to Mokolo, in the Extreme North. Mokolo is the closest decent-sized town to Rumsiki and happens to be where Fleurange, another volunteer and friend of ours lives. She was coming back from Rumsiki with some other friends the day we were to arrive and we were having problems with cell phone reception. So when our bus arrived, we asked a couple of moto drivers if they knew where she lived. They said they did and took us there. When we knocked at the gate a friendly dog and a tall, thin white girl answered the door. She spoke English like an American, but…this wasn’t Fleurange. It just happens that there are two volunteers in Mokolo. One is Fleurange, a SED volunteer that came in a year after me and that I met during her training. The other (the one whose house we were at) is an Agro-forestry volunteer named Thea that had just arrived at post one week ago – the reason we had never met her before. It turned out Fleurange wasn’t back yet so it was great to meet Thea and lucky that she was so nice as to feed and welcome in a couple of strangers for a few hours. It’s great having a big family – some members you don’t even know about. It’s also nice to know that a bunch of those members, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, are waiting for me back in the States. After a little bit of worry and still no cell phone reception, Fleurange and her friends eventually arrived. They told us about their adventures and we crashed for the night.

Early the next morning – before the others even woke up – Genevieve and I headed into town to eat breakfast and find a couple of motos to take us to Rumsiki. It is possible to take a car there, but the road is horrible and everyone that I know that has been there told us to hop on the back of a motorcycle instead. The trip being as bad as it was on the moto, I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like crammed in a car. It took us an hour and a half to arrive on a bumpy dirt road and my moto didn’t have any back shocks. One time during the trip I had to tell my driver to stop. The scenery is gorgeous and I took some photos, but we really stopped so I could rest my tailbone a bit. I think I remember reading somewhere that the peaks are all old volcanoes. What you are seeing is actually the core where the lava came up, but everything else has eroded away over time.

The view from where I rested my tailbone

When we got to Rumsiki, we pulled into a nice hotel on the outside of town. This is where we hired our guide and bumped into the US Ambassador who happened to be on vacation with her family. She recognized we were Peace Corps Volunteers right away because of our motorcycle helmets (I would say maybe 2% of Cameroonians have helmets because of the cost) so we chatted a little bit and took some pictures before heading into town with our guide.

Our guide, the same one that took the Ambassador around, was very impressive. He was knowledgeable in everything that he was saying and seemed to me very westernized despite never having left Africa. One example of this was him setting up poses that he would take with our cameras. It was kind of cheesy, but you have to put it into context. As far as I know you can’t even buy a digital camera in Cameroon, so our guide who knew how to operate one, framed the image well, and was even creative surprised me.

Cheesy pose

A rather extreme case of a poorly taken photo a few days prior

On the way into town, we talked about the origins of Rumsiki and the makeup of its inhabitants. The town started with one man who was out hunting and found a great cave in one of the peaks in an area with a lot of game. He talked to a nearby chief about bringing his family there to live and the chief agreed as long as he was given some fresh meat from time to time. The town eventually grew from there and even defended attacks from Arabs because of the strategic location of the cave. Now the town is mostly made up of Animists, like its founder, with a minority of Muslims and a few Christians here and there. On the way through town we tasted some traditional millet beer, saw the men’s, women’s, and children’s palaver trees where the Animist community would come to work out any problems, and we also passed artisans making clay pots, weaving cotton and making other handicrafts. I’m not sure how many of those artisans would have been there fifty years ago, though. One square that we passed seemed to be a hub of activity. There were several people spinning cotton into thread, more weaving the thread with looms, and others selling finished products. They were some trying to show us how to spin the cotton, tell us how much they worked and how little money they made, and get us to buy their spindle as a souvenir. Funny thing was, when Genevieve and I passed by the same square later without our guide it was completely empty. Tourism is what drives this town now.

Our first stop was a traditional Animist household. My understanding is that an Animist is one who can see God or the Divine in ordinary objects existing in nature. It could be a tree, a rock, or an animal. Each practitioner or family will actually pick one of these objects to be ‘their God’ and to worship. At the entrance of this polygamous household, our guide pointed out the stone that the family worshiped. Walking in further, we saw lots of round, stone huts with thatched roofs. The first one was for any guest staying the night, a few were where the different wives and children slept and the rest were for stocking grains and other foods. The one way that these polygamous families are different from the Fulbé and some others in the Grand South is that if one of the wives is dissatisfied with the way she is being treated, she can very easily leave and go find another husband. I found that interesting – almost like polygamous women’s lib. (I’ve written about polygamy a couple of times in my blog because it’s so different from what I’m used to in the US. I should probably point out that while the outlook on marriage is very different here, the majority of Cameroonians are not polygamous.)

One of the storage huts – food is stored in the bottom and the top, you can also see the peak that has the cave in the background to the right

After the seeing the traditional household, we went to see the Crab Sorcerer. He, more than anything else in Rumsiki, is the reason for all of the tourists. The Crab Sorcerer is the head elder of the Animist Community. And he communicates with crabs. It is a skill that has been passed down in his family for generations, although it is the crab that decides to which son the skill will be passed, not the sorcerer himself. Our guide is actually his grandson and so has a chance of ending up as the Crab Sorcerer later in his life. Every Animist is required to consult the Crab Sorcerer at least once per year but he also tells the fortunes of all the tourists that come through. As much as was possible, I tried to keep an open mind before seeing him. He looks as authentic as is possible, but after hearing my fortune I have to say I’m pretty skeptical. He only speaks the local dialect, so you have to use your guide to translate for you. How it works is you ask a question; he tells the crab and puts the crab in a pot; the crab rearranges little sticks and stones in the pot; and the Crab Sorcerer, based on the arrangement of the things in the pot, tells you your answer. The question that I asked was ‘What am I going to be doing as far as work after Peace Corps, and where? The answer was either North America or Europe and that I should marry Genevieve. I think he assumed we were a couple. Maybe you understand now why I’m a skeptic. It was still totally worth the experience though – just look at the pics.

The Crab Sorcerer

The crab’s pot

After the Crab Sorcerer we took a short hike up to the original cave that was the reason for the foundation of Rumsiki. As we hiked up we could see what was left of some of the stone walls of the original buildings. And about two thirds of the way up, we arrived at the cave. It wasn’t really like one you would think of in the States, but more of an outcrop that was good for shelter and getting an eye of the land. There was a great view of the different neighborhoods of Rumsiki and even the border with Nigeria. By this time, we were hungry and ready for a late lunch. We had already put in a reservation at The Vegetarian Carnivore, a restaurant on the outside of town. Angie recommended it for us and I’ll do the same for anyone that might be traveling to the Extreme North of Cameroon. It was wonderful. On the way down the peak, our guide took the initiative to help us knock down a fruit from a baobab tree that we took to the restaurant. And as easy as that (ha ha), with our meal we had fresh baobab juice.

The cave/outcrop

The view from the cave

Throwing rocks to try to knock down the baobab fruit

Our aim was off so we had to use alternative measures

Me, victorious, with the baobab fruit

After our meal, and the necessary respite for digestion, we met back up with our moto drivers and rode back to Mokolo. That my moto broke down half-way back was actually a blessing – I ended up switching and getting a much cushier ride. Gen and I slept really well at Fleurange’s place that night and the next morning headed to Maroua, the capital of the Extreme North. Another suggestion for anyone planning to go to Rumsiki: don’t go there and back in one day. Even with shocks, it’s a long, exhausting ride. The hotel on the way into town is gorgeous, has a small pool overlooking the rocky landscape, and is not that expensive. If I had it to do again, I’d stay the night and maybe take a hike in the morning before heading back.

Maroua, for me, was a time to relax. And it was the perfect place to do it. The transit house (Case) for PC volunteers is beautiful, with a large shade-covered sandy lawn. I spent a lot of my time just reading outside and listening to the wind blow through the trees – a sound I hadn’t realized I missed. Compared to the rest of the Grand North, Maroua is full of trees. It’s a beautiful city with tree lined avenues nestled among a large river…except when I was there it was just a river bed. The beds dry up with the dry season, but if you dig just a little you can get to water. It was interesting to see people doing this in order to wash their clothes during the day. There are also plenty of shops and a large artisan market in Maroua. I didn’t get any, but the best things to buy are the leather products – bags, wallets and shoes are all popular items. You can even have things specially made for you.

The road leading into Maroua – I tried to capture the dry river bed out the window of a bush taxi

Other than reading in the shade and walking around the city, the rest of my time in the Extreme North was spent eating good food. Restaurants aren’t hard to come by in Maroua but we did a lot of cooking too. There are always a decent amount of PC volunteers coming through Maroua and this was New Years, so there were even more finding excuses to stop by. A lot of volunteers from the training group that had just been posted like to cook and there’s a nice kitchen in the Case so I felt right at home with them. I don’t even remember what we ate. I just remember it being good. The New Year’s celebration was pretty low-key, just a time to hang out and appreciate the good weather, good food, and good company.

Genevieve and I stopped for one more night in Garoua on the way back, but that pretty much wraps up my time in the North. Of course there was the dreaded train ride back (despite getting a couchette, I was starting to get sick and threw up twice on the ride) but I think I covered almost everything. I had a great time in the North and would suggest that anyone visiting Cameroon make the trip up there. It was a learning experience even for me and I tried to throw in as many of the cultural tidbits that I picked up into these three blogs. I hope you enjoyed reading them.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

The North, Part II - Christmas in Garoua

January 17, 2009

After spending a couple days in Tourningal in the Adamaoua, Genevieve and I headed back to Ngoundéré and then took a bush taxi to Garoua, the capital of the North Province. Garoua is supposed to be the hottest city in Cameroon. It is surrounded by mountains that trap in the heat and humidity. But there was not much heat and no humidity. We heard it was "winter," but knowing that the Adamaoua has a much more temperate climate, we were worried about what the North province had in store for us. We were told that as the bush taxi winds down the road off of the Adamaoua plateau, you can feel the temperature rising. We did feel the temperature go up slightly, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. What caught our eye were the Hermitan winds that bring the "winter" weather, or at least proof of their existence in the form of dust. It didn’t gust or feel that windy. It was just dusty. Visibility was probably around a half of a mile creating an eerie feeling and not allowing us to see the landscape around us.

While it wasn’t hot outside, it did get quite hot in the bush taxi. The majority of the people in the taxi were already used to extreme heat and they preferred it over the dust, so the windows stayed closed for most of the four and a half hour trip to Garoua. Thirty people crammed into a small bus with no circulation was not exactly pleasant, but we eventually made it. Angie and Stephanie met us at the agency and we went for dinner at a place around the corner that had fresh fruit smoothies.

Our time in the North ended up being an interesting mix between touristy, cultural stuff and American time. There were two reasons for this. One is that there are four Peace Corps volunteers in Garoua and lots more in the surrounding area, most of them from our training group. The second is that it was Christmas time. Christmas is one of those holidays where you want to be reminded of home and your own traditions, and being surrounded by Muslim culture, we stuck together a lot.

We arrived on December 23rd, so the way that we were introduced to most of Garoua, the fourth largest city in Cameroon, was in buying things from markets and boutiques to get ready for our own celebrations. On Christmas Eve, about 15 volunteers got together at Angie’s house for a great dinner. We had bruschetta, two chickens, vegetarian chili, mashed potatoes, carrots, and pumpkin pie (actually squash pie) for dessert. Dinner was served under the stars by candlelight with Christmas music playing from a collection of people’s iPods as we ate on a huge straw mat. It was a great ambiance. Then, Christmas day, everyone went to Stephanie’s house. The crowd grew even more as there were probably 30 volunteers at the party. Stephanie actually lives in a primary school. It’s a little surreal, but worked quite well for the party. There were plenty of chairs and tables (even if they were meant for people one third our size) and there was space for everything that she had planned. One room was set aside for Christmas movies, another was for board games, and there was even an area for crafts where people decorated a Christmas tree taped to the wall and cut snowflakes. The food was once again amazing - a potluck with green bean casserole, cheesy spinach dip, hummus and homemade crackers, salad, mashed potatoes, rice and vegetables, Christmas cookies, pumpkin pie, and a lot more that I can’t even remember. We even had a white elephant gift exchange later on in the evening. Because we had partied well into the night on Christmas Eve, this day ended up being a lot more laid back.
Christmas Eve Dinner

The day after Christmas we headed into the Grand Marché so that I could buy a boubou (pronounced boo-boo), the traditional men’s clothing in the Grand North. I can see them occasionally worn in the South, even by non-muslims, but it’s not as common and I had never worn one. For anyone that doesn’t know what a boubou is, it’s a pair of loose-fitting pants with a loose-fitting top that goes down a little below the knees. The top is embroidered around the neck and sometimes other places. One of the reasons I wanted to buy a boubou was because I had brought mostly shorts and t-shirts readying myself for the heat not realizing that they weren’t really acceptable in the stricter traditional standards of the North. But the main reason was just for the experience. When in Rome, right? When we got to the market we found two long rows of tailors making and selling nothing but boubous. It was quite a sight. Not knowing at all what a good price was but having acquired a love of haggling, I spent a long time going up and down the aisles talking to each shop. I finally got to the point where I found a boubou that I liked and told the man in the shop how much I wanted to pay. He had to call the owner who, he told me, was coming right away. I took the fact that he had to call the owner to mean that I was asking for a really good price. During the time I was waiting for the owner to show up, though, I found someone else that was trying to convince me not to buy one pre-made, that he wanted to make my boubou himself. I would be able to pick out the fabric, it would be tailored to my size, he could have it ready by the next morning, and … he could do it cheaper. Though a little bit skeptical, I agreed. It turns out he was a genuinely nice guy and a great businessman. He took me on his motorcycle to two different fabric shops to pick out exactly what I wanted, got me a good deal, and kept his word by having it ready first thing the next morning. It was dark green, almost exactly like the one I was about to buy except I was able to have the embroidery done better because I had saved so much money on the fabric. All that and at two thirds the price! Genevieve ordered something at the same time as me and he’s already picked up orders from at least three other Peace Corps volunteers. He does a great job and his good service is already paying dividends. If you’re ever in Garoua I’m pretty sure his shop is number GI-47 at the corner of the market.

The experience of wearing the boubou is another story all its own. I was amazed at all the respect and attention that people gave me. It was partly because they were proud that a foreigner was embracing their culture, but also because of the importance of appearance and what it represents as far as your social standing. People everywhere were calling me El Hadji which is a title for someone that has made the trek to Mecca. They probably knew that I had never been to Mecca; it was just a way of showing respect. Some people called me El Hadji Nasara. Nasara means white man in Fulfuldé, and while it’s often heard chanted from little kids or done just to solicit a reaction from you, this was very respectful. One of the days that I wore my boubou we all went to Lagdo, a town about 45 minutes outside of Garoua. I remember on one of the legs of the journey, as we were cramming seven people into an economy size car, it was insisted that El Hadji Nasara sit in the front. That is the seat reserved for the most important person. I usually don’t even like sitting there. They fit two people into that one front passenger seat. I would rather be one of the four people they squeeze into the back three seats. Three fourths of a seat is better than one half, right? But this time, the other person that was next to me in front was giving me as much space as humanly possible. He was like an acrobat almost on top of the stick shift giving me pretty much the whole seat to myself. While I felt uncomfortable having people go out of their way for me and judging me solely on the way I was dressed, it was an insightful experience into not just northern but Cameroonian culture. While I don’t necessarily like or agree with the practice, I can definitely see how if I had grown up here, every day I would dress to impress and not for comfort. I remember hearing in our training over a year and a half ago that people will wear the best clothes they have and take pains to keep up their appearance. I saw that it was true, but now I have an even better understanding of why.

The Lagdo trip that I had the VIP treatment for was pretty amazing. In the middle of this desert climate is a town profiting from a hydro-electric dam that creates a lake and some pretty incredible scenery. When we arrived we went straight to the dam. On one side is the lake and nearby hills extending right to the waters edge. On the other, hundreds of feet below, the river continues through a trail of fertile, green earth among the rest of the dry region. At the bottom is also a home for a few hippos that we could see lounging in the water and the afternoon sun. They were pretty far down and all we could see were the tops of their heads poking out of the water, but after seeing one yawn it brought back the reality of what we were seeing. His enormous head hinged open at least ninety degrees. After the dam, we went to have a drink at the Blue Lagoon, a small resort on the waters edge. The serenity of the resort with groups of small huts and buildings scattered on the hillside overlooking the lake made it the perfect place to sit down and soak up the scenery. We took our time, took a few pictures, and then headed back to Garoua.
The lake at the top of the dam

Hippos at the bottom

View from the Blue Lagoon

At the Blue Lagoon (the boubou has an affect on Americans too)

Once back in Garoua, we got a good night sleep, woke up early, and took the first bush taxi of the day into the Extreme North…


*Don’t forget to check out the photos I just added to the last post.