Sunday, December 30, 2012

Language

Let's chat. 

I have never been particularly good at language.  Even after living in Italy for six months, my proudest moments were the first five minutes of a conversation before any given person realized I wasn't Italian.  After about five minutes--when we exhausted the simple pleasantries--there was always that moment where it would dawn on them "hey, this guy isn't from around here".  I was proud of those first five minutes.  I'm not even anywhere near that; I've only been here for three months.  Of course, such a moment isn't even possible in Cameroon with me sticking out like a sore thumb, but you get the picture.  Oh right, I'm also learning two languages at once.

And here is a kicker: I am learning Fulfulbe THROUGH French.  It isn't as if I have an English speaking teacher.  No, when something is too complex to explain in Fulfulbe (at this point: everything), it is explained in French.  One of the strangest moments of my life was when I realized this.  In my frustration, it dawned on me that I couldn't understand the French that was supposed to explain the Fulfulbe.  Then the world felt like it was crumbling around me as I lost grip on reality and plummeted into hysterical laughter at the shear ridiculousness of my life.

So that's fun.

One more thing I didn't mention: everyone who speaks French here learned it as a second language.  Just like me.  That means two people are trying to communicate in languages that they learned later in life.  These are also the people I am learning French from.  To say my French needs polishing is a gross understatement.

It is hard to imagine.  I have trouble coming to terms with it and I live it every day.  There are people I just simply can't talk to that I see every day.  A whole lot of them.  Add a pinch of cultural misunderstanding and you could drive a man insane.

Luckily I have myself to talk to.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The River

My town is built along a river as many towns are.  I've yet to see the river, but I hear it is lovely.  You see, there just is absolutely no water at the moment.  It hasn't rained since I arrived and it apparently won't rain for another four months or so.  It's very odd to just leave things outside and know with absolute certainty that they won't get wet.

A view of the "river" from the main bride.
Apparently all of this fills up with the rains and more so.  A large area around the river floods yearly.  
Here you can see the bridge from the river basin.
Kids play down where the water run now and I actually gave a short little English lesson sitting in the sand.  Lots of the areas in my region feel like they could be the beach and the ocean is just hiding over the next hill.  I miss the ocean.


This is a "bridge" on the other side of town.
The above bridge washes away when the rains come and you have to go around to the bigger bridge to get a car or moto to the other side.  Personally, I look forward to taking one of the little boats to cross.


Suckers like these just wait for months before they get some use.
I will try to get some good pictures out on the water whenever the season comes so you can all see how different it gets.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

This one time in DC I went to a Johnny Walker tasting.  Black was my favorite.  Red was too spicy.  Gold was ok, but had an odd thickness.  Blue tasted like money.  You shouldn't taste money; that shit has been touched by far too many dirty hands.  I like it straight.  If you add water or ice it changes the taste for the worse.

Anyway, I found some nice Cameroonians to drink Johnny Walker Black with and bring in Christmas.  Somehow it seems very odd to come all this way to try to give to a community and then have them buying me drinks.  Shouldn't it be the other way around?  Suppose not everyone needs help.  It is Christmas though.  And it is delicious.

I often feel like an old man.  Only thing I can really compare myself to with any accuracy is a younger version of myself so I always seem old.  I may be old, but this happens to be my first Christmas away from family.  I had forgotten that till today.  Christmas really snuck up on me.  I blame the fact that I'm in a desert and my brain can't take the idea of Christmas even existing in this heat.

I raise another glass to you, America!  My friends and family.  Loved ones and strangers too around the globe.  Merry Christmas!

- Dale

The Hole


My life is strange now.  It isn't as if I hadn't mentally prepared myself.  I was expecting difficulties and hardship.  To be perfectly honest, I haven't run into any and it really has been quite easy.  The language thing is hard (seriously hard, we'll get into that later) and there are lots of cultural differences to get used to.  Also food, I really miss food.  BUT life is generally a piece of cake.  I mean there are twenty million people in this country doing it every day.  Still, it is often the simple things that surprise me.

I have a latrine.  It's a separate building in the back of my yard.  Basically a concrete box with a hole in it about the size of a cereal bowl.  I'm the only one who uses it and I shower there too so it gets a soapy cleaning every day and doesn't even smell.  Sometimes there are creatures in there, but they are harmless.  I have urinated on a lizard.  It's his fault, he was literally hanging on inside the hole.

The other day when I was finished, I mentally congratulated myself and said "congrats Dale, you shit perfectly into the hole."  A few steps later, I started laughing at how surreal that statement seemed to be.  It just never occurred to me that I might have that thought.  Ever.

Shitting in a hole is not easy.  This is particularly true for people who've had the luxury of toilets their whole lives.  First, there is the squat.  If you hang around Cameroon for awhile, you will notice that people are constantly squatting.  They squat to wash dishes or clothes, to prepare food, or just to talk.  And it is a specific squat.  It, sadly and surprisingly, takes a bit of practice to get the hang of.  Then there is aiming.  You have to aim both and the hole is simply not that big.  You'll miss, with one or the other, till you've had some practice.  And when you miss, you have to clean up.  Water and lots of toilet paper, I make sure to have plenty in stock.

Most of you probably didn't want to hear this.  It needed to be said.  You'll get the hang of it and it really isn't as bad as… the first time you make a mistake and stare trying to problem solve this shit.  It passes and you'll have another lovely life skill.  Just bring some water to clean your feet in the even of splatter.  Urine, I've yet to literally shit on myself.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Erin and Tchabawol

I have a post mate.  Her name is Erin and she's kinda awesome.  The best thing about her is that she and I approach the Peace Corps in much the same way.  Everyone here thinks the world of us and that we will revolutionize their lives.  Then they laugh at us when we propose the idea that maybe they should let women outside their compounds and effectively double their workforce.  "Haha, things are just different here".  Yes, yes they are.  We spend a lot of time talking about what exactly we can do or change and how exactly we can do it.  Then we realize that everything is incredibly daunting, nothing we do will really stop poverty or make an oasis in the desert, and we begin to question what the hell we are doing here in the first place.  After that we laugh, make lemonade, and go climb a tree.  When it comes down to it, we are just along for the ride and we are damn well going to enjoy it.

I kind of won the Peace Corps lottery.  Erin lives out in the sticks.  The proverbial one road town.  She miraculously has electricity and a forage nearby, but there the amenities end.  She doesn't even have a weekly market (mine is immense)  and can't really buy anything during the week (I can at least find lettuce, tomato, and onions every day… at the moment).  Not to mention that I am replacing a volunteer so my house was fully furnished.  She spent her moving-in money on a bed, stove, and other essentials.  I had shelves installed, because I don't like bending over and picking up my pots and pans off the floor.

Still, I love her village.  It has that quaint, everyone knows you feel.  Her Fulfulde has left mine in the dust in part because of her need since there really are only two or three people that speak any French in her town.  I've visited a number of villages since I've been here working with the health center and hers is definitely one of the nicer ones.  That owes a great deal to her chief who has worked hard to get electricity and a number of water sources built.  There is still plenty to be done with the agriculture and environment there of course, but she has a good place to work from.

There she is in a tree.  Poor thing won't see this for weeks.

We are making quite the team.  Not because we've collaborated or done any actual work together (that's just nonsense), but because we are both keeping each other sane.  Having someone to share war stories with--in God's own English, no less--on a weekly basis is a life saver.  For me at least.  She might just be visiting because my town has all the food.  Whatever, works for me.  Takes it where I gets it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

ADDRESS!

BAM!  Finally that moment you've all been waiting for…

MY ADDRESS:
Dale Wahl
BP 22 Bogo
Cameroon

Now you can all send me things!  A constant stream of American goodies.  *tears stream down my eyes*  Everything is going to be alright.

Isn't it adorably simple for how hideously long it took?  I do appreciate all the enthusiasm into getting my address and I hope that turns into boxes full of America.  You have to understand that addresses don't really exist here.  My house does not have a number.  My street does not have a name.  You could find me easy enough by coming to Bogo and asking for the white guy, but that's about it.  This is a place where everyone knows everyone else.  Actually, the post office lady is pretty awesome and you could probably write "White guy, Bogo, Cameroon" and it would get to me.  Let's not try that though; I like my presents.

Speaking of, insure the package.  For a dollar if you like, but insure it for something.  Insuring it means that Cameroon is responsible to the US if the package disappears.  Thus they are much less likely to disappear.  I've also heard putting bible quotes on it helps (probably quoting the Koran too).  They either don't want to piss off God or just don't care for more bibles.  If you do go this route, pick the most interesting quote you can find.  Let's make a game of it.  Winner gets an African prize.

Send food.  Delicious, delicious food.  Easy to make food that doesn't require me to add much more than the basics.  Sauce mixes, drink mixes, cheese mixes, bloody mary mixes.  Dried fruit and nuts!  (But not peanuts; I could fill boats with the amount of peanuts here.)  Make it interesting; I just want to taste America.  Candy is good.  I will construct an oven just to make cake if someone can get it to me (probably with instructions on how I can make icing).  Maybe your favorite spices and send easy recipes too.  Honestly, I don't even know what I want.  If I was in an American grocery store right now, I would probably just sit on the floor and cry.  And then eat all the cookies and chips and cheese.  Cheese Its.  What would happen if someone filled a box full of cheese and sent it?  We are going to have to stop talking about this before I actually do start crying.

Random things I can't really get here:  Deodorant, I'm an Old Spice man.  Good pens, remembering I write every day.  On that line, send journals as I've already killed one and am half way through the second.  Yes I write that much (Barnes and Nobles has some good cheap ones).  LED lights and decent knives make good gifts.  (I'm keeping a set of steak knives for myself, because I refuse to eat meat with a fork and spoon.  Heathens.)  Things like crayons or markers for kids.  Though the little shits are always asking for things so I am not sure they deserve it.  I gave one a paper clip today and they thought the world of it.  And I gave another one an empty Sprite bottle that had been used to store kerosene.  Because he asked.  This is a strange place.  Point is that you can improve the quality of my gift giving with ease.

Just surprise me.  I will be like a kid at Christmas every single time; I can promise you that.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

En Brousse

My counterpart took me out into Africa.  Proper Africa.  The part of Africa where there are long stretches of land interspersed with occasional trees.  Mostly just brush and bushes for are far as you can see.  You know what I’m talking about, it is the Lion King or National Geographic (back when it was worth a damn) and you are half expecting some beast to pounce on you from behind a bush.  There were three of us ridding a moto on narrow little footpaths, bouncing along and scrapping against the brush.  That’s what en brousse means by the way.  In the bush.

Pretty accurate depiction of the countryside.
I might add that our “moto” was of course basically a dirt bike.  That’s what they all are here. They are plentiful.  You can buy one for six hundred American dollars, which would be more tempting if they didn’t literally just kick a volunteer because he was caught riding without a helmet.  Dirt bikes are appropriate here.  This is the Sahel, which is not as deserty as I originally thought.  There are plenty of trees providing God’s gift of shade in this heat and they grow millet and strange gourd like things as well as random other crops like cotton.  But the ground is sand wherever there isn’t something alive.  The little footpath or game paths (I just can’t call them moto paths as it seems clear they are not meant to be) seem to me to be the growing desert.  It isn’t the sands just creeping in mass as the desert grows; no, the sands are webbing out as plants get uprooted or destroyed and creating islands of green to be later engulfed.

Cows, the road is not for you!
We went to seven different villages that day.  None of which were very large; the biggest had maybe twenty compounds.  That’s important too; families live on compounds with their extended families.  In the city that means concrete walls that surround a number of small, usually one room, buildings each with their nuclear family.  Part of that communal living really appeals to me, though I have my own compound and can hardly keep people out so the lack of privacy might prevent me from enjoying it too much.  These compounds might be small with only one family and some animals, but the larger ones could have over twenty people and dozens of animals.  Of course out in the bush, these families were poor.  Most places had maybe one shared well to drink from.  Everything seemed covered in dust.  Clothes were often tattered, though many women obviously took pride in their beautiful robes.  I do think people were happy though.  Or maybe just happy to see us.

We were there to examine kids for malnutrition.  This was actually the second round of visits for this program.  The first was before I arrived.  My counterpart is a volunteer with this Red Cross initiative.  She has been out to virtually every village in the Bogo area and checked as many children as possible.  Then the undernourished ones can travel into the city and receive free nutritional supplements: plumpy nut.  I’m actually incredibly pleased with the program and judging by the number of children we found, it seems to be working.  The test is relatively easy and just involves measuring children’s upper arm.  Feed, rinse, repeat.  The problem is of course how you pay to send someone out to all the villages and pay for all the food.   People out in the bush don’t know their kids are undernourished and they are not likely to just show up in town to check.  And what if they can’t afford to come into Bogo?  While out there we talked about a lot of other issues: pregnancy, malaria, vaccinations and the question is how you get that healthcare out to where it is really needed.  I met a small child who was semi-paralyzed on its left side.  They don’t know why; the family couldn’t afford to get back into town and make the visits to the hospital. 

It’s ok though cause that baby was super happy.  Just sitting there laughing its ass off.  Adorable, fat baby.  Some babies cried when they saw the strange white man.  Some stared, eyes wide.  That baby just laughed and pounded the ground with its hand.  In fact, I can happily say I only terrified one little girl.  She stopped dead, stared at me for a full minute, then screamed and ran away crying.  Everyone laughed.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cuff, pants, and other phrases

Is it "I'm flying by the cuff of my pants"?  No, something about the seat of my... and the cuff of...  Right, so it has been awhile.  I've been busy.  Quite.  Incredibly even.  And this is not prepared.  A target of opportunity at best.  And yes the words appear a bit blurred at the moment.  Haven't the faintest idea why.

I'm a volunteer!  Official and sworn in and the like.  If you happen to have access to Cameroonian newspapers you can find my picture there.  AND the celebration even made the front page.  Mostly (entirely) due to the fact that a Mrs. Biya, aka the president's wife and most popular woman in this country, came to our swearing in.  If you have facebook, you have seen the photos of our matching blue shirts and my ascot to represent Sante (health for the layman).  It was a fun day.  We sang Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror".  They stuck me in the back far from the microphone; haven't the faintest idea why.

Busy, busy, busy.  That's all I can say.  I haven't had much time in front of a computer, much less with one that had internets.  We had tests and exams and celebrations.  Plus I've been on the road.  I am far north.  The EXTREME north now.  The capital called Maroua.  I thought that being in the Peace Corps made me far away from civilization, but now... Well first they stuck me on an overnight train that left Yaounde to Ngaoundere in the middle of the country.  Twelve hour ride.  It was a blast though as we just turned it into a last night going away party.  Got in trouble for the booze, the stowaway, and the fact we converted the beds to seats.  No one seemed to care about the kitten we brought though.  After that another nine hours in a bus before I finally arrived in my regional capital, Maroua.

I love it here.  Really.  Surprisingly, the weather is magnificent.  It's not the hot season yet, so the sun may yet kill me, but the weather has been better than Bafia/Bokito.  And this is a real city.  The market here is unimaginably huge.  Today I spent an hour wandering around the section with hardware.  It was like being lost in Lowes Home Improvement (though less power tools).  It's like a city.  Just alleys upon alleys of different sectors.  There was a place with 30 plus tailers working away in shops on sewing machines.  The point is this is a real city.  And they conveniently stuck the case or PC house on the main bar drag.  I've been enjoying it.  Oh, late night snacks?  They come to you.  Just hollar from your seat and, tada, munchies arrive.  Good meats.

Tomorrow is the big day.  I move to Bogo.  I see my house for the first time.  Well I think.  The negotiating a car to take me and my things there was... ambiguous.  I'm under the impression it will all work out for the decided upon price, but there was far too much confusion on what I actually wanted in the talk.  Language hurts, but culture too.  I have to explain why I want things that no other Cameroonian would ask for.  Why would I want a car all to myself and my things instead of just piling it in with a dozen other strangers?

I owe you many stories.  I owe myself more.  I've had trouble even keeping up the journal.  Life is moving too fast.  So much has occurred and I haven't had a moment to myself to capture it.  I've ideas of tales to tell and you will get them.  Soon enough, I hope.  I miss you guys.  And rest assured the next post will give you an address to send goodies.  I'll list the goodies you need to send too.  Much love.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bogo, Cameroon

Bogo, Cameroon.  My post.  My soon to be home.  My life for the next two years.

I know almost nothing about it.  I'll be the first health volunteer there though they have had an agricultural volunteer before.  It's a fairly large town compared with a lot of other posts.  I won't have water.  I should have electricity.  Might have internet.  It will be hotter than the blazes of hell, as in a high of 130 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the shade apparently.

It's really close to the capital of the region--the Extreme North--called Maroua.  You might actually be able to find information about that place.  Feel free to clue me in via email.  I won't actually see anything till I move there in two weeks.

I'ma have to learn another language on top of French called Fulfulde.  That should be fun.  And... yea.  Basically, from everything I can tell, all systems are go.  The plan is coming along nicely.

I should be an African cowboy before you can blink.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Differing Medical Opinions

Right, you remember how I was saying that I’m not particularly good at football?  SOCCER, I mean soccer.  Well, that was an understatement.  I’m atrocious.  I’m not even good at being bad.  This time when I went down, I was not as graceful as the last.

Do you know how sometimes when you are watching soccer someone randomly falls down even though no one is around?  Like they are trying to pull a foul?  Maybe it’s my Italian blood, but that’s exactly what happened to me.  I was trying to just jump in the air and change direction, but I landed horribly on my right foot.  Collapsed like a ton of bricks.  Which was technically a change of direction.  It hurt like hell.

But it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as when my good Cameroonian buddy came running over to try to help out.  First, there was a slight communication difficulty as to where I hurt myself.  He thought knee when I tried to convey ankle and manhandled the shit out of my foot trying to straighten my leg.  Somehow through the pain I was able to communicate ankle, unfortunately they have the practice here of trying to massage out the pain.  I spat out profanities faster than ever before in my life.  The French ones were sadly lacking in force and resigned to things like “shit”, “stop”, “go away” and the like.  I was more colorful with the English.  There were moments when he would stop and we’d stare at each other as I tried to catch my breath.  Then he’d start again.  I honestly thought about how nice it would be to pass out and exasperatedly yelled “will someone who knows French please kindly tell him to fuck off?”  He finally did and I lay panting on the ground with my head swimming.

So that was fun.

I’m not really knowledgeable when it comes to first aid.  I know you elevate and rest the area, but not really why.  Maybe massaging it immediately after could help.  Pretty much every Cameroonian who talked to me about it said that it should be massaged.  Course they also said that I probably wouldn’t walk for at least a month or two.  Luckily I was promptly carried to our training center porch and had Americans who do know first aid pamper me.  I was a most humorous patient laughing and cracking jokes between my yelps of pain.  And most of my demands were for things like chocolate.

I’ve since been to see our onsite nurse.  I’ve a nifty splint and some cream that stops it from hurting and may do something about swelling.  Though not much as it has been a day and my foot still kinda looks like a balloon.  We are all relatively convinced that it’s not broken.  Course the local X-ray machine is down and when told this the nurse followed up with “so, I hope it’s not fractured”.  Pretty sure from the way I fell and my current range of motion it was just some pulling muscles, ligaments, or other optional pieces.

Probably the most fun part was trying to deal with my family (and neighbors or just general people who happened to be walking by and came in to see the commotion).  They were not OK with me waiting to see our nurse in the morning.  They called the Peace Corps a couple times to argue with them and even tried to take me to the hospital themselves on the back of a motorcycle.  To plead our case, I tried to explain to them that while I could in fact walk on it, that was a bad idea and could make it worse.  I wasn’t actually sure I could walk on it, but I hoped that would be enough.  It wasn’t and in desperation I decided to try it out.  I managed a few steps well enough and felt confident enough to support my whole weight on it.  This is obviously stupid and you should not do this.  At this point though, they had me half terrified and I figured if I failed at least I’d have a good reason to be drug to the hospital.  Anyway, it worked out fine and they let me be.  Well, minus the talking to host pops still gave me about how mad he was I didn’t call him immediately.  It’s good to feel loved.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The North West

Or the north part of the west.  It’s a bit confusing.  Cameroon is kinda shaped like a chicken (seriously, go look at a map).  There is this whole western part where they speak English.  The northern part of it is called the North West and that makes sense except there are three other regions that are much farther north.
We had quite the adventure and left Monday afternoon and didn’t get back till Thursday.  This probably doesn’t seem like much, but when every second of every day is planned a bit of an escape seems damn near the most amazing thing ever.  I think we spent half the time in a bus and that was fantastic as far as I was concerned.  It was too bumpy to actually do work which leaves hanging out, listening to music, and drinking.  I’M JUST KIDDING.  The only person who’s allowed to drink on the bus is the driver.
There may come a point when my jokes no longer make sense to anyone other than Cameroonians and Peace Corps Volunteers.  Apologies, ye faithful need just bare with me.

Cultural note: No, they do not speak Spanish anywhere in Cameroon so I’ve no idea why it’s called the “Super Amigo”.
This was our first time out in a real city since Yaounde.  Sure we still had a curfew, but it was extended to 10 o’clock.  And besides, we all went to the same hotel.  That means we got to still be together as opposed to alone (or rather with families of people who don’t understand us linguistically or culturally).  It was fantastic.  PLUS we stayed in super nice hotels.  Or… well there was hot water!  And water pressure!  Yea, we shared a bed with another volunteer, but at this point we are just one giant family anyway.  And the food… it’s like they read my blog or something, because we ate so well.  We had, oh what’s the word in English, I think I’ve forgotten… OPTIONS.  I spent infinitely more money than they gave me to spend, but it doesn’t matter; I fattened myself up quite nicely and can just live on the reserves in the coming week (actually, I seem to be shedding pounds already and I barely can find the time to work out). 

I realize I haven’t bothered showing you pictures of things like the town I’m actually living in or my home...  You will happily take whatever I give you and I will not hear a single complaint.  Anyway, I’ve really wanted to try to explain to you what I’m looking at here every day.  It’s a strange unique beauty.  The contrast between the buildings and humanity with the monster here that is “nature” is so stark I can’t always wrap my head around it.  I have tried to take a number of pictures, but they are pale comparisons to what I’m looking at with my own eyes.  It’s massive, impressive, and somehow incomprehensible.  It’s like being atop one of the mountains of the Appalachian and staring over an expansive forest only you are in the middle of some run down village that feels plucked from an old western flick.  And the sky… if you’ve talked to anyone that’s been to Africa, they told you about how much bigger the sky is here.  I know that makes little sense.  It just can’t be bigger.  But I’ve seen it.  And it is.  I’ve seen the clouds here and I’ve seen storms roll in from the distance.  You don’t need an umbrella here; you just check the sky and walk home before the rain catches you.

In the other direction there is a waterfall cascading down those mountains.  Seriously.
I’ve tried to take pictures of the stars.  It should be mandatory that cities cut power for an hour during the night at least once a month so we can all go outside and see what is really up there.
We learned a lot on our trip.  I learned how to make tofu from soy.  And it was actually incredibly tasty unlike almost every other time I’ve eaten tofu.  I also learned how to make soap, though I couldn’t stop relating it to the book/movie Fight Club.  It was intended that we learn to make wine, but somehow that got cut.  Don’t worry, I’ll get that knowledge soon enough.  All these are sort of income generating projects we use to get to communities and have them fund other projects.  It makes for more sustainable development if we set up health projects along side income sources. 
We also experienced probably the best day yet.  A lot of time is spent learning how to do need assessments and different sorts of projects we can start.  The how we actually get people and communities involved and committed seems incredibly daunting and we hear about as many efforts from volunteers that fail as those that succeed.  Sometimes the tasks seem insurmountable (like those mountains in the distance; go ahead, give ‘em another look).  But we spent a day in the most welcoming community I could imagine.  All of us including the PC trainers were taken aback by their response to our arrival.  They organized welcoming parties, a feast, songs, a work demonstration, and had speeches prepared.  It was all a thank you for a successful water project that a volunteer helped get underway.  Basically harnessing a spring and pumping clean water to a village of 1,500 people.  I can’t really describe the response except to say it was unexpected and brought, what do you call them, emotions to the surface.  Strange watery droplets and such tried to form.  It was just a reaffirmation of why I came all this way.  Hope and a sense that things really can be accomplished.
On that note, don’t go expecting as much from me.  That volunteer had more positive energy than I have cynicism.  
That’s the best picture I’ve got of a ton of people digging out a trench for the water pipes.  They are just community members, not paid workers or anything of the sort.  I have a great video… but I’m barely overcoming the picture problem at the moment.
I’d like to go into more about how the actual project started and worked.  Both technically and organizationally.  I will see about getting that info and talking to the volunteer who actually did it.  Otherwise I’ll just go back to making jokes about my life in Africa.

Dale out.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Grand Schedule

Some people have been asking for me to explain a bit more how Peace Corps is set up.  Or training.  Or basically what exactly am I doing with my time.  That's probably relevant to this blog and useful for anyone joining the Corps, so I suppose I'll help out.

OK, so first they flew me one morn to Philadelphia.  Bright and early.  We had a sort of orientation where we met all the folks headed to Cameroon.  We had meetings where we filled out paperwork, did icebreakers, and talked about what to expect.  Basically team building and some prep work.  The next day we drove up to NYC for reasons never explained to me and started a ridiculously long train of flights to Cameroon.

We put down in Yaounde (the capital of Cameroon and location of our Peace Corps HQ) and they put us up in a hotel there.  As I said before, we were under guard and strictly chauffeured around.  I believe we were in town for about five days.  Mostly medical and safety stuff, but also cultural lessons so that when they finally threw us into families we wouldn't get ourselves killed.

Now I am to become a Health volunteer.  Basically that means I will have a local Cameroonian counterpart, most likely at a local clinic, and my main goals will be to focus on Malaria prevention, HIV/AIDS prevention, and mother/child nutrition and health.  Those are just the three main goals of Peace Corps Cameroon; I will likely be doing... anything and everything.  Water Sanitation work exists here and I might still end up working in that area.  While I'm doing all that there are two other groups of kids training in either Youth Development and Environment/Agriculture.

So the training really got underway once we left Yaounde.  They split the Health off and we all live in a little village called Bokito.  The other two groups are in the larger, central town of Bafia.  We all stay with host families which have to pass a fair amount of criteria and are briefed on what must seem like the insanity of Americans.  I'm convinced they think I could die at any moment from the fervent way in which they make sure I sleep under my mosquito net (they don't) or drink only boiled and filtered water (the water they drink actually does kinda scare me).

Basically for eight weeks I am in school six or seven days a week.  We have all sorts of classes on health, how to do different outreaches in the community, medical, safety, and of course language.  Lots of things we already know and the real point is teaching us Cameroonian culture and perspective so we can present information in ways they can understand.  Ways that will actually cause them to change behavior.  We may be dealing with people who are illiterate or with very strange/different/wrong ideas on how disease works.  Or even pregnancy.  Actually, I keep being surprised by how different culture and knowledge can be.  For example, why don't you imagine drawing a bucket of water.  Maybe it is for an illiterate crowd to explain some water born diseases.  Did you color it blue?  Yea, well that will just confuse people here.  Water isn't blue and if you've never seen the ocean or a really big lake, you've probably never actually seen blue water yourself.

So that's what I'm learning.  Different colors of water.  We spend eight weeks training and living with host families.  In week seven we are assigned a post.  That post can be pretty much anywhere and it will be what actually defines what you do here.  All that stuff that was on my job description when they sent me an invite was pretty much irrelevant.  All the kids here had different ones.  Hell one of the Youth Development people had my exact same description.  They do use your skills they observe here or from your resume and try to place you where you can do the work you enjoy.  But so far as I can tell, you make up most of the projects as you go along.

After I'm assigned a site, we have three months where we are just testing things out, getting to know the community, and doing needs assessments.  Then we all meet up again for another training that is two or three weeks where we try to see what we can actually do for the remainder of our service with another regrouping half way through for less time.  At site, in Cameroon at least, I will be living in my own place, though it may be on a family compound or something like that.  And I will most likely be posted pretty rural, but in a region with a number of other volunteers.  It seems that Peace Corps Cameroon is trying to focus efforts on certain areas to better be able to show effects over time.  Makes sense to me.

I've a little over three full weeks left of training.  And lots of projects and presentations to do.  I have internet right now because they specially drove us out to do some research.  But I'm also going on a sweet field trip for a few days next week.  We'll be learning things related to health.  Like how to make soy or tofu or whatever.  And also how to make wine.  Which I'm not sure is super related, but it will certainly be project number one for me when I get to my own site.

Apologies if some of that was already said.  Or you knew that because we talked about it before.  As a consolation prize here is a picture of what happened when I went to a Cameroonian barber:


I'm just kidding.  That did happen, but it was entirely unrelated to the barber incident.  That was more of me trying to just ask for a nice trim and being sheered like a sheep.  That's not fair; he was incredibly meticulous in his work.  Even if I thought we agreed that I wanted it "like the picture" only longer.  And that everything, including the beard, would be the same length.  I think he was just very confused about the softness of my hair and how it kept jamming up his clippers.  Meh, we'll see how round two goes.  As my French improves, so will my haircuts.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cameroonian Foods

I don’t know shit about Cameroonian foods.  At the same time I desperately want to talk to you about it.  You just NEED to know.  The thing is, I’ve only been living in one place.  Everything I hear about food here is that it varies drastically.  They have bushmeat down south (which could really be anything, but is probably monkey) to apparently a ridiculous number of cattle in the northern center.  They have jungle down south with all the tropical fruit you could want all the way to desert in the north.  There are places in the middle where you can literally grow just about anything.  Variety is the word.

And I get none of it. 

It’s a logistical problem really.  I had a hell of a time explaining this to Mamma Alice (I really have no idea what to call the people in my host family).  She was asking me what sorts of foods I liked and ate at home.  More importantly how and I tried to explain to her that we don’t really do markets like they have here and just use the supermarket.  They have something called a supermarché and she took me.  It had one wall of food which was basically some canned vegetables, pasta, tomato paste, and margarine (is that ok unrefrigerated?).  I felt too guilty to even try to explain Harris Teeter.

They don’t have refrigerators in their homes.  Many stores have a little one that cools the drinks about to be sold, but with electricity being shoddy, it’s not really feasible to stock up like we might.  The roads are lackluster or worse; I haven’t seen a semi—much less a refrigerated one—barreling down the road.  I know they have one train line, but from what I understand it does one passenger trip overnight.  Basically what all this means is that you eat whatever is available in your area.  And since you aren’t importing anything, you eat it when it is in season.  I’m going quite mad over eating the same thing day after day, often for more than one meal.

Now, I’ve gotten breakfast decently on lockdown.  I make omelets most days.  Two eggs, bit of salt, bit of a spice mix called magi, tomato, onion, and some leafy greens (parsley, basil, whatever they have) cooked in some palm oil.  That is occasionally spiced up with a puree of avocado (the American’s most prized veggie here; we seriously hunt them and buy all in stock whenever they can be found), tomato, onion, oil, and vinegar.  Both are ALWAYS served with bread.  I’d honestly prefer not to eat either with bread, but the Cameroonians seriously cannot accept this and think it madness.  If either of those fail and I’m in a rush, I get bread mostly with chocolate or creamer… actually that creamer is a whole different sort of thing.  They have powdered milk here (so I’m told), but my family just boils water and adds coffee creamer.  Then tells me it is milk.  One of the weirder things I’ve run across, though it tastes fine.

OK, so breakfast is pretty fine.  Lunch depends.  When I’m in the larger city, it’s decent…ish.  We have some people come cater a lunch at the big training house.  They do a decent job of variety.  It basically always has fish, rice, beans, and either cabbage or legumes (both seem super overcooked and kinda gross to me).  But they will at least a couple other things, like pasta and sauce, the occasionally other meat, fried plantains, and virtually always some fruit like pineapple, oranges, or papaya (best part as far as I’m concerned).  Very occasionally they have cake, but it is almost always dry and kind just a let down for a man who loves cake as much as me (how do you make moist cake, I must know to introduce and revolutionize these people’s lives!). 

There is one other good things about lunch at the big training site: the sandwich lady.  One of the other volunteers interviewed her and asked why she served sandwiches, she said she would normally just serve anything since Cameroonians didn’t care and eat it but she discovered Americans love sandwiches.  This is true and she does excellent business.   It is run literally out of a shake thrown up twenty feet from our front door.  She stockpiles avocado and basically makes puree with beans and hardboiled eggs and puts them in a sandwich with your choice of mayo, vinegar, and a spicy sauce.  Somehow this is amazing.  It’s probably the avocado.

I can barely stand to go to lunch at our place at site anymore.  It’s just the same.  Every day.  Fish always.  Beans, rice or pasta, some sort of tomato sauce that is kinda OK but runs out, and either the cabbage or legumes.  I spent an hour today roaming the town buying ingredients to make my own replica of the sandwich lady’s sandwiches.  And it was worth it.

Home is slightly better.  For one, my family has some excellent cooks.  They can turn out the same things and they are just better.  The pasta comes out right, the fish fresher, and the plantains hot and juicy.  We do have the same sort of things.  We’ve had beef maybe twice.  The sauces seem almost identical, but they do liven it up on the occasion like last night we had something what was almost but not quite akin to pesto.  We do eat a variety of veggies that all taste sort of like potatoes.  I kinda hate them and they are always just boiled and plain.  We usually only have two things: the fish in some sauce matched with any of the other things.  But it is do-able and different enough that I don’t want to pull my hair out.

I am working on improving my situation.  I’ve picked up things at the market and brought them home so they get incorporated into meals.  I’ve had a few convos with Big Mamma and I may try to cook here.  I’ve tried to explain that while I can theoretically cook a chicken, she’s going to have to help me kill the damn thing and figure out what parts I’m supposed to keep.  I accidently told her I could make potatoes (while we’ve had tons of things that taste like them, actual potatoes are expensive and we haven’t had them yet).  I will need to figure out how to mash them or something.  Ovens seem to be an extreme rarity, we are basically cooking on a nice camping stove or at best a gas grill.  Yea, we’ll see how any of that goes…

Well, I’ve managed to stay on topic for a whole post!  How do ya like it?  A thousand plus words of yours truly complaining about food.  It’s really not that bad, but I do have moments where I just kinda panic because I just can’t get ANYTHING that I’m used to.  Hopefully these panic attacks won’t kill me… though I did make ever the slightest mistake today.  When I was out searching for food for lunch and just going into anything that looked like a restaurant asking what they had (lunch is not a real popular meal here so “nothing is ready” was often the response), I ran into a place with an ice-cream machine.  An actual soft-serve.  Now, I have to boil my water and run it through a filter so that monsters don’t grow inside of me.  Cameroonians do not do this and instead opt for the “get sick and try not to die” approach.  But it was ice-cream… and it was the five best minutes of my life.  Cold, delicious, strawberry flavored ice-cream.

Sometimes I think about food and tears literally flow from my eyes.  Right now, remembering today’s ice-cream, is one of those times.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

More random musing and such.

Right, so the internet has been down.  Aside from it being incredibly evasive and nonexistent in my village, it has been down even when I’ve traveled to the “big city”.  Now, it looks like things may take an upward swing.  Such a thing as internet USB devices exist.  Unfortunately there are three sorts and they don’t exactly work everywhere.  Until I know exactly where I’m going to be posted in this country, I won’t be making such a purchase.

I also should apologize for what you are about to read.  At the moment I’m incredibly unorganized.  I don’t really even know what exactly I posted last time.  It is quite difficult to express exactly how busy training is.  I mean anything would be relatively busy when compared with what I did for the six months or so prior to leaving the good ole US, but we are pushing things to the extreme.

Training is an all day affair, six or seven days a week (though Saturdays and Sundays have so far been half days).  They’ve kicked it up farther by starting immersion at the training house.  Meaning if we are there, we are speaking French.  They are kind enough to keep the Tech training in English though (that too will change).   This is a good idea as I imagine it would be inconvenient and damn near reckless if I only understood half of my health related training.  Needless to say, my brain is usually fried from all the French language at the end of the day.  Sadly there is nowhere to run; home is training too.  Only harder since they aren’t exactly teachers.  And they have thicker accents.  And sometimes mumble.  Or talk to each other with incredible speed.  Or address me without looking at me.  Oh, and they always second guess whether or not I understand and usually don’t believe me even when I do.  I could go on, but you get the point.  I’m not widely known as a patient man and there is only so many ways to tell an eight year old that it doesn’t matter how many times they repeat a word if I’ve no idea what the word means.  Half of home life is training children to train me.  It’s weird.

No, Mom, I’m not ready to come home yet.

I’m actually really enjoying it here.  I’ve had a few moments (read: days) where I feel kinda clostraphobic from never having a moment to myself, but all in all I’m having an awesome time.  I played soccer with the locals the other day for example.  Yes, they were a million times better than me, but I was not completely useless.  I actually impressed myself.  I did slip and fall and everyone thought it was hilarious.  In my defense, we play on packed dirt here and it is quite slippery.  Not really sure how they manage it without cleats and gear, but suppose I’ll learn.  I scraped myself up decent, but as of the moment it appears to not be horribly infected like the med people warn us about and I might even get to keep the leg.  Hizzah!  But that’s not even the best part!  I was on the shirtless team, oh yes.  While I felt it was probably unnecessary as I’m relatively easy to distinguish given the circumstances, I’m all about immersion.  I do hope someone managed a picture of all these chiseled Cameroonians and my hairy, white self running about.

More fun: we got bicycles the other day!  I might have enjoyed the whole repair training part the best.  Changing and repairing a tire is pretty simple, but I got to do things like take apart the chain and put it back together.  It’s weird how happy things like that make me.  Just doing things with my hands.  We are trying to put together a skill swap and I’d love to do some wood working, but I’ve no idea where I’d find tools, much less what exactly would be useful.  When I look around, the stuff people here use for tools are pretty historic.  They are tilling fields with shovels.   Anyway, I was super excited about the bikes and just rode around the training house while everyone got ready to go for a bike ride around town.  It’s hilly and the roads are pretty shitty in a lot of it, but it’s a great way to see the country.  I’m looking forward to exploring my site via bike.  The Peace Corps has tried to drill in the fact that the bike is for professional purposes.  Fair, but since my job title seems incredible vague and to include “evaluating the needs of a community by observation”, well that seems to imply a solid amount of freedom.

At least I hope.  As of now we are still super restricted.  We need permission to do anything and are supposed to be chaperoned if we go anywhere.  Hell, I have a seven o’clock curfew and am only allowed one large beer.  Or two little ones.  They claim the beers here are stronger.  The big ones come in .65 liter bottles and are 5-6 percent alcohol.  My favorite pub in Charleston sold 8 or even 10 percent beers by the liter for 10 bucks.  That was a good place.  The point being, we are under quite a few restrictions.  And being the upstanding sort of fellow I am, I naturally abide by every one of them.  Course I’ve yet to figure out exactly who is enforcing the rules…

I’m looking forward to site for a lot of reasons.  Certainly I will enjoy regaining my freedom (Though not all of them.  Dear God, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to watch people constantly driving motorcycles for two years and not get one myself!), but a lot of it is just wanting to start.  I’m still just waiting.  I mean I know how badly I need these French lessons, but it has been so long!  We aren’t even half way through training either.  Seems like I’ve a long way to go.

I thank those of you who have emailed me.  I haven’t even gotten to read them all, but promise I will respond when I get the chance.  It’s just awesome to know there are people out there.  I do get the whole EVERYONE is new feeling creeping up.  Like a fine wine, I only taste good with age and these people barely know me.   Hell, the poor Cameroonians can only catch the bare minimum.  I’m like a child to them and completely unable to express myself.  I actually was talking about that with the host parents yesterday.  Not that I mind how awesomely they take care of me.  I may be taking advantage of their kindness a bit… but hey, if they want to do all my chores and serve me my meals, who am I to complain?

Until next time, my friends.  The brief:  I assure you I am actually learning some French.  I like this Africa thing, though I’m living in a bubble at the moment.  The family situation continues to be interesting; the parental figures and I are starting to have actual conversations (including a really interesting one where we talked about AIDS for one of my classes).  I hope that I can actually coordinate my thoughts in a manner more conducive to storytelling in the future.  That may just have to wait till site.  Everything is so blurry at the moment.  And really, I should be working on all these outside projects they keep giving me.  I’ve no idea when they expect me to do them though.  When I feel a bit overwhelmed, I just remind myself that they certainly aren’t going to send me home.  Poor bastards are stuck with me.

Weirdest thing?  I’m kinda getting used to it here.  TIA or “This is Africa” is becoming a thing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cameroon!

Well, where the hell do I start?  It should be obvious now that my internet usage will be irregular.  There is some hope for when my training is complete (in two months), but I wouldn’t keep your hopes up.  There has been internet and I’ve even had free time, but, alas, the two have not coincided.  I’m actually writing this to upload later when I can connect.

First, I had a week in Yaounde (note: there will be no Wikipedia involved in the making of this blog, so expect errors).  This was the orientation part.  Or staging or some other fancy name.  We were under super tight control.  While they said there wasn’t much to be worried about, a group of 55 whites following a regular, predictable schedule and only a few of whom could speak the local language would be bound to draw attention.  We therefore basically either at the hotel or the Peace Corps HQ and chauffeured by Peace Corps SUVs the whole time.  We also enlisted the local Guandams (dammit lack of Google) armed with AK-47s to protect us at all times.  Though we mostly just used them to practice minimal French and occasionally direct traffic (seriously wonder how the locals felt about their public servants being used to move them out of the way to let a bunch of white Americans pass). 

We did manage to do two pretty awesome events during that time.  The first was a concert/dance.  Local style music which was very jazzy and drum heavy.  Loved it.  And the dancing, which I also loved, could have been considered risqué.  OK, very and I felt a bit awkward at points.  You think bouncing asses on rap videos is much?  Ha, this is Africa.  The second was a formal dinner with lots of important people.  Media and government officials and such.  I was lucky enough to sit down and eat with our US Ambassador, Mr. Jackson (my intelligence is apparently directly proportional to my ability to look shit up).  I sort of forced myself to sit with him after making a fool of myself when he introduced himself to me: “Oh, you are the important one with a nametag.”  Looks around to figure out what I’m blabbering on about, “All the tables have them.”  And he walks off.  “Yes, well, yours has your name on it instead of a title,” muttered under my breath.  I should have said plaqueard as it didn’t help that I was actually wearing a damn nametag.  ANYWAY.  I managed to be much more charismatic at the table.  He was incredibly friendly and knowledgeable.  We talked about his career and I learned all about what I could expect if I ever decided to try my luck with the Department of State.  He also had told a couple of great stories about some African mix-ups I can look forward to.  And report on to you.


Basically the first week was a massive blur.  They pounded tons of safety, security, and health information into our heads.  Everything from cultural customs to how to cook your food so that you don’t have terrible monsters growing inside of you.  I’m convinced everything here can kill me and have just accepted it.  Basically, if I get nicked I will get infected and die.  And, for any of you that know me well, I’ve already managed to cut and scrap and bleed plenty.  None of which were on purpose though, hand to God.

When I wasn’t in seemingly endless meetings, I was trying to get to know 54 of my newest, bestest friends.  Since they will be the only people able to really relate to me for the next two years.  At least in a language and culture I understand.  A lot of you may recall some reservations I had about meeting a bunch of young, doe-eyed kids.  Well, while there are probably less than ten who are actually older than me, the vast majority are infinitely more experienced in… anything remotely resembling what I’m here to do.  I’d wager half of them have masters or are working on them and the rest have some other impressive claim to fame.  What’s more than that, I really, seriously like everyone in this group.  They aren’t just people that I’ll hang out with because of the situation; these are people worth seeking out in any other place.  They are intelligent and engaging and I’m probably more excited about watching them work here than I am about myself accomplishing anything.  I mean that sincerely; I’ve found them more interesting than anything else so far.  It would also appear that I managed to sweet-talk myself above and beyond again.  Being charismatic has its perks.  Hopefully, I can translate (literally) that skill into use here.

Speaking of language, I’m finally being presented with the opportunity to learn some of one!  Seriously, during the first week we had so many other things to do that all we received was an emergency survival French lesson.  They moved us onto the training sites and in with host families with a loving kick on the ass.  After a SUPER awkward night, I was happy to get to the training center the next day to learn some French… and discovered that there was still more shit to do and we wouldn’t get to language until the next day.  Awesome.  But worry not, my friends, my French is already improving.  And I can think of no better way to learn.  My teacher is incredibly helpful and effective.  I’m in a group of four students all sharing one teacher to ourselves.  So I get to monopolize a full 25 percent of the time to myself!  And being me, I probably take another 25 percent too!  The immersion stuff I did in Italy is absolutely nothing compared with this.  Though I must say, I am starting at the bottom.  I got selected in the second to lowest class.  The one where they said “oh, you seem to know some words”.  Why, yes I do.  There are like… ten or more levels and I have to get pretty high up before they will allow me to go on with my life.  I’m fairly confident I can bullshit my way through though.  I’m busy learning things that make me sound fluent, possibly to the detriment of the rest, but whatever.  I’d rather sound intelligent than be it any day.  CHARISMA, people.

How about a little bit about the home life?  I’ve been here almost a week now (HOLY SHIT, I can’t believe that’s true).  When describing my first night the day after I went with “It was OK”.  That remains to be true.  While I am improving, I’m having a lot of trouble gauging what exactly I’m supposed to do.  On the one hand they are receiving some sort of compensation for hosting me (murky on the details of that), but I still feel like I’m supposed to help out.  I’m not exactly sure what they expect of me and I seem to fail at everything I try to do anyway.  I have a mom and a dad.  Both are super nice and welcoming while at the same time giving me plenty of space and letting me do whatever I want.  Having space is a nice relief from the super structure of everything else, but I find myself in a half panic wondering what they expect me to be doing.  There are six kids from about 5 to… 16?  I should probably ask them how old they are.  I think I just got their names all down today though, so one step at a time (I should probably go write that down immediately).  The kids take care of everything.  They are like little servants running around making the world turn.  This is good and also part of the “what am I supposed to be doing” problem.  But when I, say, sweep and mop my room which is something they do every day, one of the kids will invariably tell me I’m doing it wrong and take away whatever to do it for me.  This occurs for pretty much everything.  I can’t even but vegetables properly to feed myself.  And we are not going to discuss washing clothes.  How can I fuck up that?  It is water, soap, and a bucket.  But no, my clothes aren’t clean enough; do it again.  And my shoes?  I’VE NEVER WASHED MY SHOES.  Then again, everyone here has nicer shoes than me.  The roads are dirt in my village.  Je ne sais pas.

I got sidetracked.  I’ve done so much.  It feels like I’ve been here forever.  I went with the six kids to Catholic mass this Sunday.  It was about two hours and I understood practically none of it.  There was a lot of singing, a really, really long sermon, and then after some sort of… I dunno, but lots of people got up and spoke and everyone was happy and yelling and clapping.  I hung out with my host mom at the market and sold palm oil.  It’s scary looking in its natural form and also in basically everything I eat, so… that should be fun.  I eat fish every day.  My host dad owns a poissonerie or fish store, but it seems that everyone eats fish here.  It’s good and always fried in oil.  Actually all the food has been pretty good if a bit repetitive.  It is super high in carbs though.  And oil.  Did I mention oil?  My family held some sort of big meeting in our house.  They told me it was an association of families where they pool money for things.  Not sure what things—I got that they pooled money if someone got sick—but everyone had sweet matching outfits.  So maybe they just pool money for that.  The children have learned things.  Like how to demand a piggyback ride.  They have a variety of irregular ways of saying my name.  Mostly Dev.  I should probably pick some African name, but I am rather attached to Dale.  I still don’t really know how to buy things.  Basically, I look at my family to learn how to do anything.  But to buy things, mom and dad just yell for it and one of the kids is off to the market.  I actually chased after one and went to pick up soap with him.  Maybe I am supposed to just send the kids on errands though.  Somehow that seems counterproductive though.  The piggyback rides seem more appropriate in dealing with my white guilt.

Speaking of, one of the things that has struck me as odd is how damnably easy everything is for me.  I’ve been riding on the whole white, American, male for my whole life.  We aren’t actually all white.  There are a few African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic (-Americans? Do we say that?).  Plus slightly over half are women.  And the women here have a million more social and cultural difficulties to overcome here than I.  To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I could put up with half the shit they do or are going to have to put up with.  Basically, just want to throw as much respect to everyone else doing this that is going to have a much more difficult time than I.

Not my most cohesive piece of work, but you gents all need something!  Know that I am doing a decent job of keeping up the ole journal, so the bits you miss will exist in print someday.  The juicy bits post-humus.  I have not taken many photos yet.  It’s an odd thing.  I can’t communicate super well to ask (and particularly explain about posting them online), plus I don’t really feel comfortable enough here to be flashing any wealth.  I already stand out enough to basically guarantee being stopped on the road for a quick chat anytime I’m walking anywhere.  Hopefully, I will be able to update more.  Most likely after training is complete.  I will likely have a bit more personal freedom.  Right now, the town I’m in does not have any internet, so the only way this will get posted is when we collectively visit the larger training site.

You guys are awesome.  It does me good to know that I’ve friends and loved ones out there.  Send emails, stay in touch.  Much love.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dear America

It's not you, it's me.  You've been great.  Fantastic really.  I can't thank you enough.  The good times.  The bad times worked through and the close calls made into hilarious stories.  You have provided me with the best of friends, a loving and extended family, and so many more people that have meant so much.  You are full of so much blessed life!  Treasured memories every bit.

Alas, you know me: I take and take and take.  I can never have enough.  And that's just it: I want more.  I need more! Adventure calls out to my very soul!  Fret not, I will return.  So don't forget me.  Know my dreams will always be of your warm embrace.

Tell me this, can I know you are truly the one if I have experienced nothing else?  They say if you love something set it free.

And so I must go, my love.  See the world.  Experience all it has to offer!  Yes, I will be unfaithful for a time, but know that I still love you.  My sweet America.  My dear home.

I'm off now.  Remember that you, dearest, are always in my heart.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Dry Run: Nicaragua Part III

The family called me "Teo".  "Dale" is a bit hard to pronounce with the long "a" and it helps no one to look at it since sounding it out you would get something more like "dah lay".  "Da le" or "dah lay" apparently actually has meaning and they say it all the time.  So they called me Teo.

When they got particularly good at saying my name, it would sound almost exactly like "day-o".  And every time they would say it like that I'd find myself humming Harry Belafonte's Banana Boat Song.  Which I'm sure you remember from that scene in the movie Beetlejuice.  Eventually they caught me singing it.  And so I taught the first few lines to the children.  And a couple of the adults.  And we sang it.  I have a Nicaraguan theme song.

There was more fun with singing.  I ran into a brief impasse with the children trying to teach them some English words.  They didn't really get that our alphabet was pronounced differently.  Naturally to teach them I went with the song.  That's the only way I can really remember the alphabet anyway.  It may say something about the quality of music they have access to, but they were pretty interested in my singing.

I was requested to sing the alphabet by a group of grown women around a cook-fire.  So, in my best faux Sinatra voice, I did.  There was applause.  That may have been one of the most surreal moments of my life.
_____________________________________________________________

I'm back in the United States.  Till the 19th when I make my way to Philadelphia for Peace Corps orientation.  Followed by an incredibly long flight to Cameroon to spend the next two plus years of my life.

Nicaragua was a great opportunity for me to meet a ton of different Peace Corps Volunteers living and working in country.  I left with a resounding "yea, I can probably do that."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Dry Run: Nicaragua Part II

In Nicaragua, one must get used to the water.  It is the rainy season, so that may have something to do with it.  Also, the Boss and I just seem to be drawn to bodies of water.  Of all shapes and sizes.

Rainy afternoons.  
I share a bond with this Nicaraguan as we both sit and watch the storm roll through Chichigalpa.


Las Penitas.
First time I've seen a sunset over the ocean.  Pacific for the win.


Some afternoon reading and relaxing.  Not much has changed from Charleston.
Except the hammock.  It's a nice touch.


Water sports!  
Kayaking in the Laguna de Apoya.  Old volcano turned peaceful 200 meter deep lagoon.


Lake Nicaragua.  
This sucker is massive.  Seriously, go check a map.  So massive that it has fresh water sharks. And an island where we saw monkeys!


Me on a boat in Lake Nicaragua.  Drinking a tasty beverage.

Picture uploading problem resolved: check.  Borrowed watch: check.

I've got less than a week to go.  Hopefully when I get in the States I can sit down and properly recount some of my adventuring.  Till then.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Dry Run: Nicaragua Part I

That's right, I'm fortunate enough to get to pretend to be in the Peace Corps before I'm actually in the Peace Corps.  This thanks mostly to the grace of Boss Tony.  And a cheap plane ticket.

Lesson one: Gather important information prior to leaving country.
Half of that lesson is knowing what exactly one might need.  Some smart doctor-like friends were kind enough to mention I might need such things as anti-malaria meds before going.  Booked an appointment the week before departure and discovered a few avoidance shots were also necessary.  No, I don't want Hep A or Typhoid, though I've no idea what either do.  Actually, I've no idea what Malaria does.  They are all bad and possibly deadly.  So I lucked into avoiding those things.

It did not really occur to me (or the others that take care of me) that I might need simple information like an address or a phone number where I can be reached in country.  These are things for which both the US Department of State and Nicaraguan Customs asks.  Whoops.

The kindly Nicaraguan lady asks:  "So where are you staying?  In Managua (that's that capital where I landed)?"
Me, thinking:  "No, pretty sure my friend doesn't live there..."
Her:  "So where does your friend live?"
Me:  "I think the... north... west maybe?"
I have to stop her in the middle of a long list of places I've never heard of.  I'm pretty sure I never even bothered to ask.  Tony was just picking me up at the airport and in my mind that's all the info I required.  And no, I don't really know what I would have done if we missed each other.  Hung out at a nearby bar till he showed up... or didn't.

Lesson dos:  Learn the local language as fast as possible.
Last time I studied Spanish was in middle school.  Can't recall a damn word of it to be frank.  I have managed to learned a couple the past few days in Chichigalpa (see, I eventually figured it out...), like "non comprendo" or "non sei".  Tony filling in as personal translator.

Today, though, I had mostly to myself.  Tony was running around doing important Peace Corps things so I stayed at the family compound.  This place is alive with people.  Coming in an out all day and, somewhat annoyingly, all night.  I've no idea how many people live here, but there are at least five bedrooms and apparently a guy who sleeps outside in a hammock.  I'd wager a dozen people are here at any given moment.  And not a one of them speaks a lick of English (that may be harsh to one of the boys here who recited a story in English... or the little girls who proudly competed to show me how high they could count).

They have a big courtyard area with an outdoor kitchen, a bunch of animals, and a variety of fruit trees (I recognized mango and avocado).  I rather liked all the animals as they spoke about as much Spanish as me.  Well I was on par with the chickens, ducks, parrots, and cat.  The dogs may have had me by a hair.  I sat mostly and ate well (ha! had the dogs on that one).  The ladies were always cooking: some of the stuff they sold, some of the stuff we ate.  I did engage them in conversation or, rather, they tried to pull me in.  I learned "caliente" on account of my propensity toward fire.  I must say everyone is incredibly nice to the useless "gringo".  The best I can do is try to show them I am at least incredibly appreciative of their hospitality.

I fared much better with the children when they all got home from school.  We could do things like whistle at each other and snap our fingers.  Took to the streets to play catch.  Or race each other in a variety of ways.  I totally would have won the one-footed hop, but they all cheated and just ran.  I also learned some versions of pattie-cake pattie-cake, though I've no idea what they had me saying.  Picked it up rather quickly though if I do say so myself.  They also gave me my first real Spanish lesson as we pointed at different things and taught each other how to say them in our respective languages.  That's right, two days in Nicaragua and I'm already teaching English as a second language!

Regardless, I've a strong inclination to pound the ole French language books like a man possessed when I get back stateside.

Lesson three:  Bring your damn camera cord.
Apologies, everyone.  I'll have to add pictures later.  But hey, this is why we have test runs.  Other things to bring: something to sleep in, a watch, hand soap.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Charleston in the rear view

Anyone who has lived in Charleston loves the bridges. (Well, save one friend who invariably would get on the wrong one and have to wait till the end to u-turn.)  They always offer a grand view of the water, the marshes, and the city.  I've left and come back a few times and, just like seeing the Washington Monument in the distance when I lived in DC, crossing over a bridge into the city lightens the heart.  That feeling of coming home.  It's hard to see that in the rear view and know you won't be returning for a long, long time.

I've been having trouble writing of late.  Hell, I've been having trouble doing anything productive really.  It's these incessant goodbyes.  I've been hitting one after the other for the past month.  Traveling is worth writing about (aka productive in my limited scope) but the time to write is always after I've left.  Immediately after another goodbye.

Normally goodbyes don't bother me.  I usually joke around with whoever it may be and toss in a playful "forever".  My mother particularly loves it when I'm off someplace, look deep into her eyes, and say, "I love you, Mom.  Goodbye.  Forever."   Maybe a "you were a good mother to me" for good measure.  (Yes, I'm probably a horrid son.  No worries, she has another.)  Goodbyes always seem easy for me.  Moving has never been all that far and trips never for all that long.  And in this day in age, those things hardly matter.  With phones, the internet, and facebook, it is incredibly easy to keep in touch.  Many of my greatest--hell, closest--friends are far away, but I always, ALWAYS have the luxury of sending them a note whenever I please.  I've never had difficulty keeping in touch with people as long as they want to keep in touch with me.  I try to remind myself that I will have some of that in Africa too.  Just not often.  And certainly not whenever I please.  Alas, I am greedy.

I think it is really the disconnect that I fear.  Time breeds disconnect.  Time is change.  Only some of the people you leave behind ever stay in your life.  Only some of them will write back.  Only some of them you will get to see again.  And all of them will change.  Get married, have kids, move, get new jobs, or...  anything.  And you never know how that will change your relationship.  Shit, two years in Africa, I'm the one who is going to be different!

Charleston feels worse.  The goodbyes with family and old friends, well, at least I know they will be back.  I will see them again.  It's hard sure, but we've done change and time and distance and we've survived.  The goodbyes with the Maybes scare me more.  The ones that may be final.  And Charleston… well, they are all new.  That means they haven't had enough time to properly be infected with the drug that is me.  To draw them unwittingly back into my net.

Note: Once addiction to said drug sets in, there is only one known cure: dating me.  
And even that only has about a 50% effectiveness.