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.