Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Work, work.

I've mentioned it before and I'll mention it again: it can be quite hard to figure out what exactly you are supposed to do as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Our mandate is vague to say the least.  Future volunteers should know that before signing up.  I was excited and enthusiastic about the freedom, but a lot of the time I find myself wishing I had more structure and support.  Having projects is a lot about luck; I fell into most of my projects in Bogo and I've had the good luck of falling into them here too.  (I think agricultural volunteers have the worst of it since they have to contend with planting seasons and weather on top of luck.  People at least have the decency to stay relatively unhealthy year round for us health folk.)

First thing a PCV is supposed to do is protocol.  That is to say, you have to introduce yourself to all the important people in the neighborhood.  Cameroonians tend to take protocol pretty seriously in general and it can be a bit of a slight if you don't come bye to say hi.  Above all this is a security measure to let government officials, gendarmes, and police all know you are in town and connect you with the people who can help your ass in a pinch.  I didn't take the big guys too seriously at first in Bogo (I wanted to be down to earth with the common man whom I all this way to help damnit!), but learned that they really do help you make all the connections you might need to the sorts of people who can help you get things done.  This time around, I've taken advantage of these little interviews by having them help me set up future ones with community members to talk about health issues in general.

I have officially visited each of the thirteen villages surrounding Mbakaou and introduced myself to their respective Djaros (Jawro) or cheifs.  At these little sit-downs, which are usually short and sweet, we've decided on a time when I could come back and address the village.  I've done that tour too, which usually starts with me asking everyone to talk about what sorts of health issues they have.  It always starts with malaria and other general diseases and then digresses down to people and their individual maladies or talking about how their backs hurt after a day in the field.  After that I talk about how people get sick generally, find out what sort of water sources they use, and give some basics on why they should use mosquito nets, wash their hands, or go to the clinic when ill.  I have to write up a report for the Corps that is basically a big needs assessment and this is a good way to sort of survey the population.

Currently, I've started going back and talking about specific things.  The health clinic has a large problem with pregnant women coming for neither prenatal consultations (or antenatal, I don't remember which term to use) nor to give birth.  I have a nice big presentation with pretty pictures that I borrowed from the clinic and I've been talking to both men and women about it.  The presentation talks about everything from how a woman gets pregnant to what the clinic can do for them.  It also goes over family planning if they are so inclined.  That topic is a bit taboo with some, but sorely needed.  I always find it odd that God would give someone so many kids, but not enough food to feed them.  Maybe he sent me to tell you to wrap it up, gents.

These meetings are going to be the backbone of whatever other projects come my way.  Right now I only have three or so groups in Mbakaou proper and would like to expand that.  The intention is to come up with different topics and presentations, then make the rounds.  Honestly, I've had great feedback so far.  It is eye-opening to see what people have never been exposed to that seems so basic to us.  Even the things they have heard are so far down the grapevine that it is impossible for them to sort out fact from fiction.  Just being here to answer questions and dispel rumors seems to be a boon to their spirits.