Sunday, January 15, 2012


Sannu! (Fulfulde for Hello!)

I have now been in my village, Godola, for one month (WAHOO) and it has been quite interesting.  Currently, sitting in my little round house lizards scuttling about, listening to the call to prayer and the bleating of goats—not to mention looking at the most amazing sky blanketed with stars.  I have a new name in village, given to me by a group of Cameroonian women I have come to be quite fond of. I have been given the name “Fadila,” which apparently means “Goodness” (boy, have I fooled everyone). People get a great kick out asking me to tell them my name and then laughing.  Children now yell it out side of my concession walls, which is fine until it starts at 6 am.  I guess, Fadila is much easier for them than Laura?! 

Godola is a village of about 10,000 people about 20 km north of Maroua (the regional capital of the Extreme North).  It is right off the main road, which is nice in many ways and kind of sucky in others. I have all of the positives of living in/near a big city (food…maybe, internet…sometimes, alcohol…if needed), without all the hassles of actually living within the city limits.  However, it does get quite loud with all the traffic and at times, I would really rather be completely away from everything. C’est la vie!  Although it is only a 30-minute motorcycle ride into Maroua, I am going to try to stay in village as much as possible to soak up as much as I can.  Besides, motorcycles crash…a lot (just saw one about an hour ago) and therefore, if I can stay off them, I will. Hopefully, I can get into good enough shape that I can actually ride my bike into town.

The majority of people in village speak Fulfulde and, in fact, my French is better than most peoples.  I am currently learning Fulfulde, as it is completely necessary to even communicate and I do not want to use translators all the time when I do presentations and such. I think I have the basic greetings down. You must greet EVERYONE. You walk down the street and you better greet every single person you see…it is exhausting. Most of the time you greet them and shake their hands.  Although it is fun at first, it really is exhausting, plus you have to keep reapplying hand sanitizer as NO ONE washes their hands…no one.   

I live in a walled in compound with one other family, who lives right next door.  It is only a mother and her two children and they only speak Fulfulde.   I try to communicate the best I can, but it comes down to a lot of silence and then laughter…in that order.  The children spend the day playing with random plastic bottles and medicine bottles that they find laying around. They make mini forts and such…pretty cute.  My garden is currently a disaster and I plan to do some gardening (I know, shocking), however, as it is the Sahel desert, I am not sure how much I will be able to grow. Will definitely be contacting some of the agriculture volunteers in my area. 

I usually wake up between 6 and 7 and make myself a lovely cup of instant Nescafe (PLEASE SEND COFFEE J) and sit on my porch. It is the cold season right now, so I actually have to wear a sweatshirt in the morning…it is lovely.  It is quite amusing as most Cameroonians walk around in down jackets, complaining about how cold it is…part of every greeting is “How is the cold?” I can’t tell if it is actually cold or I have just turned slightly Cameroonian and am a huge baby. I do think about you Wisconsinites with snow and such and laugh a little. By midday the sun is shining brightly and it gets to about 85 I would guess.  It is very, very dry and the wind is quite strong, so my lips are chapped constantly and I have a horrid cold. The dust is also EXTREME. The last two mornings I have woken up and there is an eerie fog in the air—so much so that I can hardly see the surrounding mountains. During the nights, the wind picks up all the dust and sand and it fills the air--Pretty remarkable.  However, I would take this weather over the 140-degree weather that will be coming in March.

The first three months in village Peace Corps Volunteers are not supposed to start projects. This is solely a time to introduce yourself to the community and of course, understand your community.  This involves meeting important people in village (local chiefs, pastors, heads of the Mosque…etc), meeting with various groups, going to the market learning the language (never thought I would be relieved to speak French with someone!), attending special celebrations in town and of course just sitting and watching people and asking them questions. Although to some, this “three-month” rule may seem silly, as there are obviously many issues to address, I think it is necessary in order to really get to the root of any health problems that are happening locally and understand the WHY of the problem. There are many complications that are involved with any problem that I can only come to discover through an in depth analysis and by being integrated into the community.  People have to trust me and also, I have to trust them!  There are many wells within the community that were built by the Germans, however most of them are not functional and the community has no means to fix them. Lack of water is a large issue in the community,  and although this was a nice thought to build wells, it is exactly what is wrong with development …concrete projects like these are expensive an completely unsustainable if the community is not involved…this is what I am going to TRY (yes, TRY) to do…keep the community involved and HOPEFULLY with the help of everyone in the community do some projects that could possibly last in the future. 

I try to go to the health center every single day.  The health center here is the lowest level of health care facilities in Cameroon but still covers A LOT of surrounding villages (I visited one the other day that took 30 minute to get to…a problem in itself). There are three buildings and I think around 8 nurses…many not trained by the state. All of them are very nice, but think I am a total weirdo for just hanging out.  Currently, the center is a doing a distribution of a flour mixture (flour, soy, sugar and oil) for malnourished children in the area, which has been given by the World Food Program.  Every Tuesday and Wednesday, women and their children from 2 months to 5 years old show up at the center and the children get measured and if they qualify as “malnourished” they will receive the mixture that lasts for 2 weeks—they then have to come back.  I have now helped out with 6 of these days and I couldn’t help but tear up when I saw some of these babies…skinny arms and legs, pot bellies and bulging eyes. So, so sad.  Many of the mothers say “How can we feed our children when we don’t have any money!” And that is where I can come in with education and such.  Looking forward to doing some little presentations on nutrition in the coming weeks. The women can listen while they wait.

I also have been travelling to other villages that the health center covers. These villages are so beautiful and much smaller than Godola itself.  None of them have electricity and most are quite a ways from the road. They are quiet and very inviting and I love it. Usually, a group of men, women and children gather when I arrive and we sit under a large tree and I introduce myself and the reason a strange white person is in their village and make everyone introduce themselves. Of course I need Mairamou (my counterpart) to translate all of what I am saying into Fulfulde. She gets Peace Corps and its ways and is very dynamic, plus she is Cameroonian so she helps me get my points across much more eloquently than I ever could.  I try to let people know I am here for them and am here to work together with them to tackle health problems with education.  I make sure they know that I am NOT a doctor and I do NOT know everything, but also emphasize that I have access to many resources (books, people, internet) that can help us solve problems together.  Some villages seem excited and motivated to work with me, which makes me beam, and others seem to back down a bit after they understand that I am NOT there to just hand out money, which so many white people have done in the past. 

I had a meeting the other day with the primary school and I think that, together, we are going to start a Health Club at the school.  They keep looking at me to figure out how to do this and I know I should know, but, honestly, I have NO IDEA!  Ha! This health club idea is great though because hopefully the teachers and I can transmit some knowledge to them and they can then tell their families and other students at school…it is much better than some white girl with red hair telling everyone to wash their hands or sleep with a mosquito net.  There is a large holiday here that is devoted just to kids in Cameroon (La Fete de la Jeunesse) on February 11th. All the kids in school plan something for the day—skits, essay contests, etc..and there is a huge parade. I am going to try to work hard with a group of kids to present some sort of health knowledge to the community.  We will see.

I have taken quite a liking to cooking (yes, shocking again), but if I decide that I want company I can go to anyone’s house for a meal. I usually end up at Mairamou’s house.  Mairamou is my counterpart and is the woman who has been introducing me into the community. We usually have couscous and some sort of sauce. She has children that are pretty adorable and we usually sit outside on the ground or inside her house and watch ridiculous Ethiopian music videos.  By about 7:00 I am exhausted and one of them usually accompanies me home.  However, if I don’t feel like cooking and I don’t really feel like talking to anyone, I can always go close to the street, where women and men sell all sorts of food…they cook meat, omlette sandwiches, beignets and all sorts of other amazing stuff. 
The Meal I cooked, basically by myself :)

Yasi and his little brother Abdou. Before, he wouldn't even look at me and now he follows me around and actually sat in my lap the other day, while I sat in a field talking on the phone for an hour. I am quite fond of him.

Got to love little boy butt cracks

Currently, I have not had the balls to get water yet, so I have asked a little boy to do it for me (it’s hard work!) but I know that I will soon have to do this myself…During the hot season, water becomes extremely scarce, so I am interested to see how this will work.  After the hot season comes the rainy season, this is where malaria starts becoming a problem and cholera becomes a HUGE problem. People just poop wherever they want to, which causes so many issues. ARGH…lots of work to be done there.

My house had an infestation of bats…Hundreds of them. So, I finally told my landlord who told me he would send someone over. At first, a man and a boy show up. The boy climbed up into my roof with a broom and started chasing them out. So, hundreds of bats were flying out of my roof, however, they kept coming back in. So, another boy climbed up there and both of them started chasing them out…long story short 5 boys were crawling around in my roof. Eventually they realized this was not working, so the technician came back with some metal poles and told them to kill all bats.  I sat outside as I heard large “WHACKs” coming from inside and lots of clamoring around. Finally, the boys climbed down, smiling and looking quite pleased with them selves. They told me they were done…I asked where the bats were…they pointed to the ceiling…they had left all the dead bats up there!!! I was silent and handed them a bucket and pointed to the ceiling…they came down with 4 buckets full of dead bats. Yes, the animal lover in me felt horrid…however, sleeping is very important to me and breathing in bat guano is NOT so great for your health. Hopefully, there are no more bats, but I do believe I heard some last night…

The volunteer, Paul who lived here for about a year before me left a Frisbee. I thought this would be a perfect way to bond with the youth of my community. Unfortunately, it has become quite the obsession. The first day I took it out, I was playing with 3 boys, who were getting kick out of it. Suddenly, I looked up and about 100 little kids were standing around. Then the screaming began “FADILA!!!” and the fighting and the crying and soon a little boy was pushed down by a little girl of no more than 4 years old and I grabbed the Frisbee and walked home…that was it for me! 

Anyway, overall I would say that I am pretty content. If I wrote everything cool, frustrating, silly, fun, ridiculous, and aggravating that happens to me on a daily basis this already ridiculously long blog would be pages.  Like all previous volunteers say, it truly is a roller coaster ever single day. One minute you will be on such a high and the next you will be asking yourself why you are here. It is a super crazy, whacked out roller coaster J  The people are great for the most part, the goats, cows and sheep are always amusing and I do love the lizards even though they poop all over my house. 

Sorry for the rambling post…next time I will try to be  more organized . Hope that everyone is doing well and there New Year is starting off just fabulously!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Being Extreme in the Extreme North

Dear All,

I know that I have been a HORRID blogger these last three months, but I do have a good excuse...internet sucks and time is always an issue. Anyway, on Thursday, we officially swore in and I am now an official Peace Corps Volunteer.  The US ambassador came and gave some speeches and so did our host families. Thursday night we all had quite the party--lots of drinking and dancing. It was very fun, but I felt like crap on Friday morning. We left on Friday to go up North...17 of us in all. Saying goodbye to all of the amazing people I have spent every single day with for the last 11 weeks was far from easy. Being the total emotional freak I am, I cried for about 2 hours on the bus.  The 13 hour train ride was uneventful, but I woke up absolutely freezing! It was wonderful. It is so nice to be in an area without humidity...thank the lord. Waking up was quite a shock..bye bye greenery and hello dust and sand.  My favorite part of the train is at every stop people come to the windows selling all sorts of things..honey, mandarines, bananas and other amazing deliciousnesses.

I will be in Maroua (Regional Capital of the Extreme North) for a few days, getting some supplies and trying to contact my counterpart, whose phone has been off...ugh. Hopefully I don't have to just show up in my village alone! Going to try to get a refrigerator and a bed, but still have no clue how I am going to get all my crap to village.  Cannot believe I am starting this new adventure for 2 years...HOLY COW. I think about every  minute "Am I even qualified to do this?!?!?" We are not suppose to start any projects these next three months--just have to integrate myself into the community and learn local languages and such...this means lots of sitting on my butt. I guess I can use this time to lose my training weight and get back into shape :)  After three months we all come back together in the West for some additional training. Should be interesting.

Anyway, I will write again soon...Hope all is going well with everyone else. ALL MY LOVE!!!!! xoxoxo

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Staging-Basically a time to ask ourselves, "Do we really want to do this?"

Hello All,

Yesterday marked my transition from being a Peace Corps Invitee to an official Peace Corps Trainee (PCT).  I met our 44 person training class and we had our incredibly long, but very useful session that really went over expectations and goals of PC, along with, just as important, our own goals for this experience.  The three main goals of PC that have been used since the PC was started in 1961 are as follows:  1. Helping people of interested countries in meeting their needs for trained men and women 2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served 3. Helping promote a better understanding of the peoples on the part of Americans.  I know that is corny, but a nice reminder as to why I was inspired to serve in the first place!  We talked a lot about our anxieties and our aspirations...It was cool to see how we all had many in common--I'm not just a freak. Currently, I am just anxious about carrying my 76 pound bags out to the bus and where to store my dirty clothes!

After training last night, we all went to the Hard Rock Cafe and had a little celebration for one of the group members' birthday. Had a HUGE mushroom swiss burger and an AMAZING long island ice tea. We then walked in a massive group to a bar and of course, I had to have a PBR and a whiskey shot. Oh, how I will miss that :)

I am currently in JFK, waiting to fly to Brussels, Belgium and then onto Cameroon. This means that I won't have contact for quite some time, I, I think it will be nice to be cut off for a little bit and really start the experience right. I already feel that our group is a family, even though I still have the awkward, "what's your name again?" after they told me half an hour before.  I began talking about poop today with someone, so I knew we had a special bond already :)  I remember feeling the same way during my time in Madagascar. This is an intense experience for everyone and we are all in it together.

After spending a couple nights in the capital city (I will buy a cell phone there and get the rest of my shots...eek) we are heading to Bafia, a small city to the north. Here, we will be placed with home stay families and really begin the intense training process on the way to becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer!  Learning French will be difficult, but I can't wait. I really want to put myself out there and just go for it.

Anyway, off to sync my ipod and such. Miss everyone already--this will be tough!

Much Love,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Phinally in Philly

I made it to Philly yesterday safe and sound. Saying good-bye to my parents was ridiculously hard, but I know they are extremely happy I am out of the house...finally!

I arrived here and had a sinking feeling in my do I make friends? Did I pack the right stuff? What the hell am I doing?!?! I was just about to go to the hotel bar and drown my sorrows in a very strong, dirty martini, when I saw a group of people that looked my age, carrying huge backpacks and introducing themselves. So, I grew some cajones, and went up and introduced myself.  The first person I met, who would have thunk it, was a guy from Madison (went to Memorial, ick) who had been working Milwaukee for quite sometime-What a small world :)

A group of 6 of us went out for pizza and beer downtown and then we came back to my room and chitchatted.  I think we are going to go do some touristy stuff this morning and then we have orientation starting at 12....since we are now government employees, we have a ton of paperwork to fill out (of course) so that should be a good time.  Everyone seems very nice and we all are in a similar boat, thank goodness! I was happy to hear that lots of people don't know French...phew!

I still have sinking feelings when I wake up and about every 10 minutes, missing everyone-including Daisy :(  Hopefully, I will be so busy soon that I won't have time to even think.

We are off to New York tomorrow via bus and then leave for Cameroon at 6:30 pm...Can't believe I am finally going back to Africa!!!!