Saturday, June 28, 2008

Don't Be A B*tch About It

Another week in the books and its funny how things are progressing. After the first two or three days here in Bangangté, everyone was talking about how they felt like we’d been here for two or three weeks. Time just seemed to be crawling by. This morning, though, nobody could believe it was already Saturday and that we only have 8 weeks left of training.

PST Status: Nobody has quit or died yet. So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice. I’m really impressed by how tough everyone in the group is. No one’s really shown any signs of cracking. My boy Trevor brought along a dozen beer cozies with him that he made for his Fantasy Baseball league. It started out as an inside joke with him and some friends back home, but written on each of the cozies is what has become our Training Group’s Unofficial Motto: “Don’t Be A B*tch About It.” It’s a bit crass, but when you have to sit through some of our horrific medical sessions (imagine sitting in a room for 2 hours a few times a week, just hearing a laundry list of all the horrible things that are inevitably going to happen to your body) or deal with some of the Roon's everyday hassles, it’s a great mantra. Think you might have worms living in your intestines? Don’t be a b*tch about it. Host family insists on feeding you fish-heads and chicken feet for dinner every night? Don’t be a b*tch about it. Have to sleep with headphones on so you don’t have to hear the mice eating your socks? Don’t be a b*tch about it. You get the idea. One of these days I’m going to have to type up a whole glossary of the lingo we’ve come up with since arriving. Some of it is definitely coming back stateside.

But yeah personally my spirits are high. We had a little med session on mental health and everyone filled out a questionnaire about the things that are getting to us the most about being here. Really, besides the obvious things like missing family and friends, the only thing killing me is that I haven’t played golf in a month. I guess I got lucky because I have a great host family.

The kids are so hilarious because we all have the same since of humor, meaning it’s a houseful of smartasses. Whenever I’m with them and I want to say something but need to look in the Francais-Anglais dictionary, I always make this little clicking noise with my tongue while I search for the word. After doing that for about a week, the kids do it to me whenever I look like I’m thinking about anything. I was sitting playing chess with Jacque the other night, and I paused a half beat extra to think about a move, and I immediately hear six little kids going “TCHK-TCHK-TCHK” in unison and then laugh at me. Punks. That night I specifically ate more at dinner so there’d be less left for them. Kidding. Sort of? But that is kind of an awkward part of my evenings...

Every night I get served with either the mother, the father, or Jacque (depending on who’s home.) The kids kind of hang around in the living room while we eat and then after we’re done they eat the rest. So like every bit I take, I’m taking out of a nine-year-old’s mouth. And as much as I love stealing candy from children, that can rack on a guys conscience a wee bit. To remedy the situation, I’ve sort of just switched my lunch and dinner meal sizes. My big meal of the day is lunch (which I procure and pay for myself). I’ll usually have a big avocado, tomato, and cheese sandwich or a plate of rice, beans, and potatoes. Follow that up with a couple hard boiled eggs and a Coca-Cola and you’ve got yourself a meal. Then I just eat a tiny bit of what the family is having at dinner so there’s more left for the kids. Reading over this it sounds a lot worse than it actually is. I'm not going to bed hungry, Mom.

On a lighter note, the education volunteers find out our posts this Thursday (AKA where we’ll be spending the next two years of our lives). Naturally, I’m insanely excited about it. There are going to be 7 science education volunteers. There are 6 posts in the two Anglophone provinces and 1 in a Francophone province (although still teaching science in English at a bilingual school). I won’t be too upset if I don’t get it, but I'm actually hoping I get the Francophone post. I feel like if I’m going to bust my ass for the next two months learning French, I want to be able to use it. It seems like I’m the only Science Ed volunteer who wants that spot though, so maybe I’ll end up getting it. Frankly either way I’m not too concerned because the Anglophone provinces are extremely beautiful and from what I hear, a bit more developed.

I got my first shirt tailored today. The material cost me 3.000 CFA (roughly $6) and the tailoring cost me 1.500 CFA (about $3). I had enough material for two shirts (deux chemise: basically an oxford or a blouse) but I didn’t feel like having two shirts of the same material, so I’ll probably just use the remainder for an ironing board. You get clothes here made out of material called pagne, which is basically cotton-like material with really bright and wild designs on it. I’ve never really been into prints but hey, when in Rome. The print I got is like dark green, and black, with a little bit of orange. It’s a bit more mellow than your average pagne but I’m going to ease into the style. Eventually I’ll want to get a boubou made. What is a boubou? Think man-dress. Tres GQ. I get to pick the finished shirt up on Wednesday so I’ll probably put up a picture of me in it when I post here about why posting announcement.

Oh yeah, anyone who reads this that’s into golf (Billy, Koon, Dres) needs to check out the book The Match. It’s by the same guy who wrote The Greatest Game Every Played (Mark Frost) and it was a NYT Best Seller. It’s about a Best-Ball match with two of the 1950's best amateurs, Ken Venturi and (Tar Heel) Harvie Ward against legends Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. Mark Frost is an amazing writer and the book is just unbelievable. I read it in about 5 hours, in one sitting (250 pages). I just grabbed The Road by Cormac McCarthy and I should be processing that one for a while. Blood Meridian was so good I decided maybe I was wrong about McCarthy when I didn’t like No Country For Old Men. I’ll let you know what I think of it when I finish.

That’s all for today. Check back Thursday night or Friday to see where I got posted and possibly some pictures of me in my hot new African formal wear.

P.S. – There are no prescriptions here. Any drug you want you can get over the counter. Odds of me developing a Brett-Favrian vicodin addiction? 5:3.

P.P.S. – Danny Green, Ty Lawson, and Wayne Ellington are all coming back. UNC is going to go undefeated next year with an average margin of victory of 25.5 ppg and I’m going to miss every minute of it? Nice.

P.P.P.S. – Hi Mrs. Firth!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cameroon Top 5 Lists+ Pictures

So I was thinking the other night about a few things and I threw these lists together to give you guys a better grasp of what it’s like living here.

Top 5 Things That Will Take Some Getting Used To:

5) Every time I get drink bottled water, its piss warm. But when I take a shower, its Rocky Mountain cold.

4) Taking said showers with tomorrow’s dinner. Pre-beheading.

3) Another Trainee said it best: “All the food is good here, but Cameroon has made me realize how important presentation is to a meal." The other night I was served Plantains in peanut sauce. After closing my eyes and digging in, I LOVED it. But imagine being served a plate of gray, banana-shaped logs served in thick, brown, speckled gravy.

2) French.

1) The Bangangte 06:00 Wake-Up Call – I don’t know where in the town charter it says this, but apparently the local Crowing Roosters, Crying Babies, and Loud Music Bumping unions have organized to have ALL HELL break loose outside my window every morning 10 minutes before dawn. The music and roosters I can live with, but there is this one kid who lives next door and every morning he wakes up screaming like someone is killing him. Frankly its gotten to the point where I’m hoping they just finish the job.

Top 5 Things that I Already Love about Cameroon

5) Sleeping in a mosquito net makes me feel sexy. Sue me.

4) 24 Oz. beers for $1 everyday. 1.5 Oz. Capri Sun-like bags of whiskey for 25 cents. Huge, delicious plates of rice, potatoes, beans, and sauce for 75 cents. And more than anything else: The Bangangte Egg McMuffin: A hard boiled egg with some spicy sauce served in what is essentially a giant doughnut hole with no powdered sugar. How much? 25 cents.

3) Being the only white guy in a market full of 2,000 people. I’m sure this one will get old, but right now whenever I walk around, all the stares just make me feel like a rock star.

2) Cameroonian television – 17 channels of Spanish soap operas with French subtitles. 3 channels of soccer.

1) Pierre’s – Local bar where every night they set up the place especially just for the influx of PCTs after training. Great food, great beer, and a great atmosphere. For you Chapel Hill folks reading this, its like Montys but EVERY NIGHT.

I also uploaded some pictures from last nights festivities. Some of them didn't work, so there's only about 10. I'll try to get some more up next weekend.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wireless internet in Bangangte!?

So yeah, thanks to some help from one of the IT education trainees, a bunch of us were able to figure out how to use our cell phones (essentially) as wireless routers for our laptops for about $1 an hour. Way faster than your average internet cafe and immeasurably more convenient. I'm still going to keep the updates weekly, because I'm not really trying to spend much time on the computer when there's so much to do around here. But this way I can really get on the web just about any time I want/need.

Things are still going well with the host family. We play a lot of card games and I'm still teaching Jacques how to play chess. He's a very quick learner and I'm sure he'll be embarrassing me in no time.

We now have a regularly scheduled pick-up soccer game among the trainees and a few trainers. We played Thursday and it was a blast. Some of the trainees are very good, some very bad (moi), and almost all the trainers are insanely good. Our training director David (much older guy) was absolutely schooling us twenty-somethings out there. The "field" is 100% mud/clay. Not a patch of grass on it, sort of like the field we used to practice football on at RPHS. I wiped out fantastically near the end and got pretty scraped up. I'll undoubtedly have developed gangrene in my left arm and leg by the time you read this post.

Through a bit of lobbying, I was able to get the trainee curfew extended tonight (Until 9 PM! We're insane.) And we're all gonna get together for some drinks and I think a few people are going to cook up some food. So far no one has died, quit, or gotten pregnant. But we've only been in Bangangte for like 10 days so there's plenty of time. If I had to guess which would happen first, I'd go with a pregnancy. You get enough 25 cent sachets of whiskey in you and bad decisions are inevitable.

Oh yeah, I really need to start writing down my dreams too. This malaria medication is well known for giving incredibly vivid dreams and it has been living up to the hype. I had one last night where I had all kinds of bugs living in my skin and I had to pop them out like pimples. Here's to hoping it wasn't a premonition of things to come.

Anyway things are going pretty well, another full week in the books. We do a thirty minute teaching example next week and I think I'm going to do mine on mitosis. I know, they're going to be riveted. I might take some pictures tonight/tomorrow and post them mid week, in which case I'll post a link here. A bientot!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bangangte pictures uploaded on Flickr!

I found an internet cafe that actually communicates with the outside world faster than your average carrier pidgeon (though not much), so I was able to get some pictures uploaded. There may or may not a few candid shots of the voyeur chicken I accidentally showered with. I forget.

Warning: The adorability of certain Cameroonian children may be too potent for some.

check dat ish rite hurr

Monday, June 16, 2008

I am officially Peace Corps

Yeah, it’s official. I’m in the Peace Corps. I realized it yesterday night when I got home from Pierre’s (a local market/bar where the PC trainees get drinks after training sessions) and jumped in the shower. Am I officially in the Peace Corps because I’m bathing out of a bucket? No. Is it because there’s no water heater and I shower in cold water? No. It’s official because halfway through my shower, I noticed there was a chicken and three chicks in the bathroom with me. Let me repeat that. I showered with a chicken. Somewhere between lather and rinse, I hear a “BICKAWWW” from next to the toilet. Lo and behold, there is Mama Hen and three little babies. I just burst out laughing and started to chase them around the bathroom naked like a madman.

So as you’ve clearly noticed, I DO have internet access in Bangangte, even though I thought I wouldn’t. I should be able to update this thing and upload some pictures once a week or so, maybe a little less. But that’s good news. This village is so unbelievable I’ll have a lot to write about.
My host family is fantastic. My dad is an Economics Teacher, my mother sells phone cards, and there are four children that are unbelievably adorable and hilarious. They all love American music (Akon, Beyonce, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown) and they dance to the music DVDs that they have just about every night. My mother’s brother, Jacque, lives with us as well. He’s 20 years old and extremely friendly. Everyone, especially Jacque and Kevin (the oldest child), is patient with my weak French. We played Uno together the other night for like two hours and I’ve started to teach Jacque how to play chess. The latter was extremely difficult considering I know about six French words. Four of which being “Je ne comprende pas.”

Bangangte in general is gorgeous. It’s extremely green and very temperate. From about 11 AM to 2 PM every day it gets very hot but during the night its extremely comfortable. When it rains, the roads turn into EXTREMELY sticky red mud that sticks to your shows like glue. I’ve been paying the kids in candy to clean my shoes on rainy days, as its extremely important culturally to have clean shoes at all times. In fact, all of the Cameroonians dress nicely (think business casual) at all times. In the States, dress is about individual expression. Here, its about respect for others and your community. It’s a bit of a hassle getting ready every morning, but its kind of a nice feeling being well dressed all the time.

So I'll probably be updating this thing on Sundays or Mondays. So check back. Im about to try and upload some pictures but the internet CRAWLS here so I dont know if its going to work. Otherwise, I'll see you Sunday.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

One quick last thing before I leave...

I have my cell phone up and running so if you guys ever want to call or text me while Im here, the number is (011) (237) 79 49 60 06. That includes the US international calling code and then the Cameroonian country code. Its kinda expensive but not too crazy. Especially just for the once-in-a-while text message. Just thought Id give you guys the info because Id love to hear from you. It wont cost me anything if you call me, as all incoming calls are gratis. But if you text itll cost me a bit to text back so dont be offended if I have no credit on my phone and cant hit you back.

Anyway we got our language test results back and apparently Im an Intermediate Low, which is two levels higher than I expected to be and Im a little stressed that the people Im going to be grouped with are going to be moving too quickly for me... I guess we'll see soon enough. Thats all for a while. On va parler en dix semaines.

Uploaded a few pics before Bangangté

So we're not exactly working with blazing fast internet speeds so I can put up all of my pics or even any of them at full resolution, but I set up an account where I'll be throwing up a few snapshots whenever I get the chance. I haven't taken that many pictures of Yaounde because 1) Im an idiot who always forgets his camera 2) We really haven't travelled around Yaounde that much (We're mostly sequestered to the PC Office and our Hotel). The link is right here.

But tomorrow I head out to Bangangte to meet my host family and see the place I'll be living for the next three months. We had a questionnaire about our living preferences (Like electricity, running water, toilets, etc.) and whether or not we'd mind living without them. Most people just put they didnt mind any of it. Me? Not so much. Me (and Trevor and Joe and Nick) were actually honest. We figure we can handle living without those things for three months, but if they're actually going to use the questionnaire to place us, why not try and get them? Screw looking easy to please, I don't want to crap in a hole for three months longer than I have to.

But that said I probably wont have internet access often or at all for the next three months, so I'll be out of commission. But as soon as I get back I'll have a full report on Pre-Service Training as well as a bunch of photos. You stay classy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Settled in in Yaounde!

Well I've been in Yaounde for a few days now (and I'm on a Peace Corps computer so it's actually got a good-old-american-these-colors-dont-run keyboard with like punctuation and such). Of course I've just gotten settled enough in time to leave on Thursday to head out to Bangangte to meet my host family whom I'll be living with for the next 10 weeks. I'm really excited about it, because basically my French can only go up from where it is. I think living with them is going to allow me to immerse and get better at picking up the language.

Anyway the weather here is surprisingly mild. We're in the rainy season which is about 9 months long in Yaounde, and its a bit cooler now. It gets pretty warm in direct sunlight and from around 11:30 AM to like 2:00 PM, but at night its a very comfortable temperature. Bangangte apparently gets down to the 50s at night, which will be great because its a lot easier to sleep in the cool for me.

But anyway as I was saying everyone in my group is very cool (There are 38 of us all together). There are about 6 or 8 of us who get along very well so I'm having a lot of fun and not feeling too homesick just yet. We're still a bit sheltered here in Yaounde, and things will probably be a bit more wild in Bangangte, but since I've made some friends I think I'll be able to tought it out.

But anyway: To answer a few questions:

1) Chris - Yes the keyboard does have a cidella(?) as well as a bunch of little like pictograms for Pidgin (like fishes and suns and sech)

2) Billy - No "i surrender" button but the "Esc" button takes up half of the keyboard.

3) Ellen - See you next tuesday :)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Here in Cameroon

This French keyboard is really bizarre so forgive the grammar and punctuation in this post. Im gonna keep it short and sweet and with a bit of luck I'll post more info and some pictures later in the week. Just wanted everyone to know that Im here in Cameroon and all safe and sound. I cant even get exclamation points on this thing, haha

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Last full day in the States

Staging so far has been a blast. Well, I suppose thats not true. The actual Peace Corps staging sessions and all that has been kind of boring. Standard seminar crap (icebreakers, group posters, etc.). But meeting everyone else headed to Cameroon has been great. There's 36 of us going and everyone is really enthusiastic about leaving and extremely friendly. Just about all of us took over a bar a few blocks from the hotel last night and got to know each other. After meeting them all I'm even more excited about training because I know that worst comes to worst I'll at least be around a bunch of friends.

Tomorrow morning we go to the clinic and get a bunch of shots and such before flying to Paris at 6:45. That's a 7 hour flight, followed by a 2 hour lay over in gai Paris, followed by another 7 hour flight to Douala(doo-all-ah), Cameroon. That's when things get kinda hectic. We take a 50 minute flight from Douala to Yaounde (yah-oon-day)which I can only imagine should be an interesting one. We're in Yaounde for like 5 days before heading to Bangangte (bon-gone-tay) for the next 10 weeks.

Well anyway, I think most of us are just going to take it easy tonight and watch the Laker game. The next few days are going to be very exciting and undoubtedly tiring so I should probably just rest up tonight. I've got a cold and I'm hoping to kill it by Saturday morning, cross your fingers.