Tuesday, January 5, 2010

5 Months Later: Still Alive and Kickin'

Even I feel a little bad letting five months go by and not posting anything. But again, as I've said in earlier posts, living in Cameroon has slowly but surely just because "life as usual" for me and things that would have seemed worthy of a blog post 12 months ago don't seem that way anymore. Sorry about that, because I know a lot of you enjoy reading this. So now that I've actually done some traveling and have some stories to tell you, I hope you'll all stop threatening me via phone/email/Facebook. And in a related story, I really need to compliment the fine ladies of the Carpluk clan. Yall can guilt trip like none other. Without further ado, here's a few stories for you:

So for the holidays this year, I decided I would do some traveling. I've lived in the West province for my entire 19 months in Cameroon. I was trained in Bangangte and eventually moved to Babadjou. I've also visited the Northwest and Southwest provinces, as I live right near the borders. I have also seen the Central and the Littoral provinces because we have Peace Corps offices and hold seminars in those regions. So as of December 2010, I had seen 5 of the 10 provinces. My original plan for the holidays was to see the East, the Adamoua, the North, and the Extreme North provinces. That isn't exactly what ended up happening, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. I left Babadjou after finishing with classes the week before Christmas and spent a night there before leaving for the East. I was really excited to get out there because three of my closest friends live in that province and I rarely get to see them. However, my time in Yaounde had me a little less excited about heading up north after the East. I started to think about the following things 1) It's like 2 days of NON-STOP travel to make it all the way to the Extreme North 2) This is the coolest season of the year, but its still going to be near 100 degrees 3) There was going to be very limited sleeping room since about 40 other volunteers were traveling north to celebrate New Years up there. Anyway, when I left the Peace Corps offices I was contemplating just skipping the northward part of my journey but I decided that if my friends out east wanted to go, I'd go with them.

I left Yaounde for Bertoua (the capital of the East Province) on Sunday and overall it was a comfortable ride. I had to wait three hours for the bus to leave but once it did the roads were mostly paved and I arrived before dark. I met up with two girls, leaving that night to make the trip up north, and my friends Joe and Trevor, who were traveling with me the next day. We had drinks and dinner and all around a nice night.*

The next day Joe, Trevor, and I got on what is affectionately known as a "prison bus." It basically looks like half of a school bus, painted blue, but with no glass windows, just bars. Honestly, it's just about the worst way you could possibly imagine to travel along dirt roads in the dustiest time of year. If you don't have something to cover your mouth/face with then you're gonna feel like a coal miner at the end of the day. We took this loathsome automobile to our friend Nik's post (I have no idea how to spell it, but I'll make ONE attempt here: Nguelemandouka. Phonetically: Gal-uh-man-dook-uh).

The roads to the Dooks are nothing like they are to Bertoua. They are completely unpaved and completely horrifying. For the first leg of the trip (80 km) I was in the backseat eating dirt and losing the feeling in my legs. Being in the back sucks because you're crammed in a row built for 4 with 6 other people and there's just a constant fog of dust flowing through the open windows. After we stopped off for a short break, Trevor kindly switched places with me and I rode up in the cabin with Joe for the last 45 km. Whatever I gained in physical comfort, I lost in mental quiescence. I cannot tell you how terrifying it was sitting in that front seat for that last 40k. The first leg of the trip, you're essentially on a two lane road, as crappy of a road as it may be. For the last leg, you're riding a bus on a bike path. And a twisty bike path at that. There are times when the bus is moving down a hill into a blind curve and the ONLY THING thats keeping you alive is that there's nothing on the other side of that bend. Because at the speed you're going down the hill you're taking on the roads you're driving there is just literally no way to stop the bus fast enough to avoid a head-on collision if another car is coming. I know it sounds like I'm probably exaggerating. But truly I am not. This conversation occurred between me and Joe in the front seat at about the halfway point of the second leg (and keep in mind Joe is one of the toughest kids I know):

Me: So... These roads are pretty insane, huh?
Joe: Yeah, I was just thinking that.
Me: It's like there's nothing to do but hope that there's no other car on the road.
Joe: Really, it's best not to think about it because...

And at this point the road got even narrower and Joe just cut off in mid-sentence as we both glared wide-eyed out the windshield and didn't say another word for about 10 minutes until the driving got a little less stressful. Afterwords we both laughed at how we were both simultaneously overcome with the freakish dangerousness of the trip we were taking. I'll tell you this now, I love Nik and I had a FANTASTIC time at his village but I will likely never go out there again for fear of having to make that drive.

Anyway, onto the Dooks. If you know Nik at all you won't be surprised to hear that Nik knows everyone in his village well and he's basically a grand there. Everywhere we'd go Nik would have more people to introduce us to and invite us over to eat at one time or another. It was a great time. Nik's post is a lot like mine in that it lacks a lot of the amenities (no running water, no consistent electricity, etc) but I have to say that I would not have been able to entertain 3 guests for 5 days as well as Nik did during our time there. It was a real blast. There are a lot of stories to tell but here are the highlights:

1) I ate vers blancs, or as most of you know them, grubs. Really not as bad as you'd think. but also not particularly good. I'm glad I tried them, but I doubt I'll ever have a grub craving. The one I ate was cooked well and was crunch and spicy. I chose not to eat one of the larger (read: HUMONGOUS) ones, though a Cameroonian told me that the big ones are just like chewing gum. Yum.
2) I learned to open a beer bottle with my teeth.
3) If you hand we a well-cooked chicken, I can now eat the entire animal. Bones and all. Gotta credit Joe for talking me into trying this one, but the bones are actually really easy to get into and the marrow is surprisingly delicious.
4) Some village children showed me how to hold an extinguished, but still smoldering, match in my mouth with my teeth and make my mouth glow like a jack-o-lantern. This is actually really cool looking and I can't wait to get drunk and injure myself trying this one at a bar back home.

Christmas was really great. We woke up and the four of us exchanged gifts and drank Irish coffee and palm wine and just had a really nice morning taking it easy and celebrating with Nik's neighbors. I'd glad that my last Christmas in Cameroon was spent with good friends in a great village. I'll look back happily on my noel at the Dook's for years to come.

After Christmas we were supposed to catch the train up to the North but we all decided we didn't want to deal with the travel (or spend any more money than we already had... Good God did I spend a lot of cash this vacation). So we just spent a couple extra days in Bertoua (again, the capital and main city in the East). Ate some good food, drank some good beer, and just took it easy for the last half of the vacation. It was a blast and I'm really glad I got to get out there. I might try to go see Joe and Trevor's posts out in April, we'll see.

I hope this post was substantial enough for everybody. If anything interesting comes up I'll make another post. I'm waiting to hear back from law schools so I'll probably post once I make a decision about where I'll be attending in Fall 2010. I hope everyone had a happy holidays and I miss you all sincerely. I'll be home in just about 5 months and I can't wait to see everybody.

*See me for details on just smoothly the night went


Dad said...

Hey Jim,

Great post, I'm sure those Carpluk gals will be pacified for a while. Your trip to the Dooks sounded like watching the G-Men lately... speeding downhill, totally out of control and relieved that the "trip" (season) is finally over.

Stay well, love,


Dad said...

Oh yeah, I think you said you did not receive this when I sent it over a week or so ago. But, fyi Mommabearabitchasaurus has taken up an exercise regiment recently - watch:


Nura said...

i miss you.