18 November 2009

The Post in Which I Discuss my Site Visit and Other Various Happenings of the Previous Weeks

Last Saturday I returned to Bangangte, which means “The Town Name Constantly Misspelled” in Medumba, after spending a week at my site. Well, actually I didn’t spend a week at my post in Bamena, but I circled around the town for seven days before spending all of two hours in the town itself. First, I spent three days in Bazou with David and Caitlin Hansen. I’m sort of replacing David as the local agroforestry volunteer, although my post is moving 20km down the road so that I can be closer to APADER. Then, I spent the next three days in Bangouwa, about 4k on a dirt road from my village, with my host-country counterpart Cinquante. Yes, his name is Fifty. If I were a real-estate agent in the States trying do describe his house, I would probably call it a "quaint, charming fixer-upper, with well-matched floor [dirt] and wall [mud brick] motifs and a lively atmosphere [chickens and mice inside, with the occasional goat making an appearance.]" The only thing that managed to wear thin on me were the baby chicks under the bed when I was trying to sleep, though.  As Cinquante is a divorceé and as females do ALL of the cooking here, the cuisine was a little lacking… boiled yams with a side of boiled yams for dinner two nights in a row. Cinquante does have a very picturesque tree nursery though. Take a peek…


His business is mainly selling grafts and marcots of improved varieties of fruit trees. The nursery that he’s organized is actually a cooperative that he runs with his neighbors, including a few women, which is fairly unusual for here. His grafts have about an 80% success rate, depending on the species, whereas of the fifteen grafts that we volunteers did, one took. Haha. I worked with him one day potting on two hundred avocado plants to be used as grafting stocks, which was fun.

On the last day of my site visit, I finally got to visit my house, and it’s pretty nice. It’s on top of a mountain, so there are excellent views. I really wanted to take pictures, but it has been too cloudy the days I’ve been there. Being on top of a mountain also means that water isn’t pumped up that high, though, so there’s no running water. I do have electricity. Also, being at the top of a mountain means that my bike ride from Bangangte SUCKS. I did it yesterday, and I had to pull over no less than three times to cough and wheeze. The total elevation gain is about 300m over 10km, and it’s pretty much uninterrupted ascent. Luckily, the road is paved the whole way. The ride back to Bangangte is FUN!


So that’s my house, with my neighbor/landlord Mr. La Maire, who, despite his moniker, isn’t the mayor as far as I can tell. Strangely, I have a flush toilet to go with my no running water, so if I want to flush, I have to pour two gallons of water in the tank.. I think I’ll just be using the latrine. The bathtub under the gutter is my rainwater collection system and mosquito hatchery. Since I’m the first volunteer to live in the house, it is completely empty. The only thing in the whole house is a four-foot-tall picture of the guy that died in the house last year. His bedroom is sealed off, but I also have four other bedrooms. One of the bedrooms is going to become my "cuisine moderne” though, since the current kitchen is a fire in an out-building.

One of the best features of the house is the little garden out front…


Right now, my landlord has maize and taro planted, but he said I could plant it however I wanted. In the foreground of the picture is one of my two avocado trees. Behind it are my four banana trees, and then to the left is my mango tree. Not a bad assortment of fruit trees, I must say.

I don’t really feel like writing much else, but I’ll put up some more pictures…





A very old papaya tree… normally one prunes a tree before it gets this big because it’s impossible to harvest the fruits when they’re this big.








The one even marginal picture that I’ve been able to take of a hornbill, and it turns its head just before I take the picture so that you can’t see its horned bill. Blast.






Me and a farming community group, having just constructed a composting pit behind their piggery, which is a word in Cameroonian English.


Something really creepy that my 3-year-old host sister handed me.

A bientôt!

01 November 2009

Post Assignment and Other Ramblings



(EDIT: I deleted some pictures from this post and made others smaller because the internet is VERY slow today.)

Yesterday, we received our post assignments, and we’re all leaving for our post visits on Sunday. We’re all anxiously wondering what their village will be like, but not me! My post assignment is in Bamena, the very same village in which they handed out the assignments, and about 15km from Bangante, the town that I’m currently in.  (If you notice that there is a theme in Cameroon of town names beginning in “Ba”, that’s because Ba means “the people of” in most of the over 100 Bantu languages spoken here.) Even though I won’t be traveling very far, I’m still very excited about my post and I’m happy to be staying in the Western highlands. Above is a rather mediocre picture of an great vista in Bamena.My camera has the inexplicable ability to make the most striking landscapes flat and boring (see the photo of Bamena above), but trust me that the mountains are absolutely beautiful here. Bamena is at an elevation of around 3500ft., and it can get downright cold up in the hills. 

I’m also really excited about the work that I’m going to be doing. My host-country counterpart works for APADER, the NGO that I blogged about effusively in a previous post. I’m probably going to work there at least three days a week. My tasks will probably include nursery management, teaching classes on grafting and marcotting, apiculture, and designing and executing experimental plots to test various cropping systems. I really could not be happier about the work that I’m going to be doing, as I will be learning so much during my tenure there. I will report back more details and I will have a lot more pictures to post of my site when I return from site visit next Saturday.

In other news, we were issued our Peace Corps bikes last weekend! Here’s a picture of mine.  Ain’t she a beaut!? Eucalyptus frame and fork, with all-mahogany wheels and a coat-hangerSDC10415 kickstand. Built entirely by hand, as well. My bike mechanic was considering building me a fixed-gear bike, but he decided (and I agree completely) that pedaling is for poseurs, so he did me one better and completely removed the entire power train! Take that, hipsters! Okay, so I’m lying. The above bike actually belongs to a middle-aged man in Bamena, who is inconceivably adroit at riding it downhill, although I don’t know what he does going up. My bike is a Trek 4000 steel-frame mountain bike with a hard fork and a new set of wheels. It’s nothing special, but it’s a workhorse, and it’s certainly quite nicer than any of the other bikes I’ve seen around here. It turns out that three of the volunteers in the area are bike mechanics (actually, two of them from Portland), so they fixed them up real nice-like for us, although mine still has some derailleur issues. We went on a nice, leisurely ride as a group last Saturday which was actually a little embarrassing. Some background… The week previous, the health volunteers were issued their bikes and they went on the same ride, which involves going on some pretty rough dirt roads. Apparently, they didn’t handle it so well, with four or five of them falling off their bikes multiple times. One volunteer actually fell off her bike and punctured her (very) inner thigh on her brake lever (don’t ask me how someone ends up with their brake lever in their crotch). Anyway, the wound was pretty severe, with adipose tissue oozing out and such, and she had to be rushed to the hospital for stitches. So as a precaution, the Peace Corps arranged for us to have a vehicle escort for our bike ride. SO we were the ten blancs riding single-file with our helmets on while a truck emblazoned with American flags followed close behind us at 5-15km/hr. Hahaha. I’m happy to report that the agro volunteers had a 0% mortality rate. I went on a pretty grueling ride the next day, but I haven’t had a chance to ride since. The hills around here are killer, so I’ll be returning to the States a pretty strong cyclist.

I finally got around to taking some pictures at the market the other day, which I think you’ll enjoy. There were a lot of great shots to be had, but people will demand money to take their picture (one woman wanted the equivalent of $20!), so a lot of the best pictures went untaken. Mom and Dad, do NOT show Grandma the picture of the butcher stall.


The market takes place every Wednesday and Saturday, and you can find a surprising assortment of vegetables here, owing to the very temperate climate of the highlands. I’ve found: carrots, cabbage, celery, tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, chiles, potatoes and leeks, in addition to all the tropical staples you’d expect to find.SDC10407 Below is a picture of the stall of a really kind woman who had all sorts of goodies for sale, and from whom I purchased carrots to make a spring vegetable soup (it was delicious.) To the right is my friend Andrea, who is off to the deep lowland rainforest of the South provence.

You can also find all SORTS of meat, including rats (dried or fresh), cane rat (which is like a GIANT guinea pig and is supposedly quite good), beef, fish of all kinds, goats, rabbits, chickens, and occasionally turkeys. Every organ of every animal is for sale without exception, and it can be a little gross to see a hundred flies buzzing SDC10406on a big pile of cow intestine, but you’ve just got to grin and bear it (and cook your meat to well-done). The beef butcher area pictured to the right is actually one of the cleaner areas. I bought beef from this guy last week when I made chili for my family (send more chili powder and cinnamon if you love me.) Anyway, the occasion for this visit to the market was that I cooked my family some banana-chocolate pancakes, which were a big hit for me, but too sweet for the Cameroonian palette.

Anyway, to end this post, I wanted to tell you guys about a really sweet field trip that we took last Friday. We went to the village of Batie, a little outside of Bafoussam, where we visited three different farms. The first farm was a fish farm in a valley, where they had a very cool setup. They had a hatchery, where they hatched and sold little fish to other fish farmers, and they also had a few fish ponds that were fed with manure from a pig house on the side of the pond. I think the idea was that the pig manure fed the algae that the catfish then fed on, or maybe the catfish ate the manure directly. I’m not sure, but whichever way it was, it was a neat waste-free system. We also learned how to artificially inseminate fish eggs. It’s really cool, but a little brutal. You inject the female with hormones the day before you want to harvest her eggs, and then the next day she’s chock full of them… around 3,000. Then you surgically remove most of the testes from the male fish (but not all, because they grow back if you leave a bit in), and you squeeze the sperm out. Mix with the eggs in a weak acid solution, and gestate in a warm water bath. The fries hatch in one to two days. I’m sad that I forgot to bring my camera along, mais on va faire comment?

  The next place we visited was the farm pictured above, where the focus was on apiculture and “piggery”, as they call it in Cameroonian English. The farmer really had a nice farm going on, and he had obviously become very wealthy from his very small farm, as evidenced by his beautiful new house and quite a few pigs. He had an absolutely beautiful pruniere, or African plum tree, that was very old and well-pruned (eech… I tried to avoid the pun, but I couldn’t), so that it branched out in a dome with perhaps a 30 foot diameter. Unfortunately, all the pictures I took of it failed to do it justice. It was cool to see his hives, although his hive construction and management practices were severely problematic by my estimation. Here’s a picture of him next to an empty hive, holding a jar of bee attractant. The sugary solution certainly attracted a lot of bees, but they were all from his established hives, I think, and the solution did little to help his hive get colonized. It’s a clever idea, though. And everyone loves a picture of some cute pigs…


The last place we visited on our tour was a medicinal plant demonstration garden which was in the back yard of the village chief’s house. It was run by a local women’s GIC (community interest group), and I was very happy to make some contacts there, as I would love to work with medicinal plants at my post. I was surprised to find that many/most of the species that they are growing were ones that I recognized from the States: wormwood, valerian, bee balm, lemon verbena, coneflower, dandelion, mugwort, lemongrass, mint, and chamomile, to name a few. To finish the trip, we had lunch at the chief’s house, which was a traditional two-story mud structure, and we headed back to Bangante.

That’s all for now! Check back next week when I’ll post pictures of my site visit and my house.