Sorry about the lack of posts as of late. I’ve found it hard to get to use the internet. You’ll notice that there’s another post right below this one that I composed a long time ago, but which I never posted… until now. That post is far more interesting.
The time between Thanksgiving and swearing-in was a blur of activity, but we made it! Agro volunteers are still fifteen for fifteen through all of training, and don’t we look good…
There was typhoid, there was malaria, there were intestinal worms, there were chiggers, there was amoebic dysentery, there were grave puncture wounds from bikes, but we kicked ass and took copious notes. And here’s the health volunteers. I don’t mean to be separatist about it, but my big group picture came out blurry.
So we swore in as Peace Corps volunteers. There were dignitaries. There were photo-ops. There were certificates, oh my were there certificates. There were speeches courageously given in French, Fulfulde and Pidgin. We then showed our appreciation for certain members of the community with certificates, and then some other people received some certificates. Then the ambassador administered the oath of office, and we took more pictures. Then BUFFET TIME!!!
There’s me with Madame la Ambassatrice la Honorée Janette Garvey and my host family, sans Carole, who had to be in school. There isn’t really very much to be said about the whole process; it was just like a graduation or some other ceremony, except with loud Cameroonian and eighties American pop music playing over the PA system. My chef was there, and he might of gotten best-dressed with his three-piece tweed suit and matching tweed fedora. After the ceremony, I rushed home to pack, and then rushed to the party that we had at Hotel Djenne, the third nicest hotel in Bangangté. At 7 the next morning we all went our separate ways.
I arrived at my post that night, after making a trip to Bafoussam to go to the bank, buy a non-stick pan and olive oil, and eat French fries with mayo. When I arrived at my house, the dead guy’s picture was taken down from the wall, which just made the house even more empty. I lied before when I said there was nothing in my house… it turns out that there are seven raffia bamboo beds, although my mattress is too large for all of them, so it makes a U-shape on the frame. I turned one room into my kitchen by putting my stove in there, but my living room is still completely empty. The Peace Corps has, I should say, up until this point kept us quite adequately monied, but the move-in allowance that I received was wholly inadequate for opening a post and furnishing a house. With the money, I bought a kitchen counter and cabinet (on order at the menusierie), a mattress, a gas stove and tank, a voltage regulator, some small sundries, and a bamboo dresser, and this put me 35% over budget. I’ll stop griping, but if anyone wants to send me a couch or even just a loveseat via airmail, it would be greatly appreciated. Until then, no sitting allowed at my house.
Despite the lack of furnishings, I’m settling quite nicely into my house. I have a west-facing porch, so I can catch the evening sun, filtered through the leaves of the banana grove, and read on my front porch until dusk. I just finished reading Dune, which I can highly recommend. Speaking of Dune, my water situation is better than I had expected. That there to the right is my well, which is only about seven or eight hundred feet from my house. It was much to my embarrassment that I couldn’t figure out how to use my well at first. Every time I lowered the bucket, it would float on the surface of the water and not draw any. I tried loading a bunch of rocks to one side of my bucket, which did tilt the bucket so that it would take on water, but when I hoisted it, it stayed tilted and all the water ran out. Then I struck upon the idea of putting a few heavy rocks in the bottom of my bucket and dropping it from a significant height. This indeed did work once, but on my second attempt the weight of the rocks smashed through the bottom of my bucket upon impact with the water. Dismayed and a bucket down, I consulted Zara, Kim, Kareen, and other friends via telephone, hoping someone would have an insight so that I wouldn’t a) die of thirst or, worse, b) have to ask my neighbor to explain to me how to use a well, on par with the wheel and fire as one of the simplest technologies mastered by primitive man. Unfortunately, nobody had any answers. The next day though, when I was trying some various other methods that were equally ineffectual, my neigbor came across me and was quite kind in assisting me. You tie a rock on a string to one side of the bucket to get the bucket to tilt into the water, and then when you pull it up, it hangs agreeably to the side. Genius!
I went on a very sporting bike ride the other day to visit Bangou, a town about 7km away where the closest volunteer lives. I very stupidly forgot to do my Peace Corps Bicycle Repair Manual-recommended pre-ride inspection, which ended in disaster. Having transported my bike to Bamena via taxi, I had removed the wheels. When I re-mounted them, I forgot to re-engage the brakes. So I jumped on my bike and started coasting down the hill outside my house, seen here from different directions. It was only when I reached unsafe speeds that I realized that I did not have the ability to regulate my speed. I hesitated for a few seconds, but then decided that my only course of action was to jump off my bike, which I did, skinning my knee in the process. The rest of the ride was gorgeous, though. Bangou looks out over this very imposing mountain, Mount Bangou, actually. I’m very excited to climb it, as Kareen, the volunteer, tells me that it gives wonderful views of the entire department. I tried to take pictures, but the dusty haze of the dry season foiled my efforts. Here are some other pictures I took recently, though:
This is the eucalyptus plantation that is on the ridge by my house. Eucalyptus poses pretty grave environmental problems for Cameroon for two reasons: a) Eucalyptus secretes poisons into the soil to discourage competition and b) one eucalyptus tree, depending on the size, consumes eleven liters of water a day, and a eucalyptus plantation can dramatically lower the water table of an area. The plantation pictured here isn’t too offensive; it’s at the top of a mountain, away from arable land and any wells. One area that my host NGO is working in is alternative fast-, straight-growing timber trees such as grevillia robusta that don’t have these drawbacks.
Here is the valley that is at the base of the hill I live on. I took this picture while on my way to the market yesterday, which occurs very confusingly every eight days. I discovered yesterday that I live pretty far out from the center of town, about 45 minutes by foot. I think I’ve probably posted enough landscape pictures that you guys have a pretty good idea of what the West looks like, so I’ll stop posting them unless there’s something particularly compelling.
While I was at the market, I met a rather loud-mouthed but well-meaning carpenter cum tree nursery manager who was eager to show me his farms, and I was happy to make his acquaintance. I have no shortage of people who want to be my friend here, and I find that number climbing even higher after I buy my first friend a beer. Everybody wants me to bring a tractor to Bamena which, while completely unrealistic, at least isn’t as unrealistic as the guy in Bangangté who wanted me to build a hydroelectric dam.
I’m certainly happy to be at post, but it is definitely a little lonely compared to training, when I had 31 other Americans and Cameroonians who spoke great English to talk to. I’ve been writing a lot of letters which I’m going to drop into the post on Monday. Also, I’m going to open up a new post office box in Bangangté next week (for LETTERS ONLY, no packages), so stay tuned for my new address. What a predicament that now that I have all this time to write new blog posts and letters and such, I have so much less to talk about, as my life has slowed down considerably since arriving at post. Note, though, that I’m NOT complaining about the last point.
In upcoming weeks: a mini lesson in Pidjin English (mostly the few funny words I’ve picked up), some info on Cameroonian cuisine (think starch and oil), maybe some pictures of my new village friends and haunts, and who knows what else…
Wish you were here!