So it has now been two months since I first got to my post. Sorry about that. I suppose I have not been the best blogger so far. In my defense, the Internet has been difficult, lately.
I possibly have not been the best Peace Corps Volunteer either, since I have also already left my post three times since I first got to it. Fortunately for me, traveling over the holidays seems to be pretty standard in Cameroon. Government workers, who are often posted far from home for work, get a month off every year. Those that can afford it often use their month of vacation all at once to see their families for the holidays. So, even though my new town is mostly Muslim, people are not particularly surprised to hear that I’ll be away for a few days for Christmas or New Years – both national holidays.
The first time I left post, however, was not actually for a national holiday, but instead for a cultural festival in Guider. Guider is a small city about halfway in between Garoua and Maroua, but still in the North Region. The trip involved watching some cultural dances and rituals that led into the festival, as well as a visit to the nearby Gorges de Kola – awesome rock formations that are apparently completely covered by water in the wet season.
I spent Christmas in Garoua with other Volunteers. We made a feast in the Peace Corps office on Christmas Eve and read Christmas stories. On Christmas morning we had a white elephant gift exchange followed by an awesome brunch involving homemade Dutch oven bagels.
For New Years I went to Lagdo, another town in the North Region. It is located next to Lake Lagdo, a large man-made (by the Chinese) lake that provides power and fish for most of the region. There are currently three Volunteers posted there, and one of them was nice enough to host all the Volunteers from my training group who are in the North Region in a night of Mexican food and New Years fun.
All this travel has left me a lot more confident about how to get around Cameroon, at least in the Grand North. I have found that even if it is not always easy to get directly from one place to another here, it is just a matter of finding a way to your next turn or intersection, where you can then find a way to the next. This is less complicated than it probably sounds; there aren’t actually that many turns or intersections to deal with. When I leave Garoua to return to my post, it is just a matter of getting on a bus going south toward Ngaoundere, and making sure the bus driver knows at which intersection I’ll be getting off, about halfway along. Then, at that stop, it is simple enough to find a ride going the whole rest of the way along the one road to my post. It is normal for cars and buses to stop along the way from one destination to the next to let people on or off. It is just a matter of planning , as with many things in Cameroon, plenty of buffer time for when things take a little longer than you think they should – as well as excepting cramped quarters and that at least one of your fellow passengers may well be a live chicken.
Just today I got back from Garoua again for a trip to the bank and a regional meeting (and the Internet was down the whole time I was there). On Thursday I made it from my post to the city in record time – about three hours. And half of the trip was even spent in the height of comfort on Cameroonian public transportation: an aisle seat on a big Touristique bus. Today I got lucky again, but the trip back has taken up to seven hours. Delays so far have included waiting for the next bus that is not already full to leave Garoua (I have waited 3 hours at the bus station), waiting for flat tires to be fixed, or just having found myself in an excruciatingly slow-moving minibus crammed between other passengers sitting 5 to a row in rows built for four.