The 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps in Cameroon

The 50th anniversary celebration was on Wednesday – and was also our Swearing In Ceremony! It was kind of a big deal.

Normally the swearing in ceremonies are held in the same town as training, and all the host families are invited. Instead ours was at the Palais de Congres in Yaounde, with the Prime Minister of Cameroon as the guest of honor, and a fair afterward that was kicked off by the First Lady.

So Wednesday morning all of the trainees had to be on the busses in Bafia, ready to go, along with one member of our host families each that we could invite to the ceremony, by 6:00 a.m. We had to make sure that we arrived in Yaounde in time to all be seated by 9:30 before all the ministers, including the Prime Minister arrived. In the end he just ended up sending a representative, as did the US ambassador (it was the guy whose wife I sat with at the dinner at the CD’s house). The ceremony involved a lot of speeches (including one that I gave in French as a representative of my training group), gifts to officials, an ok rendition of Man in the Mirror sung by us and a small Cameroonian choir, and the actual swearing in. Now all 53 of us are Volunteers!

Afterwards we were herded downstairs to the big entrance hall to await the arrival of the First Lady, Chantal Biya. She was there as the head of her NGO, which I believe supports mothers and infants in Cameroon. If you haven’t, you should google a picture of her. When she arrived, she and the Country Director went arround to each of the booths set up, representing each region of Cameroon and each sector that the Peace Corps works in to formally view them.

Those of us that were now newly sworn in volunteers then had a buffet lunch with those members of our families that were there before heading down to look around the fair ourselves. I mostly just hung out at the booth for the North Region, talking to the volunteer who is just finishing her service at what is now my post. It was awesome to meet Dori and ask all the random questions that I have about where I’ll be living. And now I have the keys to my house!

After that was the bus ride back to Bafia, a party just for us to celebrate our new volunteer status, Thanksgiving in Bokito the next day, and then the long trip up to the North. Those of us posted in the Grand North all took an overnight train from Yaounde to Ngaoundere on Friday night, and then we had about a five hour bus ride to get here to Garoua, my regional capital. Those of us with posts in the North are here for the weekend, and to open bank accounts and do some protocol tomorrow (Monday), and then we’ll be off to our posts on Tuesday.

That’s right, I’m getting a new home for my birthday!

I’ll try to get a couple pictures us soon, but the wifi is being a little finicky at the moment.

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Into the West

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The CIBAEEVA Orphanage in Dschang

Last weekend the Youth Development trainees got to go on a one night field trip to the West Region of Cameroon. So last Friday after lunch we piled into a little bus and were on our way to spend the night in Bafoussam, the regional capital. The bus was a hot tin can until we opened some windows and let the wind blow in our faces. The landscape was green with periodic patches of burgundy soil.

We didn’t have anything in particular planned for our evening in Bafoussam, but the cooler Western air was a welcomed change to our Bafia routine, as were the shawarma sandwiches and fries we got for dinner, and the hotel showers. Really though, that shower was amazing: warm with just enough shower pressure. My hair felt so clean after mine. Kevin took two.

The next morning it was back into the bus, and farther into the West Region until we got to a town called Dschang (as far as I can tell the D and S are silent). In Dschang we were able to visit the CIBAEEVA Orphanage, which was started by a Cameroonian school teacher and cares for many children from the community whose parents are either dead or, more often, unable to care for them. CIBAEEVA keeps the kids in school, as well as giving them a place to eat in sleep, and here in Cameroon school can be expensive. Even if there are no fees for government primary schools, there are often mandatory PTA fees, and books and uniforms have to be bought, too.

Next on the itinerary was a cultural museum, also in Dschang. I thought it was very well put together, but after learning about the orphanage and playing with the kids, it was almost noon by the time we got to the museum, and we had to get back to Bafoussam before we could have lunch. Then it was back to the hot, humid heat of Bafia. Of course Cameroon would just start to get hotter in November.

I did upload pictures of the trip to my Flickr photostream a few days ago. In case anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, you can find the link to that by scrolling to the top of this page and clicking on the link that says “Pictures.” If anyone is still having trouble, though, let me know.

Water!

So I have now been in Bafia, Cameroon, for what, three or four weeks? It is currently the rainy season, and I keep remembering what someone told me about a week before I left the US: Cameroon in the rainy season is characterized by a lot of mud, and Cameroon in the dry season in characterized by a lot of dust. I’ve definitely gotten to experience some of that mud.

Bafia, I am told, is pretty modern and developed for Cameroon (especially compared to some of the places that a lot of us will be posted), but it probably shouldn’t surprise you to hear that I live on a dirt road that quickly turns to mud in the rain. I do, however, have a bathroom in my homestay house, complete with a sink, a toilette, and a shower head with a drain underneath it – and water doesn’t come out of any of them. Instead, I or others in my family have to go to the well in the yard across the street to carry water for use in the bathroom.

Luckily, the water that comes out of that well is clear, and I suspect treated, because a lot of other trainees and their families have to go all the way to the water pump to get water that clear, and man, is water heavy. Still even with the clear and probably treated water, I chlorinate it and put it through a Peace Corps issued filter before drinking it. A couple of trainees have had amoebas, and another found a round worm in the top (unfiltered) part of her water filter that definitely wasn’t a worm yet when she put the water in, and those are things I would like to avoid ingesting for as long as possible. Fresh fruits and veggies have to be soaked in water with bleach before being eaten raw, and other foods, especially involving water, have to be heated to a boil.

Laundry water does not need any special treatment, but it is a whole different experience to do that by hand and then worry about having enough sun to be able to dry it outside during the rainy season. Of course by the end of November I am told it will be the dry season again, and quite hot. By January Bafia’s wells will be running dry, and everyone will have to go to the water pump.

Of course by then I will be at my own post, and the whole water situation will probably be completely different.

Je suis une stagiaire du Corps de la Paix du programme du development des jeunes

So it’s now been about two weeks since I first left on my Peace Corps adventure, and it’s been an eventful two weeks. After two nights in Philadelphia for staging and a day and a half of travel the 55 of us in my training group arrived in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

My training group – or “stage” en français – is divided into three groups: those in the Environment Program, the Health Program, and the Youth Development Program. And guess what program I’m in? Youth Development! Surprise! Or perhaps it’s not so much of a surprise for those who didn’t know that I was expecting to be in the Health Program. I’m very excited about this, though. The Youth Development group is actually the smallest group with only 13 of us, as well as only the second YD training group to come to Cameroon. So far it’s an awesome group of people – but then so are the other groups as well.

In Yaoundé they kept us busy with all sorts of logistical and informational sessions, as well as a few more interesting things. One evening there was a cultural event, during which we got to see some traditional Cameroonian dancing, which apparently involves booty dancing like I had never seen before. We also went to dinner at the home of the Country Director, along with the US Ambassador to Cameroon and several representatives of different NGOs, governmental agencies, and Cameroonian media. I sat at a table with the wife of the Ambassador’s Deputy Chief, who is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and got to hear about her service in Sierra Leon before the civil war.

On Wednesday we arrived in Bafia, Cameroon, where the bulk of our Pre-Service Training will be taking place. I now have a host mother, three younger host sisters, and a host father who works in a different city and only comes home on the weekends. My host mother is also the woman who cooks and sells lunch at the Peace Corps building every weekday. We just started language training on Friday, technical training on Monday, and had our first day completely free on Sunday. I’m just starting to settle in, so I’m sure that I’ll have a lot more to say about Bafia and about training over the next eight weeks until our Swearing in ceremony the day before Thanksgiving.