On to the next Adventure

After two weeks milling about in Yaoundé, as well as a good deal of paperwork and a few medical appointments (I have no cavities, stomach parasites, or tuberculosis) it’s official: I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer.

 

The three of us who were having our Close of Service in the same week were all pretty ambivalent about the idea of a whole big ceremony, but after a couple days of equivocating, the matter ended up being decided for us. The new Ambassador was visiting the building on Thursday, and the trainers were preparing for the new trainees that would be arriving the next week, so there was neither the time nor the space. We did away with the whole to-do with the speeches and banging on a gong, and instead just received our pins and certificates, took a few pictures, and started calling ourselves Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. And that was that.

 

To celebrate, my friend Kevin and I splurged and split the cost of two nights at the Yaoundé Hilton, where we laid out by the pool, took advantage of the Jacuzzi, went out for nice meals, and generally lived it up like the grands we aren’t.

 

Then, Sunday morning, I was on a bus at 6:30 am, on my way to Douala, where I got on a plane to Addis Ababa, and then another one to Zanzibar.

 

And on Monday morning, I found myself in paradise.

 

Nungwi, Zanzibar

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Oh, Africa.

I got back to Cameroon two weeks ago, spent several days in Yaoundé seeing friends posted in other regions, then took the train up to Ngaoundéré, spent a couple days there, and then finally got back to my post a week ago. Other volunteers have been asking me how I felt about coming back (and another Volunteer from my training group in my region went home around the same time as me and then just didn’t get on his flight back), and for the most part it feels pretty good. Of course, I eased into it by spending some extra time in the capital and was actually pretty tired of it by the time I left. It was nice to finally get back to my own house, with my own space a week after getting back to the country.

That isn’t to say that it was all roses all the time. My bank did manage to welcome me back to the country with an ATM that ate my card that Tuesday morning. I marched into the bank building, told a woman behind a desk what had happened, and in true Cameroonian fashion she immediately tried to pin it on me. Did I put in the wrong PIN? No, I explained, I had successfully entered my PIN and checked my balance before the machine ate my card. She told me to come back tomorrow and she would be able to get me back my card back to me. I then told her that I had been trying to take out my money because I actually needed it, so that I could do things like buy a train ticket, since I lived in the North, and no, I did not have my account information, since it was at my house in the North and I had not anticipated needing it. She was eventually able to look up my account with my ID card and a few other pieces of information, and asked me how much I would like to withdraw. Not having a great deal of confidence in her promise that my ATM card would soon be returned to me, I opted to withdraw most of my money right then.

That is when I found out: but Madame, she replied, you do not have that much in your account. I came around her desk and looked at the screen in front of her. Along with the rest of my account information it showed my balance from the close of the day before as well as my current balance. The difference between the two was the amount I had been trying to withdraw from the ATM, which was, as it happened, a little over half my money. I was freaking out a little bit about this. I had no idea if I would even get the money back in the long run, and in the short run, train tickets are expensive, you guys.

I ended up having to write a letter to the bank explaining what had happened, and agonized over writing a formal letter explaining what had happened in French for way too long. When I brought it back to the bank the woman who had been helping me all along told me it would have been better if I had written it by hand. Nonetheless, she stamped it since all official documents in Cameroon must be covered in stamps, and put it in a pile.

I did eventually manage to get my ATM card back on that Friday before getting on the train in the evening, so no waiting in line for a teller for me. The money I had been able to get out was enough for me to get back to post, live there for a week, and then get to Garoua for banking now that we have been paid again, though it was closer than I usually like to get. And today, when I went to the bank, I had some more good news: they gave me my money back! It was all there in my account, along with my living allowance for September.

As I was leaving the bank I thought to myself how impressed I was that it had all been sorted out so quickly. After all, I had been expecting it to take at least a month for my money to make its way back to me, and it only took about a week and a half – maybe even less, since I hadn’t bothered to check before. Then I realized: my money shouldn’t have been taken away from my in the first place.

The Republic of Cameroon: lowering expectations since 1960.

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.