Thursday, September 25, 2014

Back to Freshman Year and Cacao Trees

Hey everyone.  As I am writing this I have three young children hanging on to me, watching what I am doing. I have completed my first week of training. I like it so far and the Peace Corps certainly seems to know what we need in terms of practical and language training as well as other topics like medical and safety training.

Saturday, my home stay father and I visited the bush farm where he grows cacao in the jungle on a hill.  We were armed with machetes for the weeds and snakes.  It was interesting seeing his farm meshed into the jungle and up against the hillside, rows of cacao trees.  Soon he will sell them to distributors (from there they will end up in producing chocolate).  We reached the top of a nearby hill where the Orange cell phone antenna is and returned down to the village past the Presbyterian seminary.

On Tuesday, we visited the Mengong health center to see a nurse led meeting on mother and infant health.  It was pretty well organized and the health center definitely appeared to be a good model of a properly run health center in Cameroon.  I found it very significant that prices for the treatments and medications were posted.  This is not always common and it prevents corruption and allows the patients to know they are paying proper prices.  This instils trust from the community towards the health center and even the government.

I like training but can see why volunteers struggle the most during it. Along with intense training, we have a language barrier, culture shock, life in a home stay family, adapting to a new lifestyle (like using a latrine and bucket showers) and common sickness.  Also, all of this happens at once.  However I think everyone in our group is handling it very well and this adaptation process is essential for our two year post.

Right now training reminds me of freshman year of college: it's a whole new environment, there is a heavy class schedule, I have roommates I struggle to relate to (ie. my home stay family) and if one person in the dorm/training stage gets sick....everyone gets sick.

I'm really liking Cameroon and although I know there will be hardships ahead, I'm optimistic.

Au revoir!

Photos on Facebook!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My first week in Cameroon

Hey everyone I'm here in Cameroon at last serving in the US Peace Corps' health program.  I am living in a small village in Cameroon's South Region (yes that's the name of the region) called Mengong with a host family of 16 family members.  It is part of Peace Corps to have a local home stay while we are in training.  My homestay father is Monsieur Bruno and he is a bush farmer.  Six of the family members are his children and three of them constantly visit me with joyful smiles and "Alex"!   At first they laughed at me a lot because of the communication divide and other reasons I'm sure but it is better than an awkward silence.   I learned just to laugh as well.  The food here is very good.  I was worried about missing American food although I have been thoroughly impressed with the local cuisine. At my home stay house, it is generally rice with chicken or fish in one delicious sauce or another.  Breakfast is omelets with onions, tomatoes and spices with bread.  Last night I attempted to have fish head although I admit I did not eat all of the crispy pieces of the head. I tried.  Briefly.  I was also taught by them to hand wash my clothes in the Cameroonian fashion.  A few men who were neighbors and extended family asked me why I was learning to wash clothes.  I had to explain in French I would not have a wife at my Peace Corps post when I finished my training.  They also provide warm water for my hand bucket showers.  On Sunday I plan to attend church with them and at some point see the Nigerian films Monsieur Bruno likes (the Nigerian film industry, which is famous in Africa is referred to as Nollywood). Overall my home stay family is kind and very hardworking.

I have started training in the last few days.  I started intermediate French and stared my health education training.  I'm beginning to get more details on the work the Peace Corps wants us to do and the challenges we will face.  We also had a lecture on Ebola from the representative of the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in Cameroon.  They are very confident Ebola will not reach Cameroon and if it does it will be stopped quickly like it was in Senegal.  In the lecture we also learned all the basics of it: origin, spread, symptoms etc.  The first day of training we also received a warm welcome by the local officials (the mayor, head of the gendarme and the presidential representative). Tomorrow we will be talking about safety and security.

I really think it is wonderful we have been able to meet important officials (like the above mentioned) who regularly discuss the large scale issues, as well as the US ambassador to Cameroon (who was very nice), and at the same time live with the locals to understand their needs and lifestyles.

Right now I am serving with what seems to be a great group of volunteers in both the Health program and the Agriculture program.

I will try to post pictures when I can and illustrate my post with more stories.

Au revoir!

By the way this post was meant for last week.  An update of this week soon!