Saturday, December 27, 2014

Life in Mbakaou

Hey everyone. I am back in Ngaoundéré after my first month (sort of) in my new home of Mbakaou.  Its a great town and I really like it so far.  There is a lot to say so I will try to sum up the best I can of the last month.  After the ten hour bus ride, a night in the town of Tibati and another 45 minutes in a car, I finally arrived at my new post on the bottom side of the lake of Mbakaou, where the town derives it's name.

The town of Mbakaou was founded in the early 1960s when the Dam was constructed on Lake Mbakaou.  Today Mbakaou is a major fishing village and the towns population explodes during fishing season when  men come from all over the grand north of Cameroon to fish and to buy fish.  The population is divided pretty evenly between Christians (mostly Catholic and Presbyterian, who have a church called Martin Luther King Church) and Muslims.  Ethnically, there are the Gbaya, the largest group who tend to be Christian, the Fulani, the largest and most influential Muslim group, as well as the Hausa and the Emboro who are also Muslim.  There is a Muslim chief and a Christian chief (both very nice and welcoming) in the town.

I live with a butcher named Al-Adji Awal, his two wives, eight children, brother (Hassan) and his brother's wife.  They have been absolutely wonderful to me.  His wives cook dinner every night and breakfast most mornings and they help me whenever I have a problem.  I believe culture has a lot to do with that.  They really look out for others especially in their community and those living close together.  We live in a walled compound that houses the whole family in a few houses including my own.  I have been lucky to have electricity and although I do not have running water or plumbing I have gotten use to using the latrine.  I was extremely lucky to have been left a lot of furniture and kitchen supplies from the volunteer I replaced.  Thanks Dale! (He even left macaroni and cheese!)

The Peace Corps tells us that the first few months are all about integration, but after two weeks I really wanted to get to work on something.  Since arriving, I showed up to the health center on a daily basis to prepare for work and I worked with the local volunteers who distributed the polio vaccines.  Polio is still a serious problem in three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.  As Nigeria is a neighboring country to Cameroon, there have been cases of polio in Cameroon, even one in my town Mbakaou last year (according to local health officials).

Despite those activities, which I do mainly to help out and to introduce myself to the community, I was ready to start my own projects. My official title is a Community Health Educator.  As it turns out, when I was introducing myself to village officials I found myself very welcomed by the high school headmaster to start lectures on family planning and HIV/AIDS.  My first two classes (addressing each subject) was a class of thirty students.  Both went relatively well and the headmaster wanted the same duo of classes....this time with ninety high school students. The first class, which was on family planning was extremely difficult to control.  So for my second lesson with them on HIV, I planned a game outside and was lucky enough to have one of their teachers to help me keep discipline and translate my bad French.  It went much better.  Another volunteer, Karen, advised me on the game and I feel it was an effective way to help the students understand the effects of AIDS.

When I get back to post, although I will continue working on HIV awareness and family planning (especially with the two local women's groups), my number one focus will be on malaria.  I have already seen its effects on a few individuals in town and it is one of the number one killers in the world.  Malaria is very acute in Mbakaou, because of the lake nearby.  Already a major problem in Cameroon, it is exasperated and made a major year long problem for Mbakaou's population.

I had a wonderful Christmas with other volunteers and I hope you all had the same.  Happy New Year!