Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hi, my name is Alex. May I ask about your poop?

I’ll explain.  In January, I was conducting an initial health survey in the town of Mbakaou.  I interviewed 82 households containing a total of 613 people (out of 4,167 in the town).  These questions (for the most part) were divided into sections of nutrition, malaria, water sanitation and sexually transmitted infections.  The questions regarding STI’s and HIV were awkward for many, were sometimes greeted by laughs and sometime they were simply too inappropriate to ask to certain locals (especially Fulani Muslims).  However the question that felt strangest to ask was “In the last month, how many days have you had diarrhea?” Could you imagine if a 24 year old man from say Europe or Japan showed up at your door, introduced themselves as a new resident and community organizer and then asked you if you poop has been strange or if you had someone with HIV in your house.  As slow (and awkward) as the survey could be, the survey was useful for both information and getting to know the people of my new town.  Also the people I interviewed were usually very kind and surprisingly open on sensitive questions.  I always received a seat by the homeowner for the interview and never received a rejection when I asked to conduct the survey.

Although my French is definitely improving and I was able to use it through the survey, I learned I need to continue studying it regularly in my free time and work on the local languages especially Fulfulde. Almost every interview in my survey required one of my counterparts (FBI or Alphonse) to help translate from French to Fulfulde or Hausa or Gbiya and back into French so I could record the responses.  I am focusing on Fulfulde, which is the most common native language in Mbakaou, Adamawa, the Grand North of Cameroon and also spoke in many countries through central Africa.  It is the primary tongue of the Fulani people but due its influence and widespread use, many others (especially in Mbakaou) speak it. 

Sadly Sub-Saharan Africa has a bad wrap with ethnic and religious conflicts, even nowadays.  However Mbakaou and Cameroon in general, are inspiring examples of coexistence between religions and ethnic groups.  Mbakaou is pretty evenly divided between Christians (of several denominations) and Muslims and both groups are very respectful and cooperative with each other.  It is an inspiring sight not just in Africa, but also in the world today.

I know it has been a while, but I hope to have another blogpost up soon! I hope you are all well!