Saturday, June 27, 2009

On the Road Again

Greetings all!
I hope everyone is well and happy and not sweating too much with the summer hitting. Not to rub it in at all but it is amazing weather here and simply gorgeous where I currently am. I have just finished teaching in Bangangte and I am now touring the west because I have a week before I have to go back to Yaoundé for mid-service. Mid-service is the time in peace corps where you get to do all of your medical checkups- and let me tell you, pooping in a cup is not on my list of things I want to do.
Anyway, I wanted to talk about going back to Bangangte which was not only great but really eye opening. I arrived with my friends Jim and Mattie (Mattie is in my province in Batouri and Jim lives about 1h 30 min from Bangante in the west). When we arrived we were all hit with how odd it was to be back. It was like returning to your home town after you left as a young naïve teenager. Everything smelled the same, the mud was still atrocious and the rain was still persistant, but we were totally different people. Now I could understand French, and I was coming home as a trainer and not a trainee and I suddenly became an expert in all things Cameroon. We were the first volunteers to come to Bangangte and help the trainees settle in and they had so many questions I felt like I was on a game show for a week straight. I’m really glad I was there and could give encouragement and make people feel more comfortable, but mostly to assuage their fears. Some of the questions seemed really silly in retrospect because of how obvious the answers seem to me now, but the kids have only been in Cameroon for about 20 days so I had to give them a break. They seem like a really good group of volunteers and they are really serious and focused which is always good. We know that we are getting two new TEFL volunteers in the East and that they will both be girls (guess I’m not going to find my future husband in the PC). The girls we think are coming are really great and I’m super excited about so that’ll be fun come August.
However, the best part of being back in town was seeing my host family again. Not only was I prepared this time with a bag full of gifts but my family was crazy happy to see me. I arrived and hugged all 20 of them (remember how many people were living in that house with me?) and we talk until about 9 pm. I was able to understand them which was not only amazing but so rewarding to hear all they had to say. My mother also kept saying that I wasn’t the same person and asking who was I and what did I do with the shy girl that couldn’t speak French. It was crazy fun to share all of my stories and to hear what all the kids were up to. It’s amazing to me how quickly the kids grow up, little Piquita now looks so tall and skinny! Anyway, it was really great and I went back again last night and had delicious dinner with them and asked the mother her opinion about the problems I’m facing at post when dealing with trying to motivate women. I realized my mother is not only really committed to higher education, but also extremely developed in her belief about gender roles. She’s a strong woman who is an equal with her husband and she’s opinionated and not always in the kitchen, and it’s just amazing to see a woman here like that. I really wish they lived in my village, they are probably the best friends I have here and a lot closer to the American mentality than you will find in a village. I also realized while I was in Bangangte how developed it is and how nice I had it for stage. The city is almost all paved and they have a lot of restaurants, internet cafes, and night clubs. My house had running water, an American toilet, and was really clean compared to village standards. I can’t believe how much I complained when I was there and how much I changed my tune when I went back. One of the things they are always telling us in education is to make the learners reflect on their learning experience to see how they learn and recognize the process (metacognitive thinking). I feel like with the insane learning curve and all of the changes I’ve gone through in the last year, it’s pretty obvious the process I went through to be able to come home to Bangante and have such a different feeling.
Anyways, it is now 38 days until I will be back in America seeing my family and friends and I can’t wait. I love you all and hope things are going well.
Love you all,

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pictures from Africa!

This is from Peace Corps Prom: Post Apocolyptic Winter Wasteland. I made my outfit out of a swim suit and old fabric.

Below is a group of volunteers making family dinner
This is me after I rode my bike to the
hippo tower

This is one of my students preparing food for our end of the year party.

Below is a picture of my girls club meeting at my house.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

One Year Anniversary

June 14th (it should have been posted June 6th)

I never got really into the New Year’s thing, with the resolutions and the reflecting and such. Maybe because it wasn’t really a stopping point since I was always in school and it was just a break. No real changes could be made because the bulk of my life would be the same after the New Year. Now, however, being a year in Africa I really feel I have something to reflect upon. How have I changed? What have I accomplished? Who have I met? What has happened? Do I look different? Am I wiser?

I decided to ask myself some of these questions and make some good lists to reflect on my PC experience thus far.

1st Time Experiences I’ve had in the Last year

1. Seeing hippos up close in the wild

2. Living by a river/biking a lot

3. Being friends with a monkey

4. Petting a baby antelope

5. Eating tropical fruit daily

6. Mouse Capturing

7. Being away from family for 1 year

8. Cooking Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner without family

9. Having a student make me cry

10. Defending my choice not to have children without a husband

11. Pooing in a hole

12. Peeing in an alley, 2 feet from my boss, off a mountain side, with tons of spiders watching, while a man hit on me as he was peeing on my foot.

13. Walking in mud up to my knees

14. Having a 2 hour conversation in another language

15. Seeing a windshield fall off a car and then fixing it, windows falling off, doors closed with elastic bands, children riding on the bumper

16. Riding a moto, riding a moto on Christmas singing Christmas carols

17. Getting water from a well

18. Having no electricity for months

19. Seeing whole exotic animals dead for sale to eat.

20. Wearing pagne, matching outfits with a large group when not performing a dance

21. Dancing with a Sous-Prefet (higher than the mayor)

22. Sat on an engine for 8 hours

Things I haven’t done in a year

1. Driven a car

2. Had really clean feet

3. Been without a sunburn or moderate white girl tan

4. Seen my family/friends back home

5. Seen the Daily Show and the Colbert Report

6. Been to a professional ball game

7. Eaten real pizza

How have I changed?

1. I’m more patient with my time, I’m more prepared to deal with other people’s sense of time

2. I’m more ‘go with the flow’

3. I can prepare an omelet

4. I eat onions on a regular basis (only if cooked)

5. I am more reflective about my moods- For instance, I know how much I can take when I am traveling and I make sure to make new playlists, bring snacks, or crosswords, or simply walk around if the car is broken down so that I don’t get restless or angry about the situation

6. I’m becoming an adult. I might actually be one very soon.

7. I’m a better cook

8. Not scared by new challenges or ways of doing things or new foods (though I have still yet to eat the grubs they fry here)

9. I do all the gross stuff myself-cleaning sinks, toilets, dead animals (I did all that in the states but it’s a lot grosser here)

Things that got me through the year

1. Packages

2. Boxed Wine

3. Foster’s Clark

4. Having 2 watches

5. Parent’s phone calls

6. Text Messages

7. PCV family

8. PCV staff/trainers

9. Rains Down in Africa

10. Promise of a hot shower when I travel to Yaounde

11. Ipod

12. computer

13. Movies/Media

14. Holidays and Provincial meetings

15. Ben’s pool

16. Lisa’s Understanding- and amazing cooking

17. Writing and Reading

18. Contemplation

19. Running/Biking

20. The kindness of Strangers

List of Wish I would haves…

1. Stuck more firmly to my exercise routine

2. Not eaten so much bread

3. Done more with the community and not just the schools

4. Not complained so much when I left Ndelele

Plans for the Next Year of Service

1. Have my girls group become peer educators for the elementary school in town

2. Help Rachel with World AIDS day and make this a very big occasion

3. Create another dance that all of the girls will participate in for Women’s Day

4. Make the English Club work and have regular meetings

5. Do a weekly/biweekly Women’s self defense/exercise class

6. do a workshop on Village Savings in Loan or Saving money in general for the community

7. Lose 10 pounds

Should you be proud of me?

Most PCVs like to step back and ask themselves if they have actually made a difference. The easiest way to make a difference is to change someone’s perspective about Americans, Women, or even the developed world. The next would be to affect others with your friendship and work. Next would be if you affect the community like bettering their health or quality of life. This is just my way to measure things. Its very easy to feel like you haven’t done anything sustainable or developmental for your village so it’s easier to break up your work into different categories. So first of all I think I’ve changed peoples minds or enlightened them more about America and the strength of women. Just running every week, carrying my own things, and living alone are examples of things I do daily that can help villagers see the stronger side of women. Next would be my friendships and my work. I definitely have introduced new ways of learning in the classroom that are more visual and interactive and I think these helped my students. Now will they in the long run be able to speak passable English or go on to University? I have no idea, but maybe for a couple of classes they actually thought school could be fun and that learning wasn’t a waste of time. As for my friendships, these are slowly becoming dearer and more like my friendships at home. It is certainly easier to be a good friend when you understand the other person (yeah my French is getting better!). Also, I feel that by being a leader of my girls group I have been able to be a supportive and a positive motivator of change with at least the 8 girls in my group. We recently had our end of the year party and the girls were very confidant and happy and proud to be a part of the club. Now as far as the betterment of people’s lives? I am not sure how much impact my lessons about English and Health really were. I’m not sure if my students are actually using the condoms that I give them for free. I’m not sure if anyone’s quality of life has changed but if anything, I try not to miss an opportunity to help if someone asks me, or to simply listen if they have a problem.

So is Elyse someone to be proud of? I think in subtle ways I am doing good here, but I don’t want you to think that I’m changing the world or that when I leave here I will have made a hefty contribution to change in Cameroon, I am doing what I can but I also spend a large about of time reading and cooking and doing menial teacher work that really isn’t that impressive or wondrous. So don’t think that I’m over here being all angelic- mostly I’m trying to be a good productive person, its just harder when you don’t have running water, power, or clean feet. I do want to say though, that I know how hard everyone works and how good and caring you all are and that you have made me the adult I am working to become and that your examples are really what should be celebrated.

So its been one year since I’ve seen you all, and I love you and I miss you and I will be in New York in 49 days! So fly over and let’s fete!