Thursday, November 10, 2011

Heading back to the land of mout mouts, crazy southerners who yellow whhhaaaiiitttee a lot, and, of course, Manioc

Yo Everyone,

Barka D'asalla, which means Bonne Fete, which means Happy Holidays. We just finished up a seriously insane Fete de Mouton party in Mandama where I tressed my hair, put lalley (henna) all over my body, and ate massive amounts of MEAT. I love being a doesn't happen that often out in Mandama land.  Anyway, I'm en route down to good ol' Baf Baf (Bafia) to help with the new batch of health and agroforestry volunteers. I'm currently in Ngoundary waiting for my buddy to take me to a gym....yes a real gym!  Apparently, there's one right across the corner from the Peace Corps office here, so I'm going to go get swoll...and then eat delicious chicken or street fish or something. I can't believe I'm a second year volunteer already. I'm so wise now. It'll be really interesting to head back to Bafia where I also completed my stage and suffered through nights of endless dried fish and manioc gorging and mout mout attacks.  But I am super excited to see my host families...ya know, you remember Papa Bo Bo and Margurite etc. I'm going to shower them in Northern gifts of cliche (dried meat that's kinda like beef jerkey), dates, and bakouru (fried peanut butter sticks).  I mean, don't these treats all sound magically delicious? I think so...but then again my taste buds are kinda wild right now. Get ready family because I'm going to load your stockings up with this kinda crap for Christmas this year.

I know it's been awhile since I've written and it's now 7 am, so my friend Gaston should be here any minute, but I'll try to fill everyone in on what I've been doing for the last several months when I get back. I've become super duper villageoise and basically never leave post. I love chilling in the village and doing stuff like staring at goats and then taking their videos when my neighbors slit their necks....ya know, normal stuff.  Cities are too big and scary for me at this point, but they are fun. Last night after maybe the most hellish bus ride yet (there were six people in my row, which is supposed to be for four and all of them were massive well fed southerners for some reason even though I'm the skinny malnourished north), my friend and I ate the best street fish I've had yet. It was so fresh and I just tore that thing apart with my hands and teeth....oop anyway, more later. My ride is here...aka little Italian vespa to go the gym. I can't wait to listen to my Euro beats and pump some lead. More later!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ramadanin' it uuuuppppp

Happy Fete de Ramadan Peoples!

I'm currently in Yaounde, the capital, for some massive meetings.  I've already been here for almost a week and I've got two more to go!  I had a FS/EE (food security, environmental education) meeting (I'm part of the committee) and for the next two weeks I have TOT (training of Trainers) and TDW (training design workshop).  Development workers heart acronyms if ya can't tell. Food security was pretty rad.  We chatted a lot about a training some of us super dynamic put on in Ngong on nutrition, the benefits of soy and moringa, and fruit drying.  We decided we're going to put on a similar training in March when it's hot as the seventh layer of hell here and there are a zillion mangoes. My other two workshops focus on design for the upcoming Peace Corps training.  Yes, yes, it's hard to believe, folks, but I'm already a wizened senior volunteer! I'm so wise. It's also really bizarre because I'm on an intense 8 to 5 schedule, which is totally making my head spin.  Yeah, so in a couple weeks I'll be heading back to good ol'Bafia to impart my knowledge on all the noobs. I'm signed up to give a presentation on soy/moringa and one of food security.  I think I'll also do something on what it's like living in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, no electricity, and no running water.

The Peace Corps office has been totally insane with volunteers because 'tis the season for annual meetings that bring us all back to Yaounde. It's really grand to see some familiar faces I haven't seen in months, but the whole brospeh vibe of the case (the Peace Corps house that we all stay in when we come down for's kinda like a mix between a dirty hostel and a frat house) kinda gives me social anxiety...also probably the fact that I'm used to chillin alone in the desert mountains fraternizing with donkeys and lizards and stuff.  Did I tell you how I got in a staring contest with a white cow that was stuck in my concession the other day? I got real pissed at him because he was staring at me like all the Cameroonians stare at me--like I'm some kinda foreigner.  I then got super irate because the cow was white just like me.  I screamed, "you have no right!" and the stomped back in my house...the cow ended up winning the staring contest. It was a low moment for me...maybe I shouldn't be sharing these kinda stories on here to save some face?  Yeah...I'm gettin' weird.

So anyway, where was I?  Yeah, the's greeeeat.  I have been able to eat some pretty delish meals and have cold drinks, though, which is a nice change from warm water and cous cous and sauce (although I love cous cous and sauce these days). My friends and I actually made lasagna the other day and mojitos! Uhhmazing.

What else?  Oh yeah, I've had some really good meetings with the big boss, Sylvie, down here in Yaounde. She gave me some really great suggestions on how to deal with fundraising for the basketball court we want to construct at the Mandama high school. One of the main problems, as I'm sure you can imagine, is that I'm still looked at as a big green dollar sign (or cfa sign?  I don't even know what the sign is for their currency here), so they think I can just make it rain and give them all the cash to build it.  I'm also doing a lot of work with Heifer International, an American NGO that does work in nutrition and animal husbandry.  I'm planning to head out to some of their sites to do some presentations on soy and moringa, which should be pretty rad. 

I know I'm talking my face off, but since I'm never online at post I'm going to get talking your ears off...errr wearing out your eyes, or maybe you're talking your vocal cords out since you're dictating this enthralling entry to a loved one. In any event I'm going to keep going. 

Life in village this past month was pretty good, although super challenging due to the daily rains, Ramadan, and the fact that there's zero food because it's growing season. I was literally stuck in Mandama for about a month because the roads were so brutal.  Some of them have waterfalls cruising down them, while others have crevices in them as big as the grand canyon.  I'm sure this place would be a geologist's dream.  I have to ford rivers and take human water taxis to get to market sometimes.  It's seriously Oregon Trail style.  Dysentery, cholera, snake bights are all pretty common.

 Food is also pretty scarce right now, even though it's super green and beautiful.  Since it's the growing season, all my friends peace out to their fields for the whole day, and then come back and collapse from fatigue.  I think THE CHRIS would appreciate their work ethic.  They would put me to shame during the fall when the big man makes us rake the entire front and back yard...I am certainly glad I'm missing out on that fun activity this year.  Also, because of Ramadan this past month, food has been extra sparse in Mandama. I've been climbing mountains with the kids to find wild berries.  Berry picking Cameroon style!  I've been eating these yellow speckled fruits a lot and these cherry like berries that are pretty delish.  I'm also proud to say that my garden looks awesome and it's sustained me this last month.  I have corn, zucchini, tomatoes (just started fruiting), lettuce, snow peas, moringa, soy, and melons. I'm quite the little farmer. 

I can't believe power is still out all over Wilton because of this hurricane!  I was getting street fish and a beer at the bar last night with my friend and there was an electrical fire at one of the power line transformers right down the road from us.  We both thought it was a pretty green firework for fete de Ramadan (the end of Ramadan party), but no, it was just a casual explosion.  All the power went out for about ten minutes, but then surprisingly they got it back on.  I can't believe Cameroon electrical is one-upping CT power haha. 

Oh yeah, I'm also proud to say I fasted for a couple days in Mandama peops.  It was pretty hard, but I got through it and ate probably 10X as much at dinner time to make up for my fasting. I have a lot of respect for everyone here that worked out in their fields all day sans food and water. They deserve to eat their faces off today. I'm actually a little bummed I'm down in Yaounde for fete de Ramadan since there's a massive rager in Mandama today...bouille cous cous and folore galore! I miss my buddies.  I gotta get outta the's too crazy down here.  I miss my chilled out northerners. 

Alright, I should probably work on some presentations right now since I've been sitting here watching French music videos for hours.  Yaounde is like a big mind vacuum. 

Miss everyone and maybe I'll see you at xmas! Yes, yes, I'll be home, so maybe I'll see yaz.

Peace Out, 

ps-My trip was Joc wuz aaawwwesome, but my hands are too tired, so I don't feel like writing anymore.  Check out Joc's pics online, though, because she has a sweet camera. werrrd.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hilton happy hour and hot dog stands!

Yes, yes, these are the many impending glories of the month of June. I'm in Yaounde right now waiting for Joc's arrival. She's already on her flight in from Brussels and should be arriving in just a couple hours!  She better have remembered to get me a Belgian waffle out of the vending machine in the airport, or I'm sending her back to Chicago.

Regardless of how tired she is, we are going to Hilton happy hour tonight!  I can't wait to have a proper drink with potential ice cubes. It will sure beat the warm poisonous beer I drink from time to time in Mandama with my non-Muslim friends...although those beers can taste pretty delicious at the given time too.  It's all about the circumstances. Anyway, Joc and I are staying at the luxurious Hilton tonight and then heading on a train up north tomorrow, so I can show her how insane my life is and laugh at how uncomfortable she is when people offer her random balls of goo to eat and when she's chased down by vicious donkeys. haa This trip is really going to test the hardcore traveler in her! We're starting off pretty light here in Yaounde, but as we ascend up north things are going to get more and more African. Yes, this is going to be uhhmazing.

I also got a special invite to the American Embassy here in Yaounde for 4th of July....on June 29th.  You'd think a governmental organization like an embassy would have their party on the actually day of independence, but whatever, I'm not complaning because I can stay down here an extra couple of days after I drop Jocco at the airport on the 25th. This party is supposed to be pretty swanky, so I have to find an article of clothing that's not ripped and covered in dirt. Hmmm, maybe I'll still something from my sis. It'll be nice to celebrate an American holiday too. The rumor that there's a hot dog stand at the party is especially promising. I also want to meet some cool government officials to see how they got so high up on the food chain.  Gotta keep that networking up!

Work at post has been pretty busy despite the fact that the village empties out during rainy season.  It's like a ghost town walking around at high noon. I expect some coyboy to jump out from behind the village boutique and get in a gun duel with me.  You see how crazy I'm becoming?  Yeah, so now that the rains have started all my Mandama buddies need to take advantage of the insanely short growing season.  Everyone is out in their fields for pretty much the entire day.  Good luck trying to get anyone to come to a health meeting before 4 pm.  Since I like to get the majority of my presentations done in the morning, the new season has been kinda tough for me. I do, however, have my forage committee set up and we hope to start saving up money for the technician to come out to Mandama in September to start checking out our land to see if building a new water source is feasible. We shall see.

Since all my friends are farmers and they disappear during the day, I've decided to become a farmer too. With the help of my favorite village boy, Salamon, we planted American corn, piment peppers, green beans, tomatoes, more moringa trees, cucumbers, and melons in my garden.  In July we're also going to plant some more soy. Even though none of my plants have started producing fruit yet, they are starting to "pousse"...pushing up out of the soil?  Is there a word for that in English? Whatever, I can't speak my native language anymore.

So here's a fun gardening story, I had to burn some of the dried leaves hanging around in the back of my plot the other day with my friend Hadja Amanta. Once we get this party started we all of a sudden see an anaconda sized black snake trying to slither out of the flames, but before he could get anyway he started blowing up, Okay, and I'm not even kidding, FLOATING.  The frickin constrictor became a balloon and started FLOATING!  Hadja and I just kinda stood there gaping.  Then all of a sudden the thing just exploded, like an ashy puff of smoke.  And once again I am asking myself, what the hell is my life? Who knew massive serpents could fly? Random Peace Corps moment.

My presentation in Gawel with my friend Megan went really well.  I'm realizing more and more that all people are the same.  If you give out free samples, everyone will stick around and maybe listen. We not only made moringa powder bouille, moringa sauce, and soy milk, we also gave out moringa trees!  Who wouldn't want to listen to me blab on all day about nutrition when you could get all these goodies, right? But, in all seriousness, though, the women were super engaged and I really think the message got across about the importance of a balanced diet. Megan and I plan to give a similar animation in Mandama at the end of July.

Alrighty, that's it for now. I'm going to go eat some cereal, because YES I can do that here in the great captial of Cameroon. You'll probably be hearing from me in the next couple weeks, so stay tuned for some hilarious adventure stories about my sis and I gallivanting around this crazy land.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

gimme some of that gilliganga

Gotta love the name, right?  Well, I had to grab your attention somehow.  Gilliganga is another name for Moringa/Kona, this super duper tree I'm trying to encourage people to harvest.  If you have one tablespoon of Moringa powder a day you will not have kwashiokor.  No distended bellies for you!  That's what I'm going to stay in my nutrition project I'm launching tomorrow with my friend, Megan, in her village Gawel. She's an agroforestry volunteer and I'm health, so with the fusing of our skillzzz we are going to save the world!!!! least maybe a couple people, we'll see. It's really great collaborating with other volunteers because it a) splits up the work b) splits up the staring and nassarra calling and c) fortifies projects since we have different specialties.  For example, I don't even know how to water flowers, let alone grow a tree farm, but I do know that Moringa has a gazillion times more potassium than bananas for example.

It'll be a lot of fun to see another Peace Corps post too. Gawel, from what I've heard, seems a lot like Mandama aka no electricity, no cell phone service, and super duper Muslim.  I shall find out today. Right now I'm chilling in Maroua before heading out to the extreme north bush. Yep. It's been super nice to have COLD drinks including delicious beer. I'm also obsessed with ginger juice for the zing, which helps indeed helps my stomach after consuming way too many mangoes. Oh yeah, Jan Jan and Bri and Joc, you will be happy to know that I recently found a ZAZZ substitute.  Apparently, I can get selzer water here, which is a DELIGHT!!!  Very very excited about this new development.

In other news I'm still trying to get that basketball court built in Mandama, but I need to motivate the principle to get the budget goin.  It's sometimes like trying to get a massive prehistorical boulder to start rolling up a hill, but I'm going to keep on trying.  Oh!  I'm also going to start teaching an HIV/AIDS and STDs class for the high school kids next school year, which should be super effective.  UNICEF just donated a massive plasma screen tv to the Mandama hs along with a bunch of HIV prevention DVDs, so those should be handy....I mean, don't ask me why they decided to spend their money on a massive tv in a village without electricity, but I'll take it!  So, the point of this rambling is I'm going to need to raise money through Peace Corps partnership with the courts, so stay tuned for me to annoy you to give me cash, k?

Alright, I'm going to go buy some ginger juice and melt into the floor because it's so hot.  Chat soon,.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Back from the land of delicious food and amazing art to take on Camp Cam Cam once again


Just a quick update before heading back to the bush tomorrow morning. I'm actually at the Peace Corps office in Yaounde after an amazing trip to Italia with Brian.  I've never eaten so much cheese, pork (yeah I live with all Muslims), and gelato in my life, which is saying a lot beacuse I'm obsessed with food.  Obh yeah, I also drank "vino de la casa" whenever I had the chance...which was about every five minutes.  The art was also super sweet.  I mean, Italy is like an outdoor museum, so I feel like I got my culture on even out on the streets.  Venice was by far my favorite part.  The city reminded me of a mix between Nantucket, New Orleans, and the video game Monkey Island.  It has this kinda sweet creepy Halloween vibe because of all the crooked streets, old awesome buildings, and murkey canals.  It also smells like the ocean, which was indeed a treat for my sea faring senses. Bri and I found our new house down some back alley that I am going to buy on my super comfy Peace Corps salary.  Keepin the dream alive. Oh yeah, we also randomly saw John Malcovich and Rick Stevens strolling in Florence, which was pretty rad.  Yes, seeing John swagger down the cobblestones with his cane was pretty unreal, but Rick Stevens was even cooleer because we were in the midst of studying his tour book on Italy when we saw him.  We even got his signature in our travel book and I got a great picture of him with Bri.  So hilarious.

I'm in a serious state of culture shock right now, but I'm not sure if it's because I am still soaking in the fact that I was in the developed world where literally everything is at your disposal, or if it's because I'm back out of it so quickly. The trip just feels like an awesome methloquin dream at this point. It is kinda cool, though, that when my plane landed back here in Cam I felt like I was coming home...I feel like my vacation is over and it's time to get back to work.  I guess that means I'm really starting to get used to my new life here.  Apparently, I'm also getting used to the oppressively hot climate since I found Italy to be insanely cold. All I brought were tank top dresses and sandals.  Thank God, Brian hooked me up with some of my old clothes, which were mucho needed. I also realized while in Euroland that my Cameroonian money is like manopoly cash; aka worthless outside of the boardgame my life has become.  I couldn't find anywhere to exchange my billz in Italy, except for with some sketchy Senegalese dudes selling fake Prada on the street, which Brian luckily convinced me not to dabble in. I mean, I'm used to bargaining on the street at this point.  Thatz how we do here in Africa. 

So yeah, I miss the developed world and I really miss Brian, but it's time to get back into the swing of things.  I'm hoping to get a well built at the health center in my town and a basketball court built at the high school this year.  I have to somehow write another budget and find a geologist to help survey the lands where I want to build, which should be pretty entertaining. More stories to come I'm sure.  I'm also going to continue work on my soy and moringa stuff and focusing on the importance of good nutrition.  I actually got elected for the "food security" committee, which meets a couple times of year here in Yaounde to discuss best practices.  I'm going to Bamenda (a city in the English speaking part of the country) in August to help with a camp a fellow volunteer is putting on sustainable energy and food, so that should be cool.  Apparently, there are also strawberries in Bamenda, which is something to look forward to.

Jocco is coming in June too, so we'll have a grand old time.  It'll be hilarious to see how she reacts to this absurd land.

Alright, I gotta get packing for my massive trip back up north tomorrow.  Stay classy, America.


Friday, March 18, 2011


Yo Guys, 

How are we all doing today?  I just got up into internet land and am taking full advantage of the fast connection (aka not snail pace, but turtle pace!) I left at 5:30 am and hit Maroua around 10:30.  Grrrreat time! Usually I have to wait at the Danay bus station in Guider for at least an hour before we actually leave,  in which case I overload on yogurt from the fridge that's there and/or inhale carrots. They're so cheap right now!  People eat them here like fruit.  As a health volunteer this practice makes me tres contente. 

Worko has been nutso this past month in a good way, but also in a very frustrated, stressful, I want to slay a million goats kind of way.  I basically planned the Women's Day activities in Mandama, which means doing a ton of motivating women who don't speak a lick of French to work, organizing massive meetings, getting "grands" to give us money so we can have a real party, making a budget with a foreign currency (the cfa), which I still don't really get, sitting under a tree and listening to Justin Timberlake during massive dry season windstorms while your moto driver looks for a spare tire, and restraining yourself from biting the heads of various government officials who tell you one minute you are permitted to have a parade in Mandama and the next you aren't. 

Despite all the work and lack of sleep, though, I'm super pumped at how well everything went, especially since this was the first time I've organized a massive event in a foreign country.  Yes, the parade was 5 hours late, and yes certain acts for our cultural night didn't show up, but everything still "happened" to some degree.

One of my favorite parts of the festivities was the cooking competition.  I got to try so many delicious new Cameroonian sauces one of which I still can't pronounce...actually I can't pronounce most words in Dabari, but this one is particularly hard.  Try saying Mandadabada three times fast...or one time fast. Hell, it's even hard to write it.  Dabari is an insane language that involves a ton of rolling R's.  I don't know if I'll ever pick it up, but I'm trying.  My neighbors who I eat delish sauces with every night are still trying to teach me, but for now I'm sticking with Fulfulde (another language spoken in Mandama, but is also widespread throughout northern Cameroon).  Actually, I'm now good enough at Fulfulde that I can tell people to stop taking advantage of me and I can tell them to shut up when I know they're talking about me.  It's pretty hilarious seeing the astonished/ashamed looks on people's faces when they realize you understand them.

Right now I'm also doing a ton of nutrition work with soy and moringa (this super tree that grows really well here and has a ton of nutritional benefits).  I just finished writing up a presentation on how to make tofu that I plan to give at the Mandama health center on Tuesday. Serious hippiness goin on right now. 

What else is new?  Well, I got to see a traditional Daba funeral the other day.  After I went for my casual early morning run my neighbor, Mairamou, asked me if I wanted to climb the mountain to see the "cadavre" aka cadaver aka dead man wrapped in a bunch of old cloths who looks like a supersized vodoo doll.  I figured, why not?  I'm glad I was still in my workout clothes because Mairamou and I (along with about 100 other villagers) had to climb this massive treacherous mountain to get to the funeral site. When I got up there the view was breathtaking...and so was the smell...breath taking/revolting.  But I'm really happy I went because I have a cool picture with this big mummy that I'll try to get up on facebook shortly.  I wasn't really sure if I should smile, or look serious since it was a funeral after all, so I just kinda look bleh. It's one of the sweetest and most awkward photos ever. Stay tuned!

The goats continue to rape and pillage my backyard and crap everywhere, despite my obsessive rock barriers I've constructed to fortify my fences.  Another one walked in on my taking a shower the other day (I have an outdoor shower in the yard), so I kicked the crap out of it.  Serious rage.  It's a war, I'm telling you. I mean, wouldn't you be freaked out if you heard footsteps coming towards you while you're in the shower?  Goat footsteps sound a lot like human ones too, so I was especially in fight mode....I'm going nuts...what is this digression?

What else? Oh, it's mango season!  Mangoes everywhere!  Mangoes, guavas, and papayas are like apples and oranges are for us.  I would KILL for a fugi apple and peanut butter right now, but alas, I shall stick to my mangoes.  Not such a bad thing, right? 

And that's my last rambling though for now, folks.  It's the little things that count, like mangoes, kicking goats, and partying it up with a bunch of Cameroonian women for Women's Day. 

Hope everyone is loving life. I'll be back in a jiffy.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Emerging from the depths of the north to say Jamna!!

Okay, so this is a spontaneous email I wrote to my college friends (edited down a little bit for the more PG ears).  I'm way too whackado and overwhelmed with this machine buzzing in front of me, so this entry is pretty short and probably not very informative.  I will preface by saying that my life is INSANE and AWESOME. The word random has lost all intensity for me at this point. Chickens crossing the road aren't ironic anymore. And seeing goats saunter casually through the Mandama health center are no big thang.

But I do want to let you all know that I appreciate all the love and support. Keep it coming!  I feed on American energies! I'll eat some delicious folore and cous cous for you all here too, so you can live vicariously through me too. Enjoy the email below:

I miss you guys terribly and I think about all the grand times we've had together, especially when I'm out in the pasture staring at goats and huge ass bulls as I'm waiting for my laundry to dry or something. Also, I hate donkeys. They make the most hellacious sound ever at all hours of the night. I've had some wild dreams about donkeys talking to me the night I have to take my malaria meds....yeah my methloquin dreams are definitely more creative out here in the middle of the desert.  Then I get woken up at 4 am by the onslaught of vultures that use my tin roof as their landing pad. Terrifying. Terrifying and hilarious.  There's also a massive lizard that rolls it's leathery body across my roof at all hours of the day too. The roof is where it's at yo.

Yep, I'm getting stranger and stranger by the day.  Living en brousse will do that to ya. But despite my eccentricities (which were already quite apparent before I got the depths of the EXTREME NORTH) I am lovvvvving it.  My community is super progressive and super not at the same time, so I think I'll still be able to get some stuff done. I just finished reading The Rent Tent (you guys know it?).  Anyway, it takes place during the time of Joseph and all his sons and stuff, but in a lot of ways I can relate, like all the goats. So many goats! Oh yeah, and the fact that all the men have like 500000 wives and 50000000000000 kids. But I'm not really treated like a woman I'm treated like a King. Yes, the evolved Pirate King that I am. Captain Mego, Peg Leg Meg. 

But yeah, my Fulfulde is coming along really well, which is making life a lot easier.  I can now communicate with the women, which helps with work. There is such a need for simple stuff here. Like water.  Literally in this one area of town people get their water from a muddy hole in the ground...they eat mud for lunch.  I'm trying to get some forage projects started, but it's gonna take a lot of time. I'm also doing a lot of microfinance work with farmers, doing health animations on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, and how to treat water. I want to get some funding projects going, but that won't be for the next couple months.  I'll let you guys know what the dealio is.

Okay, I'm babbling. I think I'm going to go to the bank now and take out a crap ton of money because it takes me 2 days to even get to the bank haha. Then I'm going to get a guava smoothie. I'm OBSESSED with delicious guava. Then I'm going to go drinking.  I drink this crappy beer called 33 that is similar to UC. You would all love it. 

Anyway, hit me up friendoz.  I'm sorry if I don't respond for like 3 million years.  It's not because I don't love you all; it's because I'm probably running away from baboons or something on top of a mountain, or trying to climb a baobob tree (true story).

Love and miss. Check out my pix on fb.

Word, over and out.