Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Welcome! Bienvenue! Jabbaama!

Welcome to Meiganga! I am sitting on my hay couch that resembles more of a bed in my living room with socks, sweat pants, jacket and a scarf on. The power is out so I am typing by candle light. It is rainy season in Cameroon, meaning it is cold and wet. Power goes out frequently during this season. When that happens the water is soon to follow.

I arrived in Meiganga Sunday and I was greeted with a beautiful rainbow! I was also warmly welcomed with no electricity and no water. I will have to postpone my deep cleaning of my house until that changes. But until then I have done work in my house: My bags are unpacked. My bookshelf is organized and decorated with a framed family photo. And most importantly my kitchen is organized, my bed is made and the mosquito net is hung!

The night I arrived I was talking with my post mates, Andrew and Carlos, about their projects and brainstorming for mine. I know that I will be working with bee keepers and a micro financial institution. For a Small Enterprise Development Volunteers (which is what I am) there is not a structured work schedule. We were told for the first 3 months my job is to go to as many meetings as possible and get to know your community. The thing that I have found in my short amount of time here is that there is no way that I will be able to have any impact without knowing the community. I need to meet as many people as possible, network as much as possible, and build the trust of the community. The beauty of my job is that I am given almost free range to do whatever I want to do. This is exciting but also daunting for a Type A personality. But I need to remember; when again in my life will I be given this opportunity? I hope again, but I am betting that it might not be the case.

I have ideas of what I might want to do for work. For my main project somehow I want to figure out a way to incorporate teaching classes to girls with soccer. I would want the classes to include girls’ empowerment, HIV/AIDs education, basic personal hygiene, safe food preparation, and VSLA (Village Savings and Loans: Google “VSLA”, it was said that this is one of the top ways to get people out of poverty).

This is just an idea I have. There are many projects that I could do. I do not want to get set on one idea and not see other opportunities that may arise; hence the Peace Corps emphasis on not working for 3 months. This allows you to meet community members who have ideas but may not have the resources to execute their ideas. I do have a few goals, one of the more important goals would be to partner with as many other volunteers as possible, not just Small Enterprise Development volunteers. In Cameroon now, there are 185 volunteers working in 4 categories: Small Enterprise Development, Education, Health and Agro-Forestry. In September there is a new program starting: Youth Development. In Meiganga specifically, there is SED, health and education.

As I start to get settled in my new home for the next 2 years, I have some new contact information. I have a new Post Office Box and number. My email is the same, but I will give that to you as well.

Danielle Nicolai
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 89
Shoot me an email if you want my number!

People have been asking what I need or want and I have compiled a list of ideas. But I love letters just as much :)

• Magazines
• Mild scented candles
• Hand sanitizer
• Pictures or post cards so I can decorate my house
• Mixed CDs (put your favorite music on it…it will remind me of you when I listen to it)
• Nail polish/nail polish remover
• Degree can find most things here, apparently this is not one of them
• Travel games
• Cards/card games

• Seasoning packets
• Crunchy Peanut butter
• Cholula Hot sauce
• Ranch Dressing
• Parmesan cheese
• Brown sugar
• Cake or brownie Mixes
• Crystal Light/Gatorade packets
• Hard candies
• Luna bars or any type of bar for that matter
• Mac & cheese sauce packets
• instant soup mixes
• pesto sauce mixes
• beef jerky/pepperoni
• soup mixes & Lipton's pasta / sauce pkts.
• falafel mix
• pudding mixes
• dried fruits, apricots, apples, etc.
• jell-o mixes
• salad dressing packet
• bullion cubes…chicken & beef

Entertainment for the neighborhood kids
• Crayons/markers/colored pencils
• Coloring books (unisex)
• Art project material
• Colored/construction paper
• Stickers
• Legos or toys that they can continually play with
• Balloon…they love them!
• Memory games
• Honestly they would love anything

Sunday, August 14, 2011


I have been in Cameroon for a little over 11 weeks now. As I get ready to be sworn in as a Volunteer on August 17th, I am reflecting a lot on my journey thus far. If you would have asked me before I left the states what my biggest fear was, I would have said hands down getting Malaria. Well, 11 weeks into my journey, I have Malaria and I am ok. Actually, I am glad that it is Malaria, because I can take 24 pills and in 3 days I will feel better.

I keep shocking myself. Things that should phase me, don’t. Watching a moto driver pull over and pee on the side of the road is now normal. Driving past a bush taxi with a goat strapped to the roof, not a big deal. While at the hospital seeing a mouse run around, interesting, but not really a huge deal either.

I will be at my new home soon, Meiganga. I am looking forward to doing what I came here to do. Work. I am ready for my new life to start. These past 11 weeks have been challenging, but I have had great friends along the way to keep me sane. (Maybe a beer or two helped a little…and James, beer here are cold!)

I compiled a list of things that I have experienced and things that I have surprised myself with.

• A battle to the death with a cockroach no longer phases me, I will win even if it takes an hour
• A mouse on the other hand, running through my room will never be ok. Duct tape on holes on the walls works wonders!
• Washing clothes by hand; I fully support child labor here! I know that I can wash my own clothes by hand, do I want to? No.
• I realized that I am allergic to Maggie, or known in the states as MSG. Maggie is in everything here, so I cannot wait to cook for myself at post. But slowing I am becoming accustomed to it.
• I couldn’t speak any French before I got here…now I am surprising myself with the conversations I am able to have!
• My new goal is to speak Fulfolde, French, and English without any hesitation
• I never ate fish in the states, now I eat fish 3 times a week!
• I prefer antelope over hedgehog or even a fish head.
• Dany, will be my name in Meiganga. Danielle sounds too much like a guys name, and I am not a fan of the confused looks. So I am Dany. Sorry Mom!
• I could never squat…now I am a pro! Latrines don’t even phase me!
• My passion for soccer has been sparked again.
• I never read in the states, In a month I read 5 books. I had to hide my kindle. (I would love book suggestions)

There are 3 Goals of Peace Corps:
1. To help the people of interested countries meet their needs for trained manpower
2. To promote a better understand of the American people on the part of peoples served.
3. To promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people.

Since being here, I have changed my goals for my service. I came in with this grandiose idea that I was going to make massive changes. As much as I would love for that to happen, I would rather make an impact on an individual level. I am eager to get to know people; hear their stores; understand their beliefs. Goals 2 and 3 will be the most impactful.

I am looking forward to the African success stories. I am looking forward to the next 2 years. I am looking forward to the person I will be in 2 years and seeing the changes that not only in my life but those around me. My loved ones back in the States, you are all included.