Wednesday, September 21, 2011

World Wise Schools Correspondence

I decided to join the  World Wise Schools Correspondence Match Program. Here is the first letter that I wrote to a high school in Harrisburg, PA. For my 2 years here I am partnered with Ms. Larson who is a French teacher. We will write back and forth, with the purpose of these letters is to better explain a Francophone country and culture to the students. I think this letter will better explain what I am doing, a little bit of the reasoning behind why I wanted to join the Peace Corps, and a few interesting cultural notes. Enjoy :)


My name is Danielle Nicolai. I am living in Meiganga, Cameroon as a Small Enterprise Development Volunteer. But I will explain exactly what that means later on. I am 23 years old from Tustin, California. I went to The University of Arizona and studied Retailing and Consumer Sciences. I graduated in May 2010. After, I moved to Portland, Oregon to work with Dick’s Sporting Goods.

The main reason why I wanted to move to Oregon was to snowboard. I like to think that I am good, but I am really not. I find it extremely relaxing. It is nice to get out of the city and get into nature. In college I played goal keeper for The University of Arizona Women’s Soccer team.

Soccer in Cameroon is extremely popular. Apparently there is a women’s soccer club in my village. I just found out a few days ago, so I have started researching to find out the validity of this rumor. One of the projects that I want to work on here is starting a girls soccer club. There is an existing girls scholarship program here that I would like to incorporate soccer with.

I have been in Cameroon for exactly 3 months now! The first 11 weeks I was in Bafia, Cameroon. I was 43 other people from around the United States doing training. We had lessons on the Cameroonian culture, language classes and technical trainings. During training, all of us lived with a host family. I think for the first 11 weeks, this was the most important part. This allowed us to practice our French, learn about Cameroonian culture, but most importantly help us integrate.

On August 17, with all of my Friends I was sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). Why did I want to join the Peace Corps? Why not is always my response. Not only is Peace Corps an amazing program, but it will also get me to where I want to go in the future. I want to get my Master’s and through Fellows Program it is possible. Before I came here, I did not speak any French. I did not even know the greetings. By the end of 2 years I know that I will be fluent. My goal by the end of 2 years is to be able to speak the local dialect, Fulfude, as well. The people are known as Fulbe.

The reason why I wanted to join the Peace Corps was to be able to learn about another culture. It is one thing to study about a country, but it is completely different to live in the country. Cameroon is very diverse. There are over 300 languages spoken. French and English are the official languages. I am finding out that a lot of people do not speak either language. Especially where I am posted, there are a lot of refugees from the surrounding countries. Fufulde, generally in Northern Cameroon, the language spoken at the market; therefore it is extremely necessary to know both languages. People really do appreciate when you can speak a little bit of the local language. People love teaching you and other love when you can throw out the salutations and key phrases.

Right now I am working at a Micro Financial Institution, Credit du Sahel. It is a smaller bank, which focuses on 3 things: Savings & Credit accounts and loans. There are larger banks in the regional capitals or larger villages that offer the same services that we are used to in the States. The difference with MFIs, is that their goal is to reach the people living in the small villages. People call the smaller villages the “Bush.”

I do not anticipate working at Credit du Sahel much after a few months. The nice thing about Peace Corps is that they give you the freedom to choose the work that you want. I have already started working with 2 Women’s Groups, one in Meiganga and the other in a neighboring town, and also a Honey Union. With my counterpart at Credit du Sahel, we are brainstorming an agriculture project that would teach the students how to plant and harvest different crops, the nutritional benefits of their crops as well as the financial benefit of selling a new product.

I have been to a few villages now in Cameroon and I have noticed that at the market people sell the exact same thing as their neighbors. It is difficult to even comprehend this before witnessing it first hand. There are boutiques after boutiques that sell the same pots and pans, the same rugs, the same type of dry goods. And the kicker is that everything is the same price! When you go to the market, people assume if you are a foreigner (they like to call us “La Blanche” or “Nasara” which means the same thing in Fufulde) that you have money. The shop worker will then increase the price and you have to haggle your way down to a decent price. Another thing I have found when shopping here, is if I want to spend any significant amount of money (more than 5,000 cfa which is equivalent to $10 USD) it is best to bring a Cameroonian. You explain to the Cameroonian exactly what you want and how much you are willing to spend. I will then hide and let the person do their thing. Once they have decided on the price, I will swoop in and pay for it! This is a common practice for foreigners.

Something else that I have found to be extremely interesting while working here is the identification cards. A lot of people only know their birth year. So it is written 00/00/1931. There is a high population of illiterate people in Cameroon. For the signature, people will write an “X,” “O” or scribble. A lot of times this is the first time someone has held a pen.

Since I am still new with French, I will start off writing in English. I will be getting a French tutor in the coming weeks, so as my French progresses I would love to write more in French to you!
I wish you all the best during this school year! I look forward to corresponding with you all and sharing my experience. I also am looking forward to hearing about how things are back in your hometown! (Please eat a pizza for me and let me know how it is!)

Du Courage!

Monday, September 19, 2011

African Success!

Uploading pictures is an absolute feat here in Africa. 4 hours and 2 failed attempts later, the photos are now ready for your viewing pleasure. Thank yous can be send in forms of mac & cheese cheese packets. Only slightly kidding, and by slightly I mean not at all.

This is my favorite picture. I took a walk with my post mate, Andrew, and we turned around once we couldn't pass the river in the middle of the path.

This was the last of 7 school that I visited with UNICEF and UNHCR to see the progress of the projects at the schools around Meiganga. Hopefully I will have more information later on about these projects.

Oh rainy season! This was the traffic jam with over a hundred trucks waiting to get through this section of road. The passengers in my bus had to get out and walk this section while the men push our bus.

On a field trip during stage (before I officially became a volunteer). I forget the name of the village, but I just thought that this village was beautiful! The houses all have the pyramid roofs because the people believe that they are descendants from one of the 12 Tribes of Israel that came down through Egypt.  

And I will end with entry with a video that everyone sings here...including myself.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

3 Months of being an Ex-Pat

I have officially been an “Ex-Pat” (people like to refer to us as this) for over 3 months! I have been in Meiganga for a month now and I have been working at Credit du Sahel for 3 weeks now. It is frustrating now because I am still in the beginning stages of speaking French. But this is the best thing for me. I sit in an office with 2 other employees. Clients come in and out all day. I am greeted by each person, which intern means I get to practice my French all day! Come 2 hours into my day, I am exhausted, but like a said before this is the best thing for me! I have been meeting tons of GIC members, which means work opportunities!

My coworker has lots of great ideas of what I can do and what would be good for Meiganga. I have been introduced to many people in my first week that are doing great and innovative things! Dairy is a thing of the past for me. Powdered milk is my new staple for my calcium intake. I have learned how to make a basic ricotta and yogurt from powdered milk and a mean Alfredo sauce! (Don’t gawk, it is surprisingly fantastic) But my life is about to change dramatically. I met this GIC who makes cheese from, get this, REAL MILK!!! I am anticipating my taste buds to go bonkers.

When talking with people from back home I have been asked a lot of similar questions. The most popular being are you happy? Yes, I am beyond happy! I know that I have not experience the lows that inevitably all Volunteers will face, but right now I am happy. I have great post mates, an amazing Community Host, and a wonderful Host Organization (Credit du Sahel).

Background information: When getting to post you are partnered with a member of the community whose role it is to introduce you to as many people as possible, help you integrate, and be the family that you need in your new home. You are also partnered with a Host Organization. Some are partnered with the Mayor’s office, others NGOs. I am working for a micro financial institution. It provides 3 services, Checking & Savings accounts and loans.

The other common question I am asked is about my safety. Am I safe? Yes I am safe. This questions ties directly to my community host and host organization. Getting to know people is essential to my safety. They will look out for me. The community wants me to be here and they want me to be safe. I live in a gated concession with 3 other families. Someone is always around. And every time I come home I am greeted by one of the neighborhood kids asking for a gift.

I have been handing out letters to important members of the community. (ie. Mayor, Police Chief, Traditional Authority, ect.) I exchanged numbers with each person and each person told me that if I were to need anything I should call. The Head Gendarme in particular seems like an awesome guy. (He worked in Darfur for 14 months with the UN. He is new to Meiganga and to this position.) When we exchanged numbers he told me that he will be checking up on me often. He also said that next week he is going to see my house to make sure it is safe and meet my neighbors. When this happens, my post mates will come and I think I will bake cookies!

My neighbors in Bafia, Cameroon. The little boy standing next to me is named Ferrel. He was my buddy! He would greet me every morning and night by screaming my name and giving me a big running hug.

Crazy picture of the sky!

While having to walk 5km because the roads were so bad, I was snapping some photos and the Cameroonian I was with wanted to take one of me