Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Monumental Day!!!

Today was a monumental in many respects. Maybe monumental is an exaggeration, but it was a pretty awesome day nonetheless. If you remember my blog post, Resilience Training, we have come a long way since last year. Today after 12 months of saving, we gave back the money!!! Let me repeat this so you understand the reason for my excitement: after meeting every week and each member saving about 200 CFA, about 40 cents which is HUGE for these women, we “broke the box” or divided up the savings! The savings ranged anywhere from 47000 CFA, $94, to 8000 CFA, $16. When I handed out the money to each member, said their names, and shook their hands everyone was cheering and the cheering did not stop at the 20th person! We celebrated afterwards with a warm liter of Fanta, which was a wonderful treat.

Sidione, the translator, is a dear friend of mine; she was a life saver. She came in without knowing anyone in the group very well, not knowing what exactly the group did and she came every week to be the secretary! But the most wonderful thing about her is seeing how two groups of people who normally do not get along so well not only work together, but laugh and cry together. Let me explain, Sidione is Gbaya, or Christian, and the group members are Emborro, or Muslim. Generally different tribes to not mix. They live in different parts of town; they do not respect each other; they do not work with each other; they just tolerate each other. But this group is working together!

This is my most rewarding work, not because I actually do a ton with them, but because I am able to see how far they have come and knowing how far they will go. We have been through a lot together this year; the death of Moustapha, finding a new translator, the frustration of me struggling with French let alone speaking Fulfulde; but here we are now. January 8th we will be starting our 3rd cycle, or 3rd year of saving. They decided today that they all would set aside 1000 CFA, $2, for the start of next year so that can be prepared for any unexpected costs, sicknesses or deaths, that might occur. We are able to see the impact of Claire's, the Peace Corps Volunteer whom I replaced, and my work; they are planning head and saving on their own. That is precisely why it is the most rewarding work, because I can see the change! 

Today was a great day, my friends; what a wonderful day it was.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Season of Thanksgiving

There is a lot to be thankful this year. And going with this season of Thanksgiving I want to share with you what I am thankful for this year.

I am thankful for Meiganga. My compound. My 7 little brothers and their parents which are mine too. I am thankful for the security that living in a compound brings. I can sleep well at night knowing that there are always 9 other people living with me. I am thankful for work. My 3 savings groups; 1 in Dana (17 km from Meiganga) which will start saving in January whose group name means in Gbaya: 'Working for tomorrow.' My group in Meidougou  is about to finish their 2nd year of saving and finally my group at Centre Socio, an alternative school for girls who learn how to be tailors. I am thankful that the technical high school in Meiganga now has access to a world map that 4 students, a teacher and myself worked tirelessly on for a month. 

I am thankful for my Peace Corps support system. I am grateful that I was able to host Thanksgiving at my house for not only volunteers but my Cameroonian neighbors as well. I am thankful that we had food on the table that tasted like Thanksgiving. I am thankful that I wasn't homesick. How could I be? 10 PCVs and 7 Cameroonians sharing a Thanksgiving meal in my living room. I am thankful for how cheap beers are in Cameroon and that kids will just dance even if there is no music.

I am thankful for my family back home who I get to speak to every Sunday afternoon. I am thankful for my dad's health, my mom's positivity when I have an awful day and my sister who is planning her trip to Cameroon with Ben. I am thankful for being able to celebrate James and Jill's wedding in August and dancing the night away with the Nicolai clan. I am thankful for my new cousin in the Zanrosso clan and being able to catch up while I was home.

I have been blessed beyond measure. Some years I would struggle to say at the dinner table what I was thankful for, but this year the list doesn't stop. Never before have I have been completely comfortable in my skin and content with where I am in my life...so that is what I am most thankful for.

Thanksgiving evening filled with laughter, great food, great company and lots of dancing!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Local Computer Training Center

Meiganga has been my home now for 14 months now. It is a wonderful place to live and work. I am asking now for my friends and family back home to have a direct impact on my home away from home. My postmates, Andrew, Emma and now Charla, have been working on creating a Computer Training Center in Meiganga for over a year now. This project is intended to create a computer training school open to the community. The profits from inscription fees would go towards updating and expanding the capacity of the school as well as, in the future, paying professionals for their time spent teaching. The computer training is intended to increase the technical competency in our village and the surrounding areas, allowing community members to better utilize and understand information technology on various levels. 

This center already has people lined up to use it! If this project is funded, Charla and I will be hosting a 3 day computer camp at this training center for our A2Empowerment scholarship girls. Check out the link on the bottom of this blog. Any donations would be greatly appreciated. If you are able to pass this link along the community of Meiganga would be forever grateful. 

Thank you! Merci! Oseuko jur! 


Thursday, October 18, 2012


When I had my first interview for the Peace Corps, I remember thinking when hearing about the lack of privacy I should expect that it couldn't possibly be true. How is it acceptable to have kids just look at you through your windows and stare? Or if they are even more annoying yell your name constantly until you respond or they get tired; the latter of the two is normally it.

I feel bad for celebrities and zoo animals because that is my life. People gawking at you all day or if they get enough courage actually coming up to say hello. The worst is when people touch my hair or stroke my arm. Its weird, but in an even weirder way I understand. I look different; I dress different; I act different. 

Some days it gets to me more than others. It doesn't bother me when I get invited into a "hair salon" and the hair dresser just wants to touch my hair or when little kids exam my hands and are puzzled by the freckles. I am still not a fan of kids staring at me through the windows though. 

I was traveling back to Meiganga and my car stopped to pick up passengers in this small town in the middle of nowhere Cameroon. It was market day there which happens once a week. As soon as I get out of the car to stretch my legs, almost instantly a group of 15 young boys crowds around me. They sat staring at me with their jaws dropped saying nothing; no hellos, just stares.

As I am writing this and reflecting on my first Peace Corps interview I am laughing inside. I now understand what it means to have no privacy, people searching through your trash to find what the white has thrown away, or having a group of kids join you on your run. 

On va faire comment? What are you going to do about it? 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happy Tuesday!

I am just going to go out and say it...my parents are too darn cute! Look at them in the traditional outfits that my friends had made for them!

Adjusting back

I have been back in Cameroon for a little over 2 weeks now. I was welcomed back into country with a 22 hour bus ride; it took longer to get from Yaounde to Meiganga than Los Angeles to Yaounde! Home feels like a distant past. Saying goodbye to my parents this time around there were no tears shed, a breif hug and a "see ya later!" Then we waved goodbye. I keep showing pictures of my time home and the most common response is that I look just like my mom!

After that nasty bus ride, I got right back in the swing of things. I kept telling Emma and Samantha, my postmate and cluster mate respectively, that if I sit down I will not get back up. So lets keep going! What I am referring to is a little ceremony that Emma and I had planned for our scholarship girls. An NGO, A2Empowerment, awards girls in Cameroon scholarships for High School based upon need and merit. Last year we had a difficult time with attendance of monthly meetings and girls thinking the scholarship was a gift not something that they earned. 

This year we tried changing things up. We held a ceremony to give out their scholarships and certificates. A guardian for each girl was invited as well as the principals from each school and other important community figures. Although only 3 of the invited 9 officials showed up, it still was considered a success. Speeches were made by Emma and I as well as the principals in attendance. Emma and I focused on, "We are here for you!"  

I honestly think it resonated with the girls. The mom's were proud, we were proud, A2Empowerment is proud. After the ceremony we celebrated with cakes and soda and went on to enjoy our Saturday. Our next meeting is September 29th where we will be talking about goal setting for the school year. We have fun monthly meetings planned for the girls. 

Coming home was a necessary break for me. It allowed me to clear my head, enjoy the company of loved ones. Thank you all for the hugs, the kind words, the letters, everything. My second year is going to be a great one...I can just feel it. I cannot wait to share it with you :)

Delicious cakes that Emma made!

The seats for the officials invited.

Emma and I with the girls after the ceremony.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Your prayers have been answered...

On May 28, 2011, I remember thinking at my going away party that there is no possible way that I will be able to find the same support system in Cameroon. I wish each one of you could visit Meiganga, have tea or a cold beer with my friends; just sit and talk with them. They are my support system here. You would love them! They ask about my friends and family back home and I respond, "My family is a HUGE; my friends and my neighbors are my family." Normally the response is shock and shortly followed, 'WOW! You have an African family!' And that is true.

I want to share with you all my family here. Here are some of my closest friends. They are the reason why I love where I live. So my friends where ever you are in the world right now, just know that I have found a community, support system, and friends in Meiganga. I wish though I had a picture of the Peace Corps Staff because they too are my family.

I wish that you all could meet my Cameroonian family, but photos will have to do. See you all in August!  :)

Dennis is my soccer buddy! Dennis invited me to play with his friends and playing again has made me happier at post. He is a great friend! (The girls, left to right, Samantha & Charla are my postmates)

Amanda, my neighbor, and me on her birthday! I made her a cake and we all sang Happy Birthday in French and English. We sit on my porch daily together discussing gossip, preparing food, or sharing food from each others' home towns. She is my cheerleader in Meiganga and my go to person who will defend me from creepy men in town!

After church Easter morning with the Dokos, my landlord's family who lives in the concession with me. They have 7 boys who always seem to put a smile on my face when I am having a bad day. And Mr. & Mrs. Doko are always the first people I ask when I need help!

Hadidja and Salilou are wonderful. Always offering a warm meal, a cup of tea and a place to rest my head when I am not feeling well. 

Fanta, my Community Host, and I after the Fete du Mouton celebrations. She offers insight on the Cameroonian culture, she is a person to laugh with and grab a beer. Plus she is an amazing cook!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Gbaya Funeral

It’s never a fun topic. What is fun about death? Lately, the stories here have been beyond anyone’s imagination. A young adult who had his whole life to live whose 2 year old daughter died the year prior, the father of 5 young children, a woman who was too ashamed to acknowledge her HIV status and did not take the free treatment that would have prolonged her life. These are just a few of the stories. Everyone has theirs', but somehow here they are just heart wrenching. But we can learn from peoples’ experiences; we can learn how to laugh amongst the tears.

The family I lived with lost their grandmother one Monday afternoon. She passed away at 13:30 and I was there shortly after. It was Emmajene’s mom. She had been sick, could not help with the birth of her daughter’s 7th son, it was expected. But as with any death, expected means nothing. Death is death. I have been to my fair share of funerals, but in the states you know what to expect. You pray the Rosary, may or may not see an open casket, there are flowers, there are quiet tears. The funeral was of a Christian, Gbaya beloved mother of 3 girls and 1 boy, countless grandchildren.

Immediately after hearing the news of her passing, Amanda (my other neighbor in the concession) and I went directly to her house. Amanda comes from another region of Cameroon where there are different mourning customs, so we both were in for a cultural shock. The grandmother was lying on a foam bed in the corner of the room. There was a white sheet, which is customary, covering her body just until the nose. Each nostril had a bit of cotton in it. And women were surrounding her crying; a cry that is none like anything that we are accustomed to; a cry that was like a scream, a plea, a prayer, a whaling. When another woman walks into the room, she greets one of the family members with a handshake that is reserved only for giving your condolence. Then the women start the loud cries. Its gives you chills and immediately brings tears to your eyes. People do not cry here; it is only for mourning. Women do not even cry during childbirth. Men especially do not cry.

Therefore, when seeing the youngest son, 20 years old, burst into the room, threw himself on the bed that his mom laid on, and screamed. It was surreal. I have been to enough funerals, but the last time I really saw death, it was my Grandma Nicolai and I was in the 4th grade. I did not understand that my dad and I were going to the hospital to “claim” her. Life here is hard, and sometimes I forget that people actually feel. That may sound insensitive, but in the States we are so accustomed to people wearing their emotions on their sleeves. Here that is just not the case.

The next morning, I went to the house to bring a kilo of sugar as a gift and to greet the family. I was told to come back later that afternoon for the funeral. The funeral happened in Gbaya, one of the other local languages here. As they were lowering the casket a family member jumped into the grave crying; in order to get him out people had to throw in money. (100 CFA about 20 cents) After the funeral, family and close friends were invited to drink Buie together (the spelling is wrong, but it is like a rice drink and depending where you are in the country they will mix in sugar, peanut butter or cinnamon). A mat was placed in the center and people who aided in taking care of the Grandmother were invited to sit on the mat together. Then 2 elder women rubbed oil on them all. Apparently, it is a tradition which mean, ‘Congratulations.’ I interpreted it as, ‘you did your part in taking care of the person. Your work is done and we thank you.’

Charla, my postmate, and I taking care of the babies at the funeral.

The women greeting one of the Grandmother's daughters after the burial. A sign of respect at a funeral is to greet someone by laying on the ground. Then who you are greeting will then lift your head to say 'thank you.' 

Before the burial greeting someone on the ground there were tears, but after the burial it is a celebration of life and joyous. 

Taking care of Emmajean's youngest son.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Looking Back

As my 1 year mark quickly approaches, I decided to read how far I have come by re-reading my old blog posts. Let me updated my dedicated followers.

Fish. I am still not a huge fan of fish, but I will eat it. I will not eat the head, the eyes or the tail, but I want to try the fins because I hear that they taste like chips. I was at the US Embassy in Yaounde last weekend and I was offered fish and given a fork and knife. I tried using the knife and realized that I have only ever eaten fish with my hands. So I switched my tools for eating and was then called "villageois" by a gentleman from Nigeria.

Bush Meat. I found out 6 weeks after living with my Host Family what type of bush meat I was eating; hedgehog. It tasted like beef but with a lot of little bones. Right now is termite season, so I am trying to get the courage to eat some. People say that they are delicious. The next thing on my list, which is a huge honor, is to it Boa aka snake. Where I live, women are not allowed to eat certain meats, and boa is one of them. So to be offered a dish is a huge honor and I will not be able to say no.

Toilet Situation. I have a "Western Toilet" as they like the call it here and I HATE IT! A latrine, a hole in the ground, is much cleaner when you do not have reliable water. Sometimes I have dreams of having a latrine. Life would so much easier. But another I have learned along the way, is always travel in skirts. That is because when you have to go and there is no latrine your only other option is to ease yourself on the side of the road and pants would expose you too much, you can hide yourself better with a skirt.

Work. I am all over the place with work, but I have found that my favorite type of work is teaching groups how to make new things to sell or just to improve their daily life: lotion or American style cakes. Right now I am working on making soap and learning how to infuse oils to improve the quality of the soaps and lotions. My next goal for the upcoming school year is to do a training with Primary School Teachers who do not make that much, around $140 a month, on how to make their own products so that they can save money throughout the year.

I still work with my group in the next village over. In the next few months I am going to be working with their kids, about 30 kids or so, to introduce "Piggie Banks" to them. When I first explained the concept to their moms, their were shocked that kids in the States save money! They demanded, in a nice and enthusiastic way of course, that I teach their kids!

The most important thing I have learned with work is that things do not always go as planned. I was and still am passionate about doing the Women's Rights and Empowerment club to educate women of the community about issues going on in the world, but it just did not work out. I am sad about it, but I still have another year to see if I can do something with that project idea. Also, the kids candy business failed because the boys kept eating their candy. It was a good learning lesson for them about a business and for me as well: giving candy to 5 kids under the age of 15 and expecting them not to eat their candy was ridiculous on my part, but we had fun in the process.

If anyone has anymore questions for me shoot me an email: daniellenicolai@gmail.com. I love hearing from you in emails and letter forms. It makes the bridge between Cameroon and the United States just a little bit smaller. Thank you for all of your support over this past year. I cannot wait for what year 2 has in store for me!

Danielle Nicolai
B.P 89

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I came to Cameroon to "save the world." But I have found that through this experience that I am learning more about myself. June 1st will be my 1 year in country. To me, it feels as though I have been in Cameroon for just a few short months. When I asked my Dad what he thought, he responded immediately, "YES! It feels like you have been gone for 2 years!" There are days when I feel like the end of my 27 month service cannot come fast enough, but now that I am reflecting on this past year; I do not want to leave. I keep thinking of ways to get back; if not Cameroon someplace in West/Central Africa. I feel at home here. When I am away from Meiganga, I miss my friends, work, the comfort of seeing familiar faces greeting me as I pass.

Before I came to Cameroon, I knew absolutely no French. One of our family friends told me before I left, "Bon voyage!" and I responded, "Bon voyage!" Now, when I am upset I have an easier time expressing myself in French rather than English. For example: I was in an Anglophone village (English Speaking part of Cameroon) and a Juju hit me in the head with a stick. I was so upset that the first words out of my mouth were in French.

I know certain character traits about myself. I am a perfectionist, Type A, like things done my way and done on my watch type of person. Well, let me just tell ya, that is not the way things are done here.  Its this weird thing that happens now when everything is in chaos, its literally as if all I hear is static like when the TV or radio is on a bad channel. I am able now to sit of long car rides, next to smelly people, goats in the trunk and having a goat snack on my ponytail and all I hear is static. Things do not phase me as much anymore.

With that being said, I have now become more feisty. If someone is bothering me I have no qualms letting the person know how I feel, yelling at someone, or saying a witty remark to make the other person feel uncomfortable. When someone tries to rip me me off, I normally say something like, "You are a thief!" or "You are a comedian!" I tell people I am Cameroonian, which generally their response is, "You cannot be Cameroonian. You are white, only blacks are Cameroonian." Then I will respond, "I cook your food. I wear your clothes. I speak your languages. I live here. I have an I.D. card. I am just as Cameroonian as you are."

I still would love to change the world, but I am; just in a way that I did not think I would. I am changing the people around me. It might be small changes, but those small changes mean the world to them. Its the conversations that I have. Explaining to people, that is both not normal and not healthy for a 13 year old girl to get married to a 40+ year old man. I am 24, unmarried and kid-less. That is a monumental idea to a lot of people. I also feel like I am empowering the women I work with. When I walk into a meeting where the women are taking French classes, then introduce myself in Fufulde. They are shocked that English is my first language, that I just learned French and that I trying to speak Fufulde. When I show them by example that what they think is impossible, learning another language, is possible, their eyes light up. Those are just a few things that I feel like that I have had an impact with; but here are a few more. Introducing saving 200 CFA a week (about 40 cents), what a Piggie Bank is or making new types of products to sell.

Yes, there are extremely difficult days. Times when I almost get robbed, a rock gets thrown at me, the kids wake me up at 6am yelling in all my windows, men tell me that I need to be their wife, or have their babies. But I think the most important thing I have learned is to brush things off and laugh about something that happened. If I let the uncontrollable bother me too much, if I let the hard times get to me too much; then I would not be here.

After almost 1 year in country, I have reached a sense a peace. I am more comfortable in my skin than I have ever been. I have reached a sense of calm that I did not think would be possible for this Type A person.

My transformation.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Traditional Life: Jujus

Cameroon is known as "Africa in Miniature," which is exactly what it is. In one day's worth of travel one can go from the savanna to the jungle, then the next day to rolling mountains. With such diversity in landscape comes extreme diversity in culture. Cameroon is divided into 10 regions, which can be loosely grouped into 3 categories - Grand North, Gran South and Grand West. In the Grand North, where I am posted, there is more of a common cultural connection due to Islam.

I find it interesting when visiting other regions how diverse culturally Cameroon actually is. From what I have found, throughout Cameroon there is some aspect of the traditional culture. There is a "Fon," "Lamido," or "Chief" depending on the region. The person is the Traditional ruler. Where I am in Meiganga, the Lamido is not a big deal, in comparison to other areas. From my understanding, his main role is to settle household or land discrepancy matters. But in other regions the traditional life is the life of the people. I first visited Kumbo, Northwest in December for the "Cultural Festival." It was an annual celebration to unify the Banso area and to celebrate their unique traditions.

During this Cultural Festival week it was, to oversimplify, a large party at the palace, home of the Fon. People from all over the Banso area as well as Cameroon came to participate in the festivities. One of the most interesting parts of the Festival was the "Juju." A Juju is a spirit embodied by a person whose face is covered by cloth, a mask, or paint; and only the people in the traditional house know who the Juju is.

Throughout the year in the Kumbo area the Jujus only come out for special occasions: death of someone high up in the traditional house, Holidays, etc. During the Cultural Festival Jujus are out in full force as well as spectators. Each Juju is completely different. Because they each embody a different spirit, each Juju has different appearances and mannerisms; there is also a power structure. Some Jujus are more powerful than others, and the more powerful the Juju is, the more the people respect it.

Some Jujus are reigned in by a group of men trying to control the spirit. Some will dance around, others will do flips down the road and most have sticks or daggers in their hands commanding the respect of the people around them. When a Juju passes you, you must crouch down (like the catcher's pose), put your right hand in a fist and cup it at the bottom with your left hand and lastly, bow your head if you do not want to see the wrath of the Juju. I have seen one Juju beat and drag a man around for not following the protocol.

I went back to the Kumbo area this past weekend to attend a Shey Coronation ceremony of a friend. A "Shey" is someone who has been given title in one of the traditional houses by the Fon. After the ceremony, a group in the community dressed up as Jujus and danced for us. The video below and the 2 pictures above are from the cultural soiree. It was a fun interpretation of such a powerful, important and unique aspect of the culture in the Kumbo area. The rest of the photos are from the Cultural Festival in December. I hope that you find it just as interesting as I did. I showed these pictures to other Peace Corps Volunteers in other parts of Cameroon and they were all so amazed by the Jujus. Enjoy!

Kumbo, Northwest, Cameroon Cultural Festival
December 2011

Kumbo, Northwest, Cameroon Cultural Festival
December 2011

Kumbo, Northwest, Cameroon Cultural Festival
December 2011

Kumbo, Northwest, Cameroon Cultural Festival
December 2011

Dancing Juju Group
Nkar, Northwest, Cameroon Coronation Ceremony
April 2012

Dancing Juju Group
Nkar, Northwest, Cameroon Coronation Ceremony
April 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dr. Nicolai

Today I had a meeting with a new women's group in Meiganga. I walk into the living room and start talking (with the help of a translator) to the members, when I notice that the President's son sits right in front of me and had one of his sleeves rolled up. Apparently the boy thought I was a doctor coming to give him a vaccination. Just another day in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer; getting confused as doctors.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


My mom would not be proud of me. I can still hear her yell from downstairs, “Turn off the TV!” I am not exactly sure what I thought my life would be like when joining the Peace Corps; maybe a mud hut with a grass roof, no electricity or water and definitely not enough TV and movies on my external hard drive to make Netfix worried that I might be able take over their business.

I am ashamed to say that I have watched countless movies and TV shows. I have an addiction to my computer (also known as my portal into the modern world). Something needs to change. During my first 3 months I escaped into the world of the circus in Water for Elephants, relived each of the housekeepers’ stories in The Help and reevaluated my perception of how to look at problems with Journey to the East; but I hit a plateau. I cannot remember what the last book I read or even when I read it.

Times are a changin' over here in Meiganga. This girl is hiding her external hard drive and picking up her Kindle. First on the list to reread The Red Tent and Rebecca; two of my favorite books. Then maybe after I will start the Hunger Game series  because I am almost positive with the way my newsfeed on Facebook is blowing up about the movie/books when I come home and have not read the books people will be more shocked than the fact that I just came home from Cameroon.

Other than this not-so-monumental news from me, my life is pretty standard here. Nothing too out of the ordinary. Well maybe a few things; yesterday for breakfast I had oatmeal with brown sugar (thanks Aunt Michela), bacon (thanks Uncle D and gang!) and Starbucks (Thanks Mom & Dad). Its days like that when you have a taste from home it makes being away that much easier. Now today I am having my hand at making my favorite Cameroonian dish: Peanut Sauce with Rice. And after 2 months of no running water I will indulge in a warm shower in the afternoon. (No I do not have a hot water heater, because it is so hot out right now the water pipes heat up thus giving me warm water.)

I ask now that you say a little prayer or send positive healing vibes, whichever you prefer, over to two very important people in my life; My Dad and Tamera Topping. Pray that my dad can finally put this prostate cancer forever behind him and that Tamera will have the strength necessary to continue to battle her cancer with such grace and positivity like she has been. Bon guérison et du courage!

And I just want to throw this picture in because this is a hodgepodge of a blog post. Spiderman was spotted in my concession.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dear Jules,

I hear stories about how I was as a child. How I used to read your diary, put on your makeup, try on all of your clothes, leave a crumb trail in your room while I snuck in to watch TV. I apologize publicly because I now know what it feels like to have to younger “siblings,” well in your case just one.

Let me explain…I live in a concession (a cluster of houses where you have a gate to get in) and the landlord has 7 boys. They go through all of my trash leaving the remnants scattered all around the concession, they beg to play with my soccer ball, they play with all of my knickknacks in my house. I am not sure how you dealt with me for so long; I have only been living here for 7 months. Well, today, Julie I had enough. The day before I let them watch “The Lion King” in my living room while I took a nap. My mistake, I know. Rule #1 of babysitting: never leave the kids alone. But you see, that’s why I did not babysit for long; just not good at it.

Today I went to go upload pictures to print out for them and that’s when I saw it. They had a mini photo shoot in my living room. They took my camera, used it, and carefully placed it back where they found it leaving the only evidence as the pictures that they did not know how to delete. (I kept the photos as evidence so when I talked to them, they would know that I knew. But I immediately deleted them because I did not think having photos of a shirtless 9 year old would be appropriate.)

I sat each one of them down, explained to them why they were in trouble and that I was disappointed. I used the word “disappointed” because I remember mom and dad using that word when they were upset with me; it stung more. I told the 3 boys that their punishment was that they could not enter my house for a week and they cannot watch “The Lion King.” Ironic as this may be, I vividly remember getting in trouble. Mom took away all of my stuffed animals and left one out so I could have a reminder of what I did. Although I no longer remember what I did…I do remember that stuffed animal was Simba; funny how things have come full circle thousands of miles away.

So Jules, I apologize for terrorizing you. But I looked up to you. I am hoping now that I can be the positive role model that you were to me to these boys. I think that I am doing just that. Once you get over “kids being kids” they are wonderful, smart, funny boys who just are interested in what’s going on my life; exactly the same way that I was interested in yours.

I am hoping that I am doing just that. I was tired of them asking to use my stuff constantly and feeling guilty when I said no. So I told them I would help them start their own business. For my selfish reasons, I gave them a loan in the form of bags of candy. The kids are excited that they are starting their own business. They are slowly paying back their credit to me and I have come to find out that they are amazing little business men. They just needed a little help to get them started on their quest to own a soccer ball.

So this is long, I know. But I wanted to let you know that the patience that you learned with me, I am now learning. I looked up to you and I think I turned out ok. I may have annoyed the hell out of you along the way, but I would like to think that we have had more fun than anything else. So, I hope to be the example that you were to me to these boys.

Your adoring sister who cannot wait for you to come to Meiganga and meet my “siblings.”

The 3 culprits...how can you stay upset with these faces?

The boys who I started the business with...from left to right: Eneta (6), Apalo (9), Danata (12) and Epo (15)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cameroonians say the darndest things...

So I have been told some pretty funny things by Cameroonians. I want to write them down and share them before I start to forget.
  • After getting off the phone with Emma, my post mate, the person sitting next to me said: "Was that English? It did not sound like it. You don't know English. You really need to learn it."
  • My neighbor Amanda while holding my cat and talking to him:  "You would make such a good dinner! We need to fatten you up!"
  • At the bar with Amanda and this crazy man asks me: "Are there people like you in America? Big, huge, fat people like you?"
  • Creepy guy comes over to my house as I was preparing to leave for the weekend...I no longer talk to this person or allow him to come inside my concession: "You travel too much. I need to put a collar around your neck and lock you to your couch so you can't leave."
  • On the back of a motorcycle and the driver tells me in Fufulde: "I want you. I want to have your white babies."
  • After leaving a restaurant while wearing my traditional outfit a man approaches Emma: "How much can I buy your friend for?"
  • My friend grabs my stomach after not seeing me because I was on vacation: "Danielle, you got fat." 
  • At someone's house: "Greet my friend on the phone...(once I hand the phone back over she tells her friend) I am with a white right now. Ya! She is sitting on my couch."
People like to tell you that you have gotten fatter when you have been away, even if it isn't true whatsoever! You just have to laugh. These are just a few things that I have been told that I can actually remember.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Resilience Training

Peace Corps had a session highlighting tactics for resilience during my first 3 months of training. The main theme that we were told was “just deal with it.” Most people found it amusing; others were upset because they were not given concrete answers. Since being in Meiganga I have had a lot of time to self reflect. The best training I could ever receive for my current job was from my parents and sister. If I let in a goal that I knew that I should have blocked, instead of giving me a pat on the back and saying, “It’s ok Danielle. You tried your best.” I was told, “Get over it and move on.” Still my favorite is, “Figure it out.” Though it seemed harsh at the time, I realized this past week how thankful I am for that harshness. It was the difference in making an awful situation manageable.

I work with a Fufulde only women’s group in the neighboring town. The woman who I replaced, Claire, had formed the group and found a translator, Moustapha. The group has been meeting for over a year saving money. Each member saves about 200 CFA a week which is about 40 cents. Moustapha and Claire helped the group save up enough money to buy a refrigerator so that they could sell yogurt.

Last Thursday Moustapha passed away. I visited him 3 days before he died in the hospital. He could barely walk and speak. He was literally skin and bones and the doctors couldn’t figure out the culprit for the sickness. He was 23 years old. After seeing him so sick I started to have nightmares for a week. I went to his funeral on Saturday. His family fed me and I sat with friends and talked about the life of a person who I had just met only a few months ago.

This past Tuesday I went to the Women’s Group without a translator, not armed with my Fufulde dictionary and not knowing what to expect. I went to the meeting and once I realized that doing this alone would be too much to handle, I left to find someone who could help me. I came back to the meeting with a 9 year old boy who spoke Fufulde and French. He was amazing and beyond helpful.

The short time after Moustapha’s death, I kept thinking ‘what am I going to do?’ I had completely forgotten about the women in the group. At the meeting on Tuesday, the women asked me if I will still help out. With tears in my eyes I promised the women that for as long as I am in Meiganga I will be there every Tuesday. Because they are not allowed to leave their houses without the permission of their husbands, I also promised that I will find them a trustworthy translator. The women were ecstatic and thankful. One woman told me, “Thank you, Dany. We know that you are trying with your Fufulde. If you stay with us we will be able to help you.”

That was the first time since being here that someone has told me thank you for my help. But getting back to my main point, this past week was heartbreaking, stressful, tiring, and scary but after Tuesday everything changed. Yes, this is still an awful situation, but it is manageable. The village loved Moustapha and people are willing to help out. I realized that after Tuesday if I can find a translator literally on the street and run a meeting in a language that I barely know, I am going to be ok. That is the best training, as hard as it might be, but I know hearing “figure it out” from a young age prepared me more than I could have ever imagined this past Tuesday.

The Women's Group and Moustapha is in the front.