Monday, January 27, 2014

An Ending and a New Beginning

I have been subconsciously avoiding writing this blog post. I am reminded daily by all different things, often times at random, about my time in Cameroon. Yesterday I found a bag of my favorite coffee grounds that I purchased in Cameroon. I had been saving them and they wound up getting lost in the shuffle of moving around so many times. I savored that glorious cup of coffee that reminded me of so much. I was known by my neighbors as the coffee drinker. Each morning when I woke, I would greet everyone with a warm cup of coffee in my hand. If I did not have that cup of coffee in my hands, they would send me back into my house and wait to greet me until I had it. Its funny how something so simple can remind you of so much.

Coffee these days is easier. Boiling the water is easier.  I get my water from the tap; no waiting for the water to filter. I have an electric tea kettle; no wondering if the gas for my stove is out. Cleaning my French press is easier; I just pop that sucker into the dish washer.

Something that I have noticed since being back is although things in the States may be easier at times, I miss the mundane tasks. Yes, there are so many more vegetables that I can have all the time, but I truly miss the excitement that overcame everyone in village when the seasonal items came into season. Grocery shopping in the states is easy, but is it enjoyable? It is not a community event, no one says hello to me as I pass them. At the time I HATED not having water for long stretches of time, but now I miss how getting water was such an event. It allowed me to hang out with my landlord’s kids. It was a work out.

Now to the present moment. A lot has changed since I left Cameroon on July 20, 2013. I traveled for 6 weeks with my boyfriend, another Peace Corps volunteer that I met in training and we have been together ever since, to Dubai, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Throughout the trip we would look at each other in awe and say, “These roads are so much nicer than in Cameroon!” or “How are there so many 7-11s and ATMs? This country is SO developed!” The trip was a great way to transition back to the states. It was interesting to see so many similarities amongst the differences.

After traveling around Southeast Asia, I moved back home. I was there for about 6 weeks. It was an odd period. It felt like I was on vacation; that I would be returning to Cameroon at any moment. I got to see most of my friends, attend a few weddings, eat all of the fruits and vegetables that I could possibly handle, and sleep on an American mattress! 

In the beginning of October I moved out to DC to be with Christian. It has been a whirlwind since then. The New Year has come and gone. At one point I was working 4 jobs just to make ends meet. I thought that moving to DC would be easier than it actually was. Finding a job has been extremely difficult; I underestimated how hard it actually would be. But now, I feel like things are starting to come together. I have a temporary job, I am also working at a restaurant, I have a direction and short-term goals. When I first got back to the states, even thinking a week ahead made me go into a panic – so this is an improvement.

Do I miss Cameroon? Absolutely, I will always miss Cameroon. It was my home for over 2 years. My friends who became my family are still there. I talk to them often and I cannot wait for the day that I can go back. I am reminded daily of my time in Cameroon. I am beyond grateful for my experience, the people I met, and the work that we did together.

It has been fun reading my old blog posts and remembering stories that I wrote about. I am not sure if I will write here again – I am not sure what I would write about. My life in Cameroon was much more interesting than my life now. 

As I continue on I am reminded that my last chapter will never actually be closed; this experience has changed everything about me – so it will be forever with me.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dear Meiganga,

This is my letter to you. Thank you for these wonderful 2 years. They have come and gone, far too fast. Thank you for changing me; you have taught me patience, how to laugh loud, dance with no inhibitions, be a better friend and live in the moment. You introduced me to some of my closest friends; I am having a hard time even imagining not being able to go to Hadidja and Fanta's houses. You allowed me join a wonderful family. I am their only daughter; I am a Doko, a Gbaya at heart.

Thank you for everything; the good times, the bad times, the tears, the laughs, the bad dance moves, the music, the food, the good company. My words are not sufficient enough to express my gratitude.

Until we meet again,

Here are some pictures of my last week in Meiganga:

One of my students made me a house as a going away present; it was pretty impressive! And another friend hand dyed the fabric I am wearing.

My bestfriend, Hadidja, and I in her living room. This is one of my favorite pictures! She was doing naylee on my feet.

Dieudonne and Mowgli are going to miss me. As I was packing up my house they would be at my door together.

At my going away party I gave a speech to say thank you to my friends.

All of the food at my party!

Thank you to everyone who came out to show their support. I am going to miss my Meiganga family!

This is Fanta, my community host. She was my first friend in Meiganga. She is my mom here and I am going to miss her more than I can even imagine.

This was at my last dinner at Hadidja's house. Muslim women cover themselves like this here. I LOVE all of the color that they wear. Look at her beautiful smile...she is amazing.

Haididja knew Mexican food was my favorite food and she prepared a Mexican feast for us!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Almost Done :(

I did not think I would make it to this point. When I first started on this journey, I bawled all the way from my house to Philadelphia. I was excited, scared, and a whole list of other emotions. 27 months seemed like an eternity; but now that my time is almost finished I am wishing that I had a few more months. I have a feeling that I am going to be bawling all the way home.

What are my last few weeks going to be like? I am planning on eating as much Cameroonian food as possible, drinking 'Castels,' enjoying the company of my friends here, and finishing up work. I will actually leave Cameroon July 20th to start my next big adventure.

Whats life going to be like after Peace Corps? Christian and I are traveling together for 5 weeks through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I will come home August 25th. Then I will figure out my next move from there. I am planning on moving to DC by October; just need to find a job first! Wish me luck!!

I am going to miss it here. The people, the food, my work. I will continue to keep you all posted in my last few weeks and with my trip. I am looking forward to seeing you all when I get back.

Bouba and our moto driver tying up the goat I purchased for my going away party.

I got a puppy for my landlord's family. His name is Mowgli and Dieudonne loves picking him up and handing him to me. We are working on not throwing or kicking Mowgli.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


In the states I was afraid of tofu. I thought that it was a food that only hippies ate. It looked freaky; no color. It sounded freaky; takes on the taste of whatever you cook it in. I never even had soy milk before I came to Cameroon! Seeing as I joined the "Hippie Army" I figured that I needed to try it out! My first time drinking soy milk and eating tofu was when I made it with Samantha, another PCV. Since then I have been hooked. I have made it before in my house and once with a small group, but never in a formal training setting. I couldn't stop talking about the nutritional benefits to everyone I met.

Last month I saw a friend, Bouba, in town and we sat and started talking. Bouba's friend asked me what is something that I wish I could have done in Meiganga but I just haven't done yet. I responded, "TOFU!!!" I explained the nutritional benefits of it and Bouba and Hamman were sold! That day we planned out a training for 28 community members on how to make soy milk and tofu.

Malnutrition is a huge issue where I live. People grow soy beans, but just do not know how important and beneficial they are. 

1 kilo of soy beans cost 500 cfa or about $1. There is the same amount of protein in 1 kilo of soy beans as 3 kilos of beef (7200 cfa or $14.50), 13 liters of milk (2000 cfa or $4) AND 60 eggs (4500 cfa or $9). That is a 13,200 cfa or $26.50 savings!!! 

Samantha McLean, a health volunteer about 17km away, came to talk about the health benefits of soy beans. We also covered hand washing! Before anyone came to volunteer with cooking they had to go wash their hands. It made for good practice!

Overall the training went extremely well. We had a few hiccups along the way, like having no chairs and not enough space for the training. But we got chairs and held the training outside. We drank soy milk, ate tofu kebabs, and prepared the tofu like ground meat. People asked thoughtful questions and were eager to participate. It has been about a little over a week since the training and I already have people stopping me in market saying they have made it!

We ended the training by saying we are community agents. We have to share this information with our neighbors. We are members of the Meiganga Community! With this information, hopefully, malnutrition will reduce.

Next Step: I am doing a follow up meeting on June 15th to make soap with the group members. This will be my last training in Meiganga. My official close of service date is July 19th. Where have these 2 years gone??

Samantha teaching a section on the nutritional benefits of soy!

We mixed the tofu with green peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onions. 

Checking to see if the tofu was ready. We had a problem that not enough water was draining out.

Me cutting up the tofu.

Bouba enjoying his tofu kebab! 

All of the trainees showing off their certificates!

The rock star trainers. None of this would be possible without them! 

Saturday, April 27, 2013


I am been working on this one blog post for a while venting about the "NGO" effect. I was going to talk about how much aid work has spoiled things here. I was going to go into depth about how the "white man" has turned the culture into a "donnez-moi," or give me, culture. I had that blog post all ready to go; then something happened. I erased that post this week.

Last Friday I started feeling sick. I didn't think much of it. When Saturday came and I was laying on my porch curled in a ball wearing a jacket, scarf, pants and socks; keep in mind it was about 100 degrees out. I was supposed to have a training on how to make soy milk that day with a new group. Everything was already prepared for the training. I called my friend and told her that she would have to do that training alone because I was too sick to go. She immediately came to my house, saw me, apologized and said that I needed to go because she was not confident that she could do the training without me.

Feeling guilty and not wanting to let the women down, I reluctantly went to the meeting. In typical African fashion, everyone showed up an hour and a half late. While I was waiting the president of the group gave me a pillow and blanket and made a bed for me on the couch. When the training was done, 3 hours later, and I was packing up my things, the president asked me how much I paid for the soy beans. I told her 500 cfa, $1, which was less that I actually paid. She then proceeded to give me 5,000 cfa, $10. When I refused, she wouldn't let me leave her house. She told me that the women all gave a little bit because they knew I was sick and should go to the hospital. They said the money was to pay to see a doctor and for the medicine that I would need.

Sometimes people offer to pay for my transportation to meetings; I don't expect that. Sometimes people feed me at meetings; I don't expect that either. Sometimes with new groups people ask me what I will be giving them; I always expect that.

Today I had another meeting with the group to make tofu. The president made the soy milk before I got there in preparation for the meeting. We had a wonderful time making the tofu, cooking it and eating it. As I was packing up the president came up to me and gave me money for my transportation, 300 cfa, 60 cents. Once again she wouldn't let me refuse. Then it started to rain a little bit; she went inside and gave me her umbrella.

I had this negative blog post all ready and this past week working with this group gave me a renewed sense of hope. Not everyone wants my money. The group definitely did not need to give me anything; telling me thank you is enough - more than enough.

Turns out that I had mild malaria. They were right; I was sick and I did need to go to the hospital. Happy to report that I am back to normal, there will be tofu in Meiganga, and I am grateful for my new friends! But this experience was a necessary reminder to hold onto the good that happens and cherish that. There will always be the negative, but when you are least expecting something unexpected happens. Cliche, but so true!

Next week we are going to be making lotion!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

International Women's Day!

Why don't we celebrate Women's Day in the states? We should! I am changing this for when I get back. Start planning everyone...March 8, 2014 at my house where ever I am! But will be doing the cooking for all of the women in attendance in order to keep with the spirit of the holiday :)

So here is the lowdown on this holiday...this is a holiday for women! Surprise, surprise.  The men are supposed to take care of the kids and the household chores while the women go and celebrate. This year there was a round table discussion with all of the really important people in Meiganga about ending violence towards women: rape, domestic abuse, young marriage, ect. The most ironic part of this is that the Minister for Women's Affairs is a male; sometimes things are just confusing here. There were sporting events, soccer and handball, and a cultural festival where women did traditional dancing, lip singing, skits and poems. My favorite act of the night was when Fanta, my community host, stuffed her shirt and pants with pillows to make her look fat, then proceeded to dance around, acting drunk and falling down making fun of the military. She even was saluting the military officials who were seated right in front of her! 

On the actual day, there is a parade. I marched with Centre Socio, a technical school for girls who learn sewing skills. I have been helping teach health classes there during my entire service. We all wore the same outfit in either blue and pink. (Fanta even made a similar model as me because this was my last Women's Day in Cameroon) After the march, Fanta, a few other friends and I went out and celebrated until 11pm. Someone even gave me 500 CFA because I was dancing the Pingus, a tradition dance that I will glad show everyone when I get home, so well!

Overall it was a wonderful week! Enjoy the pictures from this year and start preparing for next year; this time stateside! 

The teachers and I in front of Centre Socio. This year I marched with the school I have been helping teach health classes throughout my service

One of the highlights from all of my service...marching with a drag queen!!!

Centre Socio girls, drag queen and me after marching.

Fanta to my right is who I danced the whole day and night with! Her and her husband are my closest friends in Meiganga!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Too Soon

Do you remember my blog post entitled: Gbaya Funeral? I have heard the cries of funerals before living in Meiganga. I have heard the screams; the tearful singing; the whaling. I've heard it before, but I did not understand it; until March 6th. That Wednesday afternoon I got a phone call from one of my scholarship girl’s mom telling me that Louise had just passed away. I went as quickly as possible to the house to be with the family. This time I understood the crying. I was fighting my tears the entire motorcycle ride there. I ran into the house crying; whaling. This was someone I have worked with for my entire service through the Centre Socio classes and A2Empowerment scholarship.  As I was running to find a motorcycle to get to the house a friend stopped me and asked me what was wrong. I responded, “My daughter has died.”

Rewind two weeks before Louise’s passing. I got a phone call from her mom telling me that her daughter was sick and was going to die. She needed help quick. I went to the house casually not knowing what to expect. I remember thinking that it couldn’t be that bad; people are sick all the time; it couldn’t be that bad. Well it was that bad. I brought over a doctor friend the next day to see Louise thinking that maybe he could do something the hospital couldn’t. I overheard just a little bit of the conversation. TB and AIDS is a deadly combo and that’s what she had. It all made sense right then; the gradual weight loss, why she was sick all the time, why no one actually said what she had. You see, where I live if you have HIV/AIDS it is almost like you are a leopard. There are no support groups, you are shunned, and you are basically alone. (But statically you are not alone because my health center area has the highest HIV rate for all of Cameroon and my region has an HIV rate of 17% of sexually active people. There are even some neighborhoods in the bush that are thought to have an 80% HIV rate.) As the doctor and I left the house I touched Louise’s leg to say goodbye. She had lost almost all of her weight. I felt both of her bones.

The next day, her mom took her to the hospital. In Cameroon both TB and HIV medicine are “free.” (I am using quotes because they are not actually free, it’s just what NGOs like to say to make themselves feel better and get more people to donate to their cause…but that is another topic) Had her mother taken Louise to the hospital when she started to show TB systems we might not have had to burry our friend so young.

She was 20 years old. She was a mother of a 7 month old son. She was a daughter. She was a sister, youngest of 14. She was a friend. She was intelligent, loving, dance machine; just an overall sweet 20 year old girl.

I now understand the tears, the crying, and the whaling. I might not have understood the exact words that the women were singing, but I understood the meaning. She was my daughter.

I have been debating sharing this story. You are just reading a portion of it. It is worse. But unfortunately this is the reality. There are many stories just like hers. It is all too common. And it is all too tragic.

Emma, Louise, her mom, son and me at our A2Empowerment opening ceremony.

Please pray, send positive vibes, good wishes; whatever you choose to do to Louise’s family. Please pray for her son who is severely malnourished, he is 7 months old but you could easily confuse him for a 2 month old. Please pray for her mom, she has already lost 4 kids that I know of. Please pray for her friends. And please pray for the other Louises in Meiganga, inCameroon and in the world; there are far too many of them.