Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy New Year to everyone!

My apologies to anyone following this blog, I have not kept it up to date since October. Many things have occurred since then, and I will make a greater effort at posting new entries more regularly.

So a lot has been going on since I last posted. Throughout the month of October I’ve been settling in more into life in Kaélé. The rains did not stop until November which was unusually late and made people concerned. When you measure your life by the seasons I suppose that the smallest perturbation is enough to make you worry. Nonetheless everything is dry as a bone aside from the Neem trees now, and it’s the cold season meaning that mornings are chilly (12-15˚ Celsius) but afternoons get hot, round the 30-35˚ Celsius mark. Considering that everyone back home is suffering from cold snaps and freezing, I feel somewhat content where I’m at right now!
During October I worked with individual entrepreneurs as a consultant. Things changed in November when I was asked to help organise an Artisan’s fair for the province of Kaélé, which is called Mayo Kani. Despite working for 3 weeks and enlisting over 100 artisans, overall organisation was stymied by last-minute rushes which were irritating since a lot of things could have been far better planned. Nonetheless there were a lot of people and most people seemed to have had a good time. The top 10 contestants went to Maroua for the regional fair and the top 3 winners were a traditional tools group, a soap and body-lotion making group and a traditional dance and music group (the last of which I am not entirely sure if it could be included in an artisanal and/or handiworks class but they were). There were a variety of crafts represented, from pottery to leather work, tailoring to metal work and more variety of crafts that would fall into handiworks. I was also asked to be the president of the jury which as it thankfully turned out was nothing as grand as the title seems to imply. At least it was good to see how a jury works and also what controls are in place to prevent rigging of the competition.

After the fair, which took up a considerable amount of my time, I travelled south to Yaoundé and to the beach resort town of Kribi for what is called In-Service Training (Peace Corps, loving its acronyms, calls it IST). That was most of mid-December and that was an incredible change from being in the North. For one thing, it was all green. Fruit cost a tenth of what I would pay back in Kaélé (if there were non-local fruit to begin with) and it was very humid. Being back in Yaoundé was also a drastic change in that there were cars everywhere, not motorcycles and I had my first Chinese meal in over 6 months. Likewise it was refreshing to be called “le blanc” rather than “Nassara” and I had gotten far used to the Grand North since I was shocked by women wearing trousers, jeans and skirts that end far too above the ankle to be deemed acceptable in villages I had visited.

Kribi was an even bigger change since the humidity was oppressive, it had been the first time I’d seen the ocean and eaten fresh fish and shrimp in over 7 to 8 months and also the first time in 3 months that I saw everyone I arrived in country with. Why Peace Corps thinks it’s a good idea to have a week-long work seminar at a resort town is beyond me, but I was very thankful for it! The beaches were white sand and lined by palm trees. The sun set regularly in Brazil’s direction and the water was incredibly warm for being the Atlantic. It felt more like the Mediterranean in July, but I expect that that is what you get at tropical beaches, especially a stone throw’s away from the Equator. The work itself was acceptable though there were things that could have been jettisoned from the program and others that could have been better planned out. But when you have 29 Americans and 29 Cameroonians to cater to, I suppose you have to find a middle ground. After work we invariably went to the beach to hang out and pass the evening sunset or went for meals in town or at the beach. As I already said, I hadn’t had fresh fish and shrimp in a long time but what was available there was simply incredible, and those of you who know me well know that I’ve never been a fish person. So I suppose that it is no surprise that the crustacean that Cameroon got its name from is simply spectacular.

All beach excursions have to come to an end though, and on my way back up I spent Christmas Eve in Ngaoundéré, the final stop of the train to the Grand North. It was only a couple of volunteers and I in our transit house in the city but it was a very enjoyable one. We made do with what ingredients were available to us, so we managed to order a roast chicken and made salad, ratatouille and potatoes au gratin to go with the main meal and baked an “apple crumble cobbler” for the desert. It was spectacular to say the least! Ngaoundéré is also a beautiful city when you leave the area around the train station, and I consider it the closest thing I’ve seen to Switzerland in Cameroon on account of houses being made of stone and some even having chimneys. It’s obviously not Switzerland though since I woke up to the minarets calling the faithful to prayer on Christmas morning. Christmas day was spent travelling to Kaélé with my other postmate and it was a relief to finally arrive home. Pazzo had grown a lot in only 3 weeks of my being away and my kitten, which is called Furbo, had likewise grown up some. Things had gotten drier and browner in the time I’d been away but everyone was incredibly welcoming when I got back, so all in all it was a great first African Christmas.

The past couple of weeks I’ve kept myself busy with a project planning and management seminar as well as by hosting some other volunteers who decided to spend the holidays visiting the Grand North. Aside from that I believe that I may relax from all the hectic travelling and decide with what Lycées I will be working with and how I will go about teaching business classes to the women´s group in Kaélé.
So a brief update of what has gone on, and a lot has not been included, but rest assured that I will be more rigorous with my blog from now on!

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