20 September 2005

Jenny goes to Africa, Part 1

I meet up with my Peace Corps group in Philadelphia on September 28 for two days of exciting seminars with titles like "Nuts and Bolts", "Your Personal Definition of Success", etc. Then the morning of the 30th, my lucky group of 30-60 and I go to the clinic bright and early for our 10ish shots. We are then packed onto a bus for New York, from where we start the approximately 18 hours of traveling, straight. I've heard that the connecting flight from Paris to Cameroon is breathtaking, as it crosses the Sahara and you can see the vast expanses.

We arrive in Yaoundé, the capital, on October 1, do intensive training in language/culture/job for two months (somewhere in the country) and then move to our assigned posts for the next two years. Officially, I will finish on December 2, 2007 (the day before my 25th birthday, if you're counting). In Cameroon, I will be a community health volunteer, which means little more than the title to me right now. More specific jobs and posts are assigned during training.

Cameroon hasn't been in the news lately, which I suppose is a positive sign, politically. It has one of the most stable governments and economies in West Africa. It also has some of the highest disease rates, including the second-highest rate of HIV in West Africa (first is Côte d'Ivoire). Called both a microcosm of Africa and the breadbasket of Africa, it boasts every type of climate/landscape that can be seen in Africa (apparently) – desert, savanna, rainforest, volcanoes, beach, mountains, etc. It also produces the most food of West African nations – including but not limited to lots of coffee and cocoa beans. The official languages are French and English, but most people, if they speak one of those, speak French. We will also be instructed in local languages.

And after that… I don't know. I know I'll be living with a host family during training and after that… somewhere else. I don't know how many people are going or where we'll be. And I don't know what I'll be doing. Part of the Peace Corps experience seems to be the "adventure" (or so-called) of traveling into the relative unknown, putting yourself into the hands of the government which has made all the arrangements. The Peace Corps has been in Cameroon since 1962, its second year of operation, so this should be the continuation of a good, longstanding tradition.

I don't know until I arrive what the nature of internet access will be or how often it will be available. I'm not bringing my computer, though many people in my group apparently are (I'm still adjusting to that, and to the idea that cell phones are quite common, have widespread service, and that I'll probably have one). I will try to communicate by email when I can. I have had a very generous and genuine offer from a friend to put a blog together for me, so that is in the works. Hopefully there will be a possibility for transmission of pictures.

I hope this finds you well. Best of everything.

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