13 November 2005


Tomorrow I leave for a week's visit at my post! And my post is… where I will be living for the next two years… (drumroll, please)

Mvangan, South province!

Which I know you've never heard of. Not yet having been there, I am convinced that it's the absolutely perfect post for me. (This is much how I decided that Boston was my favorite US city many years before I ever visited. But I wasn't wrong then, so why now?)

And next week I'm going house-hunting for the house where I will live for two years in a village in the rainforest.

I'm very lucky because the PCV whom I'm replacing, Heidi, has been there in Bandjoun this week helping out with training (so I've already been able to learn a lot from her). I'll describe the village before I get to what my actual (AMAZING) job is going to be, there. Mvangan is a village of about 2000 people, located 100 km from Gabon in the middle of the equatorial rainforest. It's 2-3 hours from Ebolowa, the provincial capital of the South, where I'll go for banking and whatnot. I'm lucky that one of my PCT friends has been posted to Ebolowa, so not so far from me. Another good friend is a few hours further, at the end of a dirt road near Equatorial Guinea, in a village of about 200 people. We're pretty sparse, PCV-wise, in the South.

There is no cell phone reception in the area and there is one fixed phone line in the village that works sometimes. I should be getting a satellite phone (Heidi's is currently broken) but we'll see how that goes. One way to get messages to me is to send them by taxi from Ebolowa. I will have electricity in my house, but no running water – though I haven't had running water for a very long time and it really isn't an issue. There is a hospital in town and a high school – I don't know much else yet. The two main economic activities in the area are bushmeat hunting and cocoa farming. (Yes, I'm going to figure out how to make my own chocolate. At least that's the plan.)

So why Mvangan? Heidi just set up a volunteer counseling and testing center (VCT) at the hospital (for HIV). She's been training HIV counselors from community members, doctors, and nurses, and I will be taking over that project, as well as expanding the center and starting (I hope) some support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS (PVVS in French). Another part of my job will be doing community outreach in surrounding villages, on health topics including HIV but also water sanitation, malaria, etc. There is a apparently a chief who's really excited to work with me. I really want to work on water projects, too, improved water sources and the like for potable water in the communities.

Also: I will be working on the Johns Hopkins Cameroon project, which is a research study examining the crossover of viruses from non-human primates to humans. This is the current theory of how HIV came into the human population. Many new viruses have emerged and are emerging in this way. Why Cameroon and why where I am? There is a high level of contact between humans and non-human primates (chimps, gorillas, etc.) with bushmeat hunting, butchering, eating, and keeping monkeys as pets. There are many research sites, all over Cameroon, and I am ecstatic to be a part of this project. Three of us PCTs (well, later PCVs) will be working on this. I don't know exactly in what capacity, yet, but I can't wait to find out more. The Hopkins site near me is 60km away on a moto. (Ah, there she comes in the PC-prescribed moto helmet! It makes me look like a Power Ranger.)

Essentially, my job has many components, all of which I can choose to emphasize as much as I want, has me traveling throughout the community, doing education, building things, doing research, and… whatever else happens over the next two years. Yes, it's exactly perfect. And I can't wait to get there.

After this week, which I will spend with Heidi, meeting all the important people, getting to know the community and the area a little bit, and getting some idea of my job, I come back to Bandjoun for another 3 weeks of training. Swearing-in is December 15th, after which I can officially call myself a PCV, and it'll be off to Mvangan for two, I foresee, glorious years. More (with pictures, I hope) after I've actually been there. It's all starting to be real now.

And I don't want to be anyplace else on Earth.

01 November 2005

Un week-end à Bamenda

[As far as I can tell, "stagiare" seems to be the French equivalent of "trainee". If you don't know French, try BabelFish. -- Dev]

Pour que cet article soit à la portée de tout le monde, j’ai decide d’écrire en anglais et en français. Nous parlons d’une visite dans une province Anglophone, après tout. Alors tout ce qui se passé à Bamenda sera en anglais. And if you can no longer read English after a heady week of immersion, come find me and I’ll translate gladly.

Le voyage a été facile, 2 heures en bus, coincés les uns contre les autres comme on a bien l’habitude. Après seulement un pneu creusé en route (et un arrêt qui a bien servi de pause-toilettes) on est arrives à la gare routière de Bamenda, toute en haut de la ville.

And there our adventure in English began – and then the other stagiaires began to understand the trials and tribulations of your editors in Cameroonian French. Taxis sped us partway down the mountain to Mondial Hotel, and then onto the rest of our trip.

On through Bamenda! Anglophone style is very different: more subdued, less aggressive, but at least on this trip, more willing to gouge prices for us. Among the highlights: a medicine man selling cure-alls with pictures of STIs to rival Dr. Laura’s in Yaoundé. The trip also yielded a few artists’ studios, including a triumphantly-argued purchase for a friend. It’s really nice, and it really shows off the “coc du Cameroun”.

Onto the waterfalls! Or, chutes de Bamenda! Or, where we ended up, White House! Taking three taxis that started off our short excursion by crashing into each other, we pulled up in front of a very nice, very large, yellow house overlooking the city.

“It’s White House!”

Or… house of the whites? After more arguing, we did get to the head of the trail to the waterfalls. It was a slippery climb down, with only a few casualties, and the trip back up was precarious only for the two who stumbled into some sort of merde. The view and the journey through “African jungle brush” were spectacular. Go see it yourself - and you might get to see the White House too, if you’re lucky.

Later, a valiant seven, including PCV Kelly, set out in search of a night club and ended up at Dallas, Bamenda’s premiere sing-along bar. Karaoke? Yes, but without the prompters. When we entered, it was a mix of African tunes and Céline Dion, but after their shout-out to “our white friends in the back,” we were summoned to sing Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World.” Did we know the words or the tune? I didn’t, but after several rounds I managed to catch the chorus. The fearless Health president led the bar in clapping along – and – well – I have to say we improved everyone’s evening entertainment. For an encore? “La Bamba”, oddly enough, followed by us dancing - somehow - to everything sung for the rest of the night. We stayed out past midnight (so late for stagiaires!) but half the evening was yet to happen.

Our taxi driver on the way back to the hotel was kind enough to wait patiently while more prices were argued for fairness. Finally on the slow, steep climb back, he discovered he had a car full of Americans willing and ready to sing Bob Marley and Céline Dion with him. He was so excited by us that he stopped – at least twice – offering to take us back to his house so we could all drink palm wing together and sing. We and the taximan serenaded Mondial Hotel as we waited for the gates to open.

Et le matin, c’était tôt l’heure de partir, mais non sans du café et du pain avec le beurre reel et la confiture. Le voyage de retour a été sans incident, grâce aussi à la cassette géniale achétée par Kelly à la gare. Épuisés, déjà de retour à Bafoussam à 10h30, le week-end s’est terminé, mais bien achévé.