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.