23 March 2006

Stung by a Jellyfish in the night-equatorial-Atlantic (but it wasn't so bad)

I was going to write about youth day, but time has passed and other things feel more iminent now. Maybe later.

I just spent a week (and a bit) at the beach, courtesy of US govt tax dollars - Peace Corps In-Service Training. This is a conference that occurs three months into service. It's supposed to be a milestone; we're not allowed to travel out of province or take vacation in the first three months, we're not supposed to start major projects, etc. When we separated in Bandjoun, after living together for 11 weeks, 3 months stretched long. And after living 3 months without any form of communication with the outside world (while at post), for the longest stretch, almost a month - it wasn't actually hard. Not that part. Now work will really commence. Maybe.

I've had questions about what life is like. Life, to me, is no longer exotic. During IST we watched Globetrekker in Cameroon and I realized, again, that my life here is very colorful and interesting and very different than anything I could have imagined from the States.

So, the topography of my life. Since arriving at post: absolute low - seeing my friend's sister dying of AIDS (feb 14). The only thing I could do - and what I did do - was take pictures. It's customary here to take pictures of dead loved ones, lain out on a bed in funeral attire. Being the funeral photographer felt like being the worst kind of paparazzi, but it was appreciated, and in another sense - being there - and being a part of the funeral - showed me how much i have become integrated into my community, how much it mattered to them to have me there, and how important it was for me to be there.

Highs - many. No matter how frustrating, shitty, aggravating a day might be, something wonderful happens every day. Without exception. And if it hasn't happened yet, I know where to go... to my friends in Mvangan village, like the chef, Mama Regine. (Incidentally, it was her sister who died).

* learning traditional cooking and wowing the villagers with my *prowess* (i'm slowly getting better...) at making batons de manioc (ebubolo in Bulu). This is manioc (cassava) that's been peeled, soaked in water for three days, mortar and pestled into a consistent mush (and that is HARD work. Mortar and pestling - is there a better word? The action is 'piler' here - is now my upper arm workout. Women here are incredibly, incredibly strong. And i'm not talking about a little mortar and pestle you put on a countertop. I'm talking about a huge wooden container you hold between your knees and a pestle longer and much thicker than a walking cane), then rolled into banana leaves, tied with cords (that come from the trunk of a banana tree), and cooked in a marmite. This is a major staple in the south - the basic
meal is batons and bush meat.

* going to the fields and doing slash and burn farming. (Yes, I'm slash and burning in the equatorial rainforest). Clearing brush is fun - and hard! I'm a big fan of manual labor and getting dirty. Also planting corn, manioc, etc.

* holding a water source meeting in Zoebefam (village 14 km past Mvangan, where I'm working on 2 or 3 springboxes. Whatever we can get funding for. The water in the natural springs is black. Literally, black. Animals drink there, so feces, mud, all kinds of bacteria...and this is what people drink. Because it's all there is). I co-ran the meeting with M. Paul, the head lab tech from the hospital in Mvangan. It's his village, and his idea. He translated everything I was saying into Bulu, which was wonderful. We also did water sanitation sensibilisation - talked about different ways to purify water. Had the community fill out a baseline survey about their water sources and associated problems (health issues). Made a community map. Walked around with them to visit all the water sources and wells. And then, leaving, they gave me a regime of plantains as a token of appreciation. It was really wonderful. Apparently they had also wanted to get me a bird (from the bush, to eat), but the hunters hadnt found anything for me when they went hunting.

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