30 May 2006

Paging Dr. Jenny

le 8 mai 2006

Uhhh…what-now ?

Saturday afternoon, leaving my house to walk to Mvangan centre to try
to retrieve a letter for the 4th time, I was intercepted by one of the
nurses. Essola walks toward me. "Jenny!" (keep in mind that the
following dialogue took place in Cameroonian French). "Yes?" "There's
a mother here with a malnourished child. I just sent her to your
house. I'll call her back so you can consult with her."
*deep breath* *I can pretend that I'm competent enough to counsel a
mother worried about her 20-month old daughter who has stopped eating
and is currently presenting with malnutrition, while the other child
(they're twins) is fine....*
Thus went my first patient consult. Trying to ask thoughtful,
meaningful questions, and to give decent answers and advice. Yes.
Looking at my resource books later, I did a decent job. Considering.
This all came about because at our last staff meeting, we were
discussing the month's cases and came upon a child with kwashiorkor
(severe malnutrition). The Doc decided that I (an expert on
nutrition? I've mentioned to him that I'm very interested in the
subject, but...) would plan an in-service on nutrition for all the
nurses and come up with a meal plan to give to mothers of malnourished
children. With preparation and planning and research, fine. But
spur-of-the-moment is what PC Cam is all about. So there you have it.
First patient consult, check. (how many years till I start med
In the middle of said staff meeting, a high school girl I know pretty
well came in. "Jennifer, on a besoin de toi." Curious, I go outside,
and run into the first arrival for the Jazz Fete de Mvangan 2006,
fresh off several hours on a moto, from Sangmelima. (**free weekend
for volunteers of same province. Still, names of the Innocent
withheld**). I was expecting him to arrive with the bread truck the
next day, so this was a surprise. Few hours later, the next three
arrive (from a bush taxi (van) filled with 22 people. They counted.
And chickens. All par for the course) ... and the greatest spectacle
Mvangan has seen in awhile was walking around town. Five Ntangens.
Pretty amazing. (Though more amazing is that in the course of the
weekend, I got my table! Almost four months later and much smaller
than I was envisioning. More of a desk. Now for work on table number
2...). PCVs can be pretty creative. Meaning, in this instance, that
we can try our best to make Western food with Cameroonian ingredients
and a marmite oven. Over the weekend, there was pizza, falafel,
hummus, and pita. All made from scratch (except the falafel). What
else. Saturday afternoon we walked down to the Nlobo (river), watched
kids jumping in and did resist the urge to jump in after them and
quickly contract Schisto. Umm, for now. (what, it's treatable...and
besides which is a great word to say....SCHISTO!) We ran into a cocoa
(and L'Oreal) importer/exporter, neighbor of [another PCV]. Having
lived in NYC at 46th St and 8th Ave for 10 years, working for Grayline
as a tour guide, R.C. regaled us with tales of how he is a "f*cking
smart guy, man" and how not to pick up transvestites in Brooklyn and
take them to XXX clubs. (If I had our entire conversation on tape, it
would be a perfect SNL skit. Except. It was real. I'm not going to
try, won't come close enough).

Quick and lovely ride back up to Ebolowa in a hired car (as none of
the agence cars went, Sunday, because it had rained that morning).
The five of us and two drivers in the same size car in which I once
traveled to Ebolowa with 13 others. Pas mal. Lovely evening
culminating in drinks with a bunch of French volunteers who had
congregated for a similar Fete. DCC....D Catholic C something.
Anyway. Two differences between them and PCVs: they are professionals
(nurses, businesspeople, teachers, and the like) and they live in more
urban areas. Translated, they got mad skillz (that we don't got) but
they're not roughing it en brousse. (Though neither are all PCVs.
And some do have skillz, even mad onez.)
Their French was...difficile à suivre. Fast. French French. And I
realized exactly *how* Cameroonian I sound now, though compared to
Cameroonians I sound very French. Odd to have trouble understanding
your first language.
And dancing! West African drumming and dancing! (at the bar in
Ebolowa). Different than Cameroonian dance, which is more like placid
walking around in a circle. Cameroonian dance is a lot more about the
song. And West African dance...is about flying. African dancing, in
Africa. A good, rare moment to remember "Oh yeah, I live in Africa."
It's month 8 now.

As I said to Kim at IST, Mvangan is a curious mix of "there's nothing
to do" and "AHH!!! I'm overwhelmed!!!" This morning I was working on
3 rather large-scale projects, thinking of a 4th, and planning time to
go work with an infirmier en brousse (Amvom, about halfway between
here and Akam. He, Sylvain, was going to get a PCV (like a TV
gameshow gift!) if there were enough, but alas). He wants to do a
major program on malnutrition, regrouping villages and talking to
women's groups, etc, developing a treatment plan. He also wants to do
youth sensibilisations in the summer, when the kids of the area are
regrouped together for soccer tournaments and weeks of cultural
events. This is Brilliant. And something a PCV is *made* to do (if
that can be said about anything). And the practice we had doing
animations at soccer games in Bandjoun every week could actually come
in handy. And he's the counterpart of my dreams....as in, has ideas,
has time and energy to put toward them, and really wants to work with
me. And is 30 km away, at least 2 hours on a moto, and 3000. To plan
for a trip to Akam, or on the way back from Akam. The days pass very,
very slowly here...but the months are flying. *soudain* I'll be 23
and a half in a few weeks. That's halfway through a year spent
entirely in Cameroon. What is time like, state-side? I don't

Two years is short. To try to accomplish something? Anything?
Minuscule. When you add in banking trips, free weekends, having 3
posts, vacations, meetings....

Third post, Zoebefam. I don't live at that one, contrary to Mvangan
and Akam. ...yet. When we actually start work on the sources (*it's
going to happen! It's going to happen!* says Tinkerbell), I'll live
there for the two weeks, at least, the work takes. (And there's
another month gone, basically. Likely, August. IFF PC gets British
High Commission funding and the village gets materials together and I
get the grant done and it's accepted. ) I was there last Sunday and
I'll be there again in a week, to establish a work calendar and get
people moving to gather sand, rocks, wood, planks, etc, etc. And get
work groups established to actually défriche the sources and work on
them when the time comes. It feels homey, now...I know my way around
and I'm getting to know people there. The nurse, Paulette, is
wonderful. "We're going to go house to house to get contributions.
If people won't give money, they'll give materials. And if they won't
give materials, they'll work. And if they won't work I'll come into
their kitchen and take a marmite and sell it to get the money!"
And that's how you get sh*t done.
There might not be anything big. But if at the end of two years,
there are enough little-to-medium things that feel like they existed,
it'll be okay. Two years. So, so, short.

Off to try to get mosquito nets put on my windows. I haven't been so
motivated to do this (neither are the carpenters...) because there are
no mosquitoes around my house. As in, the only mosquito bites I get
are while traveling and in other villages. Worst? Yaoundé, PC
compound, the Case, computer room.

Over and out.

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