I will start with an apology for not writing for about two months. I think the two primary reasons for not writing are 1) I didn’t want to write while angry/frustrated because who wants to hear about that and 2) the internet has been so unreliable either because internet is out in Buea or all of Cameroon or power outages or really any other possible reason for it not working. So now that it’s Christmas and I’ve received quite a few ‘concerned’ emails asking if I’m still alive and well I decided I’d better get on it and write. This will obviously be long since I haven’t written for about 2 months, so read it all or in parts, depending on how much you care or how bored you are!
WELL, a few weeks ago or so…I thought I was going to die. My boss, who is a doctor, speculated I had Typhoid Fever (sparing you of the gruesome details, it’s like a really, really, really bad stomach flu combined with brutal headaches and body pain so bad it actually makes you wake up in the middle of the night and moan in pain) or Malaria, but since I lacked a fever, she concluded it was probably Typhoid and put me on antibiotics. You may ask yourself, ‘didn’t you get a vaccine for typhoid?’ and I would answer you, ‘well of course I did! It was one of the millions of needles I paid hundreds of dollars for before I left!’ But alas, in my boss’s words, ‘that vaccine is useless; you’re better off to get typhoid itself and develop some real immunity rather then getting that stupid vaccine.’ The first few days were pretty bad but after I finished my course of antibiotics, I still wasn’t well and spent most of my Christmas in Limbe not feeling so fantastic. So finally, I went for an actual test at the hospital and discovered I have malaria and a touch of typhoid. What would a trip to
The malaria drugs I’m on are just three days of treatment and I’m finished now and am just getting worse so I’m going in for more tests tomorrow. I also have this very strange ever-present pain on my right side…unfortunately where your appendix is so I have to get that checked out as well. I’ll let you all know how it/I turn out!
Travel: I have done a lot of traveling in the last month or so, so this section is super long, so please read it in chapters, perhaps next to a fireplace with some hot chocolate to recreate the ambiance of ‘story time with Kasia.’
Limbe is a little town right on the ocean with black/dark brown-bronze sand (depending which beach you’re at) due to the volcano that is present. I have been to Limbe quite a few times now so here’s a brief-ish run down of the shenanigans:
The first two times I went to Limbe (because it’s only about 15 minutes away from me technically), we stayed at a pricey hotel due to it’s proximity to the ocean/beach and the safety of the beach. The first time was pampering ourselves and the 2nd time was for lack of another place to stay. Regardless, it was quite nice even with the 4-7 people we had packed in a room. One of those 7 people was a friend Amber and I had made only a few days before while buying beans and puff puff (friend doe balls). We got into our van/bus to go to Limbe and in comes Richard! It was so odd because there are no set times for the busses/vans to leave, you just show up and wait for them to fill up (took quite some time this time around), so the fact that we ended up in the same place and time was great and he joined us! We’ve been good friends since and he actually just left
The first time we arrived at the nice, expensive hotel (Seme New Beach – say that fast and it sounds like you’re saying Semi-nude beach…which would be quite applicable for us a bit later), we were taken to our room and discovered it still needed to be cleaned. We discovered the following (in chronological order): panties, a bra in the trash can and finally, A HARD BOILED EGG. Now… I know it’s different over here and all but…I really don’t want to know what they were doing with that…
After a quick dip in the very warm and pleasant ocean, I joined in on a ‘beach’ volleyball game going on at the hotel. It was great fun for about 4 minutes until I dove for the ball and in the process did the splits (which don’t come so naturally at my ripening age) and completely tore open my knee. I of course, being the ‘trooper’ I am and surrounded by men who think women are weak, continued out the rest of the matches which unfortunately ended in a tie due to a downpour of rain (Limbe is supposed to be the 2nd rainiest place on earth next to some place in
For dinner we went to a place called Down Beach which is a nice little place right on the beach (literally you sit on the beach about 5 feet from the water) which has a few grills cooking up everything from fish and shrimp to calamari that is so tender it’s like biting into some really well cooked rare steak (quite fantastic even for those of us who hate sea food). Not only are the food and the view fantastic but you also have the pleasure of witnessing the ‘melodies’ of the ‘Cameroonian Michael Jackson.’ This guy has to be one of the most entertaining things to see in
After a brief stop over for some additional beers at a bar where Amber promptly fell asleep we returned to the hotel and decided to go for one more night swim…sans clothes, which you wouldn’t think would be a difficult task, but well…again, this is
The 2nd trip was a lot of the same with thing in terms of where we stayed, although this time we decided we could all fit on two beds and avoid paying a large sum for all of us. To accomplish this, Amber and Christina checked in together, essentially posing as a lesbian couple, and Titus and I snuck in afterwards. We also had the addition of a late night stop-over at a bakery after
Our next trip was also to another ocean front village, this one with white rather than black sand and closer to Christina in
We wandered back up the mountain to find someone to let us into the rooms at the nunnery, which was very nice with stained glass windows, clean rooms/beds with mosquito nets and toilets with toilet paper! (a rarity in
During the day, I took a wander down the beach to have some time away from the gaggle of Germans and other friends of friends that arrived from Yaounde and I met a man who showed me his restaurant which was a table under a thatched roof right on top of big rock just above the crashing waves of the ocean. It was beautiful and he offered me the place for dinner that night – in Kribi, given that it’s a fishing and tourist town, you don’t need to find dinner, it finds you and we had had several offers of shrimp dinners, but given this place was gorgeous I told my group about it and they eagerly agreed. The man told me a time to come by and I told him I would be there with the group at that time – of course being non-Cameroonians we showed up on time and he took our orders and disappeared. It was like breakfast-deja-vu; we didn’t receive so much as a drink or even the joy of this man’s presence for over two hours. We waited because we felt badly for the guy because we speculated, as we had at breakfast (perhaps they actually went to grow the chicken and then killed it, plucked it and then could cook it), that he may have actually gone out to fish the shrimp at 7PM when we arrived and put in our orders. After about 2.5 hours and not even a beer to keep us occupied, our empty stomachs prompted our exit. Coincidently, we ran into the man on our walk and found him carry a bucket of freshly fished shrimp…I’m not even kidding you here, he literally went to go out and catch the shrimp when we ordered. That morning we joked about our sandwiches taking so long because of 1) the tree and 2) because they literally went to catch and kill the chicken…something we thought was a joke at the time, but discovered at dinner, was probably what actually happened. Although the man pleaded with us to stay, we knew that it would be another 2 hours by the time he shelled and cooked all the shrimp and we were simply too hungry and irritated and found an expensive hotel, the only option at that time of night, and had something to eat. Christina, the most fluent in French, was primarily responsible for trying to explain to the man why we were leaving and what exactly he had done incorrectly…so we have another theory about her flesh eating disease…the man cursed/cast a spell on Christina out of anger because we left. Although I used to say, ‘oh witchcraft in Africa, it exists but it’s not that common of a belief’, well I’m finding out in being here that witchcraft is alive and well in Cameroon, especially in places like Kribi and the North and in other places, people are still quite aware and afraid of the ‘ocult’ and other dark arts. So who knows! Maybe he cast a spell on her! I guess we’ll never know since no doctor could explain or had ever even seen what Christina had before.
After dinner, a few of us found a little bar and played some pool and had some additional drinks (Amber of course promptly fell asleep and left with the others returning to the nunnery). We later sat under the stars on the beach discussing our lives, talents and lack of and eventually enjoyed the scurrying crabs which were plentiful under our lounge chairs. We decided to go back when he mosquitoes got too feisty, but realized when we got to the hill that none of us had a flashlight, so we locked hands like ‘a line of elephants’ as Christina so tenderly called it, and used Christina’s camera flash to light the way, resulted in a slow walk and a lot of pictures of the ground. When we got to the nunnery, we found the gate locked and we had to climb over, I in flip flops and vertically challenged (short legs) got a bit stuck, losing my sandal, but eventually made it over. The next morning we enjoyed Christina getting down from her top bunk THROUGH the boards of her bed, a nice breakfast supplied by the nunnery for a decent price and later, before our bus-ride home, some great omelet sandwiches.
Korup, the ‘oldest living rainforest in
We arrived in Mundemba 10 hrs later (a 3-4 hr journey) around 2 AM and wandered down the road to a hotel. The next morning we awoke early to get to the park and see as much as possible. We took motos to the park, which was a great moment of, ‘wow, we’re in
The journey once we finally arrived in Kumba was not yet complete as the van we took back to Buea from Kumba, had beautiful new tires, which I felt the need to point out to Amber. Well of course, this was a bad idea, as just outside of Buea, our van sprung, simultaneously, 3 flat tires. We luckily found a taxi passing, but since we had no idea where we were in comparison to Buea, completed our journey by paying double what the fare should have been as we were just outside of Muea (a small village just outside of Buea).
After Korup, Amber went to climb Mt. Cameroon (the highest mountain in Western Africa and also the mountain that Buea, the town we live in, is at the foot of) and I decided, since I was just getting over what I thought was typhoid and still had this horrible TB-like cough, to go with Christina to a village for a funeral/cultural event. Funerals and memorials are HUGE deals here which is also another reason that the copious amount of dying here is a problem…when someone dies, life stops and every available cent goes to the funeral/memorial/celebration. Anyways, there was supposed to be some big cultural event related to a funeral in a village called Bafang that a friend of Christina’s invited her to. We thought, great, he’s got a car, there’s a chance it may be a comfortable ride and he really had us going as we were driving out of Douala with only 3 of us in the back seat…and then he saw a friend of his at a gas station packed into a sardine-can van who was also going to the village. So our car became the new sardine can as he piled into the back seat. Of course, like the two women on the way to Korup, the two men next to us sat comfortably as Christina and I squirmed trying to find a way to sit that didn’t make our back or sides ache.
We finally got to the village, which was quite beautiful as the earth and the majority of the homes were made of this red dirt. Everywhere we went, our driver/Christina’s friend was greeted and greeted everyone that we passed, calling out ‘j’ai arrive’…which I thought was a bit much. Well, we sure got a taste of village life – we had to meet and greet everyone and got food and drink pretty much everywhere we went…the food was amazing though so I can’t really complain. What I found quite odd is that our host knew we were there to see the village and the culture but instead of showing us the cool red-brick houses and things like it, he showed us this and that plain gov’t building. Anyways, after much eating, drinking and greeting, we went to the house we were staying at just as the rain started coming down…which was quite unfortunate since the ‘cultural event’ was planned for the evening and the rain would mean we wouldn’t’ be able to see it. Christina and I simply laughed in the dark (as the power was out) and eventually went to sleep in our clothes (as it was quite cold). We woke up the next morning not too excited about the ‘cultural dancing’ that was to take place that morning, as, well it’s Cameroon and we’ve learned not to have ANY expectations…if you do, it’s almost certain you will be disappointed, so hope for nothing and if you get something, it’s like winning the lottery! So we enjoyed another wonderful meal, a great breaky at someone’s house that we only really seemed to go to for food and headed off for the ‘big event.’ Sure enough we saw about 5 mins of dancing with a big firework-like bang and that was about it for culture. We decided to climb up this hill to take some nice pictures but of course the moment, the EXACT moment we reached the top, fog came in blocked our view of the village below... Christina and I simply laughed some more and asked ourselves ‘how else could it be?’ A synonym for ‘why not!’ We were met back in the village by a group of children who were fascinated by our hands and nails which was funny but of course, they didn’t leave us without asking us for something…a nice and UNIQUE way to end every conversation we have in
Christina decided that we needed to really learn to be more Cameroonian and so, WE should ensure our comfortability on the ride home by sitting firm with both shoulders against the seat, as the two men did on the way to the village. I felt like a huge ass hole as the two men…so funny though…squirmed and sighed loudly, shifting here and there uncomfortably as Christina and I held firm…although I needed a few pep talks from Christina to hold my ground. Well after a short time of relative uneventfullness on the ride back, we of course get a flat tire. Now, of course in Cameroon, we don’t do things half-assedly, no no no, like the trip from Kumba, the tire was not just flat but rather exploded and of course, we were carrying a spare tire that wasn’t for the car we were driving, because well, why would you do something logical like that? SO, Christina I decided, as much as this guy had been nice enough, we were ready to get home and away from all of those men and decided to take the first moto that came by. Of course, however, WHITE GIRLS like us couldn’t POSSIBLY take a moto…well GOSH we couldn’t HANDLE that and it just wouldn’t be PROPER. Of course, my 4 hour moto drive from Mundemba…that didn’t happen…I couldn’t possibly handle a 2 hour ride on paved road back to the city. SO, the boys flagged down a very new and luxurious Mercedes driving in the OPPOSITE direction to where we were wanting to go and the gentleman accepted to turn around and drive us back to
I have been traveling A LOT since I last wrote. I have just most recently returned from a trip to the extreme north province, which is a trek and a half; 2 hours from Buea to
Well my decision to stay was doubly a bad one since Amber’s train, the one I was supposed to be on, got to Yaounde almost without a glitch, whereas mine…well it left on time, but around 5AM was halted due to a derailment outside of Yaounde so we were stuck in the middle of nowhere for another 12 hours. After my experiences I was understandably annoyed and quite tired of trying to fend of suitors in my broken French – I couldn’t walk anywhere on the train or off of it without every man trying to pick me up or come back to Canada with me. SO I was getting pretty upset and just at the brink of breakdown, a white girl I had seen at the station approaches me! This was a most welcome interruption as I was desperate for normalcy and conversation in English. Shortly after we sat to chat, we were joined by another man from
Xmas and New Years
Will post later.
Will post later.
Well things have picked up a bit (not too sure what you all know about work but basically I did nothing for quite some time but type notes for a nursing school my boss is starting), not because anything was done for me or anything really changed other than me making a really conscious and hard-fast decision to take control and make something happen. SO, what I did was harass my boss, do research and create work and positions for myself. As a result of my pushing and proding, (a very non-Cameroonian thing to do as most would say, ‘why would you want to do work if you don’t have to’…EVER!?!?), I am now working/volunteering at the government HIV/AIDS Management Unit (tenderly called the HMU by my boss and I (Dr. Vivien Khumbah aka Dr. VK). Basically, in many countries now in Africa, the treatment for HIV, or the drugs that keep you from getting AIDS (aka the opportunistic infections that will kill you), are free, however, they need to be distributed at specific government centers to ensure all is done properly and MOST importantly, statistics are kept about it all so they can continue to get funding from various international orgs. What I have learned about Cameroon is that, just like myself, no one really hears much about Cameroon, and the reason for that is that the Cameroonian gov’t/President (look him up - Paul Biya – ruling since 1982 and ruining the country year by year since) make up statistics and facts so that Cameroon appears better than it is to secure certain funds/recognition (aka conditional loans). The best example I’ve heard of this is for example, org A says you must put x number of students in school by 2007, so the prez opens up a school, sticks 150 kids from 4 yrs old to 24 years old and then puts one teacher there – repeat this a few hundred times around the country and you have the numbers you need to get the loan from some foreign gov’t, which of course goes right into the coffers of minister x, y and z. SO basically, I’m at the HMU to spy - the reason being is because my boss and I want to demonstrate that what the gov’t is doing isn’t enough thus justifying and providing sufficient reason to provide funding to the programs that our NGO wants to run which will ACTUALLY address the needs of the patients. Through the HMU, they also do community work, aka they go to patient’s homes and chat with them and see how they’re doing – they’re also supposed to use that time to give them more info about living healthily and about the disease (encourage disclosure, partner testing, good nutrition, safe sex and family planning etc). I have the luck of going out to do these visits and through that have secured opportunities to conduct my own full interviews in January to get a patient’s assessment of the services received and more importantly find out the struggles the patients are having and what they really need to be doing better under their circumstances. They should be interesting since most of the people mostly speak pidgin…which I understand at a basic level but speak not so much of.
Through my work ‘in the field’ I have come up with a fundraising project that I will of course be asking for your help with. Basically, the typical situation for these patients is this: they pay 150-300 Francs CFA (about 30-50 cents) each way for transportation to the hospital to pick up their drugs etc. In order to be eligible for treatment however, you need to pay a) 500 F ($1) for an HIV test b) 10,000F ($20) for a CD4 test and c) at least 6000-15,000 ($12-30) in various lab tests. To put this all in context, I have met patients who have missed their appt’s because they can’t afford the 150F taxi ride to get to the hospital. I have a few patients that have had things like diarrhea for a year and continue to have it because they can’t afford 1000-2500F medication ($2-5). SO what I plan on doing is turning the interviews into stories and packages that I will email out and ask you peeps back at home to donate to help these people out. Similarly we will hopefully doing a project to assist orphans in my boss’s home village which may touch your heart a little more – stay tuned for those packages as anything you can give will be a huge help to these people, some of which are slowly starving because multiple people in their house have HIV and have suffered from a variety of related illnesses preventing them from working, even doing simple farming.
Other than that, and a survey I need to distribute, my other major recent project is securing funding for the NGO as it has none and my boss is basically paying for everything out of her pocket. It may sound like I have work…but I don’t really have much to do and what’s frustrating is my boss keeps acting like there’s so much to do and we have all these conversations about it and later, when I really press her for the specifics of what I need to do, there isn’t much or anything at all to do…so to say the least I’m a bit disillusioned with my work experience here. I’ll write a separate blog one day about what I’ve learned from working or trying to work in
The other half of my internship, the AIESEC/ASK (Answers Solutions Knowledge), a sex-ed program we run in high schools only briefly got off the ground before schools broke up for xmas. This may seem like an easy task, but the way that kids are educated here is the exact opposite of what you need to teach sex ed. Kids only learn rote (don’t know how to spell it) memorization: see it, copy it, repeat it. As a result they can’t think for themselves, problem solve nor participate actively in discussions, which is basically how sex-ed works…it’s a discussion, it’s about saying what you think/know and building from there. WELL lets say we struggled with participation a lot at first and realized small groups work much better. I also was reminded of how strictly religious and traditional people are here about sexuality, relationships and the like here. It took a very long time to explain that sexuality meant more than, as one of our students put it, ‘contact between the penis and the vagina.’ Anyways, we got started late but this coming semester should be a lot busier with this program which I learned is REALLY important to these students as they have no clue what sexuality, healthy relationships, similarities between men and women as well as gender relationships or AIDS are. They really have no clue about things about relationships that we take for granted and have been learning about since kindergarten. The students had some really great comments for us and really appreciated the program so that was really encouraging.
Lastly, I was asked to be the EAP (Empowering Africa Program) director for Buea and accepted simply because I thought that way at least I have some control over the mess I will be involved in either way (because ASK is one of the programs within EAP). It has been a most difficult experience as a result of my project director’s complete and total lack of experience in anything voluntary or really anything project or group oriented. I’ve realized that because their education is rote, the mental skills we take for granted, creativity, problem solving, project management and simple brainstorming ability is completely absent…they don’t and almost can’t even conceive of what that means. So, right now I’m trying to pick my own brain to bring to the surface things that I have learned since I was so young so that I can somehow verbalize them…which is quite difficult as most of it is second nature to you and I, especially if you have a lot of volunteer experience. I have to say, although this and many related problems exist, I am very very lucky to have the project directors I have (after one awkward ‘firing’ of one) as they are incredibly intelligent, motivated and willing… I really couldn’t have asked for a better group and they certainly can’t be blamed in any way for their lack of experiences. Luckily, they are finding our time together useful and claim to be learning a lot, which is another rewarding experience I’ve had here.
So in sum, lots of traveling, lots of frustrations, especially with work and being sick…tomorrow I’m going in to do lots of tests to see if the malaria drugs have worked and/or what else I have. What would a trip to
P.s. looks like my plans to go to
p.s.s. i wrote this blog before the hospital and well no more malaria and the 'other' test, the one nobody wants to take, also negative I think...so the search for what ails me continues!
p.s.s. i wrote this blog before the hospital and well no more malaria and the 'other' test, the one nobody wants to take, also negative I think...so the search for what ails me continues!