Saturday, January 5, 2008

The past 2's a novel so get a glass of wine and enjoy...

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 Africa be without a disease or two right?! Now your second question is probably, ‘aren’t you on Malaria drugs?’ and I would say ‘why yes!’ but the thing is you can and probably will still get malaria if you’re here for an extended period of time and given that my 30% DEET bug spray works as well as pouring 2% milk on myself (aka doesn’t work at all), I was pretty bound to get it; in fact, in speaking with volunteers that have been here for a while, almost all of them have had malaria a few times. It was kind of cool though because the labs here are well…simple, so I actually got to check out my own malaria wormies on a microscope! So the day I got my test done, I left for Douala and figured, well, if I’ve had it for this long, how much worse can it get? Also, I can just buy the drugs for it in Douala. WELL, it did get quite a bit worse and by new years eve, I was puking up the wonderful dinner we had made in a back alley of a sketchy Doualan neighborhood. I have spent the days around new years and after new years, no more than 4 feet from a toilet. At first I thought, wow I’m really lucky, I don’t have it so bad…a little puking and diarrhea…I can handle that. Well a little turned into a lot and a general not good feeling turned into a ‘give me drugs!’ type of feeling. I met a man from South Africa on the train back from the North who said ‘at night, you wish you could die and in the morning, you wish you had’ – this was his response to my quandary of ‘what is malaria like?’ Last night I understood and understood completely how accurate that statement is, so I say to you all: DO NOT GET MALARIA. It really sucks – so get 100% DEET, wear 14,000 layers of clothes and walk around in a portable mosquito net. I was at a low at around 4AM last night when Kalpa called me and saved me. When you’re really sick and far from home, a phone call and a familiar voice make all the difference in the world, so thanks Kalps!

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 Cameroon this week (after missing his flight because 3 separate airline employees directed him to the wrong gate). From the bus you need to take a cab out to the hotel, which of course got a flat tire on the way to the hotel, but EVENTUALLY we made it there.

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 India). I lacked any dissinfectent so I used what nature had to offer and disinfected my wound in the ocean. The next time (or possibly that same trip) I got tossed into the ocean floor due to a wave and hurt my back quite badly and either that same trip or the next, I gashed the bottom of my foot open on a rock…so I’ve decided Limbe wants to eat me…even if it’s piece by piece.

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 Cameroon. He basically b-boxes various songs, lots of Michael Jackson and adds ‘fuck’ and ‘I love you’ ever 4-5 words. He sings songs like ‘who let the dogs out’ etc. and does dances, grabbing his crotch through his huge Cameroonian bag-like outfit. There is really no way for me to describe this man to you, so I will try to somehow post the video I recorded one day for all of your viewing pleasures. So we sat and ate our seafood on skewers watching the sun set on the beach listening to the absolutely obscure musical talents of the self-proclaimed Cameroonian Michael Jackson. What can I say…it was great!

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 Cameroon. So we grabbed our towels and wandered down to the beach only to find a gate to the beach accompanied by a man, who like any other man with a job in Cameroon, decided this was his moment to exercise power. He made a big deal about how he would be liable if we went swimming, even though the hotel is never liable for swimmers during the day so it would make no sense that he would be responsible now. So, just like any delay of such nature (some man stopping you because he can simply to harass you and detain you), he let us go. The catch this time around was that he decided it was necessary to watch (because he’s SO concerned about our well-being). Richard tried his best to convince him it wasn’t necessary and then eventually told him we wanted to skinny dip and we (the girls) would appreciate some privacy. He sort of wandered off a bit but eventually we had a whole crowd wandering about, but luckily it was dark so for the most part we weren’t seen too too clearly, but being white, we were like little beacons in the water which I’m sure the men enjoyed the sight of. After being bitten in the water by whatever bites us always in the ocean we decided to get out and go for one more beer in the hotel since the ‘club’ the hotel advertised and boasted so proudly about wasn’t open (and we discovered really never is). We were also the only people in the bar having drinks so after just one we felt bad for the bartender and stumbled back to our rooms for a well-deserved rest. The next morning we went down for the ‘continental breakfast’ which consisted of hot drinks, bread, jam/butter and croissants and some fruit. The best part was, we discovered, that you are only allowed ONE croissant – this is at the nicest, most expensive hotel in one of the most tourist places in Cameroon. So we of course, out of spite, found a moment where the croissant monitor (the woman that stood over the container monitoring the croissants – her entire job) left briefly to steel some more croissants and make a run for it…these are the things you really get a kick out of in Cameroon…sad I know but hilarious to us at the time. We enjoyed some more beach time before heading back into town for the ‘good market’ which turned out to contain very little. We then went on a hunt for food and ended up finding only one expensive restaurant where we enjoyed ‘steaks’ which were like the quick fry steaks you buy (aka the cheapest, chewiest, nastiest meat). Of course, the waiter couldn’t handle our order and screwed it up about 6 times before the manager came out to see what the ‘problem’ was…which was simply we got nothing we ordered. It was at this point, after most of us had our food that the manager pointed out that he didn’t have what we were still missing. Something you need to understand is when you go into a restaurant in Cameroon, even an expensive one, the menu is…well…it is a nice idea…a guideline if you will. In other words, they will have perhaps 3 items (max) off the menu available at any time…and usually even then, you will order after a mass of questions as to what is actually available, and will only receive ¼ of what you ordered because in the end, the other things are ‘finished’ as they say in Cameroon. You never have someone tell you, ‘sorry we don’t have any’ or ‘sorry we’ve sold out’ no no no, they only say ‘it’s finished’ even if it’s 7AM and it never started.

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 Down Beach to satisfy Amber’s omnipresent cravings for baked goods. After the bakery, we decided to take a moto back to the hotel, however, the distance to the hotel is quite far (11 miles) so it would either be a) expensive and/or b) difficult to get. It was most certainly b but a was…at first ok, however, I knew that the way that the moto driver we ended up using accepted the price so quickly after all the moto drivers scoffed at our offer meant that we would have trouble. Sure enough, he stopped several times along the way saying, ‘this is too far’ and accused us of being dishonest and not good people even though we explained to him precisely how far it was…in fact, the location is actually called ‘Mile 11’ so you know it is exactly 11 miles…so at one point he actually made us get off the moto in the middle of nowhere around mile 8 and was going to leave us there but Titus (a German friend) and I convinced him that if he drove us at least he would get something for the trip whereas he was going to give us all of our money back even though he was almost there. We discovered that Amber and Christina had a similar problem but didn’t end up feeling bad enough for their moto driver in the end as we did and only gave him 100 vs 500 F extra for the journey.


Our next trip was also to another ocean front village, this one with white rather than black sand and closer to Christina in Douala then to me in Buea. The night before we left, however, was a very strange night, one that I enjoyed somewhat, but for me, the night was marred by class. As most of you know, I’m a bit of a socialist and don’t like things/events/activities/places that imply class. Well, we were planning to go out for dinner when a French friend of Christina’s called and invited us out to a ‘beer festival’ which we of course jumped at. Well it turns out this beer festival was in the same restaurant that the guys from upstairs who we smoked sheesha with took us to and it was 95% white, rich people. I know I’m white, but here, I hate being anywhere where a lot of white people are because that means it’s a thing of class and I just don’t like the idea of being that white person being served by a black person. SO, although the night was pretty great, TONNES of food and even MORE beer (they would take away our glasses before we finished and gave us another one – all for one flat fee) and even some contests and prizes, all of it was hard for me to enjoy in full since I knew I was only there because I was white and by virtue of my skin color was assumed to have money and thus belong there – which isn’t at all the case here or at home. ANYWAYS, it was fun to have lots of alcohol for one price and some good food. Afterwards we wandered to a club that was named, so appropriately, the Aristocrat. By this point I was drunk enough and started a little dance party with a group of black guys and girls (sounds like I’m at home right…even in Africa I like to start dance competitions with black men). The club made me feel a bit better because I spent the entire night dancing with Cameroonians rather than just hanging out with France (since all of the white people we were with were all from France) and later even got myself a Cameroonian husband which allowed me to escape the multiple male requests. We got home quite late and very drunk (since we bought an entire 2-4 of whisky at the bar), slept for about 20 minutes and got up ½ drunk and ½ hung over and stumbled over to the bus at around 6AM. Luckily the trip was a longer trip so we had a proper aka normal bus with our own seats (although the size of a Cameroonian seat is smaller as there are 3 seats instead of 2 in the same space), so we were still kind of squished but in comparison to the normal travel situation, this was luxury. We arrived in Kribi and found a taxi to take us way out to where we were staying, a nunnery (Christina had heard of the place from a friend). Strangely, when we arrived, the nunnery was starkly lacking in nuns as not a soul could be found. So we found a path that looked like it might head to the ocean and we trudged down the hill through the bush, walking by people’s huts that were scattered with chickens, chicks and kittens and eventually found the glorious oasis of the beach/ocean. We wandered over to find food and drink because at this point, we were in great need of something in our stomachs, but only found a hotel, so we conceded to the ever louder grumbles of our poor stomachs and sat down. We looked at the menu and started to decide what we ‘wanted’ to eat. Well of course, by the time we had decided, the waiter came over and as usual, basically nothing on the menu was available…supposedly because of the awkward ‘not quite lunch, not quite breakfast’ time which we apparently arrived. SO, Christina and I chose the chicken sandwich and Amber chose a continental-breakfast-like meal. THIS is the birth place and time of the story of the tree, which among our group is what can explain any happening in Cameroon for us. We waited about 2.5 hours for our food and only received our drinks after about 1.5 hours. Now you ask, ‘why’…well now to everything you could ever ask that question to, our response is as such a) ‘why not?!?!’ or b) ‘because the tree needs to grow!’ SO what we decided/came up with is that everything in Cameroon comes down to and requires a tree, so when you want something or want to do something, you must first find a seed, plant it, wait for it to grow and then chop it down, for example in this particular case, to make the knife to kill and chop up the chicken as well as for the wood to cook the chicken and also for the handle of the tool to cut down the palm nuts to make the palm oil to cook the chicken and so on… I hope you get the picture. So whenever we’re waiting an excessive (even in Cameroon) amount of time for something, we simply turn to each other and say, ‘the tree hasn’t been planted yet’ or ‘the tree hasn’t fully grown yet.’ Christina and I finally received our sandwiches, but of the 9 items (drinks, breads etc.) that Amber was supposed to receive as her meal, she received only a few slices of bread, a coffee and some jam/butter. So we left still hungry and at least a bit entertained by our new theory, which I’m sure was all the funnier due to our brain’s current state of floating in whisky.

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 Cameroon even in homes) We promptly changed and headed back down to the beach to float and roast the rest of the day away on the sand. We later took a walk down to the ‘chutes’, the Cameroonian word for waterfalls, and climbed up the side of the land beside the water in bare feet, almost stepping on a variety of large creepy crawlies. They were gorgeous and that’s definitely one thing that Kribi has on Limbe as the water in Limbe is much clearer – we found the water in Kribi to be quite murky and dirty. In addition, we also got stung by something in the water in Kribi, and for Richard and I, the red blotches turned into small blisters which we popped and then healed, but for Christina, the blotches turned into large sized blisters, resembling some sort of flesh eating disease, which transferred onto other parts of her body along little ant-like trails and only after seeing several doctors, has it gone away…but like any experience in Cameroon, it has left it’s mark – quite some scars remain, but at least she’ll always have a story about Cameroon!

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 Africa’ and apparently the site of the original Tarzan film, was a trip that was not exactly planned. Amber and I were planning to go visit our British friend, Richard, in Bangum, but given that Amber was only here for a couple more weeks and had not seen any rainforests, we decided to go to Korup later in the morning one day. We quickly packed up our stuff and headed down to Mile 17 (the car park – place where you catch all transportation from) to catch a ride to Kumba. Well, the trip started off with a bang (this bang included flying, spit-covered, half chew corn flying at me). The bus/van we were taking was leaving so we took the last 2 seats available. Well, some man, who was clearly a rich jerk who doesn’t normally take public transport claimed his stuff there reserved his place. Well we sat there because the rest of the bus was full. Anyways, long story short, a huge argument between us, the Cameroonians on our side and this man blew up and drew a crowd. Eventually we conceded our seats and decided to take the advice to take a different van. We wait for this other van to fill up and finally leave to Kumba. The road is under construction, and we are stopped waiting for our turn to go down the one lane of traffic that is open when we hear a transport truck horn screaming loudly and urgently behind us. Our quick driver slams the car into gear and quickly moves out of the way as the export-33 (beer) transport truck careens by us. Close call. We are stopped a few minutes later at a different point, waiting patiently when all of a sudden the same export-33 transport truck (semi) slams into the back of our packed little van, smashing up the back of the van, shattering the window and scary one poor little old lady almost to the point of heart attack. I’m sitting next to the door and fumble to get the door open to let all the startled passengers pour out onto the dusty road. Everyone was ok thankfully, but it turns out the truck driver was driving completely without breaks. Why? Well why not! (please recall that this (why not) is our answer to everything that occurs in Cameroon that is everything from strange to inconceivable). So, by some miracle, there was another van just behind the transport truck that was empty so we all piled in and resumed our journey to Kumba. After a long and uncomfortable 4 hours (sitting on a crack between seats), we arrived in Kumba and found transport to Mundemba (where Korup park is). Now, the car we were assigned was not a compact Toyota, so we thought, wow, we won’t be that squished! Well…as most things in Cameroon that seem too good to be true, it was because we ended up in the back seat with two jerks of women who took up the majority of the back seat and THEN complained that they were squished, while Amber and I, if sitting next to a door, sat sideways with one thigh only grazing the surface of the seat, and if next to Big Bertha, this larger and incredibly annoying woman, either sat with Bertha’s arm/elbow at your throat or quite literally on top of the back of your neck so you had to sit bent over with her leaning on you and your head as an arm rest. We had 4 people in the back, 4-5 people in the front (one on the LEFT of the driver) and approximately the weight of the car in yams and other strange goods in the trunk and on the roof. Well, although it is now dry season, the road to Mundemba was NOT dry or easily traversable. We got stuck more times than I could keep count of, at times in holes 2x the height of the car and when we weren’t stuck in the mud or some giant pot hole trying to swallow our car and the tasty yams and Bertha with it, our car was stalling, turning off and blowing fire out of the exhaust pipe – many problems probably a result of the fact that our driver thought it wise to mix his gasoline with water…how economical of him. At one point, we were stuck in a huge mud pond and had to get out. A gentleman got out first and tried to help Amber out. Well one step onto somewhat solid ground was followed by a full step into a thigh deep pool of clay mud…a cherry on the sundae that was our trip to Mundemba. Amber handled it VERY well especially after not only the trip itself but Bertha and her little side kick’s constant laughter about the ‘white girls’ not being able to handle Africa while they sat comfortably not having the door slammed on their hip every time we had to get in and out of the vehicle. We ended up lifting the car out of the hole.

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 Africa’ as we sped through palm plantations and forest on moto’s, hair waving in the wind and the taste of adventure on our tongues. The most famous aspect of this park, is the very haphazard bridge you have to cross over a river to get into the park – like the one in Vancouver but not as safe and well made. We crossed with our guide and started our hike. Nothing much to say about the rain forest as our guide walked so quickly and we were too busy watching where we were walking and running away from these horrible biting ants…it was nice and trees were large, the waterfall, termite hills (like little mushroom towers) were cool and the flash of the monkey I saw was…well a flash of a monkey or an elephant for all I know since I saw so little of it…was mediocre. It wasn’t the idea you have about rain forest, aka flowers and butterflies etc. It really just reminded me of what I can see from the road of the jungle. Even though we told our guide that we wanted to spend as much time in the forest as possible as we only had one day, he basically ran on the way back and we made it back in half the time it was supposed to take us and then we sat at the hut, snacking on stale coconut cookies, waiting for our moto drivers to return for the remainder of the time we were supposed to spend in the forest. Our guide might as well have been a rhino, as he knew very little about anything in the forest, and if he did, he said very little (unlike Shannon if she were guiding us through some hike in the Okanagan). Our moto drivers finally arrived after I enjoyed the view of one of forest ‘guards’ (who for some reason needed and huge automatic gun to ‘guard the forest’) bathing in the river and my moto driver and I engaged in a conversation about education in Cameroon and the problems in Cameroon in general – of course the conversation finished with his desire to go to Canada and to ‘know me better.’ We stopped over for some cold water and enjoyed some roasted corn and a really cute baby on our walk back before basking in the glory of water and soap in our hotel room as we were FILTHY. We finished the night off with a search for food which presented the option of bush meat (gorilla, monkey or something of the like) or cabbage…which is what I chose (but would later eat monkey on my trip back from the north). Of course, what meal can go without the annoying men trying to ‘get to know you better’ and trying to buy you drinks you don’t want…well this meal of course couldn’t be without a side of ‘annoying man wanting a piece of white woman.’ We left as soon as we had had enough to eat. We decided to hire a moto to go back so we could go around all the holes and our hotel arranged a ‘reputable’ driver to take us. The drive went spectacularly well until we got stopped at one of the thousands of checkpoints in Cameroon (what precisely they really ‘check’, I will never know) where it was revealed to us that our moto driver, the ‘reputatble’ moto driver our hotel always arranges for its guests, lacked a driver’s license! So like anything to do with authorities in Cameroon, we sat, waiting for the police man to let us continue, which after 45 mins or so he did, but not after a conversation debating the differences between driving laws in Cameroon and the ones in Canada. We were stopped again shortly after and had to pay 500F ($1) to get through. It was at this stop Amber and I managed to see our faces and Amber concluded that we were so concerned about integrating this trip, that we were both trying to actually become black – first Amber’s mud experience (trying to become black) and now our moto journey which resulted in our faces being caked in dust/mud resulting in a significant darkening of our pigment.

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 Cameroon! (my apologies for the downpour of sarcasm in this entry)

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 Douala! We got in and regarded our surroundings, in all its spacious glory and even FASTENED OUR SEATBELTS! We started laughing again and I thanked the horseshoe that seems to be permanently embedded in Christina’s ass (as this type of thing only happens with Christina…or Shannon for that matter). Apart from his off-coloured and ignorant comments regarding Germans and their apparent ‘dislike of traveling’ especially in comparison with the globe-trotters that Cameroonians are, the trip was palatable and he even dropped us off right in front of our destination without asking for our contact information or money! We were in shock so we decided to treat that shock like rich white people would with a milk shake and French fries (delicacies here) at a place called Goodies, where we laughed off the entire trip.

The North:

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 Douala, 4 hours from Douala to Yaounde and then a 15 hour train from Yaounde to Ngoundere and then a 9 hour bus from Ngoundere to Maroua. Now…if that was actually the time it took to get there, it would have been fine…but let me remind you again that I currently live in Cameroon. SO of course we didn’t know that you had to buy your tickets for the train around 10AM or you wouldn’t get a place, so we ended up spending an extra day in Yaounde doing not a whole lot because we got there before the train left and discovered it was too late to buy tickets – so that’s one day wasted. So we left our rent-by-the-hour sketchtacular room early to buy our tickets and wandered Yaounde for the remained of the day. We returned to the train station only to discover it was delayed until 11:30 (supposed to leave at 6:30). So we went across the way and drank beers and ate avocado salad and returned around 11. We sat, and sat and slept and slept as there was no train, no announcements and no employees explaining what was going on. Turns out there had been an accident with the train and it would be until 5:30AM before the train would arrive. They then announced it’s arrival and told us to get in line to get on the train. So 250 people, 15 goats, 20 chickens and 3 pigs (most alive) in addition to 50,000 tonnes of whatever (rice, plantains, pineapples, yams) in canvas sacks get up and squish up against the doors to get on. Well…about 1.5 hours passes by in this position and the doors still haven’t been open. Finally, they let us out to get onto the train around 6:30AM however, the train car written on our ticket OF COURSE does not exist. So at this point…I loose my SHIT. I start screaming at employees (in French and swearing in English since it is a Francophone province) as the person we were directed to simply stood there waiting for the situation to figure itself and did ABSOLUTELY nothing but stand there. Of course we ended up getting on the train car which was the one we had suggested to begin with (due to its conspicuous emptiness). Then about 2 hours later, we were rudely awoken by a train attendant (we had a sleeping room) to be offered breakfast even though we were about 10 feet from the restaurant car. I was LIVID; this was 2 hours after waiting 12 hours for the train to show up and she bangs on the door until we open it to offer us breakfast?!?!? She didn’t knock and go away, NO, she BANGED like it was the end of the world until we answered and she continued to do so for the remainder of the trip. After the train ride, we hoped on an 8-9 hour bus ride to Maroua on a very bad road so that sleeping was not possible (we got on the bus around 12 at night so sleep was what we wanted). We arrived in Maroua and tried to rent a room at a hotel with a live French-speaking parrot in the front however they wanted to charge us 25% extra for being on the same sex, so we went to the next place and found the same thing but didn’t want to waste too much time and simply bargained it down to a regular price and scampered off to arrange our travels to Waza park (for a safari) and the surrounding villages. We spent about 2 hours bargaining and discussing various trips and plans and ended up leaving in dismay as they were all very expensive and clearly trying to gouge us…afterwards we also discovered it was too late to do any of the activities that day anyways, which they didn’t tell us until after we were leaving (even though they were trying to tell us we could leave that day), so Amber and I wandered Maroua and bought some souvenirs at the artisan market. We returned to a hotel where tours could be arranged and drank and ate away our sadness. We were introduced to a few guides and eventually conceded to one for double the price we had been negotiating earlier that day but because of time constraints we had little choice. We left at around 6AM the next morning because apparently any early than that would mean too great of a risk of getting hit by bandits from Nigeria and Chad…a little scary and almost all of our travel up north was quite limited and marred by this risk. We got a guide at the park who looked SO cool. Scarification is really common up north and he had these three scars running down his face on each side and he spent most of the safari perched up looking over the land like some sort of cheetah or something. We stood in the back of the truck and this ended up being a good choice as the road was quite bumpy and legs make for great shock absorbers. The beginning of the day we saw very little other than antelopes and tracks; later that afternoon however we saw vulchers (which are HUGE, the biggest bird I’ve ever seen in my life) and giraffes! That was pretty cool but unfortunately no lions or elephants. What was sad though is that there is a tonne of burning and hunting on the Waza reserve – the burning for both hunting and to allow tourists to see the animals more easily… it was quite horrible. We decided that there was no point in spending another day at Waza so we arranged to go to Rhumsiki, a village that is supposed to be something to see – a crab sourcer, really interesting landscape and great artisan work. So our driver took us through a really scenic road (although quite a bad road) and we went through the mountains and all the mountainside villages with the thatched huts clinging to mountain sides, beautiful pink flowers and children chasing our truck yelling ‘le blanche! Cadeaux!’ meaning ‘the white! Gift!’ which became quite irritating after a short while. None the less, the journey was spectacular due to the amazing scenery and landscape. Rhumsiki on the other hand, although the landscape was amazing – huge jutting rocks coming out of nowhere and a mini grand-canyon, the children, the MOB of children that pestered us the ENTIRE duration of our stay – offering their services as guides – was unbearable. They followed and followed (and this is something you’re warned about in the Bradt travel guide), so Amber and I decided to follow them and ended up chasing them down the mountain only to be followed shortly after yet again. This time I grabbed the 12-14 year old by the shoulders and told him to stop, in French of course. He continued so I went to do the same and this time he acted as if I was going to hurt him and picked up a HUGE rock and made as if he was going to throw it at me. I knew he wouldn’t do it and ended up chasing him down the mountain again. (I’m sure you’re all keeling over laughing at the fact that I’m chasing children down mountains in villages…but if you were there you would have done the same, I assure you). Once we finally reached the artisan market, I explained to the shop owners what the boy (who was once again waiting for us) had done and it was fantastic as just like any small town/village, the entire village became the parents of this boy and scolded him in several languages in such a way that the boy actually left in shame…I was quite pleased to have a village scold this audacious boy. (I know I’m evil but…GRRRRRR). Amber and I picked out some souvenirs (local crafts) and were also shown how to make cotton string and watched a man weave the same cloth the bag I had just bought was made out of! We were so pleased to have the opportunity to watch this event, HOWEVER, after spending a good chunk of change and time with these people we were followed for quite some time by the man demanding we pay 5000 FCFA ($10) for watching him make cotton string. At this point, after having ‘cadeaux!’ yelled at us for about 4 hours, then followed by a mob of youngsters trying to get money for following us and thus being our guides for 3 hours, and then having people we just spent a lot of money with demand more money from us… we were ready to leave this horrible place they call Rhumsiki. Instead we were intersected on our trek back by an older boy offering us the opportunity to view his family’s pottery. After we made it clear we would not give him any money, we went off and bought some pottery and had the process explained to us. We got a quick bite to eat for which of course the vendor tried to charge us more than the normal price for and we got in our truck and left as it was getting late and from Rhumsiki, you can see Nigeria, so the risk of getting robbed if driving at night is very very high. We left exhausted and incredibly disgruntled with the impression of the ‘white man’ that Cameroonians have and are continually teaching their children. We made a brief stop over in a small village for some Bili-Bili a local beer made from millet and served from a giant clay pot in a coconut shell, usually accompanied by a dead fly or two. It was pretty alright though and definitely an experience! We arrived back in Maroua un-robbed and relatively happy with our experience (minus the healthy helping of children marauders demanding money and gifts). We met up with our guide (who did not join us on the trip…so we’re not exactly sure what we were paying for) for a beer and some food. He convinced me (unfortunately) to stay an extra day as Amber had to leave a day early to leave room for problems with the train before her flight. He informed me that there were some cultural events going on in a nearby village and there were quite a few picturesque villages that he would be able to show me to on his moto for free (except for the gas which I had to pay). I agreed, eager to make this long and expensive trip worthwhile. I of course noticed my guide’s ‘liking’ of me, but thought ‘oh he’s a guide! He deals with tourists all the time and he seems decent.’ Unfortunately I was wrong wrong wrong! I wrongly thought, well, we’re going to be on a moto (motorcycle) all day, it won’t be easy to talk about being in a relationship…well apparently he didn’t think so. The day started out alright because I was actually seeing a few things, like the house where the movie Chocolat was filmed (why they chose to film it in Cameroon I will never be able to explain) and then went to a village where the cultural event was supposed to be happening but of course we discovered it wouldn’t start until the evening. In that same village, on route to see pottery being made, my guide canned himself quite badly on his moto going through some rough terrain. SO we spent the next 2-3 hours sitting there waiting for his crotch to feel better. In the mean time, I got to see this wonderful old woman, who only spoke the local language, make pottery from donkey dung (apparently a very special dung), some red dirt which is also very special and collected from some distance away and some other ingredients. That was really cool and I really enjoyed it, but the rest of the day was a write off because my guide was still nursing his aching lower area. SO… my feeling about not staying, which was my initial feeling, was the correct one. I spent the whole rest of the day discussing why I couldn’t get into a relationship with my guide in French. It was QUITE awful since my French isn’t spectacular and it seemed that no matter what I said, it wasn’t a good enough reason for my guide and in the end, ‘I wasn’t willing to change to the Cameroonian way’ to be with him – even though I lived 2 days journey from him, both of us were too busy with work to travel to see eachother, I was leaving in a few months time, after which I am planning to go to school nowhere near Cameroon – none of these reasons were THE reason, the reason according to my guide was that I didn’t love him enough, the way that he loved me…after knowing me for a day. Anyways, the whole day was a huge drama which finished with him telling me that he couldn’t take me to the bus station in the morning because ‘it would hurt too much to see me go.’ THANK GOD is all I have to say. I spent the next week avoiding his calls and texts, and unfortunately picked up once (because it was not his number) and ended up hanging up on him after which I received a text saying in his broken English ‘you are bad woman, I not call again.’ THANK GOD x2 – so hopefully he’ll leave me alone now.

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 South Africa and had great conversation until the train finally departed around 10PM. I had to spend the night in the same sketchy hotel in Yaounde since it was too late to go to douala (around 2-3AM when the train arrived) but left for Douala the next day.

Xmas and New Years

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 Africa.

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 Africa be without a stool sample…God knows I have lots of that right now! (sorry but bowel jokes are free game out here) So, if any of you have been trying to call me, I know some of you have, I promise to get a new phone this week and after that, please try again as it is SO amazing to hear from people at home. Hope to talk to you all soon!

P.s. looks like my plans to go to Kenya are a bit shot…

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 the search for what ails me continues!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Maybe it's not normal...

SO this week was a busy week full of stalkers, art shows, sheesha and even a deadly, cramped car rides in the night.

One thing that I think I haven't made quite clear is that nearly everytime I am in a taxi, or standing still somewhere, or sitting somewhere, men approach me. Now, in the first few days/week, it was difficult for me to walk by someone when they said 'Hello' and not at least say hello back, as it is very rude here not to say, for example, "good afternoon/morning/evening" when you get into a cab or someone walks into a room (no one says hello only good aft/morn/eve). I have learned quickly that everywhere you go as a white woman in Africa, nearly every single person that you are within eyesight of will stare at you, and many will say, "hello" or "WHITE MAN!" or 'white man! buy this!' etc. etc. What is also quite enjoyable, is the hissing that is prevalent in Cameroon - this hiss is used to get a persons attention and is quite irritating as it is something that has been typically been associated with prostitutes in history, but I am informed and have observed that many people do it to many people...fine... but still rude and odd. SO, what I have learned is that replying to these men gets you into trouble and they will harass you and not leave you alone, so you need to ignore it and keep walking which is difficult for me because it feels rude. ANYWAYS, the problem for me, aside from the rude-nature of it all (on their part and on my part in terms of my necessary response) is that I don't want to be THAT type of foreigner. I can see why people get bad impressions of foreigners here, because you appear snobbish. I don't want to do that or come off that way. The other more important thing to me is I don't want to become a citizen of the 'expat community'; this is a community of foreigners within a community. Basically all the foreign people only or almost only hang out with other foreigners. I have been so dead-set on travelling southern africa without the aid of a tourist group/trekking company because I wanted to meet and interact with locals. I want the same here, but is it ever difficult. I have been trying to selectively give people chances to prove that they're not like every other hissing, gocking and drooling man here. So, so far, I have given my number to a few different guys I thought were nice enough; the main recipients being Ahyuckfuc Alfonz, a taxi driver who wanted to take me out for dinner, Fredrick, an attractive, bearded economics student at the University of Buea and Derek, the DEPUTY MAYOR of Buea. I thought, ok these guys seem decent... however I have soon discovered that all the warnings about the true intention of Cameroonian men is for the most part, true and will reveal itself in a absurdly short period of time. Prime example, Fredrick started calling/texting, and days after we first met in a taxi, I received a text (following a simple enough text of good morning, hope you have a good day) which said, and I quote, "Hi baby, how is ur day? Hoe cool, Missing u. Take care of ur pretty soft body. Urs in lve." to which I of course replied that those types of words were inappropriate for two people that just met (baby, soft body and love that is). To which he replied "Ok, i am sorry maybe I am a litle too fast. But then i think I am begining to fall inlove. Maybe love is blind. What do u think? Pls kate i will not hide my feelings from u. Is life. Never knew i will c u. But i saw u n i like u. I have been thinking abt u since ystdy. pls accept my request. Reply + n u shall discover true love. Fredrick" (Please note: I copied these texts verbetum (with spelling, punctuation etc exactly. Also, people can't say names like Kasia or Amber here so I go by Catherine and the associated nick names - aka Kate). I of course replied telling him that you can't love someone without knowing eachother etc. Anyways... that's a fine example. Friday night, I went out with Derek, who I thought must be decent as he was the right hand man of the mayor...must be a decent, educated human being right? Nope! I brought a couple friends with me and we went for a drink with Derek and his friend Derek (funny I know). Both were completely silent while my male friend Awa was present, afterwhich he got talkative. Immediately afterwards, we were outside for a cigarette and he asked something along the lines of (i can't remember the exact phrase) but something like 'so are we dating now?' I was like.. um... PARDON? I don't even know you! Anyways, he had a very strange sense of humor characterized by lying, then saying he was joking, such as saying he was 45 when I think he's 31 etc. etc. He listed his interests as 'drinking, smoking and having a good time' and when i asked him what he did at work he said (and this is ENORMOUSLY reflective of the prevalent attitude of nearly all Cameroonians), "i go to the office and I collect my salary." I of course followed up and said, right but what do you do at the office, and he basically said that he reads a newspaper. THIS is the man who is responsible for development of Buea, for water, roads, garbage pick up etc. that is very lacking in this town... and what does this elected official (who won my 82% because 'the people knew I was trustworthy and would get things done') do with his time? 'Go to the office and collect his salary.' To say the least, I was extremely unimpressed. Ah well, he paid for our drinks and the taxi....hahaha. The final character, Alfonz, is a taxi driver that is stalking me. He calls me 5 times a day, from different numbers so I can't block him or avoid the call and actually stalks me. I was at the seamstress getting some clothes made and he called. I told him I was too busy with work etc. to get together and hung up (as connections are poor here so I essentially pretended I couldn't hear/understand). I walk outside and who is sitting there in his bright yellow taxi? Non-other than my personal stalker Ahyukfuc, or however you spell his name, aka Alfonz. He proceeds to interogate me about 'being at work' etc etc. and asked that he could have 10 minutes of my time, just to talk. None the less... i'm a bit concerned that he was able to find me since I didn't tell him I was at the seamstress and he also informed me he had seen me out the night before with friends... CREEPY to say the least. SO I've decided to learn to lie so I can avoid this all, however, how the heck am I supposed to meet anyone here? Women don't talk to me and when I try to talk to them they become veyr suprised and reclusive, and tend to laugh a lot when i try to make conversation...not too hopeful. Oh well, going to keep trying I guess. Anyways, those are just stories to convey what day to day is like here and how TRUE stories of women in foreign countries and marriage proposals are. OH, p.s. derek called on Sunday and ended the call with 'love you!' i was like um... ya... ok bye. GOD!

So other than my fun adventures with the creepos of cameroon, I have been out with people here for food/drinks a lot this week and started going to church groups where we're recruiting people to get trained as peer educators (to teach others about HIV) which was great since it made me feel like I was actually doing something; I also got to see some drumming for the first time. I was amazed by this people's ability to harmonize and lead song... so wonderful! I also got the opportunity to go to an art exposition at this really amazing/beautiful french cultural centere here in Buea. The art was pretty great, it was catered and of course I got hit on by one of the artists and had the opportunity to make use of my new 'turn down' skills. I have been really really emotional all week (hormones) and was having a really rough day as the night before, after hours of discussion, my boss was unable to conclusively say exactly what I was supposed to be doing here or day to day for work etc. So i really didn't feel like being around people or chatting, yet we were supposed to be leaving for Douala that night after the art show to go to a house warming for another intern in Douala. Of course, Awa bailed, so did Robert and Amber and I, two white girls, ended up going to Douala at 8pm (not exactly safe at night). So we arranged for the car driver to take us directly to the address so we wouldn't have to get out and get a taxi (we paid a pretty penny for it but definately teh right decision, although the driver had to ask directions and the only reason we found it is that a guy going to the party noticed us in the cab and thought 'hmmm white girls...must be going to the party' and asked us exactly that through the window and showed us to the apparetment). THe drive to douala was pretty brutal, 7 people in one small compact car for over two hours in the heat, traffic and on the bad roads. None the less, we made it there and were surrounded by AIESEC dances... which I wasn't too excited about as a result of the mood I was in. Amber and I, instead, ended up at the appartment of 4 Lebanese guys upstairs smoking sheesha, eating pineapple and talking about our countries. It was pretty awesome as all I wanted was something that i enjoyed like sheesha, or a nice sit down meal or a coffee shop (all things I've been craving lately). We went out for food around 1 am and because of our fine lebanese connection, were seated at an already closed FINE restaraunt where we were treated to steak and fries with warm (non-dirty) bread and avocado! What you need to understand is that Buea has no 'fine dining.' most restaraunts are actually very dirty wooden tables with table cloths that are plastic, with turkey's on them and are from approximately 1981, you are served out of coolers that have been probably sitting there since morning... SO Amber and I were in heaven by the time the bread was brought out. Bread in Buea comes from these very dirty wooden display cases that are never cleaned, so we were excited for the non-yellow, actually fresh, non-dirty bread. It was exactly what I needed and our friend paid for it too! He then took us to L'orange Metalique, a club full of white people (young and old), asians, black people (of course), lebanese and even asians! It was more white people than I had seen since I had been in Africa, and it was really odd but we had a good time dancing! It was like we were home again, dancing up a storm amongst a mixed crowd of people and not feeling completely like foreigners, when the power went out and we were reminded of where we were. We eventually made our way outside to see the owner running with a fire extinguisher....not a good sign, so we left. Amber and I wanted to go home but our friend (neither of us knew his name/couldn't say it properly), tried to take us to a different bar, eventually we convinced him to get us home. We had a great sleep on clean sheets! (also a novelty), and had hot showers in the morning in an actual bath tub. We went to a bakery in the morning and got ham/cheese croissants and it was quite the weekend! It was these experiences that made me once again realize....hmmm this isn't quite all normal... where I live, how i live, what I eat etc..... actually quite different. Don't underestimate the worth of a warm shower and nice, quiet meal... this is what I learned. Luckily though, i wasn't cast down into sadness by this experience, into missing home and the pleasures of Canada, but instead was simply revitalized to keep living with my toilet without a seat, cold showers and dirty bread! Why not! I haven't really gotten sick and it's all part of how people live here! It's simple and it works! Anyways, my point is that although I've said in previous blogs that it's strange that I don't find all of htis strange, well it's because it's so easy to just adapt and forget, it's so easy to just be glad you're not in a thatched hut, sleeping on the floor and eating dog, but sometimes, when you are reminded that nice restaraunts and hot showers exist, you remember again...hmmm this isn't how I normally live! Anyways, glad I went even though I totally didn't want to.

Some other things to mention. On the way home, there was a man on the side of the road holding up an alligator he had killed; he was simply standing there trying to sell an alligator. The things people do here for money, thye things they sell....pretty interesting!

Another thing; as I noted earlier, I was very affraid I was here for no reason. I ahven't done much work at my NGO since i've been here and the more I pester my boss for specific tasks, the less she has to say. The saturday, the conversation we had on saturday, kind of crushed me because it became clear to me there was very little i would get to do here. So i spent all weekend in torment, only to get back on sunday having found out that somehow things had been worked out and it looks like we might be able to get the project, the project of my dreams which aims to help orphans and vulnerable children, off the ground (i'm doing everythign i can to show her we can do it and did some work over the weekend and so did she), as well as work will be possible at the HIV/AIDS clinic... so i'm a bit more hopeful now... but the weekend was full of listing pros and cons about whether to start looking for something else. I have also started to reconsider med school, perhaps somewhere in Africa (so I can get resource-poor training) or in Poland... that's some other stressful news but we'll see how that all works out!

Anyways, sorry this was so long, I'll try to write a little blog about small things I haven't yet mentioned about living here! Thank you all for your emails (i've gotten a few) PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep them coming! They are lifesavers when you're feeling down! And believe me, i don't find your lives in Canada boring (as some of you have told me is your reason for not writing), so please keep me up to date!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Land of Juxtapositions

Hello ALL! Sorry it's been so long since I last wrote, but to be completely honest, I've been at a loss of what to write. Basically, after you get over the fact that everyone carry's things on their heads (for example, my friend Danielle carried my 55 lbs suitcase on his head up the mountain), everyone stares at you and little kids whisper, 'white man' as you walk by and some of them cry, every price you are given is just a starting offer and you should start the bargaining by cutting that price in half, everything comes with little black plastic bags from beans and rice to a pair of sandles, everything is dirty, slow (except for the taxis) and broken...kind of looking like it's 30 years old but it's new, and everything you eat is made with orange, incredibly staining palm's just like any other place!
When I got here, everything was SO interesting and I walked around sort of wide-eyed, but now it all seems pretty normal to me. Everyone sings, no matter who is around or how quiet it is, a typical taxi fare (you take a taxi everywhere) is about 100-200 Francs (500 francs = 1 dollar), oranges are 50 francs each and you squeeze the juice into your mouth, a cell phone (basic) costs about 20,000 francs ($40) and EVERYONE has a cell phone which is pay-as-you-go and you can buy 'credit' for your phone EVERYWHERE as their are 'call boxes' and trasfer places, hundreds of them, everywhere you go. All of this seems pretty normal to me. I moved to Kingston in first year and things were odd but eventually became normal; given that Africa was a little bit more different, somehow you adapt just the same. I'm used to power and water being out for most of the day, I'm used to haggling and walking away when i don't like the price and i'm used to eating rice, beans, water leaf and kasava every day. It is kind of odd that where I am is normal to me, but it is and that's why I haven't written for so long.
The reason I chose the title I did is because I feel as though I understand a little bit more about uneven development... or aspects of 'modernization' mixing with the lack of actual internal momentum for that kind of 'development' or modernizing (all of you who know me well know that I'm cringing every time I use those kinds of words, but for a lack of a better term, I must use them). Although the government here is completely corrupt and disfunctional aka voting is complete joke (for example my boss told me this morning that what happened in the last election was that the register simply didn't contain your name unless you belonged to the ruling party, so those who weren't going to vote for the president who has been ruling since 1982 couldn't vote = landslide victory), there is absolutely no concept of 'garbage' here meaning that there is simply trash everywhere because the city council can't organize pick up, all these types of things being true... somehow there are cell phones, computers, internet and modern clothes. I feel like it's so bizarre to look around and see people in traditional clothes next to dolce and gabana. I feel completely underdressed here next to either of those people because the traditional dress is beautiful and I didn't bring regular clothes here really, mostly t-shirts and the like. I'm sorry this is SO rambly but i'm just trying to write something so that you have some idea of what's going on...what i'm trying to say is that it's just so odd that you have some things that are totally normal and 'western' and then other things outside of the towns that are still very traditional that sort of permeate into the city and this makes for a very intersting mix.

Some other general things to mention are that although there are restaraunts and bars everywhere here they typically serve 3-5 items that are the same aka some traditional dishes, rice, beans, stew and tomato sauce (that is just runny). In addition, the bars and little huts have women with several coolers that serve food (the same food) out of them an a typical meal costs about 300 francs. This is mostly what I eat. I am now in my new host's home, the doctor I am working for and she has 4 children, variously related to her living with her. Something that is quite odd here is that children do ALL the house-related work; they cook all the meals, they clean, they do laundry and basically anything else that needs to be done so that by the time they are about 12, they can do anything for themselves. I guess that gives you a new perspective on children-run households where the parents have passed away - we don't need to teach them how to cook and clean we need to educate them so they can support their families. Speaking of education, what I have discovered here quickly is that unemployment is the BIGGEST problem in Cameroon. The joke in Canada is that we'll graduate and work at Starbucks or McD's but here...they would be greatful for that job. Most university students are lucky to get a manual job or a job driving a taxi or sitting in a call booth (call booths are stands with a phone and person and you pay 100 francs for a call that is under 60 seconds - this is if your phone is out of credit or you don't have a phone). Basically, university students are to work in the government, schools etc but there are NO jobs yet they continue training students in these fields. Basically what that means is that most, probably 90% of the population is either unemployed or self-employed, self-employed being sitting at a wooden stand all day trying to sell oranges, tomatos, accra or smoked fish. I don't understand and I can't conceive of how each person makes a living doing that but I have been told that farmers do alright here in the market... but i see this tiny little table full of handful of fruits/veggies and they sit there all day...I wonder how much they sell... in fact i am tempted to sit all day one day just to see how many oranges they sell. At least they are keeping 'busy' is what some people say. On that note, it doesn't seem like 'poverty' is a huge issue here... what I mean is that you don't see some starving child on the street or some destitute looking person. I guess I came to the wrong place if I want to see that kind of thing - apparently you need to be in a more rural location for such a thing. But I wonder, there must be some of that here... I just don't know where? What this means for me is that it is QUITE difficult to assess what is needed here and thus what I should be doing. Although my doctor is brilliant and great, I haven't had too much to do thus far...i'm sort of working on a survey that is pretty much done, I am supposed to be recruiting people from groups to train them as peer educators but the person i was supposed to be doing that with today didn't show up and i'm supposed to be running a meeting for previously trained educators. I will also (hopefully) be volunteering at a hospital, an orphanage and an HIV/AIDS clinic, and also maybe an NGO that helps widows - widow rites here are CRAZY - I was just told about some of them last night by a friend who's aunt runs the widow NGO. Basically it includes things like no showering, shaving your head, sleeping on plantain leaves and one of the most shocking, rolling a plantain leaf (HUGE), putting some oil on it and putting it in your vagina for a few days in order to protect yourself from the spirit of your husband or other dead men that may want to 'lay with you.' I can't imagine! Right now, my boss found out I can type, so i'm typing BOOKS of notes for her nursing school/institute that she's starting. What i'm going to do is read a bunch and come up with a bunch of things I want to do and get going on those which is apparently doable. SO that's my plan for now in terms of my NGO.
Other than all of that, I was actually really bored this weekend because other than wandering, eating and drinking (pop and MAYBE some beer), therei s really nothing to do here. This weekend I'm going to Douala for a housewarming party for another intern and hopefully next weekend I'm going to Limbe, the beach with black (volcanic) sand. I am planning some trips to the north which is supposed to be really cool and different as well as to Egypt and people's villages to see more 'cultural' stuff. I am much less bored now that i'm at Dr. Khumbah's because there are 4 kids around and Dr. Khumbah is basically the African version of me; really loud, into politics and into AIDS and loves to talk about all those things and more, so we get along and I feel really comfortable there - I even have my own bathroom with a shower head that works (although it only produces FREEZING cold water in the morning and night when the water cold it makes it hard to breathe). I am already feeling better there and my stomach is just fine. I'm trying to think of other interesting things to say but am at a bit of a loss so i hope this satisfies everyone's appetite for news on what i'm up to and how things are! Basically the lesson learned is that not all of Africa is what the pictures show! (although it is really run down and dirty). Hope all is well with all of you at home and PLEASE email me about your lives at home!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Buea at LAST!

I am finally in Buea, the city my internship is in and it is BEAUTIFUL. I am seriously in paradise. It is tropical essentially...palm trees, lots of big green palm-esque plants and vegetation, kind of wet feeling and warm/hot but not too hot for the most part although i haven't been wandering around too much in mid afternoon. Anyways, it was another sort of frustrating day yesterday when I got into Buea as I was sort of dragged all over the place, but really nowhere at all and for nothing at all. It was sort of just really disorganized and just a lot of 'chilling' as they say here. For example, we would say, 'ok so we just go get your bag here and then go home.' But in actually fact, we walk there very slowly, all sit down for some reason and do nothing for quite some time and then EVENTUALLY and I mean EVENTUALLY, everyone sort of decides ok lets go... even though all i had to do was pick up a bag and go. I know i'm being a baby and things are not like they are at home but all I wanted to do was put my stuff down and be at home, wherever or whatever that means. Anyways, i started thinking perhaps this is how it is here amongst everyone, but after meeting my NGO/Host, I discovered that it's a student thing; student's take their time and are I'm hoping it is just a student thing and things move a little bit more 'my way' here. Anyways, I know it's a minor fact but i'm still not feeling well and I just wanted home base if you will. SO I finally got to my 'home' that i will be staying at for the next week to get 'oriented' by AIESEC and to Buea. My NGO is none too pleased as their was a lot of miscommunication and she has been expecting me since saturday and has my room ready. None the less, the house itself is quite large and clean, a change from the last house i was at that was quite dirty; an interesting contrast to the house itself is that it is like a mini farm with chickens, ducks, turkeys in a pen behind the house and some gardens. I love all of that, however, the problem that is only a problem because of the state of my health, is the bathroom. The bathroom which is actually the toilet is an outhouse with a hole in the ground (all made of cement) with a waste basket for toilet paper which i have discovered is not in any public or most private bathrooms here if there is a bathroom at all. To be honest, i've roughed it lots before and have no qualms with outhouses and this one is extremely clean... however it is I guess this fact that is hard for me as being sick... usually means using the bathroom in an intimate way and in a way that perhaps isn't pretty. I tried to ask my house how you 'clean up after yourself' aka do you wash/rinse it with water when you're done, aka can i clean up the mess i may make and she said, 'oh no we clean the toilet when we clean the house.' at this point i was uncomfortable and did not want to ask the more graphic and straight forward, 'what if you miss!' So my stomach is not doing so well and i haven't eaten again since this morning... my plan of action is to let my system recover and only drink water until i am feeling 100% again. Ah well! the joy of travel really. Other than the house itself, (which i made a video of and will hopefully be able to post somehow), I ate an orange the Cameroonian way which is to peel the very outer layer, cut off the top and squeeze out the juice, like a portable real orange juice-box. it was great! I also tried some sugar cane which you don't eat but rather chew on and suck the juice (it is very tough/fibery but FULL of water/juice) which of course tastes like sugar and is very enjoyable. I had a pleasant sleep (even though my mosquitto net was a difficult procedure and i basically just slept undder the covers and had the net over my face and arms), which was ok since it gets cooler at night here. I had a wonderful sleep, that is until, at 4:30 am-ish the rooster (which was so evil it pecked most of the chickens to death) started crowing, it seemed, right in my room SO loudly my ears about a wake up call...yes that lasted 2 hours or so when i was asked to get out of bed (aka 6:30am).
I was very lucky however, Mary my host, offered me a 'bath' and asked 'very hot or normal?' to which I replied, 'oh just warm would be wonderful' as another intern here warned me all of her 'baths' had been regular cold water. What a bath is here, and why i mentioned it was called toilet not bathroom is the bathroom is next to the outhouse with the exact same set up, cement with a hole in the floor. I got a bucket of water and some soap and i simply splashed myself and washed myself that way... it was quite nice and refreshing, kinda cool as I could see the steam rising off my body from the warm water. P.s. she warmed the water in an external house on a wood fire and held the pot up on rocks, above that pot was things that were being smoked/dried I guess, various vegetables and corn drying in little bundles as well. It was really neat but quite smokey. That is where they cook and keep their food, a lot of yams, coco-yams and kasava, the main thing here.
I had a breakfast of egg, fried like an omlette, bread that looked normal but a bit yellow and had a slightly different taste and ovaltine made with powdered milk. It was good but my stomach is still affraid unfortunately. Mary was very nice and prepared all of this while i just layed on my bed begggin for the stomach pains to go away.
Anyways, other than that, spent the morning doing recruitment for AIESEC on the university campus which was interesting as everyone starred at the white girl and i felt so uncomfortable approaching people but i did it anyways and got some people signed up. The BEST part was that i had to speak in front of a lecture (large sized hall) group receiving orientation. I was fairly calm but I said only three words and the WHOLE crowd started sort of laughing and gesturing and sort of yelling, which I was informed later was a collective 'WHOA!' Apparently, although people speak english here, most people speak mostly pigeon, a mix of english, spanish, portuguese... basically english with a twist and when they speak english it is slower and with a very differnet accent. Anyways, I asked if it was that I was speaking to fast, as my partner Mary also had no clue what had happened, and I received a collective "YES!" SO i spoke slowly and had a good laugh. I was told later that people here are ver impressed with how we speak English as it is very fast... so now i know to slow down as I think that has explained a lot of the lack of response in conversation and blank nods.
I finally met my NGO today and the doctor that is accepting me as an intern and it was the best thing yet. We totally were on the exact same page and she was visibly excited and seemed to think it was amazing that I was sent sort of since I knew all about what she wanted to do and why it was imporatnat. It made all that work before rewarding and i know it's going to work great. Ok gotta run before my time runs out. p.s. tonight i'm going to a football game. Email me soon!

Monday, October 15, 2007

in cameroon

Hello from Cameroon! the enter key on this keyboard doesn't work so please forgive my structure! Well I just woke up and it is my second day in Cameroon. I flew in the night before last after some 3 days of flying and waiting in airports. The flights were decent with of course the exception of screaming children kicking your seat, a elbow-happy man who has no sense of how to share an armrest and the airplane food that I think made me sick. None the less, I am finally here and loving it. The night I got in, I will be honest, I got pretty freaked out and thoughts such as 'what am I doing here?', 'are you crazy?' and 'what have I gotten myself into?' most certainly passed through my mind that first night. On that note, I advise you never to fly into a city at night...everything is much more frightening at night. I say that becaus the next morning I was perfectly fine, it just all seemed so crazy when i got in. I had heard all about these 'porters' that try to 'help' you with your bag and sure enough I had my own personal stalker at the airport. He literally followed me from the gate all the way outside. I tried to loose him and tried to politely decline his services and actually walked away, and at one point ran, to try to loose him but to no avail. Finally I spotted my bag on a different carosel and I took off running when his head was turned. I busted through the croud and got stuck at the huge mob in front of customs. A woman stopped me and asked me for my luggage tags. I was told not to trust anyone at the airport other than cops, so I asked who she worked for and she was in uniform, so I showed her my luggage tag and somehow just ran through customs without anyone stopping me. In addition to my stalker, a lot of screaming was going on at customs because a fight had broken out and two men were kicking the crap out of eventually broke it up but the scene was definately a good introduction into Africa. I make it outside into a swarm of people and unfortunately do not see a sign saying my name or AIESEC, but do not fear, I was not alone as my stalker had followed me all the way outside! Not only this but he brought all his friends over to meet me and offer their many ways of 'helping' me; I met money exchange lady, several taxi men, mobuto man (bus) and several others offering various assistance, much of which I wasn't even sure of because they were all speaking french. Finally, a white guy wearing an AIESEC shirt came to my rescue and we proceeded to the taxis to bargain our fair, it was like a mini wall street, bids going here and there, yelling and gesturing. Finally we agreed on a price and settled into the seat belt-less taxi. We got dropped off and walked home, at one point going through the sketchiest of sketchy alley ways. We got to the AIESEC house that has a locked gate and door and waited for its inhabitant to let us in. I was just starting to calm down as I was finally safe when I was suprised by a giant cockroach crawling near my bag. None the less I hadn't slept for three days so I crawled into my sandy bed under my pink mosquito next with no blankets and no pillow and fell sound asleep. I was awoken the next morning and we went out for breakfast the same place we had eaten the night before when I got in. A little 'cafe' where I ate oeuf spaghetti (egg spaghetti) a concoction of egg, 'egg spice', pepers, perhaps cilantro and spagetti fried into a patty on a flat pan. It's actually quite tasty along with my ovaltine made with sweetened milk out of a can. Unfortunately, something I ate that day caused me to have the pleasure of 'traveller's sickness' for the entire day, allowing me to get much more comfortable with the sketchy bathroom in the house. We continued on into town to exchange my money and buy a cell phone. I bought a pineapple on the street to get some smaller demoninations as hotels don't usually have smaller bills to give you when you exchange money. Something I've noticed here is that when you go to a business, they act as though they are doing you an extreme favour. We handed over the money for the pineapple, he kind of stood around continuing to chop up his goods, then brought some pineapples to who I was informed was his family, he finished chopping and then eventually gave us our pineapple and change. It was the same situation at the restaraunt...all you want to do is pay and they huff and take their's quite funny actually, but I can see why everything takes so long here, no one, I mean NO ONE is in a rush. I enjoyed the pleasure of taking a moto-taxi, a motorcycle while in town and it was great! So dangerous, but totally fun! My doctor in Kingston said, 'the thing you must really be most careful about in africa is traffic.' I laughed at this and then had a bigger laugh when i came here and understood how right he was. There aren't really any rules here and no lanes and tonnes of these little honking motorcyles and taxis screaming around with no care for anyone else really. Honking is used to warn oncoming traffic of your presence rather than to show anger about being cut off; the idea is more like, i'm here so move it rather then 'excuse me!' We headed back home and stopped in for a 'Cameroon juice' which was like grapefruit pop, quite refreshing. Soon after returning home, we (tiery my host and I) were joined by Awa, one of the AIESEC people for Buea, where I will be going for my internship (currently in the city of Douala about 1.5 hours away). Although Tiery was very nice and accomodating, he didn't have a lot to say. Awa on the other hand was the exact human being I was so excited to meet here in Africa. He is an English and French major at his university, incredibly intelligent, philosophical, loves jazz and writes poetry! We had the most amazing 3 hour conversation about everything in life and it was so great. I found out that he is one of 16 children and his father had two wives and is a prince of Buea. His grandfather was the king of his town/village and had something like 8 wives. Polygamy is still legal here in Cameroon but is not practiced as much in people my age, but their fathers, if within their means, can have more than one wife. Awa certainly expressed to me that he would never want two wives and said times have changed; he's looking for love and complete longlasting committment to and from one person. Anyways, i was relieved to meet someone that I was hoping to meet here and luckily he is from the town I am going to. The night was fairly uneventful as we were joined soon after our conversation was nearing it's end by Bernice, a very humorous young man who would not leave me alone. He followed me around the house and later on in the night took me to the equivalent of 'look out point', the train station, i think in an attempt to 'make his move.' Luckily however, i kept my distance and conversation going on a very non-personal/sexual topic of development in Africa. He is so nice and sweet but just a little bit much for me, haha. I did however get an invite to his village where they also have a king protected by things like lions and leopards apparently and still have very traditional values and ways of life. I am very excited to see more traditional Africa! Other than all of this, right before I took my first shower since I left (which is a shower head on a hose that you hold over yourself and drain in the floor), I was greeted by a spider the size of my hand. I of course said 'holy shit!' and jumped back and called Bernice over who proceeded to of course laugh at me. Apparently that's 'small' and he said there are even butterflies with wings the size of his hand (that being the size of one wing). I guess some other fun tidbits to mention is that there is power and running water here but the power i constantly flickering and going out, in fact it was out almost all of yesterday and was out for several hours at the nairobi airport. Other than that, right now I'm waiting for a text from Awa saying when we are leaving because of the rain. I can't wait to get to Buea as i don't much like the city or cities in general and Buea is a much smaller community at the root of mount cameroon, cooler and fresher (apparently, as it is QUITE muggy here) and only 20 minutes away from Limbe where there is apparently a black sand beach on the ocean! I can't wait to meet my host family, although it'll be interesting to live with a family and a curfew again. Oh, i just remembered, i forgot to tell you about Amsterdam! I had a stopover in amsterdam for about 9 hours; I met a girl in line for the plane who was also going to africa (nairobi for a tour) and so we decided to tour amsterdam on our lay over. We hoped on the train and went downtown. We wandered around people watching and observing oddities such as a carnival (like with titla-whirl and such) right downtown amsterdam in the city was really odd. we finally settled down at a table outside a small pub and began pounding back the pints, soon enough (due to lack of sleep etc.) we were well on our way to intoxicated. Then of course we were only meters from the 4 20 we enjoyed all the most obvious aspects of amsterdam while we chatted with some aussies next to us. A little less coherent we stumbled back to the airport (thankfully finding our way in this state after only half of what we purchased from the cafe) and found our gate. It was a great little stop and MUCH better than my 10 hour layover in the Nairobi airport which is filled almost exclusively with duty free shops, about 95% of the stores are duty free and the other 5% selling the exact same was really quite odd and painful layover as it was long, i hadn't slept in days and there was nothing to do and little options in terms of food; the power went out and no gates were posted for most flights so I had to run end to end to find my gate. Anyways, sorry this was so disorganized and random but I tried to update the blog earlier to keep events and thought seperate but the power and later the internet was out yesterday, SO, here it is in it's glorious form. I miss home already but am excited for my adventures! I have a cell phone and apparently it doesn't cost me anything if someone calls me so if you feel like it and have a phone card, give me a call at + 237 75 89 17 53! hope to hear from you all soon!