The morning of December 1st was a frenzy of packing and cleaning, with the neighbor kids hauling away the last of my things. In a whirlwind of tears, I said my goodbyes and tightly hugged the people who had been my family for two years. It was incredibly emotional and it wasn’t until I was halfway out of my village when I remembered I hadn’t said goodbye to my faithful companion – my cat, Cardamom.
I lugged my stuff up three flights of stairs to the office in the regional capital and barely had a moment to catch my breath before running last-minute errands, including picking up items from my tailor in a nearby town. Of course, this trip was a typical transportation experience with the driver demanding 2000CFA for the journey that is set at 500CFA. After sharply explaining that this wasn’t my first day in country, I’d lived in Bapa for two years, and that I’d pay the normal price thank-you-very-much, he had the nerve to ask if I talk to women in my village the way I spoke to him. (“No, because they don’t treat me disrespectfully like you are” was my only reply.) Because of the fast turnaround at the tailor's, I had to take the same car back, but the return trip was more courteous. The next day, I haphazardly organized my belongings and had one final spaghetti omelet with volunteers in the West before making my way to the capital.
I had imagined my last week as a PCV would be an opportunity to hang out in the company of other volunteers and enjoy the amenities that Yaounde had to offer. Instead, it was spent running around to various appointments (exit interviews, dental cleanings, medical exams) and filling out an endless amount of administrative paperwork.
Because I was traveling afterwards rather than going straight to the US, I took cash-in-lieu for the value of what a return ticket would cost. I was glad that a friend went with me as I carried several thousand CFA on my person to pay for a ticket through a Cameroonian airline.
Rather than eat out in the city for each meal, I decided to cook one night. Walking down the hill from the Peace Corps transit office, I found a small outdoor market. When buying an assortment of vegetables, it is customary to receive a “gift” (cadeau) here or there. Because I only wanted one small pepper (I was cooking for a group that didn’t like food as spicy as I do), I asked for this to be my cadeau since the cost is practically negligible. The woman told me that, in this case, a gift is two peppers. I explained that I only needed one so she could keep the other, but I had to chuckle when I got back to the kitchen and saw that she had snuck both of them in the bag.
I had been feeling sick for several weeks, but brushed it off attributing it to dust from the beginning of dry season and general stress from closing up my post. Unfortunately, it continued to get worse so my last few days in-country were even busier with extra trips to the lab for blood work. I was exhausted and kept vacillating between sleeping and a raging fever. I still had papers to fill out and reports to complete, but I really appreciated the support from other volunteers.
I had to apologize during my exit interview with the country director for my unprofessionalism - sneezing, coughing, and wearing flip flops - but she was gracious and understanding. In a flash, it was time to gong out. I was burning up at 102° by then so was miserable and crying because I didn’t feel well. (I knew I felt horrible but it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I was finally diagnosed with pneumonia in a Parisian hospital.) The ceremony was very long but my Program Manager and her Assistant said very nice things and, before I knew it, I had gone from being a PCV to an RPCV (Returned).
|Close of Service (Before)|
|Peace Corps Cameroon Country Director and me|
|Officially RPCVs!!! (Note I'm wearing a sweater because my fever was actually making me unbearably cold.)|
|These lovely ladies helped me tremendously in my final week (and are apparently basking in my radiating heat).|
|Always exciting, rarely clean: the case (volunteer transit house)|
|Hunter's farewell: "What can we do? / Nothing"|
|My farewell: "We suffer...SINCE and UNTIL!"|
For the last two days in Cameroon, I attempted to do some souvenir shopping and winter clothes for my upcoming trip to Europe. From bargaining for nearly half an hour over the price of a tablecloth to trying on jeans in public in the large outdoor market, it was my last opportunity to be completely immersed in what Cameroon had to throw at me. Or so I thought…
We packed up and made our way to the airport. All the others in the group had an earlier flight out so I was left by myself in the waiting area for awhile. I made final phone calls to friends in-country before attempting to check-in for my flight. While in line, two “forestry” representatives called me out to question the contents of my baggage. We went a few rounds before they asked me to see their supervisor – but told me to leave my bags in line. I followed them the 75 feet but they thought it was silly that I wanted to keep an eye on my stuff. As usual, it was that strange blend of taking yourself way too seriously yet still being unprofessional (the “boss” was a lady half asleep with her head and upper body sprawled out at her desk). When they demanded 4000CFA ($8), I asked to see the paperwork that would require that outrageous sum and of course, they got angry with me. Tired of arguing and too exhausted to care at this point, I did something I had prided myself on avoiding in a country where corruption and bribery is the norm – I paid the money.
Then, when checking in with the CamAir ticket agent, they stipulated that my bag needed to be wrapped in plastic. I protested to no avail and then went to see the men who do that. Of course, they said the fee for this was 2000CFA. I didn’t have this amount so had to go see their boss and plead my case. I hadn’t wanted to spend my last few hours in Cameroon groveling, but somehow it was a fitting ending. He agreed to take whatever money I did have and I came up only a few hundred CFA short. I even gave him every last small 5CFA coin which he tried to refuse. I knew the reason why so I said in exasperation, “Oh right. They’re cursed aren’t they?!?” He seemed shocked that I knew this village fable. I told him to keep them and give them to kids on January 1st and followed it up with: “See, I gave EVERYTHING to Cameroon. My money, blood, sweat, and tears.” As I was about to leave, he asked if I had gotten married to a Cameroonian man and all I could do was laugh as I thanked him and headed for my gate. Before I knew it, the plane was taking off and I was beginning the next step in my international adventure…
And thus concludes this blog. I want to thank everyone who read my accounts and followed my tales. I appreciate your interest and felt so encouraged and supported along the way. It was a pleasure to share this experience with you!