My time in Tanzania ended just as I was due in the capital for our Completion of Service conference. COS time is a week of reflecting on what you’ve accomplished and preparing for the transition afterwards. The formal agenda aside, it’s also the last time to see everyone from your training group (many of whom I hadn’t seen since our In-Service Training in March 2011). The administrative side was chaos per usual, with nearly four dozen of us all attempting to fill out the required paperwork while catching up on each others' lives and post-PC plans. The plus side is that all this was handled in the comfort of a swanky hotel in Yaounde. Most of us being fresh out of the village were more than a little thrown by the accommodations and amenities. Air-conditioning? WiFi? Elevators? Hot showers? A pool? As jarring as it was at first, it’s amazing how quickly one adapts to that lifestyle.
|Health/Agro PCVs 2010-2012|
Nostalgia reigned supreme during the week, aided by a video kick-off that a few people had put together highlighting some of our experiences in the past two years. Having the opportunity to see everyone was great, but the entire COS process was a little overwhelming. The first morning of the conference, administration casually said that, since we had 15 minutes, we could decide our COS dates. Anxiety swept the room, as life suddenly started to feel very real. Forget that many of us were still in the throes of trying to figure out our immediate plans. We were given 5 distinct weeks as options, and asked to write our top picks on a Post-It note. After a minute of deliberation as to what would work best for me, I decided that I didn’t have anything so pressing that it should complicate someone with actual plans, and wrote “Whatever.” As fate would have it, I got the last group, set to gong out December 7th, which is probably perfect for me.
The rest of the week had its ups and downs, with sessions ranging from resume help and medical coverage, to learning the fate of our posts - replacement or not - and even a visit to an amazing primate rehabilitation center (learn more at www.apeactionafrica.org ).
|(Primate photos courtesy of Yaya Tang)|
Rather than give in to the panic attack that was brewing over the 3-month/6-month/1-year/5-year life decisions that should be made, I chose to enjoy the moments with friends who have become more like family (and, on more than one occasion, therapists). This meant long evenings and late nights thus exasperating my already exhausted state. By the time the week was over, I was fighting off fatigue and a two-week head cold so barely said my goodbyes before passing out - aided by a fair amount of Sudafed - and sleeping the weekend away.
Between presentations, vacation, COS Conference, and meetings, I had been away from village far too long. I was missing Bapa something fierce so happy to get back to the peaceful day-to-day life. My neighbors welcomed me back and I doled out the gifts I had gotten for them. It’s a Cameroonian tradition to ask “Tu me gards quoi?,” or “What did you guard me?” A lot of PCVs get upset by this question, since we invariably get it from nearly *everyone* - especially after you’ve been gone for more than a few days (heck, I often get it just walking through village on a random Tuesday). I’ve tried to remain optimistic and consider the underlying intention rather than the surface meaning. Most people aren’t upset if you have nothing to offer but an empty hand and a smile. For those you can offer a gift to, it’s less about the present and more about the fact that you cared enough to think about them while you were away. I can respect this, and I equate it to my friend Sarah always giving me her airplane snack when I would pick her up from the airport. It had less to do with me somehow *loving* tiny packets of crackers or cookies, and more to do with what the gesture represented.
|The kids took care of (i.e. wore out) Cardamom while I was gone. Before they got the cash though, we did math on the chalkboard to calculate exactly how much they had earned.|
With time ticking on these village moments, I’m vowing to live it up and soak up as many cultural exchanges are possible. Sooo…I spent several days in August just hanging out at my house with the door open and people coming in and out casually. We made banana bread and lemon squares, listened to music, made paper beads, and watched pirated versions of “America’s Best Dance Crew” (admittedly I thought Cameroonians would be more impressed by their moves than they were…). In exchange, I got informal patois lessons and learned how to make one of my favorite Cameroonian dishes – koki.
|The neighbor girl is getting really good at these necklaces and bracelets|
Food-wise? Besides gorging on delicious meals in Yaounde (pizza, fruit tarts, Indian food, etc.), there were also tasty concoctions in the transit house – stir fries, cake from a mix and chemically induced frosting from a tub. I also had my mind blown with a simple breakfast egg and cheese sandwich with slices of refrigerated avocado. The combination of warm and cold, melty and buttery was a great way to start the day. Being exposed to so many good eats helped kick me out of my food slump at post. I attempted to recreate the lime garlic fettuccini I had while on vacation and was reasonably successful all things considered. Growing up, Friday evenings were often soup and popcorn nights so I commemorated that to kick off one weekend, putting my blender to use whipping up a thick tomato soup. At a Peace Corps gathering, we did foil vegetable packets. I had forgotten how good roasted veggies (zucchini, eggplant, green peppers, and onions) with a little salt, paper, oil, and vinegar can be. This along with grilled pineapple and chocolate cake made for a perfect evening around a bonfire. Finally, I threw together an oatmeal spice cake with toasted coconut for a friend’s birthday.
It’s exciting to have an end-date in sight, though I’m trying to continue to be present and soak up this experience instead of get caught up in the “after.” With that said though, I can officially let it be known that I’ll be traveling for potentially several months after I end my service here, and am open to suggestions and travel partners. Any and all recommendations and advice will be taken into consideration. In the spirit of spontaneity, I'm currently operating without a plan right now, so the world is mine. Basically though, name a country and it's on my Bucket List. Seriously... in a dream world, I'd touch on all 6 continents (Antarctica will have to wait for another time.) I just feel like after what I've been through here, I'm going to need some time to process everything - and I don't know if the U.S. is the best place to do that. Plus, it seems to be an ideal time in my life. So...if you have any plans to be abroad through the first half of 2013 and are interested in having a travel buddy, let me know details!