As the academic year kicked off, I was able to pay school fees for the 4 recipients of A2Empowerment scholarships. These bright girls were each chosen earlier this year to receive money that covers the bulk of their annual academic costs, plus a few other incidentals. We decided to roll out our mandatory meetings into a larger Girls Club to reach more young women in the village. We’re meeting twice a month and kicked off the initiative listening to music while putting together a group timeline and resume of our collective skills and talents. At our second gathering, we discussed financial matters and the importance of budgeting. An engaging, informal conversation followed the teaching points, and then I introduced them to making paper beads.
|Tchamegne Fezeu Amelie|
|Teneng Germerie Wondon|
|Tchuendem Simo Gabrelle Cynthia|
Although I was hoping to have another “film screening” chez moi, the projector wasn’t working well so instead the kids and I crowded around the tiny screen of my computer and watched “She’s the Man.” The older kids liked it (soccer, teen humor, Amanda Bynes impersonating a boy…what’s not to love?!?!), but the younger kids were a bit lost so I indulged them in watching the animated “Kirikou and the Sorcerer” which by my tally means we’re into double digits viewing.
One the eleventh anniversary of September 11th, I was able to pay tribute in a most unusual way. I spent the morning at the Health Center where, in between prenatal consultations, I read a few chapters from Nine Parts of Desire, a book about the role of women in Islam and what the Koran says about such matters. On my way home, I stopped to chat with the Father of the Catholic Church in village and ended up having a lengthy discussion with a few people about development, politics, peace, and the lingering effects of 9/11 on Americans and throughout the world. Building my global cultural perspective is perhaps the best way I can pay homage to the tragedy that unfolded that day. In commemorating the lives that were lost, I think the best piece of advice I can give is to reflect on the power each of us has to do/feel/love – and pursue endeavors that convey this.
In somewhat disappointing news, I learned that the nurse at the health center and my pseudo-counterpart had been affected to a new post in the region. This sealed the nail in the coffin that I wouldn’t be replaced by a Health PCV, but I was hopeful that perhaps the time was ripe for a Youth Development volunteer given my increasing work in that area. Unfortunately, this is not to be, so Bapa is officially being closed this round. I am very saddened that it seems all our efforts were in vain – not to mention it means I must pack up and deal with getting rid of *everything* instead of just passing it off to my replacement.
Of course, it was bittersweet thinking about leaving as September marked my 2-year anniversary from starting this entire crazy adventure. A volunteer in a remote village in the West Adamawa had invited us to her post to celebrate. It was a journey to get there (from Bapa to Bafoussam, then Bafoussam to Bamenda, and Bamenda to Kumbo for the night, followed by Kumbo to Songkolong to arrive at our party destination), but I’m so glad I went. Along one of the legs, I was crammed in the backseat of a car with three other volunteers from my training group. Despite the lack of wiggle room, I was content. It down-poured at first but eventually we settled in and enjoyed the drive while sharing earbuds to listen to music as we made our way to Kumbo. Kumbo is a great town and it was nice to just relax and enjoy each other’s company. Plus, the street food is fantastic and I enjoyed “fried Irish” (fried potatoes) topped with an omelet. This was eaten with my hands out of a black plastic bag - which has a way of making anything you eat seem a little more shameful - but was delicious! The next day, we filled two cars going to Songkolong but this time around, four in the backseat got uncomfortable fast so I offered to take “petite chauffeur” (i.e. you share the seat with the driver and make do as he reaches over your thighs to shift). In total, there were 15 visitors to Songkolong, which delighted and slightly overwhelmed this village where water, electricity, and cell phone reception are rare. It was a jovial night as we recounted our initial meeting in Philadelphia, first roommates, and the incredible memories we’ve made up to this point.
The morning brought omelets for our bellies and saying goodbyes as we headed back to Kumbo and the half-way point to get back to the West. I visited a Cameroonian artist’s gallery and was so impressed I did a very adult-like thing and bought a 3-piece painting of a tree at sunset that I fell in love with the instant I laid eyes on it. Forget the fact that I don’t know where I’ll be living or what I’ll be doing after Peace Corps, I know this art will be a fixture that will remind me of my time here.
Being the good Bamileke cat that she is, Cardamom “blessed” me with 6 more kittens. Her fertility is infuriating and I’d be more angry with her if the kittens weren’t so darn cute. Unfortunately, this is yet another thing I need to deal with as I wrap up my time here…
Deric is my friend Mimi’s baby and he turned 1-year-old near the end of the month and I promised to photograph the guest of honor. We all laughed as he wobbled about on unsteady feet but refused to let that stop him from getting down and dancing to the music. Mimi had also made quite possibly the best Cameroonian cake I’ve had in this country (she told me her secret is to add yogurt – genius!).
|The birthday boy!|
|My favorite 1-year-old|
September wrapped up with the biggest Peace Corps party to date – PROMEROON – hosted by the West region (I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again - the *best* region). Since many people were coming in to celebrate, I invited people to my house the day before. Although my 2-bedroom apartment is small, we had a cozy Girls Night with seven of us. It was well after dark by the time we arrived, and we commenced dinner preparation in the dark, eventually enjoying dinner of naan, rice, and Indian curry (potatoes, canned peas and tomatoes, tofu, and coconut milk) by candlelight. We thoroughly stuffed ourselves before the storm passed and the power returned.
We had planned on doing yoga the next morning, but the lingering effects of rainy season meant that plan was scrapped and we instead settled on a relaxed morning of lazing around the house listening to music and watching TV while making coconut French toast for breakfast and fried rice and roasted potats (white sweet potatoes) with lime and chili vinaigrette for lunch. We packed up and walked to the nearby village for the Prom festivities – taking a “short cut” and blaring music along the way.
I had intended to arrange a late-night car that would take those interested back to my house, but we were unable to find a willing driver so instead returned to my house to pick up bedding. This turned out to be another adventure as the moto men refused to follow the directions to my house (or me yelling the entire time that we were going the wrong direction). We ended up taking the “scenic route” through Bapa and, just when I thought I couldn’t get more exasperated, one of the motos ran out of gas. We trudged along on foot, thankful for the full moon and trying to find the humor in the entire situation. Eventually, we made it to the party and kicked off the festivities and I was impressed that guests went all out with dresses/suits, hair, and makeup. Much of the evening involved sitting around the bonfire in our finery, and I even presented my friend and fellow Health volunteer in the West, Marcelle, with a chocolate coconut cake I had made for her birthday.
|Sequined beauties in the middle: Inspired by "Toddlers & Tiaras" but perfect for a "Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion" re-enactment|
|Me and the Birthday girl|