Life in the Peace Corps

Chronicles life in Cameroon as Small Enterprise Developer in 2008-2010

Mourning the Loss of a Village Friend

Posted by on Jul 7, 2013 in Life in the Peace Corps | 2 comments

Mourning the Loss of a Village Friend

Today was a sad day full of tragic news. I woke up to my NYT alert on the San Francisco plane crash, and made a mental note how spooky it feels that I am due to take a flight on a similar route in a few weeks’ time. You just never know. Then, I ended the day with a devastating news – my dear friend Victor, who was my guardian, student, teacher, and so much more during my two years of life in Cameroon, was killed in a tragic moto accident two days ago. I found out the news via email. I was sitting at a bar here in Shanghai on a relaxed Sunday evening. My friend and I were just having a conversation about the SF crash. I saw a message on my phone, and I checked it, and out of habit, also checked my email. And there it was, in that short few paragraphs of email contained the terrible news. It is as is in the movies; suddenly, everything goes blank, and I just kept saying “oh my goodness”. I was in a slight shock, and in an attempt to explain to my friend what had happened, tears came. Those two years in the Peace Corps had began to really feel like a dream. This month marks the 3-year anniversary of my return from Cameroon. But today, that life flashed before my eyes and once again became very real. I replayed moments of my time with Victor, and imagined the horrible accident that he had gotten in. He was riding a motor bike and was unfortunately hit by a large beverage truck. Tragic, yet this is so very common in daily Cameroonian life. I just never personally knew anyone who was affected. More than ever, I am very glad that I had blogged. I dug deep into my blog posts and found stories that I had written. Victor was my first student in the many rounds of business seminars that I had given. He was the motivated, upstanding, and positive guy that Cameroon really needs. Victor was the traditional chief of my quartier (neighborhood), and upon my arrival, he took it upon himself to really look after me. I was so appreciative that I nominated him to become the official counterpart for my village for future Peace Corps volunteers. Victor was operating a mushroom farm that employed Chinese technology. After taking my business class, we worked together to build a solid business plan that got him fundings to expand his operation in our little village. That business was his pride and joy, among many of the community development projects that he was working on to better Batié. He was also a big proponent of the Books for Cameroon project that I had spearheaded, and was always more than willing to take time out of his busy life to help when I reached out. But beyond all of his wonderful work, Victor made me feel safe when I was a 22-year-old girl living alone in a Cameroonian village. During the initial months, he used his power as a neighborhood chief, took me to various community meetings and introduced me to the village. Immediately, because people respected Victor, they took me in as one of their own. I never once felt less than welcomed in Batié, and Victor played a big role in this integration. Every time his family farm has excess fruit, Victor would bring them to me. He knew I love to eat mushrooms, so he would always give me far greater supply than the amount that I had purchased from him. When the neighborhood rascal kid stoled from me, Victor took it upon himself to make sure the kid was disciplined. I literally saw him chasing the kid around in a school yard. All of these memories, and it is difficult to fathom that Victor is gone. Just last summer, I had received a gift and a hand written letter from him that sent tears of joy to my eyes. In the letter, he updated his...

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Letter from Village

Posted by on Aug 19, 2012 in Culture Shock, Life in the Peace Corps | 1 comment

Letter from Village

It’s rare these days to receive a hand written letter. Once in a blue moon, I will receive a postcard from a friend traveling. But a legitimate hand-written letter? I haven’t received one of those in a long long while. But today, I received one. It was written in French, from my Cameroonian friend, Victor, who lives in my village. It was, incredible. I left Cameroon two years ago, and in this past year, I have finally felt “normal” again, free from those severe bouts of reverse culture shock. And as such, I haven’t been nearly as good at keeping in touch with my village friends as I had been during the first year back. Time is funny that way. It can soothe the pain but also wash away memories. My “replacement” (someone who took over my post in village), Cristina, came back to the US two weeks ago. We had been keeping in close touch throughout the past two years, as she triumphantly took the Books for Cameroon project to a whole new level. We met up for brunch today, along with two other Peace Corps Cameroon friends, Gabe and De-Ann. Cristina brought me a lovely gift on behalf of the village, a painting that depicted the map of our village and traditional dance. It came with the letter from my friend in a sealed envelope, wrapped in a black and white striped plastic bag that mamas use in markets. The plastic bag alone was enough to make us extremely nostalgic. The four of us reminisced on life in Cameroon over delicious brunch in Brooklyn. Cristina returned merely two weeks ago, and is experiencing the same sort of adjustments that I had gone through. De-Ann had been back for less than two months, and Gabe had returned a year ago. It’s refreshing to be around “fresh-off-the-boat” volunteers. Listening to them talk about the wonder of washing machines, and the complication of choice overload puts things in perspective for me. Later in the afternoon, Gabe, De-Ann and I hung out at a Brooklyn bar, but Cameroonian style. We just sat there, all afternoon, with no agenda in mind. People don’t seem to just sit around in public for hours on end in New York. One, because most of the restaurants and bars will kick you out if you sit there all day nursing only a few drinks. But two, every New Yorker seems to only do things with an agenda. I am equally guilty of this. Seeing friends is to catch up; otherwise, I’m shopping, going to yoga classes, visiting museums, attending events. I hardly ever just sit around in public for the sake of sitting around. Yet, there is no greater pleasure than sitting around in a public space, people watch, and being with your closest friends for hours on end. We were sitting near a street fair, and there were children running around. Everything was as close to hanging out at a bar in Cameroon as one can recreate in NYC. While sitting there with all kinds of time to kill, I decided to open the letter from village. I read the hand written letter, filled front and back, and it took everything I had to keep the tears back. Two years later, this friend who looked after me in village, is still bursting with kind words of my service there. Victor reported good news on the business that I had helped him to grow, and credited a lot of the success to the business classes that I taught. I don’t think any Peace Corps Volunteer could ask for anything more. This is exactly the reminder I need as I embark upon a career – I want to feel as fulfilled and as impactful as I did during those two incredible years in Cameroon. All the information I can find in New York City cannot inspire the way a letter from village...

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Reverse Culture Shock: one year later.

Posted by on Aug 10, 2011 in Culture Shock, Life in the Peace Corps | 1 comment

Reverse Culture Shock: one year later.

I left Cameroon just a little over a year ago. This year went by in a blur. Swoosh! and it was gone. As I reflect upon this past year, I begin to realize the impact that reverse culture shock had on me. People always say that it’s easier going into a new experience than coming back. I never really had too much difficulty with past international moves, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. And then it hit me. It didn’t take me too long to get over the potato chips incident, or getting used to the luxuries of modern society. Yet the other aspects of reintegration affected me in ways that I didn’t allow myself to recognize. I hate nothing more than people who make excuses for life, and I was determined not to be one. I thought nothing of jumping right into graduate school one month after my return. After all, many of my peers and those before us took the same path. So off I went again, far away from family and friends. I thought there would be plenty of others at grad school who would understand me. Yet because I didn’t carefully consider the student body, I was left feeling confused alone. After living in a West African village for two years, it’s hard for me to want to care about theories or get stressed over academic marks. It’s all relative. In the initial months, I couldn’t balance the stress that my peers were experiencing with the thoughts that my village friends would simply be glad to have the basic comforts that we enjoy. And because I had such a terrific time there, I found it extremely difficult to not be able to share my stories and have people who understand around me. I was always fear to be the girl who can’t stop talking about Cameroon. It was frustrating to study development yet feel a major disconnect between the theories I was taught and my own experiences. And to top it off, not having someone to vent to. Although I was studying at a world-class institution, my life felt purposeless during the year. Since I wasn’t really living around other RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), I then get the feeling that I am the only person who has trouble re-adjusting back to the real world. Everyone else appears to be handling life splendidly, whether it be graduate school or starting new jobs. Every now and again when I do converse with my PC friends, I am reassured that others experience similar feelings, to various degrees. But most of us put on a front and carry on. Sometimes it’s easier to simply pretend it didn’t happen and live like “normal” people. Even one year later, there are still days when I just can’t be bothered to care about certain things, days when I wonder how I lived without running water for two years, and remembering how glad I was to simply being alive after a crazy taxi ride. Days when I think about the simplicity of life there in Cameroon, I can’t help to wonder what all the fuss is all about in the modern world. Life struggles exist everywhere, but they are absolutely relative. Coming back from two years of experience like Peace Corps is weird. The process takes time, and it helps to be around others who get it. I am not sure how long it will take, but perhaps it will take a lifetime of struggle to balance between the world that I experienced and the world I live in today. A friend recently said that having multiple life experiences actually complicates our outlook on life. We are left to find a balance between all of our experiences, and that is incredibly confusing and challenging. He was right, yet I would not trade it for anything....

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27 months of Peace Corps Cameroon

Posted by on Feb 28, 2011 in Life in the Peace Corps | 1 comment

27 months of Peace Corps Cameroon

Tomorrow on March 1st, Peace Corps will celebrate its 50th anniversary. What a milestone! There have been a flurry of activities to share experiences. It’s really incredible when you hear stories of the men and women that served in the early 1960’s. Peace Corps Cameroon has had its own share of activities. One of the RPCVs created an email list to reconnect volunteers who may not be as up with the technology. In just a few days, there are over 200 volunteers who share their PC experience in Cameroon, and that number is still growing. I love being a part of the Peace Corps family! I’ve been back for 7 months now. The more I try to move on to the new phase of my life, the more I find myself wanting to hold on to my service and share the experience with others. I think it takes being back to really cherish those two years. Everyday, I appreciate that time of my life a little more. So, in honor of this big milestone, I have created a short 5-minute video to sum up my experience. It’s much shorter than the previous one that I posted. That one was much more personal, but this one highlights on the experience. I hope you enjoy the...

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Literacy for All

Posted by on Sep 8, 2010 in Books for Cameroon, Life in Shanghai | 0 comments

Literacy for All

Last year’s International Literacy Day helped me spread an important message and bolstered support for the Books For Cameroon project. I received lots of positive responses on my post as to why I started the project and why I value literacy. Here we are one year later, and the project lives on. I could not be more proud of my replacement Cristina and the efforts of RIDEV and other Peace Corps volunteers for keeping it strong. As you probably could tell from recent posts, I already really miss Cameroon and my time there. I have been reflecting a great deal and today I thought about the what felt like an insane project at the time. We built or improved upon over 30 libraries and brought 23,000+ books to Cameroon. That is so crazy! Yet, in the grand scope of things, that is a drop in the bucket. Think about how many books are held at your local library? Easily over 20,000. And how many libraries are in your neighborhood alone? Being back in the U.S., I see people around me taking things for granted all the time. Heck, even I myself often take things for granted. The ability to read is simply one of them. I was thinking about the children whom I taught, and couldn’t follow along the words with their fingers as I read them. Even adults, who struggle to read business handouts that I gave while I effortlessly read them in my fourth language. We talk about development efforts from all different  angles all the time – how to improve economic growth, health, nutrition, anti-corruption, etc. The most sustainable ways to development is to motivate individuals to help themselves. If they can’t read, how far, how effective and how accurately could the information spread? I love to read, though I have less time all the time to really enjoy a good book. I still crave getting lost in a great plot or being inspired by a biography. After all, reading is the cheapest form of entertainment. I seldom know an avid reader who is not opened minded about the world. Tonight, I was horrified to hear that the Koran burning pastor has never even READ the Koran. Has no one ever taught him not to judge a book by its cover? No matter who you are, burning another religion’s sacred text makes you a disgrace for mankind. I hope by raising awareness on literacy and importance of not just skimming pages on your computer, but to actually sit down to read a book, citizens of this world will have a greater understanding for one another. Take some time to learn about different initiatives that promote literacy in your area, or to follow the progress of my Books For Cameroon project at...

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America, the Land of Plenty

Posted by on Jul 27, 2010 in Culture Shock, Life in the Peace Corps | 4 comments

America, the Land of Plenty

It’s hard to fathom that only 4 days ago, I was still in Cameroon. Despite how much I am trying to hold onto it, that life is quickly fading away into a surreal dream. I’m saddened and scared by that. Over the two years, that life in village has became my comfort zone, and for some reason having to leave that behind is posing more difficulty than I imagined. Only few days in, I already miss Cameroon, and miss that life that I’ll never get back. Despite of it all, it’s good to be home and to be pampered by my parents. The pampering is guilt-free since I already have the next step lined up and my parents are happy to spoil me knowing it’s only temporary. I’m experiencing a good deal of reverse culture shock and each moment that it happens, I wish one of my Peace Corps friends were there with me. On my first day back, I visited Target, Walmart and Sam’s Club with my parents. It is no wonder people say the U.S. is the land of excess. I was so overwhelmed by the choices of everything. It doesn’t matter what I want to buy, I have to make a choice. After coming from the world where you take what they have, and often expect to not find what you are looking for, and now having everything and need to constantly make a choice is actually very exhausting. I wanted potato chips. I stood in front of the isle for 5 minutes, and finally, I walked away without picking anything. It was too much. In Cameroon, the only thing resembling potato chips was Pringles. Stores often don’t have them, and if they do, there are at most two flavors. It was quite a change to stand in front of an isle where you have chips that are baked, regular, wavy, cornchips, and then on top of that, every which flavor imaginable in those forms. oh. my. god. So far, I find that most things are not difficult to re-adapt. Driving a car again after 27 months was like riding a bike, not too difficult or scary. Having running water is strange, but amazing. I marvel at the fact warm water comes out when I don’t even want it to. I’ve forgotten about a lot of appliances and have been having very pleasant surprises. Microwave and toasters blew my mind today. You put food in a box and let it turn for a few minutes and it’s cooked?! You put bread in two holes and it pops up all nice and toasty? SO COOL! I’m so amazed and I used to use these things regularly. I keep thinking how my friends from village would react if it were them. Most things make me slightly nervous when I do it again for the first time – driving on the highway, using drive-thru services, visit the shopping mall, getting haircut, etc., but after the first time, I’m usually right back into the groove of things. However, having to make a choice panics me every time. I panicked when I went through the Starbucks drive through and had to pick something in a split second. When I visited Panera for lunch, I really panicked when trying to assemble a you-pick-two meal. I gotta pick two out of three things: soup, salad or sandwich. Once I pick the two, then I had to pick one of each from a list of many. ahhhh….. Slowly but surely, I’m getting the hang of life in this world again. I’m learning to shower everyday, getting better at making decisions, learning to use new technology (ordered my new macbook & ipod touch yesterday!) and learning to not be so paranoid about my safety and theft. I have an entirely different perspective on life now. And if for nothing else, I’m glad I spent two years in Africa to not take life and all the daily conveniences for granted. Peace Corps really was a life changing experience, in every...

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Peace Corps Loves

Posted by on Jul 23, 2010 in Life in the Peace Corps | 2 comments

Peace Corps Loves

In less than 3 hours, I’ll be on my way to the airport and begin the long journey back to the U.S.A.! This is the moment that I’ve waited for for two years, and as strange and sureal as it is, I am ready to begin the next chapter of my life! This last week was wonderful. I spent it in Yaounde with the last group of the 2008-2010 SED/ED volunteers. As it stands, Laura and I are the last two still hanging around in the transit house. Last night, we said a big batch of goodbyes. The end of one’s Peace Corps service is one of the strangest moments in life. It’s incredibly difficult to describe, but I was glad to have 8 other wonderful loves here to experience the end of this journey. David described our group as “never has there been a group of individuals assembled who has such insatiable appetite for enjoying themselves” during our final ceremony. And how right he was. We like to think of this group as a “work hard, party hard” group. Our APCD graciously said something nice about each one of us during this ceremony – the work we did in the community, the kind of volunteer we were, etc. All of us managed to do a good amount of work but also had a lot of fun! We later were presented with an amazing pin that we’ve all been waiting for: a pin that has the U.S. & Cameroonian flags and the Peace Corps logo. Naturally, this week, we indulged in the finer things and frequented the fancy establishements in Yaounde to celebrate the end of our service. The indulgence included Happy Hour at the Hilton, lovely dinner at a fancy French restaurant, a visit to the artisanat market for last minute souvenirs, many many dance parties at the PC transit house and a big celebration for Ehab’s birthday! This week happened to also be mid-service week for the volunteers who came a year after us, and we were able to celebrate this ending with some great people. Time spent with Americans during this last week has helped me get into the correct mindset for returning. Two years since I’ve been on the American soil. I think I’m in for a shock! I’m scared, excited, sad, nervous and all sorts of other emotions. For the coming weeks and even months, I will likely have crazy anedotes on my readjusment to the US and the “real world” in general. This experience will quickly fade into a dream, but I’m glad this blog was here to capture moments of this dream. Thank you all for following my service these past two years. For now, I say: au revoir Cameroun! Hello...

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Last Day au village

Posted by on Jul 13, 2010 in Life in the Peace Corps, Village Life | 3 comments

Last Day au village

I woke up after a restful sleep around 8am, without an alarm, of course, and put on my running shoes for one last jog down my favorite path. The crisp air made for a comfortable jog. I took noticed of each house that I ran by and took in each rolling hill that I passed. I will unlikely to have a regular running path this beautiful for years to come. I waved at villagers along the way that I often see; likely the last time I would see those faces again. Returned home and heated water in the small marmite for one final bucket bath in my latrine. I remember my very first bucket bath – in the same latrine, during site visit two years ago. Back then, I found it to be a treat but slightly awkward. But now, I am so at ease with this process; it had became a basic routine. Billy, my neighbor boy, came by the house and hung out with me like he always does. But there was a hint of sadness. He helped me wash floors for the last time and counted the money he had earned and saved in his jar. “if it wasn’t for you, this money would’ve been long gone,” he said. He had learn the value of saving; that was my small contribution to his life. I took down the mosquito net and pictures on the wall in my bedroom. Still felt like any other day, but today is the last day. Headed into town to drop off some things my friend had bought from me, then stopped by the omelet shack for a sandwich. One littler girl was going on about the different patois that she speaks because her parents are from two different towns. She spoke in an adult manner and it made us laughed. I stopped by the phone credit lady to get some MTN credit for my phone before hopping on a moto to come home. Billy came by again soon after I got home and we hung out more. He kept asking me what I was doing with different things that I am leaving behind, and I got slightly annoyed. He’s still a kid after all. I gave him some cookies and he was happy. Liz came by in the afternoon to pick up my fridge with Emmanuel, my moto guy. We chatted. Eman tied the fridge on the back of his moto the way he used to tie my gas bottle. I told Eman to come back and pick me up after dropping Liz off in Baham. Around 5pm, we went into town. I waved at kids at the water pump as I do every time I go by. I visited all the usual boutiques that I always visit, but this time, it was to say goodbye. An incredibly strange feeling. People you see everyday, and suddenly, I won’t see them for a long long time, or ever. The goodbyes were strange, but weren’t particularly sad, until I got to my bar with mama Chantal and my friends were there for one final drink. I ordered one last poisson braisée with baton de manioc and drank a coke – a typical dinner that I’ve had numerous times. This was the last. My friends gathered and said great things about me and hope for wonderful things for my future. We made sure to exchange contact information one last time. As people started to leave, I could no longer pull myself together and was a teary mess. Mama Chantal put her arm around me and said to not cry, it’s just parting, no one died. But to me, it feels that a part of me is being cut off. Everyone comforted me and said that I go back to school, and in the future, I’ll come back. Of course I think that as well, but we all know that life isn’t always that straight forward. Despite all my good intention to return, there is no guarantee. Tomorrow, I will make the trip to Bafoussam...

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