Les Gites de Kribi

Less than two weeks left! Can you believe it? Me either! Time has really been flying this summer. I don’t have a whole lot to update you on regarding our project. Our PM Rosevelt has just returned from his two week long trip to who knows where and we have taken baby steps with the surveying. Since the rain has been in full force and we only have one full work week left, I am pretty sure that we may not accomplish this task. We have made it clear to the organization that we want to be of help over our last few weeks here, but everyone seems focused on their own work and do not have the time to bring us up to speed with the stuff they are working on. However, I am not sure how useful we can be considering many of the projects the staff handles here are concerning women’s and widow’s rights and gender sensitization workshops and programs. I am all about the rights of women, but I do not speak pidgin very well and so my help at the workshops and seminars they put on for local communities would be very limited. So, in short, the last week has been very unproductive in terms of our labor at work, yet, we did have a very interesting weekend in Kribi.

As I mentioned in my last post, we made travel plans to go to Kribi, a small beach resort town south of Buea, for the weekend. The three of us and our friend Mandela set out last Friday morning by bus with hopes of reaching Kribi in the early afternoon. Yet, without fail, we rain into several problems along the way that helped our supposedly 4 hour trip turn into an 8 hour long adventure. First of all, the bus we took, similar to a greyhound, was so mismanaged. We bought tickets about half an hour before the bus was supposed to leave. After boarding the bus it became very clear that they had either sold more tickets than there were seats available or people had snuck on without buying tickets. For the 5 of us there were only 4 seats left, and others were boarding behind us. What a nightmare! The bus was scheduled to leave at 10, and after about half an hour of the bus staff arguing amongst each other and kicking several people off the bus, we started on our journey around 10:45. About an hour or so into the bus ride, we were stopped by police officers that decided to do a random bus check. Security has been increased due to the threat of the Boko Haram, so this is not the first time that we had been stopped in a vehicle for inspection. (The first time we were stopped was within the first month here – all of us were asked to hand over our passports when stopped at a vehicle checkpoint on the way to one of the villages we were working in. Since we are instructed not to carry our passports on us in case anything gets stolen, we all had photocopies made and handed them over. The police officer was not happy about this; he said that in order for them to accept the photocopies as official documents that they would have to be legalized at the police station. He let us off easy, and following this we immediately went to the police station to get our photocopies legalized, that is, stamped with an official seal and signed by the police chief. We had not had any problems since.) The police officer boarded the bus and began checking everyone’s ID cards and was shifting through the luggage on board to make sure there were no concealed weapons or anything. Finally, he reached the 4 of us sitting in the back of the bus and we handed over our documents. Jose and Chinedum had brought their passports with them this time for some reason, so they were cleared with no problems. However, when Katie and I handed over our legalized photocopies there seemed to be a real issue. The police office started yelling in French and took our photocopies and then exited the bus. Thankfully our friend Mandela speaks French so he was able to go after him and we followed. When we exited the bus, extremely confused by the situation at hand, Mandela approached us and said that the police officer would let us go only if we paid him 2000 francs a piece (about 4 US dollars). Infuriated by this attempt at a bribe, Katie and I told Mandela to ask him what the problem was. After translating, Mandela revealed that the man said we were not able to pass through since we did not have our yellow fever cards with us as the others did. The only reason that they had their cards was because the cards are kept with your passport, and you need your yellow fever card to get your visa, which we also always present photocopies of, so we were unsure of why this was a problem. Katie quickly told the man (as Mandela translated) that she did have her yellow fever card, just not with her, and if there was a problem she would call the US embassy to clear things up. This quickly made the police officer quiet and after a few moments he handed us back our documents, allowing us to get back on the bus and continue with our journey. Our first police attempted bribery! I had heard of stuff like this happening before, but this was the first time I had experienced it. This police officer made a crappy claim just to make a few extra bucks. Well, we weren’t having it!

After returning to the bus and having everyone stare at us for holding them up, we resumed travel until we were dropped off about an hour out from Kribi. The bus was scheduled to travel to Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, and Kribi is on the way. We had planned to take the bus as far as we could and then would travel by taxi or car the rest of the way to the hotel. We found a driver that was willing to take us to the bus park just outside the hotel area, but his car was already packed full. We told Madela that we did not wish to take this vehicle since there were already so many people in it, but he insisted that we would not be able to find another person to take us. Reluctantly, we piled into this minivan increasing the number of passengers from 9 to 14, probably more, I just can’t remember. It was insanely hot and packed tight, if you can even imagine, and we had made it about ten minutes into the ride before the car stopped working properly. Yep, the engine broke down and all of us were stranded in the middle of nowhere in the hot sun waiting for a mechanic. We waited over an hour and saw numerous cars stop and then continue on again. Empty buses would come by and we would get hopeful that we could continue on with our journey, but our bus driver would go over to speak to them to “make negotiations” and then once he was done talking, the buses would continue on without taking any of us. This made us grow impatient and angry, realizing the driver was up to something and just wanted to keep our money. Yet, since so much time had passed already with us waiting and no mechanic in sight, we asked the driver for our money back and began to walk back to the original bus park area where we started. Once we returned to the original area that the bus has dropped us off, Mandela was able to make arrangements with another driver to take us straight to our hotel. So, now over 2 hours later than we were originally dropped off, we set out to Kribi. We finally arrived around 6:30 in the evening and checked into the wonderful “Les Gites de Kribi” hotel.

We were so happy to see such a beautiful place after such a long journey. We booked a bungalow for the weekend, which was basically just a small, two-bedroom house. We had two bathrooms, with HOT WATER, and there was AIR CONDITIONING – a real treat! We were also very pleased with how close the hotel was to the beach. Right across the street from the entrance was a nice sit-down restaurant that served really good food, including pizza, which I was really excited about, and just behind the restaurant was the beach front. You could sit on the deck outside the restaurant gazing at the beach while you ate, it was marvelous! For dinner the first night we all had pizza, and then I had more pizza again for lunch the second day – it was just so good and had been way too long! They also had coffee, real coffee not the instant coffee they use in Buea, and so I had a few cups of that before leaving on Sunday as well. The weather was had was sub-par, but it did not rain, so we were very pleased! We were able to get some good time in at the beach on Saturday and then we relaxed by the pool for the better part of the afternoon. In the evening we went back to the restaurant to get a few drinks and watch the World Cup game, Netherlands taking 3rd place over Brazil, before heading back to the hotel to hang out and play cards before heading to bed. All-in-all, it was a very relaxing weekend, and it was nice to finally get away from Buea for a different change of pace. We ended up booking the same driver who brought us to our hotel to take us to Douala on Sunday morning. From Douala we were able to catch another driver to take us to Buea, making the trip in about 4 hours, as it should have taken us the first time. I ended the weekend on a good note by relaxing with my family and watching the World Cup final between Argentina and Germany. I was really pulling for Argentina, but Germany took the Cup in the end with a great goal. I was really enjoying watching the World Cup, but now that it is over I am relieved that I don’t have to be super interested in soccer again for another 4 years. Sorry Aaron!

This week has been slow at work as well, and like I said, the rain is in full force, but we are making the best of it! I know that our project may not be turning out as we hoped, we were warned about this before coming here, but I have learned a great deal about myself and about Cameroon since being here, and I am very grateful for the experience. I won’t look back on all of the things that I did not accomplish, but rather, I will remember all of the great things I learned and great people I met. So here’s to the next 12 days – I am gonna enjoy them best I can!

See you all soon!

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Rain, Rain Go Away…

It’s been well over a week since my last post and I apologize for the delay. It’s rainy season here and I think the rain has left me with little motivation considering it has also left us unable to do very much this past week. It has rained periodically during our stay here, but this past week the rain has been non-stop. Literally, it started raining on Wednesday and we have only had brief moments where it has calmed down. My laundry from last week is still attempting to dry!

Last weekend (end of June) we had planned to make a visit to Kumba, a neighboring village about an hour away, to travel a bit and hopefully meet up with another group of UD students who traveled here through another program. We woke on Saturday to some pretty bad rain though, and had not been able to establish contact with the other UD students, so we decided not to make the trip. The weekend was spent relaxing with our host families and with each other – nothing very exciting.

However, the nasty weather continued into the beginning of last week. The back roads we travel on to go to the project sites are very rough and undesirable to drive on, so we decided that with the heavy rain coming (and also that we just wanted to get these damn filters done) that we would work extra hard one day to finish as much as we could. And we did! After arriving to Mongo on Monday, the last of our 3 sites to complete filters, we were able to patch and complete the remaining filters by Tuesday! We had to go back to Missellele later in the week to do some minor repairs on another, but by Friday morning we were more than happy to be able to say we finished our work with the filters! Now our main focus is going to be developing workshops within the villages that we visited to educate the users on how the biosand filters work, the required maintenance, and answer any questions they may have. This will prove to be tricky because we do not speak Pidgin very well, but our co-worker Nancy has agreed to do most of the talking for us. After finding the filters in Mudeka completed by the last ETHOS group but dried out from not being used, we were very discouraged. We are more confident they will be used this time around since we were able to interact with the locals during our time working there. However, to ensure the filters are used and to cite them as an appropriate technology for these villages, we need to be sure that the people know how to use them correctly and we also need to check on their progress before we go. By the end of this week we should hopefully be able to host the “sensitization workshops,” as they call them here, and then before we leave at the end of the month we will go back to each job site to check the status of the filters and make sure they are not dry. Cross your fingers that they are being used!

Again, things have been rather slow around here since the coming of the rain, but we have decided that we cannot let the weather dictate our actions any longer! With only three weeks left and many already missed windows of opportunity we wanted to make sure that this past weekend (4th of July) was spent well. On Friday the 4th we went to get cheeseburgers and French fries at one of the local restaurants. While they weren’t the best hamburgers in the world, they were good enough for us! It was just a small reminder of home on such an important holiday that I truly was sad to miss. We enjoyed the cheeseburgers while watching one of the World Cup games – yep, still watching lots of soccer! We had planned to go to Limbe on Saturday and head to the wildlife center there, but again we woke to pouring rain. Luckily it cleared a bit, and with the notion that we were running out of time to do all the things we wanted, we made the trip despite our best judgment. The weather was far from nice, but the rain held off long enough for us to make it through the zoo and see every kind of monkey you can imagine. I did not know there were so many kinds! I posted pictures of them on my Facebook for everyone to see, so check the link I posted earlier. We stayed in the area and had ourselves the best dinner that I have had since being here – the restaurant roasted us an entire chicken to share, with vegetables, French fries, fried potatoes, and rice to choose from. It may not sound that great, but with the way I have been eating since I got here, it was a little piece of Heaven!

Sunday brought us more rain, so I remained in the house all day. The good thing about this rain is that it has allowed me the time to catch up on a lot of tv shows. Jose and our new friend Mandela both have a lot of tv shows and movies on their computers that they’ve downloaded, so I luckily have my pick of the lot. Thanks to their resources, I have now finished all 4 seasons of Game of Thrones, watched countless movies, and have now started watching the tv series Suits (on USA). I’m not sure I should be sharing this, because if you’re thinking “man, that’s a lot of time spent watching tv”, you’re right. But it’s been a long couple weeks with the rain, especially the last one, and there’s plenty more rain to come, so I’ve got to pass the time inside somehow.

This week will pass slowly since we are waiting on our project manager Rosevelt to return to the office before beginning the next of our endeavors: surveying. But we have booked a hotel in Kribi, a nice beach resort town about 6 hours by bus from Buea, for this upcoming weekend and can’t be more excited to see some more of Cameroon. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers, and if nothing else, pray for sunshine!
XOXO

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Halfway There!

It has been over a week since the last time I posted! I just feel like not much has happened for me to excitedly report. So bear with me as I try to catch you up with everything.

This week has been extremely slow. We finished the first two of the filters we have been working on in Missellele last week – yet, upon returning to the worksite on Thursday to leave usage instructions with the locals, we discovered that one of the two filters had been leaking from the bottom pretty badly. So it is now unusable. We will have to empty it, patch the hole with cement paste, and then start again with the construction process from the beginning. Since we had already packed up our materials for the next project site, Mudeka, we decided to leave it for a later date. It was frustrating to have this happen, but the next village we traveled to left us even more discouraged. We found the two filter molds completed with lids, diffusers, and filled with sand and gravel that had been dried out. This indicates that the filters had already been completed by the ETHOS group that came before us, but the people had stopped using them. We emptied the filters, and filled them with water to check for any apparent leaks – one was leaking badly from the front and the sides, but the other was fine from what we could see. So we filled that one with clean sand and gravel that we had left over from the previous filters and easily completed one in a day’s work! While this was exciting for us, we were still upset at the notion that the filters we are working on may not actually be used after finding them originally completed, just dried out. This means we must work hard to engage the community in the project and instruct them on the benefits of using the filters. It’s just hard because the filters are only made suitable for use within a single household, so two between a whole community does not benefit everyone, which makes it hard for us to excite everyone about them. We will try our best though and keep trekking through.

This week we only traveled to Mudeka twice, once to check on the completed filter and run water through it, and a second time to patch up the holes in the other one. I wish that we could have accomplished more – we were on track to finish the second filter by the end of the week – but because we rely on transportation provided by the organization we work with, and cars are not always available, it makes it difficult for us to get out every day. On the days we do not travel to the work site we are stuck in the office. Which wouldn’t be a terrible thing, if we only had stuff to work on that didn’t require us going out in the field. So on these days we end up watching movies, reading, or traveling around the city exploring a bit. It seems unproductive because it is, haha, and I feel guilty about it a lot, but it is not something we are at fault for. The organization that we are working with is extremely unorganized, as I imagine some, or maybe even most, non-government organizations (NGOs) can be. Things are not communicated well between the staff, and our project manager Rosevelt has been in and out of the office (mostly out) since the second week into our trip, leaving us alone with ourselves and the project. We started out with high spirits, but seeing as we are over five weeks in and only two filters have reached completion, we are starting to lose our zeal. I don’t want to bring anyone down, so I will spare you my true frustration and just say that things have not been going the way we were imagining. We still have some time left though, so we are hoping to be as productive as possible until we leave – we have even started come up with some future project ideas that we think may be very helpful and hope to share them soon!

Other than this, things have been pretty much the same. Last weekend we stayed in Buea again and went back to Las Vegas for one evening. On Saturday I mostly hung out during the day and then went to meet up with some of my friends to watch soccer in the evening! On Sunday I went to church in the morning with my host family bright and early. The Mass is said entirely in Pidgin English, so the only parts that I understand are the songs they sing and the recited prayers. I got a good chuckle in during the Gospel reading though. I have told a few people, but the pidgin word for food or eat is “chop.” I think it’s pretty funny and like to say it a lot to joke with my host family. Anyways, the reading on Sunday had to do with the Eucharist, I am pretty sure at least, because in the midst of dozing off mid-Mass I quickly turned an ear at the line “and you will chop my body and drink my blood.” Looking around at the others, I noticed that I was the only one who found this even a little bit hilarious. The priest was not just reading the Gospel either, he was preaching it, haha. Katie and Jose came over later in the day and I shared this with them and they got a good laugh in as well.

On Monday a fellow co-worker at Nkong invited us to his house after work to learn and practice the traditional dance of his tribe. We jumped at the opportunity because we have done little besides watch soccer the past few weeks, but the experience was all too weird for us. I wish that I was able to post video because my explanation cannot do the experience any justice. Let’s just say that we were the only people there that had not been chugging the palm wine – yep, wine from palm trees. I will post pictures on Facebook once I get a strong connection and have enough time!

Though things haven’t gone according to plan, I have had soccer to distract my attention. As I mentioned in my last post, Aaron would be very proud of me for how much I have been watching, and enjoying it! I am glad to see the USA is through to the next round, though I cannot say the same for Cameroon. Everyone here is very disappointed with the team’s performance and they were not exactly warmly welcomed. I have been seeing a lot of angry posts on Facebook about their horrible display during the Cup – they didn’t even score one goal! This all comes after they demanded extra money from the government in order to play, thus why everyone is especially mad.  Very disappointing, but I am excited for the next round of play which starts tomorrow.

We will be traveling to Kumba tomorrow, about an hour and a half from Buea, to do a little exploring and swim in one of the coveted lake areas! It has been a while since we left Buea other than for work, so it will be a good change of pace! I am hoping to have more to report next week and I also hope that everyone has a happy and blessed weekend! I am really missing all my friends and family, but only a few short weeks until I return home!

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Football Fever

Hello from Cameroon! Just now finishing up week 4 here. I can’t believe how quickly time has passed, but at the same time it seems so slow. I am excited to have another six weeks here, but I am definitely missing a lot about how. Especially the food! I still can’t seem to adjust to the diet here. I felt very sick today and had to leave work early, but I am hanging in there!

I feel like I do not have a whole lot to report since my last post because I have not done much traveling or anything exciting, but I am happy to say that we have finished our first two biosand filters! Turns out we did a lot more preparation work than was necessary. After another review of the user manual we have been using, it turns out that we only need 3L of big gravel, 3L of small gravel, and then 30L of sand. So we had enough material to finish 2 filters pretty quickly, and we moved on to the next village today to begin the next 2. We have enough material to get at least one of them done tomorrow probably, which is so exciting! We are making much better progress than any of us had expected to. We also got our hands on a water testing kit. Although we will not be able to deem any water sources potable, we will use the kit to test the water before and after entering the filters. This way we can compare the before and after to determine how well the filters are working. We have been following the construction manual very closely, but there are a lot of variables that can affect the operation of the filters. For instance, the gravel has to be completely cleaned before we can put it in the filter, but the sand should only be washed to a certain degree. If you wash the sand too much, the filter will lose the good pathogens it needs to clean the water. If you do not clean it enough, there will be harmful pathogens present in the sand that will be transmitted to the water. One way to determine if the sand is acceptably clean is to time how long it takes for 1 liter of water to come out of the filter once it is completely full. It should only take about 2 and a half minutes. When we constructed the first filter, the flow rate was pretty close to 1 liter per minute, so we concluded that we washed the sand too much. To overcome this issue, we had to remove all the sand from the filter, and wash new sand until it was just clean enough – or dirty enough, however you want to look at it. Then we had to put the newly cleaned sand in and test it again. Turns out washing the sand about 2-3 times does the trick! Now that we have become more comfortable with the construction process, the other filters should not take nearly as long. We are under the impression now that the survey of the surrounding areas is a definite possibility, and we may also be able to draft a few proposals for future projects. I will keep ya posted!

Besides work, things have been pretty tame around here. Just kidding! The World Cup started last Thursday and Cameroon is in the competition. Aaron says he is jealous of me because we are the only ETHOS students in a country that is in the Cup. I know how much he loves soccer, aka football, so I am sure he would be so proud to know that I have actually been enjoying watching all the games. On Monday when the USA played, I had watched 2 and a half of the 3 games for that day. Pretty good for me considering I have never really been a huge fan of soccer! Yet unlike me, everyone here is mad about football. A few weeks ago, before the Cup started, Cameroon played a match against Germany. I was not aware there was a game on tv and I heard the most obscure yells and screams from everywhere in the area that I live. I honestly was frightened because I thought something bad was happening. I ran out of my room to ask my host family what was going on and they laughed at me! Told me not to worry, everyone here just gets very excited for Cameroonian football. I saw this raw passion last week when Cameroon played their first Cup game on Friday. All day, everyone was wearing their jerseys and I saw crazed fans everywhere. We were warned not to go to a bar to watch the game since things would most likely get out of hand, so we watched the match at my friend Mandela’s house. It’s a shame they lost – I am glad I was not out to see so many disappointed fans. They play again tonight though, at 11pm my time, so I am definitely going to stay up tow watch with my host dad! I am hoping that they pull through with a win this time because if not, then they will definitely be eliminated from the tournament. So I am keeping my fingers crossed for Cameroon!

Other than all the football madness, things have actually been pretty tame, haha. We did not travel anywhere over the weekend – it is hard to make weekend plans because we are not really trusted to go anywhere by ourselves. Not that I would feel that comfortable traveling alone as a group, but is hard to ask someone to give up their weekend to show us around. We are hoping to have a little more fun this weekend and maybe take a trek up Mt. Cameroon (where Buea is located), but we will see! This past Saturday I did take a trip to the Buea Main Market. Katie and I have been eager to get our hands on some traditional wardrobe items and were hoping to see a lot of cool things at the market, but it was not as I was expecting. There are a lot of stands, or “stores” as they call them, but they sell a lot of American like clothing. My sisters were excited because they are trying to be more fashion forward, and they were trying to get me to buy a bunch of different things. I had to explain that I was not looking to buy anything new or trendy, despite their shock in my lack of style while here – really, it’s bad. I did not bring hardly anything nice with me thinking I would not need it! I explained that I was looking to buy something more authentic and African because I was not able to buy such things at home, whereas I could get many of the other items they were selling back in the US. Since there was nothing available, Katie and I purchased some fabric from one of the vendors and I plan to have a few things made by one of the local tailors. I am hoping to get some pretty cool things made! I will post pictures when I do.

Speaking of pictures – I haven’t really taken any relevant to this post, but I have been able to upload all of the photos I have taken to Facebook. If you would like to see them, even if you do not have a Facebook profile, you can look at them here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202590895041809.1073741830.1479780284&type=1&l=ddb9fc6a10 

I am not sure whether to feel special or stupid while I am here though. I am obviously excited to be here, but what I mean is that our presence in Cameroon asserts a certain connotation. When we ride through the villages to do work on our filters, all the little kids run up to the side of the road and chant “White man! White man! White man!” and it is relentless. You would think after seeing us almost every day for about 3 weeks that the effects would wear off, but I kid you not, every single day they yell for us. They are excited to have us there because it is not often that they see people from the US or Europe and they know that we are coming there to help them. I have never had an entire room of people with their eyes on me, but when I go to Mass on Sundays here, I get stared at each time I walk up the aisle for offertory and for Communion. I get the weirdest stares when I am walking home from work. There is a group of men that ride motorcycles up and down the street I live on transporting people who do not wish to walk. Almost every day I see one of them going up or down and they beg me to jump on their bike because they would like to ride a “white man” up the street. It is comical. Our ETHOS class taught us to blend in as much as possible with the local culture and the people, but with everyone vying for our attention and yelling and staring at us, it is kind of difficult.

I shouldn’t say that sometimes I feel stupid, but I do feel taken advantage of a lot of the time. While a lot of the people here are very genuine and excited to see us, there are some that are just trying to make a few extra dollars from us. It seems that a direct association of our skin color and nationality is money. So if we do not take someone from the office with us where ever we go, we will inevitably be ripped off. Prices are doubled, even tripled, when we ask for certain goods. I know that this happens a lot in many places, but it is very frustrating and it is one of the reasons that we really shouldn’t travel by ourselves. I know that I do not have much money, but I do have more than most people here, so it is difficult to be upset about it, especially when the prices are not even that high to begin with. We also have had a problem with separate checks here. It appears that no one believes in them. So when we got out at night with friends and other acquaintances, we are almost always expected to pay the bill just because everyone thinks we have the money. Again, it is not that much, but it’s the principle of thing that frustrates me. I find myself in this situation a lot though, so I am trying to be more careful and assertive about it. 

Nevertheless, I am having a great time here. I have been spending a lot of time with my host family and have been learning much about the culture here. I still have six more weeks to enjoy myself. Hopefully by this time I will be an expert on all that is Cameroon! But for now, I am just taking it all in. :)

 

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Still Standing – Week 3

Hello again everyone! Though I have tried several times over the past week and a half to get a new post up, I have not had much luck with the internet. As I am sure most of you can imagine, things run much more slowly here. So right now I am sitting in one of the many “cyber cafes” they have in town surrounded by about 6 or 7 other people using other computers. It’s not that comfortable, but it will do! I still cannot find a strong enough internet connection to upload any pictures, so I apologize again for the lack of them – I know, it’s frustrating for me too mom, trust me.

Tomorrow will mark the end of our third week being here in Cameroon and I am shocked by how quickly time has passed! I am still not feeling 100% better, and I am not sure that I ever will, but I am proud to say that I am still standing after three weeks! I have been able to go to work every day since my last post, which I consider a great success when considering my condition during the first week I was here. The only thing that has really been giving me a problem is the food. My diet here is extremely different from what I eat at home, as I was expecting, but it is also not very diverse. My host family feels bad for me since I find most of the food here too spicy to eat, so they make me more bland meals to help settle my stomach. But there are often little to no vegetables or anything else that might supply some good nutrients. Basically everything I eat is carbs and is deep fried in oil. Try eating that almost every meal for three weeks and tell me how your stomach feels. I have been taking my vitamins every day though and drinking lots of water, so I am hoping to come back still somewhat healthy.

We have been able to get out in the field and get some good work done over the past week. Our original project intentions when planning for the trip were to complete the biosand filters that were left unfinished by the last ETHOS group, perform a site survey of several of the neighboring villages to help with their plans for future water distribution systems, and we had hoped to also perform some water quality tests on different water sources being used as drinking water. However, as we have quickly realized, things do not exactly go according to plan. We ended up not being able to bring our water testing kit with us at the last minute due to the advice of a professor, so water quality testing was ruled out. Also, given the fact that everyone here runs on “Cameroon time” it has been quite difficult to make progress in a timely fashion regarding the unfinished filters. As we sit here at the end of our third week, we still do not have even one filter completed.

The work is not hard, in theory that is. The filter structures are made of concrete and have been molded already by the previous ETHOS group that visited Cameroon. The only thing we have to do is add the sand and gravel, make the lids, and make the diffusers. However, first we have to construct sieves to sieve the sand and gravel to the grain sizes we need, then after sieving, the sand and gravel all need to be washed clean. While this sounds simple, things last week were not in our favor. Firstly, it was very difficult to find the correct mesh to use to make the sieves. There are only certain sizes sold here, and only one of them was one we needed, so we had to make due with another. Then, the gravel we were given by the chief of the village we are working in was too large to even w0rk with. So we wasted a day trying to sieve it, broke one of the sieves, and then ended up having to go to the quarry to get the correct gravel type we needed. Once this mess cleared, we were off to a better start. But washing the gravel and sand takes a lot of work. If we had a hose and a constant water supply, it would be no problem. However, we have to have the local people from the village bring us water in buckets and jugs to use because the tap is very far away from our work site – and it takes A LOT of water to wash this gravel. Each filter requires 24L of sand, 12L of smaller gravel (1-6mm), and 12L of bigger gravel (6-12mm), so yesterday we spent an entire work day just cleaning all the materials. Once they are washed, we have to let them dry before putting them in the filter, but it is rainy season now, so you can imagine that it has been difficult to get the materials completely dry when it starts to rain in the middle of work. We are hoping to have one of the two filters in this village we started work in done tomorrow. Following these two filters we have 6 more to complete (two filters per village, so we have three more villages to go).

Seeing as it has taken us this long to get just one done, it looks like surveying has been taken out of the equation as well. It has been frustrating to think that we have been taking so long to do such simple tasks, but I will feel some sense of accomplishment and feel as though I have made a difference just as long as we can get these filters completed. As I mentioned in my last post, there is a severe lack of clean water in these villages, so even this one small thing will make a difference in the lives of so many (hopefully). I of course have been learning a lot during this experience, beyond what I ever imagined. While sometimes a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to projects, I have slowly learned to take everything with a grain of salt. There are going to many aspects of our project, and our trip in general, that are not perfect (evident from my description of our progress so far). If you had asked me at the end of last week how I was feeling – right in the heat of our frustration with the sieves and wrong materials – I would have had a lot of negative things to say, but I am keeping my head up this week because I realize that this is just the way things work here.

Though things are not exactly very efficient, and tasks are not completed with much regard for time, I see the way that this experience is changing my view of so many things. I know that I will come home feeling very appreciative of the things that I have, especially my health and access to clean water and food, which most people that we see in these villages do not have. The days that we work out in the field, which has been every work day for the past week, we do not really get to take a lunch break. The chief of the village we work in has been kind enough to supply us with snacks, usually some sugar balls (literally balls of bread covered in sugar), but these are not exactly the most filling or satisfying when working in the hot sun all morning and afternoon. This morning, Chinedum and I relayed our feelings about the lack of lunch during the work day to our driver , Mr. John. We had told him that we did not understand how people here go without taking lunch most days and asked him if it bothered him as well. It was his response that really put things into perspective for me. He told us about how when he was younger, his father died very young and left him an orphan. His uncle raised him, but times were very hard, so when he ate, he only got to eat very little. So he grew up this way and he is now used to not eating very much during the day. How could I complain anymore about not eating a few complete meals, when he has not been able to eat very much almost his whole life? It makes me very sad to think that this is true for most of the other people we have met here. Then I remember how great their faith is and how happy they are, and then I am not sad anymore. Mr. John says that he is going to the United States one day soon because he has won the lottery by God’s will. He is going to take his children and his wife so that they may know a better life. And I believe him, just because his faith is so strong.

Anyways, I could go on and on, but that would just make everyone sad. I promise I have never met happier people that the people I have met here, despite their poverty. It is encouraging. I have made a lot of new friends that have been showing us a very good time here. Last week we had dinner with one of the girls that works in our office from the Peace Corps. She had other Peace Corps friends visiting and they made the four of us all tacos – a little piece of heaven here, honestly – it was so good! And we all got to talking and drinking a few Exports before heading home. Then, over the weekend, our friends Nancy and Mandela took us to a “snack bar,” as they call them here, called Las Vegas. I had never been to Vegas before, but I imagine it is nothing like this place, haha, although it was a lot of fun. We had a table with a lot of friends and they played lots of popular African music and I got to dance a little bit, finally! Then, on Saturday we went to the beach with a bunch of people and spent the day in the sun and in the sand. It was nice to get away from Buea for a little bit and do something fun other than work! Sundays are always nice because we get up for Mass at 6:30 and then once it is done, I have the rest of the day to relax and do whatever I want. I have finished 5 books already since I got here, which is great since I never have time to read at home.

My mood is greatly improving, especially now that I am finally feeling better, and I am looking forward to many great things over the next 7 weeks – hopefully one of those things is a good internet connection so that I can finally share some pictures! Keep me in your thoughts and prayers friends, and I will do you the same! I miss everyone dearly, but I think I can hang here for a little while longer. XOXO

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Finally Getting Settled!

Hello friends! My mom says that a lot of people have been waiting to hear from me, and I apologize for the delay. It is now my 10th day here in Cameroon and things are starting to come together, but the internet connection that I have been relying on in the office that I work in is very spotty and I have not had the time or have been able to hold a network connection long enough to get a post out. I have made a friend here named Mandela though that is good with computers and today he stopped by my house and helped me secure a connection on my laptop. I had to pay for airtime through my Cameroonian cell phone, and don’t ask me how he did it, but it’s working!

I also apologize for the length of this post, but I have a lot of good information to share! And sorry for the lack of photos, but I will try to get them up soon. It is difficult to upload anything because of the weak connection.

We arrived in Cameroon last Wednesday evening around 9 pm Cameroon time. Our project manager from Nkong Hill Top, Rosevelt, and several others picked the four of us up in two pick up trucks. The Douala airport is about two hours by car from Buea, the city we are staying in, and I am not sure I have every experienced anything more terrifying than that drive through the dark. The roads are not bad or anything, but the road manners here are extremely different than what I am used to. Literally everyone does whatever they want, they drive as fast as they want, they pass others when they want, even if they have to veer in the other side of street. People beep at each other at all times. If you stand in the street outside of our office in Buea you cannot go three seconds without hearing a driver honking at another driver or a pedestrian. It is nerve racking to drive here during the day time, but that night we first arrived, I was not sure I would make it. But thankfully we did, and the four of us were each taken to our own host families. I was dropped off last and did not get settled in until almost 1 in the morning.

I am being taken care of very well though! I am living with Vincent Anu, the director of Nkong, and his family. They live in an area called “sand pit” and it is a little over 5 minutes by car to get the office, but walking it takes over 20. Luckily, since he is the director, he gets picked up every morning, so I just hitch a ride with him! His family is very nice. There are 6 children that live here also, 4 older girls and 2 boys: Namera, 20, Rophina, 18, Ashley, 17, Melvis, 15, Babila,13, and Junior who is 10. The 4 girls share a room, as do the 2 boys, and then I have been given my own room with my own bathroom as well. The living arrangements are much nicer than I was anticipating, so I am living quite comfortably here. Also, Buea is located near a mountain and so due to its higher elevation, it is very cool weather. Now, don’t get me wrong, when the sun is beating down, it gets hot, but when the sun sets around 7pm, it is very nice out.

The common language here is pigeon english. While pretty similar to the english that we speak, it is difficult to understand when spoken very fast, as the 4 girls do to each other. So the first couple days they were very shy with me and I could not understand why, but I later learned that it was because I spoke my english too fast for them to understand either and so we were not able to communicate well. Now that we have learned to talk slower to each other, we have been getting along great! They teach me a lot, and it has been fascinating to learn how much they are aware of American pop culture. In fact, a lot of the younger people I have met here are well aware of many American singers and actors. My host family has a common television and the kids like to watch it all day. They watch the Disney channel, Nickelodeon, and FX movies. They love a lot of the American rappers such as Nicki Minaj, Drake, and they love, love, love Two Chainz (if that is even how he spells it haha). My one host sister, Rophina, in almost every picture I have taken of her, will throw up a peace sign and say “2 chainzzz” – it is quite humorous. I asked the girls if they Beyonce, and Rophina replied, “Queen Bey? Yes, we love the queen” and I immediately knew that we would get along well. She is quite funny and very silly, and so is Namera, I get along with them very well.

We went to our first day of work on Thursday, and were shown around the office and around the city center. We did not get much work done, but formulated a plan to go out to neighboring job sites on the following Monday. We did however, get a grand tour of Buea. The city is very busy and there are  many shops and people everywhere. (I saw a shop with a Pittsburgh Steelers hat for sale – proof that Steelers fans really are all around the world! Haha, just kidding! But it is funny to see something like that so far away from home.) The streets are busy with taxis and the people everywhere stop and stare at us. It took some getting used to, but I suppose it is not common to see someone as white as me in Cameroon. My host mother says that Americans and Europeans are common in Douala because it is a  big city, but Buea is much smaller and people are not used to us. When we went on Monday to the smaller, neighboring villages the children walking home from school could see us in the car as we drove by and they would yell “white man!! white man!” as we passed them.

My first weekend was relaxing, but good. We went on Saturday night to the city to go dancing and we ended up in a dance class of sorts. It was a lot of fun to get out and do something finally and the people there were overjoyed to teach us. Everyone here has been very glad to receive us here and have been very welcoming! It was nice to have them teach us some of their dances. Afterwards, we went to a local bar and I tried my first Cameroonian beer, an Export. I was not sure what to expect, but I liked it very much! I went home early though because my host family had warned me we would be going to Mass at 6:30 am the next morning. My host family is Catholic, and the church is just up the street from where we live, so it is easy to get to, but I knew I would need a good night’s rest.

Monday and Tuesday were very hot days. We went to visit the job sites where we would be working on some of the biosand filters and since they are not in the mountain region, they are extremely hot. We did a lot of trekking in Mutengene because they wanted to show us their water distribution system as well. We visited several inlet structures where we learned that the existing system to the Mutengene village was built about 40 years ago to serve a village population of 10,000. Presently, the same system is serving a now grown population of almost 120,000. There is not enough clean water for everyone, and so they must ration water. It was very disheartening to hear this news, and only makes me more passionate about and eager to start our work. It also makes me very thankful that I have access the clean water, and a lot of it, so be thankful today as well!

However, Tuesday I woke up with some bad stomach pains and felt sick through the day. This trend continued through the day Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but I am finally feeling a lot better today. Since I have been quite sick I have not been able to to go to work much, but after Tuesday it was a slow week anyways. Thursday was a public holiday, so we did not have work. There is a very large Christian community here and so they celebrate Ascension Thursday with day off. We went to church again in the morning and following this, the University of Buea choir came to our house for a private performance. They were wonderful! I will try to upload some of the video I took, but it was absolutely beautiful the way they sing and praised God. I bought their CD to share with my mom when I get back because I know that she will love it too. Then, we had a nice party at our house where we invited Jose, Katie, Chinedum, and their host families to come over.

As I am trying my best to fully recover, I am taking it easy this weekend, but I look forward to more exciting things to report very soon! I am thinking of everyone always during my adventures and will hopefully be able to post again soon! XOXO

 

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Goodbye America, and Hello Cameroon!

Well, it’s been a long few weeks since I have last posted. Yet, at the same time, these past few weeks have really flown by. Between all the craziness (graduation, Daytona, and final preparations for the trip) I haven’t really given myself the chance to process everything that has been happening, or the fact that, ya know, I’M LEAVING TOMORROW! I’ve said nearly a hundred goodbyes I am sure; from friends from college and high school that I may likely not see for a while, to family members that will be worrying about me constantly until my return. And I have packed just about everything I could possibly need for the trip: medicines, sunscreen, bug spray, bandaids – you name it, I’ve got it! The only thing that is left to do is get on the plane I guess, at which time all those goodbyes and “see you later”s will really hit me. (I packed tissues, don’t worry)

But the one thing I seem to be forgetting is peace of mind (Grandma, if you are reading this, skip to the next paragraph). If you have been keeping up with the news I am sure you have heard about Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamist extremist group creating trouble at the northern border between Nigeria and Cameroon. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve become distressed at the news of some of Boko Haram’s terrible acts against the people of Cameroon and its visitors. I don’t want to go into too much detail (you can read about the recent incidents on the news if you would like), especially because the area I am going to be in Cameroon is not at risk, but if you could, please say an extra prayer for the missing school girls as well as the Chinese nationals that have been reported missing recently as well. I am sure that my safety is not in danger, as I will be on the opposite side of Cameroon from these troubles, and rest assured that if it were unsafe I would definitely not be going. Yet, it is stuff like this that, although it worries me, reminds me of how blessed I am to live in such a safe environment at home. I am sure I will learn a lot this summer, and I will definitely have some less than ideal living arrangements, but I never want to know what it is like to face that kind of danger every single day. Therefore, I thank God for a safe and happy home, especially today.

Besides this, I am of course worrisome that I have forgotten to pack something. Even though I have made three different lists and triple checked them all, I am still convinced there is something I am forgetting. I guess at this point I will have to make due. Assuming the worst living conditions, I have mainly packed medical supplies and other personal hygiene items: think lots of baby wipes, hand sanitizer, and deodorant. It’s definitely going to be a hot summer, so as I mentioned before, I’ve got lots of sunscreen as well! Everyone keeps telling me to lay low and try to blend in in order to keep myself out of harms way, but with my pasty white skin, that may be pretty hard… nonetheless, I am about as ready as I will ever be for this trip!

Tomorrow I will fly out of Pittsburgh to meet up with Katie and Chinedum, the two other girls going with me, in Chicago. From there we head to Brussels, Belgium to meet Jose. We arrive in Douala, Cameroon at 8:50 pm on Wednesday. With a five hour time difference (Cameroon is 5 hours ahead) and two long layovers, I am looking at over 24 hours of travel time – and Douala isn’t even our final destination! From Douala we will travel about an hour by car to the town of Buea where we will be staying for the summer. Rosevelt, our project manager from Nkong Hill Top, will be picking us up and driving us there. But the buck stops here: everyone keeps asking me where I will be living and what it is like there and believe me, if I knew then I would tell you! The only things I know right now are the name of the organization we are working with, our project manager, and our flight itinerary.

Check out Buea’s wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buea – Yeah, it’s pretty much got little to no information about the city on it, and this lack of information has left me with little to no information to share with everyone! Sorry folks! I have been told that the four of us will each have our own host families, however, none of us have spoken to them or know anything about them. I assume that the four of us will be within walking distance of one another (at least that’s what I have been telling everyone?), but with the way that trip details have been changing so rapidly, I wouldn’t doubt that we could either all end up in the same home or end up miles apart. Pretty unnerving, right? As I mentioned in my last post, I am definitely a planner. So, if you are cringing and becoming nervous at the lack of detail, we are in the same boat my friend. Hence why I just need to get on the plane already!

My months of preparing are finally over. My expectations may or may not be confirmed, but I am thinking (hoping) I will be pleasantly surprised! And with that I am ready to say “Goodbye America, and hello Cameroon – I’m coming for ya!”

See you all in August!

 

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Preparing for an Unpredictable Adventure

First of all, if you are reading this, I want to extend you a very warm thank you for your support as I have been anxiously preparing for my trip this summer. Even if you do not know me very well, or do not even know me at all, just know that your thoughts, prayers, and general interest in my travels, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated.

Anyone who knows me very well, knows that I am what you would call your classic “planner”. I hardly ever enter any situation with little to nothing planned, I usually over pack for even the smallest trips, constantly worrying that I have forgotten something the entire time, and I am sometimes easily stressed with the thought of having to complete the most mundane, unplanned tasks. I know this part of my personality, while it can sometimes actually be a good thing, is not always easy to handle. Just ask my parents and close friends. I am extremely organized and usually on top of my game when I have to complete any sort of work. But this type of organization and attention to detail usually causes some unnatural amount of stress, which, even though I try my hardest to suppress, can sometimes be taken out on others. Now I am sure those of you reading may think I sound a little crazy-and I am sure my boyfriend Aaron would agree. I know these things about myself, they are my quirks, and while they are a part of me, they do not complete define me. However, these traits do make it very hard to calmly prepare for a ten week trip to Africa. Therefore, I extend an extra special thank you to my parents, family, and friends as they have helped to keep me grounded while getting everything together for this summer.

Now don’t get me wrong though, while I am definitely a planner I still love a little spontaneity. I’m not the type to skip out on a little weekend fun to do some homework, and I enjoy any chance to catch up with friends no matter the event. Working hard, while necessary, is just simply not as satisfying as fun play! In fact, just a few weeks ago I took a trip to Memphis, TN for the weekend with my best friends to watch our Dayton Flyers in the Elite Eight basketball game against Florida.

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(Myself, Aaron, Maggie, and Emily before hitting the road)

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(Me, Katie, and Allie at the basketball game!)

And what a trip it was! For once, with hardly anything planned, me, my boyfriend, and my two roommates, Emily and Maggie, set out to meet our friends Katie, Allie, Kevin, Tim, and Bryan in Memphis for the big game. Emily, a planner like myself, mentioned several times: “Guys, can you believe I am doing this right now?! This is so spontaneous of me!” And she was right, it really was – for all of us even. After almost a 20-hour round trip (you would not believe how much traffic we hit), a trip to Graceland, an Elite Eight basketball game, famous Beale Street festivities, Karaoke with my best friends, and countless other memories, I could not be happier to be able to say that I had such a fun, unpredictable adventure. Granted we did have to sleep on a couple of hotel floors, everything worked out despite not having a plan. Unfortunately, I did not get any homework done that weekend, skipped mandatory lab hours for one of my classes, and ended up getting a very terrible sinus infection. Yet, the consequences of these stress-inducing, negligent actions will never overshadow the fond memories from that weekend.

That trip, though very short in comparison to my trip to Cameroon this summer however, taught me one very fundamental lesson when preparing for any new, unforeseen adventure: you can never really be prepared. No matter how many times I have planned my day, my week, an event, or anything really, 9 times out of 10, it has not gone according to plan. And let me tell you, this is especially true concerning my trip this summer. My original projects, placement, and group members have all changed since my acceptance into the ETHOS program earlier this year, and each time something changes or new challenges arise, my level of frustration with the general disorganization I have experienced steadily rises. Up until last week our anticipated projects were still extremely unclear, and we had no idea if anyone was even going to be picking us up from the airport – talk about a lack in communication, am I right? Memphis was one thing, but Africa is in a whole other ball park, and having almost nothing planned but our flight times, I must admit I am freaking out a bit – okay, a lot.

I should have mentioned earlier another tidbit about our trip to Memphis though. Shortly following the Dayton victory against Stanford on Thursday night, we purchased tickets to the next game on Saturday and decided to head out the next afternoon. The next morning, upon realizing that we had absolutely no idea what our game plan was, we resold our tickets in a frenzy. The absence of a plan, and the added stress of homework assignments and lab hours, really made us, me especially, anxious, and I had difficulty justifying spending the time and money on the trip. Yet, after allowing the many positive possibilities of traveling to Memphis for the game sink in, and after repurchasing the tickets, we finally hit the road in hopes of having an amazing adventure. Similarly, having little to no direction over the past semester about this trip to Africa has been extremely difficult for me to deal with, and I have honestly thought about throwing in the towel a few times. But, just as I am so happy we changed our minds about Memphis, after realizing the many positives about this upcoming trip, I am extremely proud of myself and happy to be going to Africa this summer, despite my present and past concerns. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that no matter how much I plan, or pack, I will never be prepared for what is ahead of me. And although I will never stop worrying about what Cameroon has in store for me this summer, as is my nature, I will try not to let these worries inhibit my unpredictable adventure anymore. Similar to Memphis, with regards to unfinished homework and an unexpected sinus infection, our projects this summer may likely fail and challenges will undoubtedly arise. But I will not let these negative possibilities govern my attitude towards the ETHOS experience any longer. Both negative and positive experiences shape a person, and I know that this trip will benefit me and change my perspective in so many ways. Sure, I will probably be sleeping on the floor, have to go days without a shower, and will likely have a zillion mosquito bites, but these small challenges are not likely to overshadow the positive, happy memories and friendships I will make this summer.

With about three weeks left until I leave, as Emily put it earlier, I can’t help but think to myself, “Can you believe I am doing this?!” Honestly, I never thought I would be where I am today – a civil engineering student at UD, heading to Africa for the whole summer. But how could I have ever planned for this? In reality, life is one, big, unpredictable adventure, and we can never be prepared for that which we don’t know. So here’s to me keeping calm over these next few weeks (as much as possible, that is), letting my adventure unfold itself, and enjoying every bit of it! Keep me in your prayers please!

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