Sunday, July 20, 2008

E-Mail Address Update

Many of you probably know Brandi's e-mail address as Due to some issues she's had with hotmail, she requests that any e-mails you wish to send her you send instead to

Thank you.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Model School

For the rest of our training, the education volunteers work at a "model school," that Peace Corps sets up in our training sites. It takes place at an actual high school, and sort of acts as a summer school. This week, we observed current volunteers and Cameroonian teachers teaching classes. Next week we start teaching our own classes. At my post, it turns out I'll be teaching the very beginning class of English along with the graduation class, who are preparing for the exam to get into college (the Bac). So, that's an extreme jump between classes but I'm excited about it because I get to experience the very extremes of teaching English in a Cameroonian high school. So I've asked that during model school, I teach these classes for the most part… that way I get a feel of what I'll be doing at post. I'm tremendously nervous. I've never taught before so I'm not sure exactly how this process will turn out. I think I'll like it though.

Yesterday, I fell in a big pile of mud. The rain was torrential and I had to run home in it because when I fell, I broke my umbrella. Once I made it home, I looked like a sewage rat… I even managed to get mud in my underwear. That takes skill, friends. I keep reminding myself of what Jack Black says in School of Rock, "You're not hard core unless you live hard core." Once I realized it wasn't going to get much worse, I was able to laugh at myself as I walked in the pouring rain. I made it home and thought, "Okay, now for a hot shower…" Oh wait, no. So I put some water boiling for a hot bucket bath instead. Yesterday was the first time I would have killed for a shower. So far, bucket baths haven't been so bad. I'm not even going to tell you how fun it was to wash the mud out of my clothes. It will just make you jealous.

I'm really looking forward to getting this training over so I can to post and be an actual volunteer. However, it seems I'm still in serious need of training because my French still sucks. I'm thinking it might be somewhat understandable after two years… but that's only with luck. Immersion helps but darn, it's difficult. Those crazy verb tenses and pronouns! I told my host mom, "Screw pronouns. I'm just going to use the actual names of everything." She didn't laugh… she said that was being lazy. As for me, I think pronouns are lazy. That's just my opinion though.

My host mom always asks me what I ate for lunch and I usually buy a plate of rice from a woman nearby school. My host mom says I eat a lot of rice. "Comes with being Cajun," I say. She's confused as to why we eat a lot of rice only in Louisiana. I told her it grows pretty well there but other than that, I don't know. She's really shocked that when she was looking at my photos, she saw a lot of pictures of me and my family eating crawfish. It's really funny because on top of that, she noticed on Dad's shirt and Elliott's shirt, there are pictures of crawfish. She laughed for about 5 minutes while I just tried to understand the humor there. Crawfish is by far better than anything I've tasted in Cameroon. Even better than spaghetti omelets, which has become my favorite Cameroonian food. Don't knock it till you try it. Some of the common foods here are: fish, fish, fish, eggs, peanuts, rice, spaghetti noodles, tomatoes, potatoes, magnoc (which is sort of like a potato… only disgusting,) red or black beans, plantains, bananas, corn, beignets, bread (though it's pretty hard) and other fruits. Corn and magnoc can be made into couscous or koki, or foufou, which is served with either a tomoto sauce, a plantain sauce, or a peanut sauce (my favorite).

I hope all is well! I'd love to hear from you. But send emails to: since hotmail acts stupid here. A tout a l'heure!

Monday, July 14, 2008


Wednesday morning I headed south to Bazou (my future home) with the vice principal at the school I'll be working. It's higher in altitude and has lots of hills and if it's not foggy, you can see the mountain nearby. Honestly, the view in Bazou is absolutely beautiful. Bazou isn't very big and the market's kind of small but it's got a charm to it. The people were absolutely nice to me and I've already met several of my colleagues and several vendors in the market. The grilled fish and beignets are actually better than Bangangte. And there's a bar that serves the coldest drinks I've had in Cameroon thus far. It was pretty nice. Oh and the vice principal took me to lunch on my first day and I was served some mashed cabbage in peanut sauce with some kind of weird meat in the middle…turns out it was porcupine. I kept telling myself, "Cajuns eat weird meat all the time. This can't be so bad." And it wasn't terrible but definitely not my meat of choice. Some Cameroonians eat rat and I've seen them in the market and they're the size of small dogs. It's by far the most disgusting thing I've seen thus far.

I suppose I'm lucky because there's a couple who's already posted in Bazou. I stayed at their house during site visit. The purpose of site visit is for us to see where we'll be living and working so that we get a feel of what our life will be like for two years. The current volunteer there took me to see a house he proposed I live in. I love it. It's on a hill, has a beautiful view and lots of trees around it. There's a papaya tree, an avocado tree, and a guava tree. It's got three rooms and one bathroom. The kitchen, however, is not in the house but right behind it. I suppose this will take some getting used to but I don't think it'll be a problem. The only problem is that it doesn't have bars on the windows and I believe Peace Corps requires them. There are shutters that lock from the inside but I'm not sure if Peace Corps will accept this. My program director will be talking to the landlord to see if he can install them. If not, I think I'll have to find another house, which would be unfortunate because I really liked this one.

One thing I didn't like about Bazou was that it was freezing at night. Apparently it's that way from June – August. So I'm going to buy some warm clothing and a heavy blanket in Bafoussam tomorrow so I don't freeze when I get to post. The good thing, however, is that it's never unbearably hot in Bazou. The climate is pretty great. And during the dry season (October-February,) it's not very dusty at all, which is fortunate for me.

Another thing that wasn't very pleasant was my ride in a bush taxi, which is a late 80s model Toyota Tercel stuffed with seven Cameroonians and myself. It's pretty normal and I suppose I'll have to get used to it. The only time I think I'll be taking a bush taxi is to Bangangte and Bafoussam, which aren't long rides. When I head to Yaoundé or the beach, I'll be taking the bus. The bush taxis like to go fast too and there are so many turns and hills on way to Bazou. Needless to say, at one point, I shut my eyes and started saying Catholic prayers. I've got to learn how to ask drivers in French to slow down. As a matter of fact, that's just what I'll do after I write this blog.

So, my host mom could since that I was bit nervous before my journey on Wednesday morning and asked me if I was okay. I told her I just get nervous before trips. So, she packed me a crap load of snacks and later, she called the vice principal (since my cell phone doesn't work in Bazou) and asked how I was doing. I talked to her and told her I was doing okay… and I was okay but the funny thing is that I really missed her. When I returned to Bangangte, I somewhat felt relieved to be "home." It's crazy because when I first arrived here, this house and living style and language was so foreign to me that I never imagined I would become completely comfortable here. I thought, "Okay this is just where I'm going to be staying during training and then I'm off to post." But really, I've become a little attached. My host mom has been asking me since I got here if she could braid my hair and I've told her no every time, but today I was so happy to see her that I couldn't say no. So my hair's in braids and it looks really funny. My hair's layered so I've got hair sticking out all over the place. I can't wait to take them out, honestly. I hope she doesn't get offended if I wear a handkerchief over them when I go to Bafoussam tomorrow.

Okay, so I mentioned my phone doesn't work in Bazou. Well, it only works in a few spots in the market but its pretty crappy reception. And another unfortunate thing is that there are no cyber cafes in Bazou. But you have to remember, I joined the Peace Corps expecting that I might be able to use the internet once a month and I also really didn't think I'd be getting a cell phone. But as I mentioned before, I'm lucky because there have been volunteers in Bazou before and also I have trainers who work there, so they're able to share some conveniences (like the Camtel phone, which I plan to get before I leave on Aug 23rd). Another thing, I will definitely have electricity and running water. Though, every day the electricity is cut off for a period of time. That's normal all over Cameroon. No complaints from me because it's a luxury to have electricity at all here. Unfortunately, a couple of the Education volunteers heading to the north will have neither but they don't seem very concerned about it, so I suppose it's no big deal.

Every day there comes a deal of challenges along with a great deal of awesome experiences and somehow, it seems we just have to tread along. When you throw yourself in this situation, its sink or swim. It seems you either integrate or you don't. We've all had to find our coping mechanisms. Some of us haven't been smart in this regard but I find the trick is to get rid of the negativity and have a sense of humor. I had to learn that really quickly. And you guys know me. Many of you would consider me a pessimist. I would consider myself a pessimist, actually, but if you want to remain sane here, you have to find some serious optimism. When things get hard, I think of a really great vacation I plan to take after Peace Corps. I think of how great it will be when I get to see my boyfriend again. I think of how incredible a reunion like that might be. I don't think I'll be able to take my eyes off of him. I can't believe I've already been here over a month. It seems like the time flew by, but at the same time, it seems like I've been here longer than I have. It's hard to explain. It already feels like I left my life in the states a long time ago. How odd, right? So, who's coming to visit?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cameroonian Gumbo!

Happy 4th of July all! Today was a crazy and eventful day. We prepared cheeseburgers and French fries. I actually cooked all the burgers but didn't mind at all because how often will I get to smell the incredible smell of ground beef cooking? It was amazing. We even had American style cheese, which apparently you can find in Bafoussam, a 45 minute drive from here. Those hamburgers were amazing.

Besides the burgers, I also had some amazing food at the mayor's house. There was fried fish, cucumber salad, shrimp, and meatballs on rice! We also had some pretty good French Bordeaux because the mayor's husband is French and loves a good red wine apparently. That meal has got to be the best I've had in Cameroon so far. I've been mostly eating rice, fish, and couscous. In the picture above, that's "gumbo," which is popular with couscous. It's definitely no Cajun gumbo but it's also not bad at all. I actually really like couscous. It's somewhat like grits, except softer and stays intact, perhaps like super thick mashed potatoes? I told my host mom we eat gumbo in Louisiana, and she was like, "I didn't know gumbo was eaten in the U.S." I said, "No, not the U.S… only Louisiana. And our gumbo is very different. It's also conveniently served with rice." She replied, "Well, Cameroonians like it with couscous." "Touché," I say. (And she thinks I want to touch the couscous.) Haha.

Also, on a really happy note, I found out my post! I'm going to be living in Bazou, which is 30 minutes south of Bangangte (where I'm training now, just in case you forgot). If I wanted to bike to Bangangte, it would take about an hour and 20 minutes. And if I wanted some real luxuries, like American cheese or real peanut butter, I could drive to Bafoussam to get them. I met a volunteer today who's living in Bazou, and she said it's beautiful. I'm actually in the middle of a lot of hills and even a mountain. The elevation is higher than Bangangte, so it tends to be cooler. I find the climate here to be absolutely perfect. I can maybe even say it's almost cold in the mornings? I mean I'm never hot here. I may actually need a fleece. Who the hell knew? Chilly in Africa? It's not making sense to me but hey, I'm not complaining. On a not so happy note, it looks like there are no cyber cafes in Bazou. However, the volunteer before me got a cell phone from Camtel, the "AT&T of Africa" I guess, and she got a plan through them where she could use her cell phone to get on the internet on her laptop. She only got an hour a day but wow, that's better than now because I get to visit the cyber like once a week for an hour or maybe two hours. Wow, with that kind of a luxury, will I still feel like I'm a Peace Corps volunteer? Uh, probably so, especially when I'll be heating my water and preparing my bucket bath. It'll still feel like Peace Corps when I'm reading by kerosene lamp at night because the electricity is out. Oh, the irony.

Besides the annoyance of slowly learning the French, I'm having a great experience so far. I just wish I could learn the language super quickly so I can say all the things I want to say. My thoughts aren't super simple statements like, "I ate bananas today" or "Do you like the weather today?" so when I actually want to say something like, "The reason I want to live in New Orleans after Peace Corps is because I feel like it's a city in need of everyone's help and I hope I can find a job where I can help the redevelopment of New Orleans," I'm screwed because I have no idea how to fully convey that in French. And my books don't help me. I can say, "I want to live in New Orleans after Peace Corps," and "I hope I can get a job there," but I can't yet get complex with my statements and it's driving me crazy.