Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So this is Christmas, and what have you done?

Bonne Annee! It’s 2009! Wow, just a year ago I was fresh out of college with a peace corps invitation to Cameroon. I remember spending last new year’s eve at a table eating some of Mitch’s great gumbo and answering everyone’s questions about my future in the peace corps… when in reality, I had no idea what I’d really signed myself up for. Hah. Well, it’s been a crazy year but there was never a dull moment. They say life as a volunteer can be a roller coaster ride and they’re absolutely right. Well, my experience has been anyway. The holidays started out great with a trip to the beach for In-Service training. All the volunteers from my training group gathered with a co-worker from their villages to collaborate on techniques to be more efficient at work. We had a bonfire on the beach and a band that played xmas songs. One volunteer arranged a secret santa and it was honestly a great idea. It was fun and heart-warming. We swam and ate plenty of great food. I had really yummy crocodile; I can even say it might be the best meat I’ve had here. Even better than porcupine.

I came back home and spent Christmas day with my post-mates and the family they share a compound with. There was some good wine (thanks Ehab) and a Christmas tree! We ate plenty and afterwards, I came home to spend the rest of my day with Zulu. I sang Elvis xmas songs to him and realized that I was spending the first Christmas ever without my family or friends. All of a sudden, I felt alone. I just wanted my peeps, some eggnog, and my Beach Boys Christmas CD. I used to complain a lot about working retail for Christmas and having to deal with crazy holiday traffic. I take it back.

I’m not teaching right now since school is out for the holiday break (it’s 2 weeks here). And almost half the population is Christian so lots of people spend Christmas the same way I was used to in the states. Well, minus all the craziness involved in gift giving. Actually, with the warm, tropical weather it’s difficult to get in the spirit of the holidays. People have been playing plenty of loud music and playing on the street with their new toys. Also, someone set up a photo studio and it’s kind of popular to get really dressed up and take a photo in front of a super cheesy backdrop. I haven’t built up the courage to have my photo taken yet.

Tomorrow I’m spending New Year’s day with my host family. I’m curious as to how they celebrate the new year. We don’t have black eyes and cabbage here, so what am I supposed to eat for health and prosperity? Maybe avocados and coco yams? We’ll most likely dance and drink some boxed wine. 2009. Heh, time is so funny here. I can never decide if it’s dragging by or flying by. I wish all of you a great new year. I can finally say ‘see you NEXT year!’

Oh and mom, I got a memo that your package has arrived! Woot!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Is it really December?

I apologize if I’ve become lax about my blog. It’s just days have become pretty mediocre and life ‘au village’ seems like business as usual. It’s strange because I was lying in bed the other night and I couldn’t sleep because of the chanting and drums going on behind my house. I can’t be sure of the reason: most likely a death but anyway, I was lying there staring at my mosquito net thinking, “This again?” And I had to wonder when did I start to become accustomed to nights under the net listening to drums and chanting… but not only that; when did it start to bother me rather than fascinate me? I think tomorrow’s trip to the beach will be good for me. I haven’t left the village since I moved here and I think a vacation will do me some good. I’m looking forward to seeing all my friends from training; I can’t wait to hear about their lives at post. Instead of bringing my vice-principal, I’m bringing the head of the English department instead. I’m happy about this because he’s become my friend and my “go to” person at the school. It’s easy to talk to him and he’s always happy to help me.

I’m done with classes until after Christmas and honestly, I need the break. I love my kids but sixty+ of them at one time can be overwhelming. I need a little time to organize my teaching plans for the second term. This time, I’ll be ready. Students are starting to see I mean business and they’re less likely to give me trouble now… however, they love making fun of me. There are a few phrases I use a lot and I often catch students saying them in an effort to mock Miss Brandi. It’s so funny to hear them with their Cameroonian accents try to mock my accent. “I say to close your mouth,” one will yell at another student, causing laughter amongst the class.

My majorettes impress me more and more every day. They’re super motivated and have learned the complete dance to “Thriller.” I keep reminding them, “remember, you are monsters so you have to keep your movements stiff and your expressions serious.” You should see them. They’re so cute because they take it so seriously. They find sticks off of trees to use as batons and hold additional practices without me just to make sure everyone’s on par. I’ve taught them to practice with “eight counts” so they don’t need the music. I’m so proud of them and can’t wait to see their performance for youth day in February.

So, when I’m not teaching, lesson planning, grading, or practicing with my majorettes, what do I do? Well, if I’m not cooking or washing clothes, I’m usually reading or writing. Elliott’s sent me some TV series and as a result, I’ve become addicted to LOST and am anxious to get the 2nd season. How did I net get into this when I was in the states?

Tomorrow, I’ll be leaving with two of my colleagues (one of which is the Peace Corps IT trainer) before sunrise. We’re hoping to make it to the beach by the afternoon, but Cameroonian public travel is about as predictable as Louisiana weather. (And yes, I’m deeply upset that I missed the snow. I hope you all have pictures to share.) So, I’ll have lots more to say after my trip to the beach. Hopefully, I’ll have some great photos too.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chiggers and other interesting creatures

One thing I'm always amazed at is the various insects and animals I see in my backyard. Now that it's dry season, the long scary brown lizards have come out in astounding numbers. Yesterday one came in my house and Zulu (yes, Lulu is now Zulu due to a gender mishap) had a ball with it! He tore off its tail and chased it. We've got iridescent flies and brilliantly colored butterflies… and chiggers. What I mistook for a possible ingrown toenail was in fact, a chigger egg sack growing in my toe. I hope you're not eating soon. If you are, skip to the next paragraph. When the "ingrown toenail" became a large inflamed area with a puss pocket and a black speck in the middle, I knew I was dealing with something else. So, I took a look at the handy dandy Peace Corps medical manual and the findings were obvious: it was indeed chiggers and the only way to get rid of them is to dig them out of your foot with a sterile needle. I devoted my Friday morning to plucking out the eggs and I was left with a hole in my toe. Ugh! But, it's been healing… slowly. Nothing heals quickly here. Nothing.

At school, we've been preparing for the end of the second sequence and I've been surprised at how quickly time is passing. In less than one month, the volunteers will be meeting at the beach for In-Service Training. We have to bring our counterparts and I believe we'll be there for four days. But they tell me the beach is very pretty and you can find some really yummy seafood. I hope that means shrimp because I've almost forgotten what a shrimp tastes like. Since the vice principal is my counterpart, he'll be enduring the public travel with me. At least I won't be alone. I'm not a fan of public travel here. But who is?

The majorettes are learning to twirl batons—and quite successfully I might add! We've designed their costumes and I have a boy on the squad now! I've definitely gotten some raised eyebrows and weird looks but I'm sure once they see him perform, they may actually think a co-ed squad is ideal. I've also been trying to organize an Art Club. I've got plenty of members but no supplies so right now we're in the process of searching for ways to acquire them.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. I have no plans yet. It's possible I'll meet up with some folks to celebrate but if not, Zulu and I will splurge and buy some street meat. Ha ha. Also, Twilight the movie is coming out this Friday and it's killing me that I won't be able to see it. I've read that the producers are definitely making movies of the next two books. How does one become as lucky as Stephenie Meyer? Bah! And all this over a love triangle between a teenage girl, a vampire and a werewolf. Who knew?

Oh, if you're sending Christmas packages, I could certainly use Easy Mac and M&Ms. Mom sent me some but they didn't last long. I devoured them in the blink of an eye. Other than that, I always appreciate music, movies, photos, crystal light packets, and anything edible. I miss you guys!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hey! My camera isn't broken after all!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Green Mamba?

(this blog was written October 17th)

Last week while I was washing some clothes, on one of the trees in my back yard, I saw a strange green vine. I say strange because it was brighter than any vine I’d ever seen. You know where this is going, right? It wasn’t a vine at all. It was a snake. I suspect it was a green mamba because apparently if you see a green snake around here, you should kill it immediately because it’s dangerous. I just watched it; I was transfixed and I didn’t want to call anyone to kill it. Everyone has asked me why I didn’t get anyone to come and kill it, but honestly, I didn’t want to put anyone in danger; it was high up in the tree. And I didn’t want to stop looking at it. It reminded me of that trip I took to the Audubon Zoo a few weeks before I left the states. I remember going into the reptile room and reading all of the information on the snakes, wondering which ones lived in West Africa and which ones were poisonous. I’d remembered this bright green one. Not far from the tree, there’s another tree which bares papaya. Lately, every time a papaya is close to ripe, someone comes and snatches it before I can. A few days ago I had a dream: I noticed a large papaya ready to come down. I was so excited that I’d get to have the papaya to myself and as I reached up to grab it, the green snake was wrapped around it. Once again, I just stood staring at it and ended up once again, with no papaya. I’m no interpreter of dreams but there are some obvious symbols here, no?
My students are so strange. One day they make fun of me and the next, they proclaim their love for me. I was teaching body parts to my younger kids and I had them draw aliens with different numbers of eyes, arms, legs, etc. and afterwards, they’d introduce their alien and tell me how many body parts it had. One boy drew his alien with a green flowered skirt, the same skirt I was wearing that day. Another didn’t forget to include sexual organs on his alien. When I asked him about it, he told me he was sorry and that his pencil had simply slipped when he was drawing legs. Later in the week, the same class had brought in a tree and put it by my desk and decorated it with flowers and confetti. They also drew nice pictures of me and made signs that said, “I love you” and “I speak English” and hung them around the room.
My terminale class, the older ones, saw an ugly side of me the other day. I still don’t know all of their names and their numbers had changed on the roster so I thought I’d give them their new numbers (which is pretty important here since a lot of students are simply referred to by their number instead of name) and take the opportunity to try and put the names to their faces. A couple of my kids said aloud, “You’re wasting time.” I raised my voice and said, “That’s rude. I certainly don’t tell you that you’re wasting my time so I don’t appreciate it when you tell me that. I’m under no obligation to come here and teach you. If you want to see me waste time, I could show you wasting time.” And I just stood there and stared at them. They started protesting, “No Madam, don’t do this. We’re sorry. Please continue.” It had caught me off guard. Especially since I think my terminale class has already made tremendous progress. They’d seemed completely lost on my first day in class. Apparently, I haven’t been strict enough. I didn’t think I’d have to be since most of them are my age. I’d never disciplined anyone in that class and felt like if I treated them as adults, they’d show me respect. But I see now maybe they’re just big kids.
Teacher’s day went really well. We marched around the village, singing some song about teacher’s day. I didn’t know it so I couldn’t sing it. Afterwards, we met at the mayor’s office for a party and I couldn’t help but snicker when I noticed the place was decorated with Christmas decorations, including Santa Claus, hanging from the ceiling. I met the new superfét, which is similar to the mayor, and several other big figures in the village. The high school staff left early and had a separate party at the hotel. My principal insisted I sit at the table with the administration. He said, “We have few women teachers and the ones we have, we want to treat them right.” Sure enough, I was the only woman at the party. Though, I would have been happier just sitting with the other teachers. I felt strange talking with the administration. But the porcupine was actually tasty this time. Maybe a lack of meat in your diet will do that to you? I don’t know.
The principal’s asked me and another teacher to organize a majorette squad. If Lauren reads this, I know she’d laugh right now. What a coincidence, right? For those of you who don’t know, I was a majorette in high school, so I know how to twirl. I agreed but now, after I’ve been approached by a storm of girls who’ve heard about it, I’m beginning to remember the drama that comes with having a squad of young girls. We’re holding try-outs this week. I even remember some of our routines from high school, so maybe in the future, the squad will be twirling to “Try Again” by Aaliyah or even “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, complete with the head twitch and everything. Hah.
Until next time…

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I'm really not good with titles

This is the post where I really wish my camera was working so I could share a photo of my new kitten, Lulu. She's cute and already spoiled. I'm sure some of you are asking yourself, "Wha? I thought you were allergic to cats?" Yes, I am. But my house seemed like a big lonely place and I thought maybe I was only allergic to American cats. Heh. Of course, I'm sneezing and itching a little but her companionship is worth it. She's apparently fatter than normal kittens because I feed her until she stops eating. People here don't really have "pets." They have goats that eat the grass, big dogs to scare people away, and cats that hang around their yards because they've fed it from time to time. Surprisingly, however, there's a vet in my village. He specializes in farm animals, but I told him I had a cat and I wanted to treat her for insects and worms and such. So, he went to Bafoussam and found me some medicine. Now, if only I could get her to always use her litter box. Yeah, I made a litter box.

School is coming along. I've experienced some minor discipline problems but I noticed if you threaten to send them out and count them as absent, they tend to take you seriously. Also, taking points off works too because their marks are very important to them. One day, I honestly felt like a clown in front of the classroom for the students' amusement. I was pretty unhappy about it, but I spoke to some colleagues in the English Dept. who are incredibly supportive and helpful. If there's one thing I love about my job, it's the support that colleagues give one another here. The volunteer before me wrote that I should depend on my colleagues. I'm now seeing what she meant.

Beginning Monday, I'm heading to Bangangte where I'll teach a group of girls English. I think I mentioned this before, but the volunteer before me worked with this group of girls who attend the center for continuing education. I met with the director and she's super nice and in a way, kind of reminds me of grandma, my mom's mom. I can't put my finger on it, but there's something that connects the two in my mind. And the center's not far from my host dad's pharmacy so I'll get to visit him. I'll be working every Monday morning and this means I can also buy stuff from the "Boulangerie," which makes pretty good bread and benets. We don't have a bakery in my village. I keep telling people if they open up a bakery here, they'd get a lot of business from me, but everyone says it's too much money to run one. They say it's better to just make the 30 minute drive to buy the bread.

I think if my village were Opelousas, Bangangte would be Lafayette, and Bafoussam would be Baton Rouge. The driving time is the same and it seems like Bangangte's a little bit bigger and has many more options. And Bafoussam's the capital, where I can find lots of things that don't exist around here. I try to limit my visits to Bafoussam, because like Baton Rouge, the traffic sucks and it's not a fun place to be.

This Sunday is Teacher's Day and there's a big party somewhere. My principal said if I didn't go, it would be bad. It would seem like I don't like being a teacher. Hah, imagine that! He said this in English, so I think I should take it seriously. I hear there will be plenty of beer. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

School Begins!

The first couple of weeks of school have been chaotic, but that's to be expected. So far, I've had classes merge and my schedule change a couple of times. It looks like I'll have a couple of classes with about 70 kids in them, but so far, I've had no real discipline problems and my kids seem to be enthusiastic about learning. Hopefully, this continues because it makes my job easier. I love my colleagues; they're really nice and helpful. They love having conversations about life in the United States. Today, using "Franglais," we discussed the differences between Republicans and Democrats and the recent state of the stock market.

It seems I've got a bit of bad news: what I thought was a problem with batteries has now turned into a possible problem with my camera. It turns on for a couple of seconds and then shuts off. So I regret to inform you that I won't be posting photos of my house any time soon. I wasn't very happy, but I'm sure that's not the worst that can happen. Maybe I'll get someone to bring one when they come to visit me.

Last weekend, I went to visit my host family since it's been 3 weeks since I saw them. I'd missed them more than I thought, and I actually felt like I was visiting family. What seemed like a strange, foreign home in the beginning now seems strangely comfortable and familiar to me. My house at post is still pretty empty since the carpenter keeps putting off working on my furniture. Work ethic is definitely NOT what I was used to in the states. I see that every day. "Mais, c'est ne pas grave." I suppose one adapts.

I still continue to make my own meals and enjoy the comforts of some-what familiar cuisine, like stew! Yeah dad, I made my own roux! How about that? It came out pretty good, too. I'm also getting used to life in the village, like where to find certain things and who does what. There's about 10,000 residents in my village, and I'm pretty sure everyone here knows where the new white girl lives. At least, that's what it feels like. I keep hearing people yell, "Mekat" at me. That's "white girl" in the local dialect (Medumba) or so I thought. I actually learned today that the word means, "outsider who brings civilization." Skin color isn't a factor. I'm trying to learn some Medumba phrases, but it isn't easy to speak. And I'm still struggling with French. One thing at a time, right?

Well, that's it for now. Later, no? OH, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!!! Love you!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Settling In

I know I promised a few of you guys some photos of my house and the village, but I’m in need of some batteries for my camera and it may take a few days for me to get some since the ones in village haven’t worked very well. Literally, I put the batteries in and five seconds later, the juice was done. I’m going to Bafoussam Monday, so I’ll look for Duracell and then, I’ll have some photos.
I’ve been here over a week and I’ve managed to have a few pieces of furniture made out of bamboo. Surprisingly, they came out pretty nice. There’s some more wood furniture coming next week. Wood’s expensive and more trees have to be taken down, so I think my house will appear a bit empty for the most part. But that’s the case with most volunteer houses, which have to be furnished for only a two year stay.
There was a meeting at the lycee yesterday so all of the teachers could get their schedules. I’ve been scheduled for Tues-Thu, and have four days off. Don’t worry; it won’t take long before I’ll start secondary projects. I’ll also have a French tutor and I’ll be preparing lessons for the Bac. Also, since it takes three times as long to complete domestic tasks (cooking, cleaning, etc.) I’m sure I won’t be bored. Even without class, I don’t feel bored. I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and reading. I’ve made some pretty good pasta sauces from scratch. There was an awesome potato and ham soup, but regretfully, I left a crack in the pot and it was attacked by ants overnight. I had so much left too… it made me want to cry. Thankfully, I have peanut butter, which I’d been craving since I got here. I’ve eaten a jar within a week. That’s one of the main reasons I’m going to Bafoussam (it’s the only place I’ve been able to find it).
The walk to school takes 15 minutes, and the path is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a bit of a climb but once I walk up the hill, there’s a stunning view of Bazou, the tall palm trees, and the hills. There’s also a brook that I passed and the sound of rushing water was comforting, even though I know it’s the monsoons that bring the water. Rainy season will be over next month and I can’t quite know if I’m anxious to see it go or if I’ll miss it. I haven’t met the dry season yet, so I’m reluctant to say goodbye to the rains (even though they can be a bummer).
Sorry, there’s not much to report. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once school starts. That’s next week, by the way. I tried to keep up with hurricane news and I sincerely hope everyone made it through Gustav okay.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More photos!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's Official: I'm a Peace Corps volunteer

On the 22nd, we all swore in at a ceremony in Bangangte, where all of our host families and town officials came to support us. The chief, the mayor, and a representative from the embassy came. It felt like graduation, and essentially was a sort of graduation. I’m the only volunteer really close to Bangangte, so when I presented myself and named my program and post, I got a big round of applause. I sort of felt like a celebrity (?). Afterwards, there was a lunch for the volunteers and their host families. It reminded me of high school, where after graduation, a bunch of families went to Toby’s restaurant to celebrate. I tried to tell my host mom that I got déjà vu of my experience after high school, and I think she got it, but who knows? My host parents have called me twice now to make sure I’m okay and I’m not too lonely. Aren’t they awesome? After dinner, I was approached by the mayor of my post, who said he considers himself my second papa and that I can go to him if I have any problems. I was also approached by a woman from Bangangte, who worked with the volunteer I’m replacing. She has a center in Bangangte for girls who have quit school for one reason or another. She teaches them a trade so that they’ll be able to work. Essentially my job would be to teach them English and maybe some computer skills. I think I’m meeting with her in a couple of weeks. We’re encouraged to have secondary projects, and this one sounds pretty interesting. If it doesn’t work, I’ve got some options in my village. One of my post-mates (remember there’s a married couple in my village), is thinking about starting a girl’s club. So, depending on the amount of work I’ll have, I think I’d like to be involved.

I’ve been in my village since Saturday and so far, everyone’s been really nice. My counterpart, the vice principle at my school, was responsible for setting up my house. It’s been painted, cabinets have been built, and modern toilets were put in (with two flushing options.) I know, right? I have to say it’s a bit fancy. It’s also pretty big so it’s awkward having a big house with nothing in it. I’ve got a bed and that’s it. It’s also not my bed because the school is building me my own bed with a table and some chairs, but it’s not done yet.

Yesterday I went to the provincial capital to do my banking and found a few things I knew I wouldn’t be able to find in Bangangte or Bazou. I found a really nice iron, a stove top, frying pan, peanut butter, cinnamon, various spices, oatmeal, some utensils, cheese, and a few vegetables you can’t find around here (cucumbers, zucchini, and eggplant.) I’d love to able to fry some eggplant but I have no gas for my stove yet. That’ll happen tomorrow in Bangangte. Market day’s tomorrow so I’ll see what I can find. Oh, so to give you an idea of what buying things in the market place is like, I’ll include a passage I wrote to Elliott, describing the process:

It was weird walking around the market buying things. I had to bargain, which really sucks. Like, I go up to the guy I bought a few things from and I’m like, “How much is this?” Referring to the frying pan, he was like 7,000. So, I do what my host mom would do and I gasp and say, “That’s a ridiculous price!” Then I say, “My friend, give me the good price,” and he goes “6,000,” and I gasp again, and say “2,000.” He says “5000,” and in the end, I pay 4 and buy a few things more from him, telling him if he gives me good prices, I’ll buy more and come back to him for other items… so he did. He gave me a stove top for a really decent price. Twelve thousand. Really not bad for a stove. And that’s how you do it… for everything! So, it takes forever. Sometimes you have to walk away. Buying my pillow and sheets took at least half an hour because the vendor wasn’t negotiating, but when I’d walk away, she’d take a little off… until I said, “This is my offer. And that’s it.” And she said, “Ok, give me the money.” It’s so funny and annoying. But I feel like I have to bargain. I can’t stand being ripped off.

I’ve also placed an order for a couple pieces of furniture for the kitchen: a piece for the stove and gas and a large shelf for foods and utensils. I suppose after that’s finished, I’ll start to worry about a bookshelf and some furniture for the living room. It won’t pay me to go extravagant here since I’ll only be here for 2 years… and I did have plans to live modestly. I already feel like my house is a bit too much, especially since I wanted to live like the people around me and since I knew I’d be living alone. But if you look at my neighbor’s houses, I think you’d agree that there’s a difference. But, it’s a nice place and it fits the Peace Corps requirements for security.

School here starts September 8th but I was told not to expect the students to show up for a week. That’s fine. I’ll use the time to get books, resources, and set up schemes of work and lesson plans. I really need to start thinking about my job as an educator. It’s a complicated process here. Lots of paper work and things to consider. But, it’s essential to plan, right?

So far, I really have no complaints. I live in a nice house in a beautiful village with nice people and two super nice volunteers who help me a lot. My counterpart’s great. I’ve made a few friends in the market who told me where to find things. There’s also a restaurant, where I’ve been eating my meals and the guys there are really nice and they know how I like my coffee. I don’t even have to tell them anymore. They also know how to season my omelets and bean sandwiches, without it being too peppered. In general, the people around here season their foods A LOT, even more so than Cajuns. I’m serious. You’d think being from Acadiana would have prepared me for spicy food. No. Everything is incredibly spicy. I’ve also got two pepper bushes on the side on my house. One is a yellow pepper that’s really popular. It’s just referred to as “pimont,” and there’s another bush with tiny red peppers. I was told these are extremely hot. I’m wondering if they’re chipotle peppers? I’ve seen some pretty cool plants here. I’ve got a ton of banana trees all around my house. I’ve got a papaya tree and I think there are some sweet pea plants around my house. Lantana grows a lot here and so does hibiscus. Mango season is over. Ugh. But I hear the pineapples get better after rainy season. Also, the watermelons are coming up. I can’t wait till they’re nice and sweet.

Well, that’s the gist of my move to post. It really wasn’t bad. And I’ve been sleeping well, even if it’s on a thin piece of foam. Oh, let me take this opportunity to wish my sister, dad, grandmother, and A’mya happy belated birthday! I hope I didn’t forget anyone. Oh, I’ve got a different phone number at post, since MTN doesn’t really work well here. You can e-mail me for the number. Love you guys!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Training comes to its end

(Editor's note: This entry written August 16th.)

Bangangté has offered me a wealth of experiences and has essentially introduced me to life in Cameroon. I only hope the knowledge I've gained here will help me once I get to my village. So far, I can say I have a limited base of French that I can build upon, some knowledge regarding Education in Cameroon, and a few aspects about the culture. Peace Corps, at one time, used to send volunteers to Cameroon, drop them off at their post and say, "Okay, here it is," and that was it. I suppose the idea of some cross cultural training came up not long after. Thank the "gods" because I may have seriously panicked if I would have been "tossed in the water" my first day. As it is, I'm still nervous about being a volunteer and I've been in Cameroon for nearly three months.

Tomorrow the trainees are heading to Yaoundé to set up some banking and essentially do all the necessaries that are involved for the end of training. We will travel back to Bangangté on Wednesday, have our swear-in ceremony on Friday, and head to our villages on Saturday. The ceremony should be interesting because all 36 trainees bought the same tissue to have outfits made out of. We'll all be dressed the same. Should make for interesting photos, I imagine. I'll be sure to share those with you eventually.

On August 23rd I will toss all of my bags into a "trés grande" house, complete with a huge living room, kitchen, 3 bedrooms, two baths, and a functioning doorbell. (Not what I expected when I signed up for Peace Corps). However, I'll have plenty of space for visitors and dance parties.

Today, the trainees presented their cross-culture presentations. We were assigned a project to explore and we were supposed to give a fifteen minute presentation in French on the subject. My subject was "witchcraft in Cameroon," which amazed and frightened me at the same time. It's amazing the scale in which witchcraft apparently affects life here. Sometimes, AIDS, malaria, and all sorts of things is blamed on magic of some kind. I say witchcraft, but it's really a term that should be taken loosely because there are all sorts of magic that exists here. There's the evil kind, the kind that heals, and the kind that helps people with all sorts of other tasks. Keep in mind I'm just telling you what I learned in interviews. I haven't experienced anything first hand and I have no opinions on the matter. I was also told that people are believed to sacrifice family members to "get ahead" in business affairs. I hope I never find out whether this is actually true or not. This is just a small amount of the information I received. If you want more, e-mail me… I have to be careful what I write in a public blog.

Speaking of this being a public blog, my friends and family are telling me people actually read this, so now, I feel pressure to make it interesting. I do keep a journal that I write in just about every day and recently I wrote about an experience in the market place. It's not amazingly poetic but it's something to share:

"So, today I spent some time in the market and realized that just because I'm American, I may have not gotten the best bananas that a vendor had to offer. Because I don't know any better. It's true, I can't figure out what makes one banana better than the other and I don't think I have the guts to demand anything other than the bananas I'm given. I even heard the women tell the boy selling me, "She's an American." And he grabbed different bananas. Damn it. I've lived in America all my life and haven't learned the simple art of appreciating and learning fruit… and maybe vegetables too. Now that I'm in Africa, I see people collecting it from the trees and from the earth every day. I see people haul it to the market on huge wheelbarrows. So, I'm determined: if there's one thing I'm going to learn in Africa it's going to be the "art" of fruit. I'm going to learn which fruits are better than others and how to tell what's the tastiest just from looking at the outside. My host mom can do it. She can look at a pineapple and tell which one is sweet and which one is sour. Sadly, they all look the same to me. But one day, I'm going to get the best fruits that vendors have to offer. That way when I go to a grocery store in the states, I will know what's really behind the life of fruit. I won't ever take it for granted. At least I'll try my hardest not to. And in truth, I have a feeling that once I taste the fruit from the grocery store, I'll quickly realize that even the fruit meant for "the American" will probably have tasted better than anything I can toss in a bag at Wal Mart. Damn you, Wal Mart. I don't miss you. Not at all."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sacred Forest

(Editor's note: This entry written August 1st)

So, we've been in Bangangte for almost two months now and we're just now learning that there's a "sacred forest," which I don't know much about yet, but I'm pretty interested in. I mean I see it every day… I just had no idea it was "sacred." What exactly does that mean? I've heard that's where the animal spirits live. There's a belief that people of the village share a soul (?) or something of this nature with an animal and if the animal is hurt or dies, something ill happens to the person. I'm not completely sure as to the details, but when I find out, I'll let you know. We're visiting the chief of the village on August 10th (I think) and I might just ask him to tell me some stories about the sacred forest.

This week we've been continuing with model school and I've been teaching the terminales and sixiemes. A brief education lesson: In Cameroon, the lycee (or high school) has seven levels. It begins with the sixiemes, and continues on to the terminale class, who takes the Baccalaureate so they can go to the university. If not, they repeat terminale. During model school, I have taught only sixieme and terminale and nothing in between; this is a huge jump in grades. Essentially, I teach beginning English to 9-10 yr olds and then I teach Intermediate English to 18 year olds. Well, actually some of those kids are my age, if not older. In my sixieme class, I've just had to make learning a game so that they stay interested. Otherwise, I have problems with discipline. In my terminale class, I teach argumentative essays and my biggest problem is getting them to form their own opinions. Unfortunately, the education system is designed so that students copy work, memorize work, and take the exam. There's no critical thinking at all. Just marks. That's all that matters. When I asked my students to give me an opinion, I got stuff like, "I think my mother went to the doctor for medicine." And the English was good, but no opinion there. So, I was like, "Well what do you think about it?" Eventually, I got some opinions and after a couple of days, we were writing outlines for argumentative essays. The sixiemes, on the other hand, are learning parts of the body. It's such a transition. But, it's beneficial for me because I've learned that's what I'm going to be teaching when I actually go to post. I'll also have quatriemes for 3 hours a week. I'm not worried. They're somewhere in between, right? My main concern is preparing the terminales for the Bac, which is pretty difficult. I've seen it and it's not very easy. One volunteer told me in his terminale class of 100, only 4 passed. This actually breaks my heart. I want to prepare them for the exam, but this late in their life, how can I teach them to march to the beat of a different drum? It's difficult; more so than I thought, actually.

Swearing-in is only three weeks away. My God, time has flown by. I can't believe I'm leaving this town so soon. I only just go to know my host family. I only just got to know the other trainees. We'll all be splitting up and spreading out across the country. My biggest fear once I get to post in the loneliness I know I'll feel at first. It's actually pretty normal. That first night I fear will be torture. I will be, for the first time in my life, completely alone. Right now, I'm only a trainee, so I don't know exactly what it means to be a volunteer on my own just yet. That will be "Brandi time," when I'll be forced to really get to know myself. I suppose I'll need gloves for all that dirty work.

Yesterday, I received a care package from Elliott. It takes me a month to get them but it feels like Christmas when I do! I got music, and a series, and some snacks! Oh me oh my, was I happy. Someone has to send some books because I'm coming to realize I'll have plenty of time for reading. Seriously. I've already gone through the Chronicles of Narnia and three other books. And I haven't been here for two months. Used books are the best… don't buy new ones. Also, I'm so jealous of you guys who get to read Breaking Dawn when it comes out tomorrow. It's an awful pain I feel in my heart. But I'll be getting it in about a month so no spoilers, please. It'll be torture waiting. Will Bella really become a vampire? The suspense is terrible.

I just want to say I really miss my friends and family. Corey and Amy, I miss you oh so much. Tell me what's going on in your lives. I want to thank my friends at the BN for the photos and the emails. Thanks Nathan, Arlecia, Roz, and Erica! Once again, it feels like Christmas to get so much info. You have no idea how much I already miss my job at BN. Although Peace Corps is great, there was an undeniable comfort working amongst people I felt I could talk to about anything. That's hard to come by here. I miss being able to just get drink and wings and chat all night about difficult customers. Don't take those hot wings for granted, folks. I really miss them. Some of us trainees have had conversations about food back in the states that have lasted an hour or so. We all really miss it. When I get home, I'm going to eat loads of Mexican food. And I'll have to ask my dad to cook my favorites. He knows what I'm talking about.

Tomorrow, we're having an 80s dance party and I'm pretty excited about it. I'll try and take some photos. I'm just excited I get to stay out till 9pm. I'm serious. I have a curfew of 6pm. The Peace Corps curfew is actually 7pm but mine is 6 because that's what my host mom prefers. I tried the whole, "But I'm 23 years old," think but in her eyes, I'm her child, who can't be out in the dark. It's interesting.

Well, that's all. Till next time…

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.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Photos of Cameroon!

Journey Continues Part 2

(Editor's note: This entry written June 23)

Today was a rainy day as usual. It rains at least once a day and sometimes up to four times a day! The mud gets pretty disgusting too, especially because it’s just everywhere. You really can’t get away from it. Every day, it manages to get on my toes or my ankles or under my fingernails… ugh! When’s the rainy season over? Bring on the dry season.

Yesterday my host mom cut up some kind of orange melon that resembles a watermelon and boiled the pieces and served it with rice and fish in red gravy. The fish was great and so much like a “sauce piquant.” That made me happy. And the chocolate spread with bananas on bread in the morning is also a happy food for me! Magnoc, however is not a happy food. It resembles a big root of some kind and is mashed and hardened in this long leaf-like thing. It’s just not for me.

I never thought I’d say this but I think I’m going to miss American football. Cameroonians are obsessed with soccer and that’s the only sport they talk about. Everyone watches matches and the Cameroon Lions are actually a good soccer team. But I don’t know anything about soccer and I was really getting into football before I left. So you guys are going to have to keep me updated.

We’re starting to get more into depth about culture and the education system in Cameroon. So far, I’m pretty excited about teaching. We’ll see if that continues… this is my chance to assess whether or not I want a career in teaching. I am pretty sure, however, that even if I don’t teach when I go back home, I will still pursue a job related to development work. Either that or I’ll audition for American Idol!

My experience, so far, has just been so pleasant. I do miss everyone already, however but I can honestly say I’m doing great. My health is good, the food is not bad, and the people are so great to me. I can find chocolate and pretty good beer. So, other than my family and friends aren’t experiencing it too, I’ve got no complaints. I love you guys!

The Journey Continues...

(Editor's note: This entry was written June 22)

Describe your last trip…

So, lately I’ve been feeling the effects of the language barrier. Yesterday morning, my language trainer asked us to explain in detail a trip we took recently. Well, of course, I started describing the cruise I went on in January and for the rest of the class, I couldn’t concentrate because I was just thinking about that vacation and my friends and Elliott, of course… so I got a bit bummed. And the tough part is that I can’t go home and talk about it. I have a hard enough time explaining to my host family why I don’t eat the parts of a chicken that they eat. So, I’m trying to figure out the best way to deal with emotions if I’m going to have to depend on myself to resolve frustrations. That way when Elliott calls to talk to me, I don’t sound like a crazed ball of emotion just throwing all of my feelings at him. It sucks because even when I’ve discovered something really awesome about my experience, I still don’t know how to tell anyone. But as soon as I can get the language, I imagine it will be better.

On a good note, my French is actually improving… slowly but surely. I find myself meeting kids on the street and actually having lengthy conversations with them. Also, my host mom’s conversations have gone beyond, “Why don’t you eat more?” and “Do you need to wash now?” to “What was festival international like back at home?” (Because she saw my shirt) and “Tell me what you want to do when you go back home.” And for the most part, I can answer her and she understands me. All of my host family has a desire to know about my family in the U.S. They wanted to see all of my pictures and they said I look exactly like my mom. They were also so amazed that I have a sister who’s so young. They were also amazed and confused by all the pictures I had of my parakeets. I had some of flamingos too… and they asked if I eat them. I replied, “No, no those little birds are my friends,” and then I showed them a picture of the two playing on their tree and they were just amazed. They were also amazed by all the pictures I have of crawfish boils. I don’t think they’ve ever had crawfish but they knew what it was.

I’ve had Cameroonian beer and it’s actually pretty good. I’d probably drink an Abita before a “33” but it’s really not bad. Another thing I’ve discovered I love here is this chocolate spread they like to put on chocolate… I mix it with bananas and then put it on bread. Oh wow, oh yum. It’s not quite as great as peanut butter but still yummy. And oh how I would kill for some iced cold milk. There’s a sincere shortage of dairy here. I’ve managed to get a small bag of soy milk that my host mom buys from the “boulangerie,” but that’s as lucky as I’ve gotten. Yaounde, however, had ice cream! I’m going back to Yaounde in August so I think I’ll stop for some then.

There are 11 English Ed volunteers, myself included, in training right now and of the 11 posts, 6 are in the Adamoua province in the north, 4 are in the east province, and only one is in the west. I’m in the west right now and absolutely love it. I haven’t heard too many great things about the East because it’s a bit more primitive. When I say primitive, I mean pygmies and bush meat. The north I hear is pretty mellow and volunteers tend to like it a great deal up there. However, there’s an intense dry heat… Well, I’ll find out mid-july where I’m going but until then, I’m just focusing on getting my tech training and language down. Its easier learning French here than in French class, obviously. When it’s essential in communication, one tends to be highly motivated in learning.

Yesterday, my little host brother, who is absolutely adorable, turned one years old! So there was a huge party for him. A ton of kids were here and we danced a bunch. They said I dance really well but I had to raise my eyebrow at that one. There was also popcorn at the party. Not the version you’re thinking of… but still, it was popcorn! And there were cookies too! Yummy cookies.

My host mom has made me a super cool Cameroonian dress and so far, I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on it! I picked out the fabric and my host mom said, “That’s too blue.” I was like, “There’s no such thing as too blue.” She wanted me to get some crazy orange and green fabric which she said would look great on me but uh, I wasn’t feeling it. I’m also having an “ensemble” made, which is just a long shirt and shirt. The fabric is brown and has pictures of white fish on it. Haha. I imagine I’ll look amazing in it.

I’m getting used to the dirt. I wash my feet like 3 times a day and I have to wash my shoes every day. This dirt seriously gets everywhere! I put some orange crystal light in my water bottle and one of the volunteers asked, “Wow, is that your filtered water?” and I replied, “Yeah, it’s just a bit of Bangangte dirt mixed in.”

I’ve been sleeping a bunch. After dinner, I go to my room and read but fall asleep before 9pm usually and I wake up at 6ish every morning. I’ve been sleeping more here than I ever have before. I think it’s because I’m genuinely pretty exhausted by the end of a day. I process more and use my brain more in one day than I probably did in a week back in the states. I’m just constantly trying to think in French and I’m always thinking about what’s going on around me because it’s all new. Also, I get around town by foot only so by the time I’m in bed, I’m ready to sleep.

And it looks like I won’t be able to skype because I only use my laptop for typing emails, blogs, music, games, and watching movies… I use the computer at the cyber and bring my usb to upload my emails and such. However, I have a cell phone and you can call me from Skype and I think it’s like 27 cents a minute. I love getting calls. You can get my phone number from Elliott. If you post a reply that you want it and provide your email address, maybe he’ll send you my number? I miss you guys so call me sometime! Just remember, I’m 6 hours ahead of you guys so if you call me after 3pm, I’m likely to not answer… but that’s okay! Keep trying. I’m available on the weekends to talk anytime!

Okay, if you guys are wondering what to send me, I would really love some cd’s with music on it because I don’t have a means of downloading songs here and will get tired of the stuff I have pretty quickly. The same applies to movies and books… you guys know what I like. I’m interested in new stuff too. If you want to send food, send peanut butter stuff! Anything sweet! And jerkey! And crystal light packets or sauce packets (like the instant dinner types). I miss Mexican food.