Je suis à Bangangte!
Bangangte is a town of about 15,000 to 20,000 people located in the West Province of Cameroon. It’s currently rainy season and because of that there is mud everywhere and on everything! Watching a group of Americans try to trek through the unpaved roads is quite funny. A group of school children have already cracked up at the sight of me falling on my butt on the way to training one morning. The 41 other trainees and I have been here in Bangangte now for a little over a month. Our days are extremely scheduled, packed with technical training, cross-cultural studies, and, of course, lots of French language classes. We’re up at 6 am Monday through Saturday and back home with our home-stay families by 6 pm, our Peace Corps curfew and the time it gets dark here.
Many of us aren’t used to the tight scheduling of Pre-Service Training. In some ways I feel like I’m in some kind of twilight-zone high school! But I can’t say that my time here in Africa has lacked surprises…
For one, the other week my language teacher, the two other students in the class (Rachel and Matty) and I visited the local open-air market together. Besides the general chaos of the weekly market: Cameroonians yelling out prices of avocados through megaphones, buckets of rice and corn everywhere, the sound of passionate bartering, barrels of palm oil lining the rows of vendors, and countless people shouting out, “les blanches!” (White people) as we try to navigate through the busy crowds, I experienced my first outdoor butchery. As I walked past the different furry, fly-covered cuts of mystery meats, I started thinking about becoming a vegetarian. As if to really push me into vegetarianism, a man began using a machete to chop fresh meat off of a horned animal skull. As I was trying to be as “culturally sensitive” as possible and focus on how unique this scene was from anything else I had ever experienced, my friend Matt suddenly blurted out, “Ummmm, Erica I think you’re getting some bone juice on you!”
At that moment, I noticed chunks of bone and flesh flying by my body—some of which ricocheted off of my leg! It was terrifying! My first reaction was to dart away from the scene, which I immediately did. My second, more permanent reaction was to officially become a vegetarian. Considering that Cameroon is nicknamed the “bread basket of Africa,” it hasn’t been much of a problem thus far. My two mealtime favorites are currently avocado sandwiches or packaged cookies and some Cameroonian beer (both of which I can count on my stomach accepting!).
Yesterday we had an opportunity to visit an HIV/AIDS testing and counseling center in a town not far from Bangangte. I was thoroughly impressed by the cleanliness, organization, and confidentiality of the center. For AIDS patients in Cameroon, stigma is a daunting, day-to-day challenge. On the other hand, AIDS education does take place in many elementary and high schools, including here in Bangangte. The other trainees and I will receive our post assignments (our actual locations for the next to years) in less than two weeks! I am eager to continue exploring these issues and to begin HIV/AIDS education and support in my work at post.
Last Saturday we learned how to create improved cook stoves out of natural resources. Although electricity in Bangangte does exist, many families also use traditional outdoor cook stoves in addition to the gas stoves or whenever the power is out (which is a daily reality). One can make the improved cook stove from clay, water, and chopped-up bits of dry grass. To combine the mixture, a person stomps on the ingredient pile with his or her bare feet. The mixture is then thrown onto an upside-down bucket to give the stove its shape and two holes are cut out to allow for oxygen to enter and smoke to escape. When the bucket is removed, the sun solidifies the stove. A metal grate is placed on the top of the clay creation; wood is placed below, and…Voila! You have your improved cook stove. I still have the blisters on my hands to prove it—chopping up grass with a machete is much harder than it looks!
Yesterday afternoon I decided to use our 90 minutes of free time to go on a run. I was pleasantly surprised, and my morale happily lifted, when I witnessed the use of a popular Cameroonian saying: “Du Courage!” (have courage). Five different Cameroonians yelled this encouragement to me as my legs struggled to carry me up the steep, sun-baked hills of Bangangte! I have to say it was quite moving, and I think I just might make it my personal mantra—Du Courage! Pretty catchy, I think.
Other possibly interesting tid-bits:
- I think I have mastered the art of bucket bathing! Sometimes it’s even almost refreshing instead of shocking.
- The rooster that crows outside my window every morning sounds as normal as my alarm clock…perhaps because it IS my alarm clock now.
- It is no longer strange to walk with goats to school.
- The fact that stool samples are collected in leaves at the hospital doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it did initially.
- At 8 pm it seems to be getting close to my bedtime; 8 am is sleeping in.
- Waiting 25 minutes for Internet connection is now reasonable (well, I guess I should just say do-able).
- I have definitely consumed more Pepto-Bismal and Tums this last month than I have the past 22 years of living on this earth!
- My mosquito net doesn’t feel creepy; it makes me feel (in agreement with a fellow PC Trainee) “a little bit princess-y.”
I am happy to report that all forty-one other PC Trainees and I are officially in the fifth week of Pre-Service Training! Nobody has checked out!
Du Courage mes amis!