Hello everyone! I have not been able to write in awhile because of the short time I had in Banyo in between trips I have had to make. A lot has happened since the last time I was able to post a blog. About a month ago, I went way up north again for my in-service training with my other fellow volunteers that occurs for all Peace Corps Volunteers after three months at post. It was in the city of Maroua (if you look at a map it is one of the furthest northern towns in Cameroon). It took me almost four days of travel to get there!! It was nice because I had to pass through the city I had lived in for the first three months (Pitoa) and was able to take an afternoon to stop by and see my host family. I was shocked how much the baby (Ijaifi) that was born the same day I arrived had grown in the previous three months since I had left! He is super cute now and a healthy plump kid so I was happy to see that. It was nice to visit with the family and then my friend from my group that is posted hear Pitoa came by and we were off to do all the things we didn’t have time to do during stage. We had some time before we had to take the bus further up so went to the marché and bought Cameroonian soccer jerseys, went to the local artisan and bought silver jewelry, bought nice pagne to make into a formal outfit for parties and such, etc, etc. It was liberating to say the least!!! Then we headed north again for about 4 hours where we reached Maroua. The first thing I noticed as we left my region of Adamaoua was the slow descent into the valley of extreme heat!!! As you descend the plateau you can literally see and feel the heat commence. And of course, March and April are the absolute hottest months of the year up north. The second thing I noticed was the lack of water. There was not an abundance when I left in December, but wow, when I say there is no water, I mean there is zero!!! Everything is dry and brown and all the rivers are just flatbeds of sand. You see women and children digging holes in the river bed to try to dig up water all over. I arrived at a friend’s house about 1 pm in the afternoon on a moto and I thought my leg facing the sun was going to fry off! All you can do between the hours of 11:30 am and 4 pm in the afternoon is drink water and sit under a fan. I hadn’t drank that much water in months!! Luckily, we stayed at a hotel with a pool and air conditioning (AND CNN international..I know all about Secretary of State’s trip to Mexico) so that was very nice. There is also a famous artesian market in Maroua that I basically bought up (lots of leather goods, jewelry, shoes) because I do not plan on going all the way up there any time soon!! Maroua is also very close to the animal reserve, Waza, and so we able to see wild giraffes (but no elephants!). The training went pretty well-my counterpart and I had a lot of good ideas that came out of it and it was nice to hear how everyone else did throughout the past three months since I am so far away from most people in my group.
Almost upon arrival from my trip up north, the rains began in Banyo!! I am very lucky because the rains will not arrive up north for about another month and a half, and therefore the heat will not depart either any time soon! It is hard to imagine how everyone is fairing up there-life is extremely difficult. The rains here did bring more humidity, but everything greened up immediately. It almost doesn’t even look like the same place anymore. I planted my garden in my backyard the first weekend I was back with my neighbors. I planted squash, cucumbers, carrots, basil, thyme, dill, spinach, green beans and broccoli. So far, I have seen a few small squash and cucumber plants. I didn’t realize how much and how hard it would rain so I think I will have to go back and replant a few things as they probably washed away the first time it rained hard. I will just be happy if the broccoli and squash grow though! I am craving the two terribly. It rains almost every day now, usually in the afternoon, and then it cools down a bit. This afternoon a big storm came out of nowhere. I went to close back door because of the wind and there was this huge rainbow that covered the whole city and you could see the rain clouds and sun merging. When the rains start you basically can’t hear a thing because the roof is metal. Often the power goes out too so it is good time to relax a bit.
I have decided that if Cameroon is “Africa miniature” then Banyo is “Cameroon petite.” You can almost experience every part of Cameroon (religion, culture, language) in Banyo. Easter weekend I went to a traditional Muslim wedding of one of my neighbors at night. Within a few hours I was sitting at a Catholic Mass with about 20 baptismals and then attended a party for a friend of ours at the Bamilike House with many people who come from the West Region (next Region over to the west). Banyo has Christians (Catholics, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Baptists), Muslims who are Foulbe, Housa and probably many other sects that I am not aware of yet. It is funny because some afternoons I hear the bells from the church at the same time I hear the call for Muslim prayer. It is really pretty together actually.
Work wise I have been really busy lately trying to get things set up with everyone in between trips. I decided about a month ago that I really wanted to hold a meeting to talk with all interested parties about health in Banyo and to discuss my potential work and the opportunities that exist to work together. So I had a “community health and development” meeting last week with about 15 people who either had worked with the former health volunteers in Banyo or I had met in the first few months and had expressed interest in working together. Seeing how busy people, I was pretty happy with the attendance. Most people who came were either doctors or nurses from the health centers but there was also the director of community groups with the Department of Agriculture, the coordinator and a few members of the health club at the high school, and few other community members who came. I am going to have another meeting at the end of May to develop the project and chose objectives and targets so will see if anyone comes to that one!! Meanwhile, I am trying to do a community assessment around water, hygiene, and nutrition with a broad range of people. So far I have completed around 15 by going to a few health centers and the hospital which have been really interesting. I did a needs assessment with health personnel in March to kick off things. Between the two and the things I have observed and heard it looks like we will try to develop a program both within Banyo in the neighborhoods and out in a few villages to try to prevent the preventable diseases of malaria and all those associated with poor nutrition and drinking water. Now the real work begins!!
This past Saturday I held a Earth Day program with the neighborhood kids and a new Youth Group in Banyo. I translated it as, “Fête de la Terre,” or, “Party for the Earth.” I believe most people came to see what this party was all about! We did a small discussion on the history of earth day in the states, the life cycle of trash, and then a trash picking up competition in the area behind my house, next to the river. Unfortunately, it started to rain about 10 minutes after the trash cleanup began but I think they may have worked harder because of it (or was it the promise of prizes??). I am not sure if the theme was picked up by most of the kids who came, but there were around 50 that did come and most everyone participated in the clean-up so I think it was a success. I don’t think anyone cried either so that is good too!! I am hoping to try to do another cleanup soon and hope that maybe we can start working towards to getting the adults involved (at least in getting some trash collection sites started maybe).
Hope you all celebrated this Earth Day well (Happy Birthday Dad!).
Even though we lost in the finals, “GO GREEN, GO WHITE!”
Take care everyone and keep the letters coming!