Hello everyone! I just counted and it has been four months since I last wrote a good blog. In a nut shell, the last few months have seen the bursting of projects and ideas which is really great to part of. I still feel I am planting a lot of seeds but I also feel that the work is building and things are starting to happen here.
Where to start? Well, rain is a common theme these days. We are at the height of rainy season here. They told me that August was going to be cold and that it would rain each and every day and they were right. Luckily, the rain hasn’t upset too much of my work give or take a few days and in September it will start petering off. And at night in the morning it is actually pretty cool (I won’t use the word cold but I need a sweat shirt!) I prefer the rainy season to the dry season because there is not as much dust and the heat is much more bearable. Plus the rain is a good excuse to stay in and relax. You would not believe how fast things grow here too with the rains. I planted a very small papaya tree next door with my neighbors in March/April and it is now about 7 feet tall-incredible! Unfortunately, my garden has not born the fruit that I had hoped. I just replanted some more squash and tomatoes but the lettuce and cucumbers did well for a while. And for some reason the parsley, dill, basil, and ginger have done awesome but there is only so much one can eat of that. The down side of the rainy reason has been the road and lack of electricity. One of my friends from my group passed through Banyo on his way up north earlier in the summer. He left Banyo at 7:30 am and did not arrive in the next city (Tibati) until 5:30 pm (usually it takes 6-7 hours) and then did not arrive in N’gaoundere until 5:00 am the next morning!!!! Usually that trip takes 12-13 hours not 24 hours. The route out of Banyo the other direction is bad but not quite that bad luckily for me. I do not think I will venturing north on that road any time soon. Due to the rains and a bad motor I believe, we have not had very consistent water or electricity here all summer. For some reason it goes out at night when one needs it the most so I have been making many dinners by kerosene and falling asleep at 8:30 pm lately :) The electrical company seems to have made positive gains lately so we will see if it lasts.
Since my last blog, we held two more community health meetings at my house. The second one did not go as well as planned (there was a major dispute about the efficacy of mosquito nets), but the third did go well and we adapted a health strategy with objectives for the next five years with almost all the health centers here. It is a five point plan centered around decreasing the number of preventable diseases in the district by 20% over the next 5 years with Peace Corps. The five main objectives are increasing the nutritional level of habitants (especially women and children), decreasing the rate of illnesses that come from poor hygiene and sanitation, decreasing the rate of illnesses that come from poor drinking water, decreasing the prevalence and severity of the malaria, and decreasing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV/AIDS (especially among youth). Because of this adaptation, I now have a semi-schedule to work with. Once a month I go “en brousse” and visit the women of N’diwawa at the health center there. Every Tuesday I go to a health center at the edge of town and do a health presentation with the nurses there and the women who come in for the children’s vaccinations and every Wednesday I go the District Hospital and work with the nurses there and the women who come in for their pre-natal checkups. We decided to kick off the program with nutrition, so I have been talking about proper nutrition for women and children for the past month (Mom, where are you when we need you?). Next month we will move onto hygiene and sanitation and continue onwards changing the theme within the five objectives every two months. There are a few other health centers that worked with former volunteers so I am only working with them once a month or so but I hope that they continue to do the presentations on their own but we will see. After the project got underway, I did a health interventions training for nurses in the health district one Saturday. We practiced the health interventions and messages we could do during our presentations at the health centers and I hope to do another like this in October. I am also hoping to call another community health meeting to discuss the first few months of the project and start talking about monitoring and evaluation a bit for the future. All in all, I am pleased with it so far.
The rest of the week I would say I am either preparing for the health presentations, talking/organizing/following-up with people (vast majority of the time!), or working with the youth group called Club Reglo. They are an off shoot of the health club here but are an active group in the health project. They have decided that they will work on decreasing illnesses that come from poor water and sanitation, malaria, and also decreasing STDs and HIV/AIDS all from the youth angle. The first thing we did the last week of May was hold a four day Peer-Educator training at my house. We discussed everything from reproductive health to STDs to prevention/transmission/risk reduction to condom use and at the end of the week we visited the District Hospital and talked with the nurses who run the HIV/AIDs testing center and the head doctor. I “graduated” 9 new Peer-Educators after the training and had a little party afterwards to develop our strategy and plan of action until school starts a few weeks ago. The very exciting news is that I sent in a photo and article of the training to 100% Jeune, a youth publication in Cameroon, and they published it-we are famous! The first thing Club Reglo has decided to take on against malaria and water-borne illnesses is neighborhood clean-ups. We have gotten the Delegate of Hygiene behind us and next weekend is our second attempt at actually doing our first clean-up training. Our goal is to do an environmental training, followed by a neighborhood search/clean-up for trash, and hopefully a replacement of the current trash areas to a designated/protected (far from the river) place. This is going to take a lot of time but they are committed to working each Saturday morning for the next two months already to hit each neighborhood so I am excited (I am so lucky to have motivated people to work with).
The biggest accomplishment for me and my post-mate this summer was our girl’s camp, or in French, “Colonie de Vacanes des Jeunes Filles de Banyo 2009.” We held it two weeks ago at the high school he teaches at. The hardest part of the camp was getting the girls to actually commit to coming. I think I said the word, “Colonie de Vacanes,” at least 3 times a day for the 2 months leading up to it. But all the hard work paid off as SIXTY GIRLS ended up coming. Our goal was 40, I couldn’t believe it!!!! It was a major success and I am already planning on what next years will be like. I was most happy that I got 10 girls from my neighborhood to come (and one day 11!). My favorite part of the day was the walk from my house to the center market area where we met all the other girls before we took the bus out together to the school. Most neighborhood girls arrived at my house before 6:30 am every day!! On the walk to the center everyone would ask where the girls were going, what they were doing, etc. It was very liberating to say they are going to school for the morning and the girls were pretty proud too. We did information sessions with the girls (health, goals, planning for the future, role models), taught and played soccer, had a snack time, and then a creative session (dance, drawing, and skits) each day. The final day we had a small closing ceremony where we passed out certificates and took photos. It was mad chaos at times but I am really happy we did it. I began a Thursday afternoon girl’s group a few months ago and the camp has helped a lot with attendance and ideas (plus, the parents allowing them to come to my house and maybe, maybe one day allow them to play soccer with me in the neighborhood). Before school let out for the summer, the Director of Sports at one of the high schools and one of my friends here helped me start a girl’s soccer club in Banyo open to all girls. I am really happy we did not wait for school to restart because about 15-20 girls come every Sunday to play. The Director and I are hopeful that we might get jerseys and have a few tournaments in the fall with a set of dedicated girls. I am really enjoying seeing the girl’s progress (I saw a trap, look, and good first touch pass the other day!) and hope we might be able to build it up enough to play other schools in the Adamaoua Province perhaps.
So, it has been a pretty busy summer but rewarding. I began taking French classes twice a week at night with a high school French teacher here which is helpful and something I really need to continue. I have been able to see a bit more of the country on my banking trips too. It is very beautiful during rainy season-hopefully I can post a few photos to show you.
I also have good news that I am coming home for Christmas, actually almost all of December. All things willing, I will arrive on December 5th in Traverse City, Michigan and then leave January 4th. It sounds like it is going to be a grand family reunion and I can’t wait (I am actually listening to Christmas music right now, haha). If you are going to be any where near northern Michigan for the holidays or can come for a visit I would love to see as many people as possible. I will be found huddled next to the wood cook stove eating large quantities of food :)
Thank you all who have sent letters and packages recently! I am so appreciative. And don’t worry, another water pipe broke today at my house and it took me two hours to pay my rent the other day so it is still life as usual here :)
I hope all is well on your side of the world. Please send news when you can.
Take care and enjoy the rest of summer,
Love to all-Anna