PC the PCV Thanksgiving Special

After arriving to Ngaoundere last Friday, I spent the week exploring the city and surrounding area biding time until my first Thanksgiving outside of the United States. The Peace Corps has a regional office in Ngaoundere, which serves as a transition house or hostel for volunteers passing through. By Thanksgiving Day, more than twenty volunteers arrived for the main event. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a Turkey.

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A view from Mt. Ngaoundere. As you can tell, the terrain is very different from training!

Cameroon and the Adamawa are known for many things. Turkey birds are not one of them, but by some miracle, we were able to connect with a farmer a few hours away who had just that. A few volunteers pooled money together to buy it from him. Needless to say, folks were excited, and inspired to make a delicious Thanksgiving feast!

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Two volunteers preparing gravy in the backyard (we had limited kitchen space!)

Thursday morning, another volunteer and I made french toast for everyone while others prepared the turkey and other foods for our feast. Cooking the turkey became a process. A volunteer brought her stovetop so we had an extra two burners to use for preparing green beans and mashed potatoes, etc., but you can’t really cook a turkey on the stovetop so we enlisted the help of a neighbor who has a more conventional oven. We hauled the turkey over to his house in a giant marmite and stopped over a few times over the next few hours to check on it and see how it was cooking. Because his stove is wood burning, our turkey got a little black from the smoke, but ended up turning out well! To haul it back to our house, we used a wheelbarrow and a few towels to keep it steady. I’m pretty sure that the people we passed en route were wondering why we didn’t just carry it on our heads, but there you go.

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Our feast!

To round out the meal, we each prepared something. Bruschetta, mashed potatoes, green beans, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, avocado salad, stuffing, mushroom lentils, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and a friend even prepared a chicken (she bought it live in the market!). In all, we had a real feast and each ate entirely too much, but had a great time doing so. 

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Swearing In

Back at Carleton November 18th was the last day of classes for the fall term. Here in Cameroon, November 18th was the last day of training, and the day that I swore in as a volunteer! That morning we met early and traveled to Yaoundé. The ceremony was on the lawn at the U.S. Embassy, which is situated near the golf course and is a pretty large campus. It was a beautiful sunny day, and my stage-mates all looked amazing in our matching pagne outfits.

A few days before, my neighbor and her host mom took us to a tailor in Mengong to get our dresses made. I felt a little unprepared to describe the dress I had in mind, but asked for a knee length dress with a side zipper and pocket, which is what I got! I’m pretty happy with the result:

Our stage's pagne

Our stage’s pagne (pardon my wet hair!)

The ceremony itself involved a few speeches, including those of three peers who spoke in Pidgin, Fulfulde, and French. Hearing them share about our challenges and successes over the past ten weeks (in languages that we didn’t know before arriving in September) filled me with pride for our stage, our experience, and Peace Corps. To be honest, I don’t remember much of what was said by the officials who spoke during the rest of our ceremony. Reflecting on my journey to where I am now, I found myself lost in thoughts ranging through excitement, trepidation, ambition and objectivity. While training was difficult, there was something nice about the familiarity of the routine and being near others who were going through the same thing. After this day, my next two years will be full of lots of challenges and new experiences completely different from everyone else in that tent. It’s a big thing to internalize in the middle of taking an oath to serve as a volunteer, but I feel optimistic about what lies ahead.

After the ceremony ended, we had a delicious buffet featuring grilled chicken, potato salad, coleslaw and chocolate chip cookies. We all ate way too much, and enjoyed the familiarity of our favorite foods. It helped that the weather here always feels like July. Picnic food and sunshine in the Embassy, it was hard to remember we were in the middle of November in Cameroon, and not at the neighbor’s pool in the middle of summer.

We also went to the Peace Corps office where we took the Peace Corps oath, toured the office, and saw the Yaounde transition house for volunteers, before returning to Mengong for one final night in Mengong.

Since then, I have spent the past week in Ngaoundere, the regional capital of Adamawa, and will be going to my post on Friday, after celebrating Thanksgiving with volunteers. So far we have gone to the markets, visited a nearby lake, climbed Mt. Ngaoundere, and cooked as a group. I will not have internet at post, but you can look forward to some great posts in about a month, about my first few weeks in Danfili!

My host family on the morning of swearing in

My host family on the morning of swearing in