Danfili: Day One

The days leading up to getting to post were exhausting. We spent a few days in the regional capital, Ngaoundere, for Thanksgiving and got to know a lot of the other volunteers posted near me. Four of my stagemates are in the same general cluster as me, so we all took the train together to Ngaoundal, which is about 45 minutes east of my village. We got in around 11 pm (which is way passed my Cameroonian bedtime), and helped Terry move into his house and promptly fell asleep.


6:30 am: In the morning, I woke with nervous anticipation. I was finally going to village. What will it be like? What will the people I meet think of me? What is my house like? So many unknowns were about to be discovered, which is an exhilarating, scary experience.

9:30 am: After a quick breakfast with Terry and his landlord, we grabbed my things from his house and headed for the car park to find a bush taxi headed for Danfili. Apparently, so were 7 other folks. After waiting for a while, we loaded the car and headed out.

Driving to Danfili!

Driving to Danfili!

10:30 am: Half way into the car ride, we let out a few passengers, making the car load a more comfortable five people.

11:00 am: Rolling up to Danfili. The plan was to meet my counterpart Astadicko at the Danfili Integrated Health Center, which is where I work. Luckily, it is right on the main road, so the car was able to drop me off just in front. As the car drove up, I saw Asta approach the road and felt so relieved to see her. During training we met during  a two-day counterpart workshop, and I was happy to see that she was happy to see me!

Every PCV is paired with a community counterpart. They are generally people who are motivated about development and work in the same sector as a  volunteer. When I go to conferences about various development topics throughout service, I will be able to bring a counterpart with me to also learn the skills and concepts behind the trainings. Some counterparts of other health volunteers are nurses, health center directors, or health educators. My counterpart, Astadicko, is a community health mobilizer. When we have vaccine campaigns, distribute mosquito nets, or have other health information to mass distribute, she and a team of others are trained in and then go door-to-door to reach everyone in the community.

10:05 am: We hugged and walked my stuff up to the center, where there were patients, staff and some community mobilizers gathered. I introduced myself to everyone, not knowing who anyone was, or if any of them knew I was coming. I think I must have looked like a cross-eyed goldfish suddenly plopped into a bowl of fresh water.

10:30 am: Asta ordered a motorcycle to bring me and my things to my concession, where I was met by my landlord and neighbor, Da Hawa. ‘Da’ is Fulfulde for ‘big sister’ but is usually used to greet an older woman. She and Astadicko’s husband are siblings. Da’s children are all grown and live in other areas of the country, but she has been taking care of a little girl, also named Hawa.

The entrance to our concession

The entrance to our concession

10:30 am: Da happily greeted me with a hug and a handshake, then helped me open the door to my house. I spent a few minutes organizing my things and looking around at what the previous PCV left for me before I heard a ‘mew’ from a tiny little cat at the door.

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My little blue house

10:40 am: It turns out that not only did the previous volunteer leave me a great set-up for my house, she also left me a pet! Meet Peanut!

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12:00 pm: Astadicko’s son, a 19-year-old named Nyadong, arrived to see how I was doing. He spent a lot of time with the previous PCV, and has visited me at least one time every day since I arrived. Gratefully, Nyadong helped me hang up my mosquito net, air out some bedding, and get some eggs for a lunch omelette.

3:00 pm: A few other members of Astadicko’s family arrived to see how I was settling in. I had been resting a little from the heat and general fatigue that settles in after finally arriving to a destination, but alas, these kids had different ideas. Luckily, before leaving the States, my mom and I got a deck of “Go Fish” cards that I let the kids play on my floor while I tried to learn their names.

4:00 pm: During the next hour, I received visits from a few other community members, including one of the teachers at the high school, and a man called Bamanga who worked with the previous volunteer on many projects during her time in Danfili. He is an original member of a group called ‘Les Hommes Dynamiques,’ a group of enthusiastic men in the community who have received training on various topics surrounding healthy pregnancy, the importance of prenatal consultations, and the values of birth spacing. We made plans to visit later in the week to talk more.

5:00 pm: Nyadong returned and shooed all of the kids away. He showed me the well where I fetch water, and then we went to his family’s house to see his mom.

5:20 pm: Arriving at Astadicko’s house, we sat in the yard and I met the rest of her family. She has seven kids, as does her sister-wife, and some of them have kids! I’ll be honest, I still haven’t gotten all of their names down, but they sure know my name. I guess that’s a benefit of being a newly arrived PCV; people tend to know your name, even before you meet.

6:00 pm: After spending some time with Asta’s family and talking with the kids, I excused myself to go back to my house before dark and to figure out my dinner.

My living room doubles as a guest room (hint)

My living room doubles as a kitchen and a very comfortable guest room (hint)

6:20 pm: Back at my house, I began to look through my reserves that I bought for my first week at post, and am about to start making dinner when Da announces she’s at the door and walks in. She prepared couscous and a sauce for me! I thank her as best as I can in Fulfulde (‘Useko’) and chow down on the mostly unfamiliar, but tasty dinner.

7:30 pm: Nyadong arrives again to see how I’m doing. I realize that if I pay a neighbor, I can use his generator for electricity in the evenings. Nyadong and I decide to try and find him later in the week to get this set up, and I teach him how to play the card game War (‘La Guerre’).

8:30 pm: Nyadong excuses himself for the night, and we make plans to meet up the next day to visit some members of the community and see the town.

9:00 pm: After letting Peanut out for the night and getting a little settled in, I hit the pillow and am asleep so fast, you’d think I spent the whole day in a new place meeting new people!

 

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PC the PCV Opens a Bank Account

Banking in Cameroon is a complicated endeavor. There are many banks in the country, but there are five most reputable for Americans to use. In all of Adamawa (a fairly large geographic area), there are two banks that Peace Corps allows its volunteers to use.

From my post, the nearest bank is in Ngaoundere, which takes a while to get to. To travel by bus takes 8-12 hours but we are encouraged to traveling to Ngaoundere by train. The trip by train is only three hours, but due to its schedule (the train to Ngaoundal stops at my station at 4am and on the way home it drops me off at 11pm), I get to bookend each banking trip with a sleepover with a volunteer who is closer to the train station.

During my first trip to the bank to open an account, I felt like I stepped into a different world. There was air conditioning! And a television was playing music videos! There was a water cooler, and the bank tellers were all dressed to the nines. Opening an account was not all too different from the United States, and the teller I worked with was very kind and patient with me throughout the process. My friends and I were the last clients of the day so they locked us in and we exited through the back with the employees. (That took a minute to realize, at first we wondered “why did they lock us in!!??”)

To take out money from the bank, I can expect to wait anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours before being seen. I learned my lesson the first time, and always go to the bank with a book. Checking account cards exist, but the wait to receive one is long, six to nine months! In general stores are not equipped for credit cards, but the card will make it much easier to withdraw money from the bank. 

I will do a post about currency soon, stay tuned! 

A Closer Look at Mengong

As I round out my first week in Danfili and am not able to post this week, I thought I would publish a post I had drafted showing photos of Mengong. A few of you had asked about the climate and terrain of where I was for training, so I hope this helps paint a clearer picture of my surroundings.

  1. The Mengong training center
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Here is a view of our outdoor classroom for training in Mengong. There were a few rooms inside the building as well, but this space most comfortably fit all of the health volunteers and our trainers. The building itself is situated amongst a few families’ homes, and the man who rented it to us often dried cacao beans outside the house. Our training sessions received many visitors, including ducks, dogs, goats, passing motorbikes (they didn’t usually stop, but were noisy and the road is nearby), babies, and neighborhood children after they got out of school.  We saw ducks chase dogs, kids pee in the yard, mamas hanging laundry, and lots of epic rainstorms.

  1. My house
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    I think I posted a photo of the kitchen before, but here is a better view. In the hanging basket at the top of the photo you can see a straw car that some of the kids made. They are so creative!

Here is my host family’s home. The papa constructed the house a number of years ago, and not too long ago, they built the walls a little higher and replaced the roof. The table on the right is brought in front of the door during rain to help keep water from coming through the entryway.

  1. My front yard

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Another important setting for my future sitcom. This is where Phoebe tries to bond with the boys by playing soccer and Frisbee with them after school and on the weekend. This is also where Phoebe learns how to properly rinse soap out of her clothes when doing laundry by hand and hanging it on the line. As you can see, Mengong is very green this time of year from all of the rain.

  1. The latrine

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The little building on the left. Speaks for itself, I should think. Not shown: The hole in the ground (you’re welcome). Also worth noting, the bushes to the left are where my family throws waste water and food scraps. There are often dogs and chickens wandering around in there.

  1. The road to the Health Center

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Here is a rough patch of roadway around Mengong. I learned during training that only about 4,000km of roads in Cameroon are paved; 45,000km are like the ones pictured here. This picture was taken the morning after it rained all night, and the puddles aren’t this bad everywhere, but its definitely different from the spring potholes in Minnesota.

  1. Ebolowa training center

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Ebolowa is an oasis, clearly. Even if it didn’t have internet! I love the view here. This is taken from one of the rooms where we have training sessions.

  1. Host moms!

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Here are two photos from the party we threw for our formateurs and host families to thank them for an awesome training. The first is me and my french class with our favorite formature Hilde. The second is me and my nearest neighbor Beccah, with our host families.