Sunday, October 26, 2008

Every day is a journey

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
- Matsuo Basho

I've been struggling a little bit in figuring out what to write on this blog, because although each and every day here is full of new and ridiculous and wonderful adventures, reducing the experiences to a few words that will mean something to anyone else is a little tricky. So today I'm going to try to describe something of my daily life here, though no two days are the same, hoping some of the wonder and novelty and randomness comes across.

Most days I wake up around 5:30 to the call to prayer from the Mosque across town, in time to see the incredible colors left over from the sunrise and bask in the 70° morning air which will heat to 90° or more over the next hour. The next 15 minutes or so are the closest thing I get to silence throughout the day, as the village is only beginning to wake up. By 6:00 life is happening at full speed as my brother and sisters wash themselves and the dishes in the courtyard and my father ushers the goats out into the street to begin their day of grazing around the neighborhood. By 6:45 I'm sitting down to a breakfast which alternates between fried dough, pain au chocolat and an omelet, all with hot, sugary tea. After breakfast it's off to the Peace Corps training center behind my brother and sisters headed to school. It's about a 10 minute walk from my house to the center, and one of the other volunteers made the really brilliant analogy that most days it feels like the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast as someone shouts, "Bonjour!" every 5 or 6 steps and little children run up to shake our hands.

Training consists of multiple hours of language class as well as technical skills training given by current Peace Corps Volunteers and cross-cultural and medical presentations from Peace Corps staff. Our new favorite person is the women who sits just outside the gate of the Peace Corps compound selling bags of peanuts the size of a fist for 25 FCFA, about $0.05. The little finds like this (they come in a sugar-roasted variety too!), or the cheese that doesn't have to be refrigerated, have become our big daily victories as we try to create a little bit of similarity to home away from home here in Africa.

After school we usually head out for bike rides, play soccer or grab a cold drink at one of the local bars before heading home to our families around 6, as the sun goes down and the bats the size of small dogs and the mosquitos start to come out. I eat a dinner of couscous and sauce and then watch spanish soap operas dubbed into French for a while before having a wonderfully cool bucket bath under the stars and going to bed to BBC World News at 9, tucked safely away under my mosquito net.

So that's the average day, though no day is really average, what with dying lizards falling out of trees onto my classmates heads, US presidential election absentee ballots being hand-delivered to us on a Sunday afternoon at a party to benefit Chadian refugees or motorcycles carrying three people and a bleating goat flying by. Life is never boring, and I hope reading about it hasn't been!

Thanks for all your messages and thoughts, it's wonderful to hear from friends and family around the world. You are all in my thoughts frequently, each step of this journey.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On est ensemble

(Written 10.05)

On est ensemble. Three simple words of greeting given to us by our health trainers which encompass so much more. Literally translated as We are together it's a phrase which describes the general sentiment around training these days pretty well. We are together....a lot.....learning language, sweating profusely, sharing many of the same struggles and victories as we progress through the weeks. I've been in Cameroon for just over two weeks now – a quantification that doesn't begin to match up with my sense of time these days. In many ways it seems so much more than 2 weeks ago that I first stepped off the plane in Douala and into the 100 degree heat, remembering little of my French from high school and completely clueless about the culture or the country I was walking into. Two weeks later finds me living with a Cameroonian family of 8, rattling off French and Fulfulde greetings to my friends and neighbors every time I walk out the door, dodging goats and motorcycles with similar frequency-- and on multiple occasions simultaneously --as I walk to school, and perfecting the art of the bucket shower under the stars at the end of each sweaty, crazy day. In two weeks I've already learned and experienced so much...I've learned to appreciate the late afternoon downpour that breaks the 100+ degree heat, the stranger who invites me into their home to share their Ramadan meal. I've learned to wash my clothes by hand in a bucket and eat with my hands and (kind of) bargain for prices in the market, and so much more. Life is pretty simple, and pretty awesome in its novelty so far.