Aside from developing a strong love for papayas (in addition to a collection—I’ve been gifted three already), spaghetti omelets, and bonbons au lait (I’m convinced the milk powder on the outside is laced with crack—they are that addictive), I have been busy with training along with the following mischiefs and mishaps, which are more or less organized by weeks below:
Part I: Site Visits
The best part about site visits (aside from the food and the break from classroom time) was being able to see projects that I might actually be implementing in my own village next year. For example, the girl we visited took us to her care group. In this group she teaches them lessons about nutrition, hand washing, breastfeeding, etc. After the mothers master the lesson, as demonstrated by their ability to teach another mother, the PCV provides them with a laminated card with images relating to the topic and then they are expected to teach ten households the same lesson. Thus, through teaching the ten original mothers, it is possible to reach one hundred households, multiplying the effect of the original lesson, in addition to training these mothers on how to train others.
When we arrived, the mothers were so excited about our visit that they presented all the lessons they had learned, performed a skit for us on malaria (that the PCV had shown them several weeks prior) and gave us this ginormous platter of bananas. Their excitement was contagious. It was one of the most heartwarming experiences I’ve had in country.
We also we able to see the health center where her counterpart works and watch her present a small animation on malaria during pregnancy to a group of expecting women before their prenatal consultations. Additionally, on the first day we were able to watch the distribution of the PlumpyNut, a nutrient rich substance given for free to malnourished children by an NGO. (Think granola bar that Cady gives Regina in Mean Girls.)
Unlike the original 6-hour delay, the train ride back was relatively painless (aside from the train booking our room thrice-over). We arrived in Yaoundé, depot-ed (rented the whole) taxi to the coast bus station and managed to catch the bus back. Of course (being the curse-as I was on my ABP trip last spring), there was car trouble. Unfortunately, we did not have all the equipment for changing a flat tire, so we waited by the side of the road for two hours until another car took pity on us and let us borrow theirs.
I never thought I would be genuinely overjoyed to see Mengong, but arriving and knowing that I could shower and sleep within the hour was the best.
Part II: Coverpots and Mamiwaters
Of course, the day after we returned from site visits, we had school. Fortunately, one of the Pidgin classes came back singing a song about coverpots and mamiwaters. What are those? Good question. A coverpot is a stingray because it looks like something that would cover a pot (logically) and a mamiwater is a mermaid. As much as I enjoy Fulfuldé and the fact verb conjugations do not change depending on the subject, Pidgin never ceases to amuse me. For example, chop means food. But it is also the verb “to eat.” Thus, one could say, “I chop chop.” However, if someone says they want to chop your mouth, you should run, unless you want to kiss them. That said, if someone says, “I chop big pussy,” it is not necessarily something sexual. The just are eating big cats, which people do up in the Northwest.
We ended the week by going on a grand hike en brousse, led by the host brother of a friend, the one and only Chris Wadel. In addition to freestyle-ing for us on the way up (rapping with a heavy emphasis on his name: Chris. Wah-del. Wah-del. Wah-del.), he showed us his family’s cocoa trees, meaning we could munch on the fruit part of it on the way up. When we finally arrived (at what you might ask, don’t worry we also were confused) he took off his shirt and shoes and went swimming in the river. Desiring to avoid schisto, we Americans just stood on the bank wondering if the whole point of the hike was just to watch Chris swim. It may have been, we still aren’t sure. On the way back though, we were forced to cross a massive swarm of biting ants, so the sounds of nature were peppered with “aggh” and “ouch!” Overall, it was a good day.
The following day I told my family I preferred to pray at home and would not be going to church. (To which my sister enthusiastically responded with a “Good for you!”) Instead, I spent the morning washing my clothes, attempting to wash dishes (apparently I do that wrong according to my brother), and cooking for my little brother and his friends. They enjoyed the omelet, but felt the tea needed more sugar. Three sugar cubes each later, they convinced me to go for a wheelbarrow ride with them. I’m not sure what words would do the image justice, but just imagine me being pushed in a wheelbarrow by three little kids; the neighbors thought it was hilarious.
The day ended with a group of us trainees going to a friend’s host uncle’s party. Louie, who owns the bar where we usually hang out at after class, decided to throw a huge party because of his sister (still unsure why), but the whole family was there. Apparently, everywhere my friend turned, there was another uncle (though it doesn’t help that Cameroonians call almost everyone brother or sister). As everyone was fairly inebriated (there were some mamas who were a bit too excited to see me), we focused on dancing with the children who generally would mimic everything you do. The goal is to have at least three others copying you at a time, like tiny dancing minions.
Part III: Baby Poop and Cows
The excitement of this week begins with the animation on exclusive breastfeeding that my group presented at the local health center. WHO recommends that all mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months as it provides all the nutrients that a baby needs, in addition to being important to the development of the baby’s immune system (especially the colostrum). Breastfeeding is also defined as a high impact intervention due to its many benefits. Thus, we decided it was an important topic to present to our audience of women with infants who were waiting for vaccines. Overall, the presentation went fairly well, but there were questions that we were not prepared for, such as the mother who asked why her baby’s poop was yellow after breastfeeding. As I am not an expert on baby poop, I hadn’t the slightest idea what to say. Fortunately, one of my friends in the group is a nurse and she explained that a baby’s first poop is often described as “black and tarry,” but once it starts breastfeeding it becomes more yellow-y. So now you know.
Later that night, I was watching the news with my family when a story about someone calling Obama gay came on, because Obama defends gay rights. “Jess! Obama! Is Obama a homosexual?” To which I said no and tried to explain that he was just called that because he defends gay rights. This then led to an argument about homosexuality, with my family saying it was a choice, the work of satan, etc. and me trying to explain that it was innate and not a bad thing. Thirty minutes later, I was exhausted and frustrated (a natural reaction to hitting one’s head against a wall, hoping it would budget), but I realized something: I can’t change the culture (especially through arguing), which is one of the many Peace Corps sayings. And I’m not here for that. I can have dialogues, but I’m here to change health behaviors, which (hopefully) people are more open to learning.
Other random facts:
-There is a man who lets his herd of cows feed in the yard of the training center in Ebolowa. I attempted to befriend the cows, but they all reject the grass I picked for them.
-The other night my family asks me if I know this film, because “Obama!” I grab the film and see it’s about conspiracy theories surrounding Obama, Sarkozy and the Da Vinci Code. At least that’s what I judged from the cover, but then my sister tells me it’s a horror film. And then it opens with a very pornographic seen of a woman in a pool. Ergo, the only horror porno about Obama/Sarkozy/Da Vinci Code conspiracies that I know to be in existence is here, in my house, in Cameroon. Unfortunately (or fortunately), my older sister came in at that point and switched it to the SyFy channel.
-“Donner un plantain chaud” is slang for to have sex. Aka a boy would literally say he gave a hot plantain to someone, adding a whole new dimension to lunchtime here.