Field Notes

Mimicry in Mengong

With one week left until swearing in, I have realized there is a part of me that is hesitant to leave Mengong.

For the most part, these reasons are good. Training resembled study abroad, in that I made new friends, I ate new foods, and everyday was an adventure or at least something that would make for a good story later, all which brings me to my first reason. The past nine weeks have consisted of spending copious amounts of time with others—time that has been scheduled for me—and the sudden shift to living alone in a new village will be drastic. That said, the introvert in me is secretly excited to have alone time again.

The second reason is that training did not always have the safety buffer one would expect. Though class was often approached with the same laisser-faire attitude one has towards classes that do not count for a GPA, the fact that the village was real and not solely the environment for our training was lost somewhere in between the assigned acronyms: the TDAs, the LPIs and the IEPs.

The health stage trained in Mengong for multiple reasons, but the most relevant to this blog post is that Mengong is a small village, much like the ones we might be going to. Not only does it mimic the size of our future villages, it also features similar health issues.  In fact, it would be a good post for a volunteer.

During training we were given opportunities to explore and discover these issues. Whether through surveying community members about malaria, participating in a nutrition assessment at the local école, presenting an animation on health at the local hospital or interviewing our host families, the theory taught in the class, slowly became much more tangible; however, it did not become real until the younger host brother of a fellow stagemate passed away a few weeks ago.

Why? I still am unsure, but I do know there were many points of intervention that might have saved his life. Perhaps he could have been taken to the hospital sooner. Perhaps if there were better hand washing he would not have fallen sick. (Or perhaps it was malaria, which can also be prevented.) Perhaps if he had received better nutrition throughout his life his immune system would have been able to fight off the illness better.

As life likes to time these things, we received the news an hour or so before we were supposed to present to our community group on malaria. On one hand, the feeling of “This. This is why we are here.” was present, but it had a bitter aftertaste. Although that is why we are in Cameroon, it is not the reason we are in Mengong. We are in Mengong for ten weeks to train and then we depart for post, leaving the village and its health issues more or less how we found them.

The irony is that Peace Corps aims to be sustainable. It is the reason we spend two years at post and then, hopefully, will be replaced by another volunteer so the work can be continued. But, of course, the volunteer has to be trained and what better way to be trained than in an actual real-life Cameroonian village?

I have no solution to the above conundrum, only a firmer grasp that convenient mimicry in Mengong is no façade or stage for our training, but real.

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