Here, it is always a different facet of summer: rainy summer days, sunny summer days, cloudy summer days–sometimes all three at the same time–humid summer days, early frigid summer mornings, chilly summer nights, miserable summer days, perfect summer days. 366 days of summer. And in order to celebrate this anniversary, I decided to interview myself since I already spend a lot of time talking to myself anyhow and that fact was bound to come out on the blog sooner or later.
Below, a blend of questions commonly received by peers, googled and asked by interviewers.
“Good day Jessica, to start this interview, let’s start with the classic question: Tell me a bit about yourself.”
Well I go by Jess (strange you haven’t realized that yet, being as we are the same person) and I am currently a health volunteer in Ngatt, Cameroon. Mosquitoes and petits really seem to like me and I am still unsure why.
“What has most surprised you about being here?”
There is peanut butter. Homemade, Whole Foods quality, natural, delicious peanut butter.
“What is the weirdest thing about Cameroon?”
The disconnect between describing things here and how they are perceived back home. I have friends diminish their struggles believing that are less important than my daily “struggles” of no electricity, no running water and limited vegetables, which is not true. I signed up for this.
Or they think my life is much more intense and exciting than it is. For example, I told someone how I was upset because sheep ate my entire soy field and received the following response–Oh no! Will you have food for the year?–which is a gross over-calculation of how important this field was. Although I have a garden, I do not need to grow food for my own survival. Peace Corps Volunteers are pretty badass, but not that badass. (Or at least not in that way.)
Oh and we fit 9 adults in a car (not including children, babies, live goats, live chickens and other luggage). I guess that is pretty weird too.
“What has been the highest and the lowest moments in country?”
Lowest? It is a three-way tie between being stuck on the train for 18 hours, having scabies, and my most recent trip to Yaoundé: Riding second-class (already overcrowded) without a seat and sleeping with my luggage on the floor in a corner, surrounded by other Cameroonians eating fish. That was not a fun night, although, surprisingly enough, I managed to sleep through parts of it.
Highest? MONKEYS!, when it does not rain and meetings and work happens (for example, activities with my women’s group), discovering new ways to eat my staple ingredients peanut butter and onions (piment peanut butter fried noodles is my new favorite), having a baby named after me, bonding with my health center staff, neighbors, and friends.
“Favorite food here?”
Haako folere bee niryri butali. (Peanut-y sauce with hibiscus leaves and other veggies, eaten with a giant glob corn flour couscous aka giant flour blobs that you make into smaller balls, which you dip in the sauce.) Also kossam, the local yogurt, milk and milk candies. (I like all three.)
“How would your
boss counterpart describe you?”
It really depends on which counterpart. Here are a selected few.
Moussa, nursing assistant at Ngatt’s health center: “Strange, but kind, runs a lot, knits a lot. Does not stay on motos very well. Has a lot of ideas for projects. Hard worker, but seems to want us to implement most of her ideas.”
Aï Jeannette, farmer: “Ah yes, the nasara. For some reason wants to work in the rain. Does not know much about farming, but took me to this awesome gardening training. She’s also pretty quiet. I always keep having to tell her to causer.”
Amadou Bello, tailor: “Quiet, but kind. Took me to the fanciest training in Kribi where I made a lot of money and bought a new phone and new clothes. Keeps pestering me about giving talks about HIV prevention, but the community does not seem too interested; however, I am excited for us to got out with HIV test, if she can manage to acquire them for the regional district hospital.”
Djika Etienne, nightguard at health center: “Kind, but does not seem to want to work with me. Was annoyed with me when I forgot to mobilize people for a meeting. She also was mad when I asked her for 100 CFA for food and then bought a sachet of alcohol instead. But she brings gifts back to the health center, so I guess she’s okay.”
Richard “Kumbo” Sodea: “Pretty great. Brings bonbons to the hospital when she comes back from trips. FINALLY agreed to teach me English in exchange for helping her with Malaria Skillz, where we work with small children and use soccer as a way to teach malaria prevention. Although we have not done too much because of the rain and she is always traveling.”
“How many days have you gone without showering?”
“How would you convince someone to do something they didn’t want to do?”
If they had already committed themselves to the activity? Pester them endlessly with reminders. Call them. Find them at home. Talk to someone who has power over them. Become such a nuisance they cannot forget.
If it is a positive behavior change? Education and encouragement.
If they don’t want to, there’s no previous commitment, and no negative impact from the lack of action? Leave them be. I have better ways to allocate my time.
“What was the last gift you gave someone?”
Soup packets, chocolate, a dried sausage, and coffee to other volunteers. Laundry detergent, apples and candy to my landlord’s family and his brothers family. Candy to the health center workers, candy to my counterpart(s), candy to my neighbors. Not only is leaving village expensive, coming back to village has a price.
“Describe to me the process and benefits of wearing a seatbelt.”
Ha. Good one.
“What is more important – completing a job on time or doing it right?”
Doing it right? Not sure how many projects I have actually completed here “on time”…? What does that mean? You cannot plan for rain.
“What kinds of people do you find it difficult to work with?”
“Describe how you allocate your time and set your priorities on a typical day.”
I have a very strict schedule that I keep religiously (with plenty of time allocation for surprises). Tea is always a priority, work, less so. I wake up when the cock crows (the sun is rising, as opposed to the other times the cock crows). I then run. Next I bathe. Then I eat breakfast, drink tea and read for two hours. I then meander up to the health center where I knit for at least three hours. If there are enough people, we might give a talk on a health topic (but not on raining days-of course). Then I wander back to the house where I might visit a neighbor for lunch or cook lunch. This is followed by boiling another pot of tea, which will be drunk as I read or coloring. After I then start yoga and get ready for bed where I read until I fall asleep.
Oh and on Wednesday, if it is not raining, my counterpart and I use soccer to teach children malaria prevention. And on Sundays (if it is not raining) I meet with the women’s group.
“What type of tasks do you feel you cannot delegate?”
Um…communication with Peace Corps? As my goal is capacity building and sustainability, I feel the ideal is to delegate as much as possible.
“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.'”-Lao Tzu
(“There’s a Chinese proverb that says there is a Chinese proverb for everything”-the Internet)
“Are you a better planner or implementer?”
Definitely a planner. Still haven’t figured out how to mobilize people in rain (see above), but my rescheduling abilities are phenomenal.
“Have you grown in the past year?”
I certainly hope so. I definitely believe my self-care has improved. If I am not feeling good, I have to confront why. I cannot avoid it through being busy with work and social life. I need to figure out if it is something physical (such as illness) or mental and if I can do anything about it or how I can live with it.
(Still haven’t printed it out and hung it up like I was planning to, but a reliable and familiar resource.)
Additionally, I think I am more patient. Except when it comes to food. I want to my smoothie/spaghetti omelette/etc. now, especially after a long train ride.
“Describe your accomplishments over the past year.”
In no particular order:
-Can now do headstands. Sort of.
-Can communicate basic things in Fulfuldé
-Moved halfway around the world
-Started projects in village
-Can bake using a dutch oven
-Successfully opened wine using a shoe
-Built a sandcastle on a beach in Limbe with a Cameroonian who said he was an architect and an artist and was very invested in the aesthetics of the final result. (Sorry no pictures.)
-Touched a cow
“Um. I see. Thank you for your time. We’ll check back in a year to see if your life gets any more interesting.”