Monday, June 13, 2011

enfin, quelques photos

Use this link to check out a selection of my photos from the semester!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

worth a 1,000 words

pictures are coming soon!

you say goodbye, I say hello

Bye Bye…
-Calling everyone ‘maman’ or ‘ma soeur’
-saying hello to everyone on the street; being able to hold a conversation with anyone I meet
-never being able to blend in
-passing groups of matching 5 year-olds walking themselves to school
-buying cheap snacks on the street
-people peeing on the side of the road
-beautiful green scenery and hills
-sweating at the sight of babies and kids wearing long sleeves and snowcaps in 80degree weather
-my daily baby-blue malaria pill….NOT. I have to take it for four more weeks after I get home.
-Manuella’s precious ‘fro that feels like Build-a-Bear stuffing and her oversized-outy bellybutton; Magnus’ strong opinions (fact based? Maybe…); Therese’s pregnant-ness and prissiness
-drinking ‘juice’ all the time. And when we say ‘juice’, we mean ‘pop’. And when I say ‘pop’, I mean the Real.Deal—glass bottles, not wimpy cans. TOP Ananas and TOP Pamplemousse, I will miss you!! (Pineapple and Grapefruit flavored pop)
-our group ringtone
-playing “the game” (polygamous and deuxieme bureau version, of course!)
-pretending I actually watch El Diablo when someone references it so that I don’t seem lame
-joking about being a ‘case study’ at next semester’s SIT orientation
-girls drooling over Bobo and Able
-Paul Biya’s picture plastered everywhere
-watching tv all the time; singing along to all the commercials
-the runs!! (too much info? Sorry)
-crappy pens and everyone’s constant efforts to sneakily steal them (there might be a relation between these two things now that I think about it…)
-dreaming of my next order for my tailor
-delicious papaya, pineapple, mango, avocado, fresh chicken…heck, I might even miss cassava
-my constant amazement at Cameroonians’ balancing-things-on-the-head skills
-people asking me if my freckles/moles/zits are mosquito bites
-horrible roads, dangerous driving
-taking taxis (with their nearly-always Jesus-y exterior, and sometimes-fuzzy interior). Frequently shutting my long skirts in the door, sometimes arguing with the driver if he doesn’t realize I already know the normal price of a ride.
-dropping “1,000” here and “1,000” there when shopping or eating
-the handshake with the snap that I’m just starting to grasp
-penciled-on eyebrows
-Bobo saying “ok guys, I’ve got your money” (for our weekly lunch stipend, etc)
-the concept of village life and all it entails (tontines, marriages with dowries, “funerailles”…)
-straight-faced photos
-child labor
-strong sense of financial responsibility for one’s siblings
-nose picking in public
-sleeping in my mosquito tent!! (weird!)
-using 2-in-1 shampoo (not so gentle on the hair…)
-wives’ dependency on their husbands for cash
-kids’ complete disregard for gendered clothing/backpacks
-that animal that makes the nose that sounds like the Catchphrase buzzer!

-stoplights, street names, street signs, addresses, and maps
-bathrooms with toilets, toilet seats, toilet paper, sinks, running water, trash cans, and mirrors
-warm showers
-five-bar internet that is actually fast
-full-sized refrigerators…full of food
-pizza, pasta, Mexican food, dairy products
-processed food
-not stressing over how to get change for a $10 or $20 bill
-non-cash currency
-spare keys
-seeing a dog without screaming “ah! Rabies!” in my head
-staying out after 6:30pm (!)
-sleeping through the night and sleeping in (I hope?!?)

[Dirt] Wall[s], Waterfall[s], Girl You Think You Know it All…

Well, this is it. All the goodbyes have been said. I’m sitting in the President’s Club in the DC airport (thanks dad!!) sipping wine and eating trailmix and carrots. Haven’t seen those in awhile…other long lost friends rediscovered on the plane included: salad, twix, cheese, and juice.
Though I’ve calmed down a bit during my last two flights, here’s what I wrote during my first one-->

[On the way to the airport:]
Me: Weird.
Nathaniel: I’ve never felt this way about leaving a place before.
Me: me neither.

What do I mean exactly? I’m not sure…I’m still trying to figure it out. I know, though, that it has something to do with not being ready to leave.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized how attached I had grown; it wasn’t until very recently that I realized I still have so much to learn here.
I started processing how I feel about leaving about a week ago, but I know there’s still a lot of reflecting to come…
First of all, I’ve learned a TON here. It is the most incredible feeling to enter a country you know Nothing about, and be able to fly away 3 ½ months later talking about its culture, its people, its food, its geography, its politics, its accents, its strengths/weaknesses, its history… To enter and think ‘yewww…these streets are over stimulated and grimy!’, but leave feeling comfortable strolling them. To enter thinking ‘yeah! Traveling is fun, but I’ll never live permanently abroad’ and to leave thinking ‘well….maybe…’
I learned big things (what is international development? What is generosity?), I learned little things (how do you eat a mango without a knife? How do you barter?), and I learned inbetween things too (how do you adapt to diverse eating and hygiene habits?).
And something that took me by surprise, is that I got much more comfortable speaking French—don’t be fooled, this is thanks to the welcome offered by Cameroonians and not my skill.

I didn’t really know what to expect of my semester or of Cameroon. Though I knew it would be an excellent experience, I also knew it might be really challenging. I read a former SIT Cameroon student’s blog a week or so before leaving, and she concluded by summing up the semester as “trying”. With my departure looming, this wasn’t very comforting. One of her pictures showed her “bathroom”—a bucket—and I thought “whoa! That’s crazy! but that won’t be me…”
I can easily see how someone could walk away from the semester and call it “trying”’; in fact, several students in my group are—but that doesn’t mean they use the term in a negative fashion. It is not, however, the word I’m going to use. I’m grateful for this, and I think it hinges a lot on my previous semester in Nantes and I’ll that I learned there.
SO. What IS my word of choice?
Well, to be honest, it’s not really mine. I’m going to steal from Araba and describe my time here as ENRICHING. I’m going to add by stealing from Ellen and say “it has raised more questions than it has answered”. And finally I’m going to say something original by addressing the “was it life changing?” question. I think every newly encountered idea, attitude, belief, custom, question, or experience changes one’s life a bit. I just so happens that I encountered these new things at a more rapid pace than usual, and consequently my life was changing more quickly than usual.

As I said, I’m suddenly unsure about leaving. To be perfectly honest, my concern is two-fold. Not only am I uncertain about being away from Cameroon, but I’m also uncertain about coming home. Odd! I’ve never felt that before…
Ultimately I know I’ll adapt right back into the swing of things, but I’m mentally preparing myself for a bit of a transition. I want to give you a glimpse of what’s running through my mind and my friends’ so that you have the fullest picture possible of my study abroad semester, and so that you’ll be patient with me as I shift back to live here in the USofA.
-First, even if people back home know a lot about my trip (yeah! Like you, my faithful readers!), the reality is that they were not here with me. They cannot really relate to my experiences. I appreciate their sympathy, but that doesn’t mean they can empathize. There’s nothing I can do about it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be frustrating.
-I want to get back into things without compromising what I’ve learned. Will I be able to hold tight onto all that I’ve learned? Or will it slip away from me when I’m miles and miles away from Cameroon?
-I’m going to miss not only my Cameroonian friends, but my SIT friends too!!
-What if my everyday life seems a bit duller?
-Will I be able to look at US prices without having a heart attack ??!?
-Will I be(more) impatient with: skanky clothes? The media? Pettiness? Ignorance? People who don’t find significant that which I believe is important?
These are real culture shocks. Sure, walking into Super Wal-mart will be a bit surprising the first time, but honestly, I’ve only been gone 3 months—I remember what it looks like. It’s these non-tangible things that might be harder to adjust to.
I’m sitting (legs crossed, just because they can be) in the plane, and we just took off from Yaoundé. It hasn’t quite hit yet—still feels unreal. The trip here felt unreal too, but that was “wow! Who knows what’s to come!” UNREAL, and this is “I feel sort of empty” UNREAL.

So, that’s the truth. I hope I don’t sound overly dramatic, but even putting my thoughts on paper makes me feel a bit better. Sure I’m a little down, but that says a lot about the power of my experience in Cameroon, and I do have a lot to look forward to in T-Town. Besides…don’t worry Cameroon, I’ll be back!

A la prochaine, alors…

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"tell the world I'm coming home"

This song called "I'm coming home" plays on TRACE (the music video channel) all the time. It has this depressing tone, and it sort of makes me think of this week, because this week, though a good one, was also a long process of mentally and literally saying goodbye.

Thursday May 5th
More ISP presentations today! I was worried these two days would be a drag, but they’ve been quite interesting. Today we had…
1.Allison: Internship with this really cool sounding NGO in Kribi that dabbles in a bit of everything (helping people with HIV/AIDS, giving microcredit loans, looking to start an orphanage…)
2. Laurel: the dual function of CIGs (groups of farmers)—economic and social
3.Rachel: elementary math education in Cameroon (guess what the average class size is. SIXTY.)
4.Rebecca: Spent the month learning woodcarving. I’m not even kidding. She made 2 stools, and they’re incredible!
5. Janelle: changing trends in age gaps in marriages in Ngaoundere

Friday May 6th
Daytime activities included: printing/binding French version of ISP, delivering ISP to Heifer, and preparing for the end-of-the-semester par-tay.
Also, I ran into a couple of 15 year-old Americans. WHAT are you doing here?? I wondered. Turns out their parents work for UNICEF ; they live here and have for a couple years. I tried to tell them how lucky they are…I hope they get it.
We had a ‘the end!’ party with our families tonight, and everyone had a really good time. Granted, getting there was a bit of a hassle thanks to “Cameroonian time”--the party began at 18h. When I told my mom I was going to get ready at 17h20, she said ‘why?’. Magnus didn’t get home till after 18h, and then he had to change the lock on the door before we could go (granted, this is sort of my fault: yesterday I broke the key. IN the lock. Uh-oh.)
Anyhoo, the evening began with speeches (read: Maria weeping), and then moved on to food and entertainment. We performed the dance we had learned awhile back for our families, had a fashion show of all of our sweet Cameroonian clothing, played some games, and watched a slideshow of pictures. Naturally the evening ended with some time on the dance floor. Also with all the students gossiping about how their parents were making them smuggle the extra wine home.
Today was definitely a “I’m not ready to go!!” day.

Saturday May 7
Upon completion of my exit French exam, my semester is officially over! Guess that means I’m a senior?
Tonight we students [plus some Cameroonians] went and hung out at Laurel’s, which is conveniently immediately behind my apartment. We chatted, ate Pringles (!!), wrote ‘warm fuzzies’ to each other, and got our groove on. Good times!

Sunday May 8
Last mass in Cameroon!
When we got home we realized we were locked out of the apartment. Not because we didn’t have the key, but because the deadbolt that slides into the floor had somehow fallen while we were gone…Magnus found a kid to scale up the balcony. Typical.
The housecleaner/cook brought over a ‘village girl’ she knows, as instructed by my host parents. They’re seeking out a live-in nanny. They were a little disappointed that she’s already 20, but she starts tomorrow nonetheless. The amount of personal help that middle class families here can afford is so wild to me, but it makes sense, because labor is dirt cheap. She’s going to make $40 a month, and her sister is going to come to pick up $30 each month to send back to the nanny’s child in the village. Wait, why can’t she send it? “Because if she leaves the house she will get pregnant again.” –Magnus.
I hung out with Rodrigue all afternoon. First we had to go visit his sister, because she wanted to “garde” me something (give me a gift). This is an example of how crazy-nice people are here. I met this woman once and she Insisted not only on giving me this giant bottle of “arachides” (peanuts), but on feeding me too.
Then we decided to go visit Minnie, another Heifer employee. It was fun to meet her 4 and 6-year old boys, because she talks about them a lot; they have a really loving little family. She, too, insisted that we eat. (Whew!) It was really good meat…I found out afterwards that it was LIVER. Ah!
Broke curfew again…good thing we’re going home soon, because this is quickly becoming a habit…oops.
We spontaneously had a Copp Family conference call via skype (Maria in Yaoundé, Johnny at Yale, the rest of the gang in T-Town). It was a little silly I suppose, since I’ll be seeing them so shortly, but it was a good reminder that part of me does want to go home. Tomorrow’s my last FULL day in Cameroon (for now!).

Monday May 9
Spent the day at school watching one last ISP presentation [Ashley: distribution of antiviral drugs (for AIDS) in Cameroon], writing evaluations of the program, and having re-entry prep [more on this to come on a later date]. Not everyone’s leaving on my flight out tomorrow, so I had to say goodbyes to nearly half of my friends. Unreal.
Back at home, Rodrigue came to give me my voice recorder back and say goodbye. Then my friend Helene from Dschang (who braided my hair) came to visit, because she’s in Yaoundé for a few days. Look, I have friends!

*Leaving Tuesday, but there are more important blog posts to come! Don’t quit now!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

HOLY COW! : I'm done with ISP

Dimanche le 1 mai
Happy JPII beatification day!
Guess what. On our weekly DOVV supermarché visit post-mass, we bought ham. As in, the lunchmeat. It was a pretty big deal.
Several ISP milestones today: 1) Finished rough draft of my translation 2) Finished the most final of final version of my English version
I’m sorry that I’ll I do is talk about ISP. There’s good reason for it…
(it’s all I do.)

Lundi le 2 mai
Ellen and I went to print and bind 7 copies of our ISPs this morning!! I was prepared for the entire thing to be an expensive, long hassle, but I was rather delighted to find out it was rather simple and scam-free. We were really excited to hold them in our hands hot of the press; so excited, in fact, that we got our picture taken with the man who had put them together for us. Also, we went and got ice cream to reward ourselves.
…the work’s not quite done though. I met with my French professor today to discuss corrections to the first half of my translation.

Mardi le 3 mai
-Turned in my ISP! Ah! It seemed rather impossible just 5 weeks ago, and now, here we are…all done. My paper’s not perfect, but I worked really hard and learned a lot. [I know you all are DYING to read “HOLY COW! : Perceptions and Impact of Heifer’s ‘Pass on the Gift’ Policy”, so just shoot me an email ( letting me know if you want to read it in French or in English, and I’ll get it to you right away.]
-Met with my French professor to finish translation corrections.
-Went souvie shopping with Ellen. We met a Cameroonian there that lives in Texas! He was really nice and very excited to see us—we got pics together.
-Bought mangos today. Correction: they are 20/$1. I’m so addicted.
-Ran into almost all of my SIT friends today at some point! Everyone’s “home”! It’s a crazy reminder though of how soon the semester will be over. All of our conversations these days turn into a group therapy session of sorts where we discuss how we’re feeling about going home…

Mercredi le 4 mai
I presented today! I think it went really well.
And just like that, ISP: DONE. Now serving as an excellent example of how those things that seem nearly impossible….aren’t.
ISP was one of the reasons I decided to study abroad, and I will say it was a really good process, just like I had hoped. I learned a lot about Heifer and about conducting research. I became more independent in Cameroon and more immersed in the community. And I worked very hard. My project’s not perfect, that’s for sure, but I definitely am proud of how hard I worked.
Anyhoo, I presented, and Rodrigue (the other Heifer intern/my friend) came to watch, which was super nice of him.
I’m too excited about my classmates’ research to not talk about their presentations, too, so bear with me and these short descriptions…
1. Araba: unrealized dream of Pan-Africanism
2. Afiwa: still existing tie between the CFA and the French Franc
3. Me!
4. Ellen: “land grab” and a local fair trade fruit project here in Cameroon and the link between the two topics
5. Sam: the culture exchange experience of a SIT Cameroonian student in a homestay
6. Nathaniel: The World Bank and their participatory approach/lack-there-of
7. Dillon: Solar energy in Cameroon (wow! This seems it has a lot of potential in developing countries!)
8. Haley: Cameroonian oral poetry
I went home and relaxed all evening. Partially because I wanted to, and partially because it stormed—which I’m quickly learning means “byebye power” (can’t really complain though, because I’m fortunate to have had power the whole semester). Anyway, OH MY did it storm. Let’s put it this way: at one point, Therese was literally freaking out that lightning was going to hit the apartment…I wouldn’t have been too surprised.
With the tv off for once, I got to have some good chat time with both the ‘rentals. Therese recounted how she met Magnus, and Magnus and I talked about my upcoming departure. He gave me a brief recap of how awesome Cameroon is and noted that I “will probably marry a Cameroonian. Or at least an African”. He gave me strict instructions to be a good ambassador of his country when I go home. I promised I would, and it’s true, I will…
Oh Cameroon, you fooled me! I thought we agreed that it would just be a summer fling. Fun, but no strings attached. Puppy love, that’s all. But now, as I constantly reflect on our break-up-to-be, I can’t help but think that you’ve stolen a little piece of my heart.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


This morning when I was walking to catch a taxi, I saw a minivan.
Wait, it gets even weirder: it had a DUKE sticker on the back windshield!
Also this morning, I had 4 (yes, 4) freshly sugared beignets for breakfast.
Spent my day in the office translating my paper and googling ‘how to clean viruses off a flashdrive’.
When I left Heifer and hopped in a taxi, I looked over and realized it was my driver from yesterday morning! No breakdown this time. I was happy the whole way home, because it was one of those moments where you think “I must be exactly where I’m supposed to be right now”.
Passed the evening peer-reviewing Haley and Ellen’s ISPs.
Tomorrow’s my last day at Heifer!

FRIDAY April 29
Not a very productive last day, which may or may not have been due to the fact that the royal wedding was taking place (I mean, at least I’m clearly not the only guilty one—2 billion television viewers??).
After work the whole staff went to get drinks as a send-off of sorts…it’s so nice to realize I have Cameroonian friends! Also, while sipping on our Ices, we saw a young girl walk by carrying a monkey!!

At 11, after my final meeting with my advisor, I started getting my hair braided, and 6 and ½ hours later, tada! I have some great rastas—braids made out of a mix of my own hair and fake hair. I popped some ibuprofens, but I don’t think that throb is going away for awhile. Totally worth it though (heck, I got 3 compliments on the walk home alone), because I am that much closer to being a real African woman. I must add, it’s a rather odd sensation to suddenly have more than 2x as much hair as you did earlier in the day. I’m somewhat used to chopping off huge chunks of my hair periodically, but to magically have it grow a couple inches and add what feels like pounds of weight in a single day…now that’s a new one!