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Peace Corps Journal, 1986-88: Letters from Cameroon
Peace Corps Journal, 1986-88: Letters from Cameroon
Peace Corps Journal, 1986-88
October 14, 1986
At my post, Eyumojock, for a month now. Halfway through the fifth week of school--time flies! G.S.S. Eyumojock is an eleven classroom school (four more being built), and a newly made library (built and grant-hunted entirely by my predecessor, Mike Rich). Very nice library. I have a number of books I plan to donate: my favorite cosmology book, a text on quasars and blackholes, a field guide to the planets and stars, a number of texts from Oroville High, the Foundation trilogy, Sea Wolf, and Master of the World. A promising library. I am teaching 19 periods per week: nine of 8th grade equivalent physics and four of 12th grade equivalent advanced math. I'm keeping busy. I have Wednesdays free (except that I am "master" of the Science and Astronomy Club).
The students come in all types: bright, stupid, friendly, smart asses, the works. All in all, I have good control over my students--I think that my size and my foreign unpredictability are key factors in my discipline ability: it's almost automatic. The teaching isn't difficult. In fact, I'm sort of a ham.
My house is nice (much nicer than many in town; on par in comfort to good ol' 306 Burton Court). I have two students, Christopher and his sister Obi, living here. I provide room, board, incidentals, and medical aid, and they take care of cooking, cleaning, and laundry. It's working out fine. I teach in English, with little difficulty in communication. My Pidgin is improving (na fayn ting dat), and I intend to begin French lessons soon.
Back to my house: facilities are okay. Kitchen has sink, stove, and oven (propane); bathroom has sink, toilet, shower--only there's no running water. And once rainy season ends (around now) it's well and lake water.
FOODS. Common meals consist of: rice and beans (hot and spicy); plantains (look like bananas, taste like potatoes); rice and spam and beans (and hot spice and spam); plantains and fish-in-beans (and spam and spice); beef stew with peanut sauce (ground nut stew) and hot spice, with spam and spam, and spam (and hot spice); omelets (without spice, because I make the omelets); spam; spice; rice and beans. Foo foo and eru (a doughy glob of mashed cassava eaten with mashed and spicy greens). Spam. (Mom: please type that paragraph word for word!)
Actually I was joking about the spam. But not the hot spice (called "peppe")--ground pepper powder, hot hot hot!
Things I want sent to me: 1) Pizza . . . deep dish sourdough, Old Chicago!; 2) Banana split; 3) Strawberry shortcake; 4) Turkey and pastrami on swiss and sourdough from the Manor Deli in Rohnert Park; 5) A Big Boss Guacamole Burger; 6) Cheese fondue with apple, bread, and cheese; and 7) Cheese, strawberries, and a big red apple. Be sure to send them airmail, as they are perishable.
I swim and bath in a meteorite crater lake three kilometers away. It's one km in diameter and 30 m deep (to the sediment fill-in, but 60 m to the bottom of the crater bore). I jog in the jungle toward Nigeria, which is 17 km away.
Exactly where is Eyumojock? It's easy to find, actually, even if it is remote. It is on a dirt road which serves as a sort of Trans African Highway going east and west. Eyumojock is inland, northeast of Calabar, Nigeria, directly west of Mamfe, which is directly west of Bamenda. As you travel west on this road, it forks within the town of Eyumojock, one branch going southwest toward Calabar, the other proceeding west and through Nigeria. The Cross River flows by to the north within 10 km of the town.
Yes, we get thunder and lightening quite often. There are also a bunch of fireflies that twinkle in my room every night. Also, my room is inhabited by lizards. I like them, though. And I like the fireflies.
This weekend I had a house guest: a French cooperative volunteer who just finished his two years and is going back to France by way of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Morocco, and Spain. I housed and fed him for a night. It was interesting talking at length to a French volunteer in Cameroon. Nice guy, too.
My coworker (second-year Volunteer, David Shedd) teaches math and is managing the library affairs (which I'm sure I will inherit next year). Easy-going guy--and it's nice not to have come here alone. He's introduced me to people and places and routines.
I'm sitting here at my desk, listening to my home stereo (a D-cell powered network consisting of a wooden crate, six D-cells, my Walkman, my external speakers, and an ingenious electrical circuit consisting of wire, adapter plugs, a button (shirt type), and a broken chop stick. I'm currently listening to Spaghetti Western themes, like, "For a Few Dollars More", and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly".
I am planning to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) either December, February, or May. (Update: April 11th).
Another student has died. Last spring, the school lost a student to some disease. During the summer, another died. A few weeks ago, a student was shot dead in a hunting accident. And now, another has died. I hear that before these four, no students had died here (school began five years ago). Terrible year, as far as deaths go.
Concerning Uncle John's observation on the vegetation and cattle abundance: yes, the vegetation grows with a passion here. Of course, that isn't uncommon in the tropics. Everything grows fast here. Incidentally, all the beef cows here have long horns and brama-like humps on their shoulders. They're leaner than California stock, also. In Eyumojock, one or two cows are slaughtered each week. I usually buy a kilogram at market each week (1 kg for 1300 CFA, or 2.2 pounds for $3.71: $1.67 per pound). Eggs I have bought for 500 CFA per 15 (9 cents each).
Cheese is scarce (non existent in Eyumojock, except for a French imitation cheese called "La Vache Qui Rit", or "Laughing Cow").
I am writing an overview of astronomy for the library. Will be complete with pictures. I hope to use a Peace Corps typewriter when I'm in Yaounde in December.
Had a dream last night. I had a falling out with PCV Mr. Oleson of Little House on the Prairie. I didn't know why he suddenly disliked me, but we had been friends. So I left the Peace Corps and came home. We were all very happy to see each other. I drove around with Dad, then Mom took me to dinner. I said, "I'd really like a banana split," so we were on our way to get one when I suddenly began missing Cameroon a great deal. So we found a phone book and I couldn't find Cameroon in the listings. Many of the Third World countries there had only two or three phone numbers each. Well, I called my Peace Corps supervisor, Dale Koistinen, and asked for my job back. I got it, apparently, and Mom accompanied me to Philadelphia to catch a plane.
Actually, I have had five or six dreams here where I flew home for one reason or another, and always wound up returning to Cameroon.
Another dream I had--and don't remember if I recorded it anywhere--was quite humorous. I had it while in training, and it went something like this:
Me and some other PCV trainees were in training on some sort of University campus, within Cameroon. We were all sitting out on the grass holding a class of some sort when an "alien spaceship" landed on the grass nearby. It looked just like an 18-wheeler truck, and the "aliens" looked like two white men in white coveralls. They sat in the cab, and their intentions were not clear to us. But we trainees decided we had to do something to keep them from doing anything bad in Cameroon. We threw out ideas on how to deal with the aliens. One trainee suggested we build a laser tower and blast them. I said, "No, we're Peace Corps Volunteers: we must use appropriate technology." So, we went over and let the air out of the truck's tires. . . . Let's hear it for appropriate technology!
Fixed our motorcycle today. It had been spewing gas out of the carburetor, so I used my practical experience at carburetor maintenance and somehow repaired it. Don't know how, for I never discovered the problem. But it is fixed!
I'm reading three Edgar Allen Poe stories in French (a bilingual edition, so I can check the English as I read): The Cask of Amontillado; Fall of the House of Usher; and The Murders in the Rue Morgue. It is serving to expand my vocabulary and familiarize myself with verb tenses and sentence structure. Plus, they're interesting, well-written stories.
Ah, the weekend again! Have to get my hair cut, buy some stuff, write lesson plans, and repair the moto--but the latter is already accomplished! Hooray!
Received in mid-October letters sent late August, but that was because of my move. It was great receiving them. Got letters from mom, dad, Becky, Grandpa Burress, Grandma and Grandpa Cain, and my monthly check. Really made my day--for, indeed, they all arrived the same day in a package from PC Yaounde. My beard is beginning to show itself. It's no longer scraggly, but filling out and soft. I keep it trimmed short. Even my mustache is showing signs of hope. Shaving is a pain husay wata no de (where there is no water--or ou il n'ya pas l'eau).
Slowly, I am leaning the language's rules. Past tense, pronoun forms, conditional tense--they'll get better. But I have so much to learn.
Met a German couple (German cooperative volunteers) yesterday. Rudy and Cordiella. Nice couple. Cordiella speaks better Pidgin than English, but Rudy speaks English well. He reminds me of a pirate: he's about 35, has thick hair, beard, and mustache, and wears a gold earring. They work in Mamfe, 45 km away, where Vicky, Chuck, Pat, and Cathy (PCVs) also work. Incidentally, this area was originally dominated by Germans, until WWI when the British took over. There are still German bridges, water plants, and buildings here, and in Bamenda.
Dry season (Nov-April) is almost here. I am told we will SUFFER. Hot, hot heat, fungal infections, no water other than drying wells and Lake Ejagham.
Had my first French lesson today. Dave is surprised how good my French is. Forlemu speaks too fast sometimes, but that's good practice. Finished EAP's three stories in French. Understood them well.
I took 2/3 of a practice GRE exam. Got 550/800 for verbal, 720/800 on analytical. I think that's a high score.
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.