January 13, 2005: Headlines: COS - Cameroon: Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle: Rachel Hoy serves in Cameroon

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Cameroon: Peace Corps Cameroon: The Peace Corps in Cameroon: January 13, 2005: Headlines: COS - Cameroon: Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle: Rachel Hoy serves in Cameroon

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Rachel Hoy serves in Cameroon

Rachel Hoy serves in Cameroon

Rachel Hoy serves in Cameroon

Making a difference through service with the Peace Corps

By Rachel Hoy/ Guest Columnist

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The bush taxi swerves over bumpy roads for two hours. We stop for no reason. We load five more people into the already-crowded cabin.

The metal sheeting of the van wobbles at each disturbance, and dust billows up through cracked windows. From the road, dusty children yell "Bonjour, Madame" which comes out sounding more like "Boh-joo! Moodah!" in their primitive French.

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Lagdo, Cameroon, you often learn that you have to make things happen on your own.

After half an hour, we actually get on the road. The holes in the floor of the vehicle allow for a great view. I realize the side window is missing, so caustic dust slams at my face as we play chicken with oncoming 10-wheelers.

I have decided to observe cultural norms and cover my head in public, but the wind is such a trying force and I adjust and readjust the slippery silk scarf on my slippery hair.

The baby crammed on her mother's lap cries when she looks at me and my pale skin.

I am discouraged.

Across the row from me, knees jammed up against mine, is an older woman, probably 60 years old. On either side of me are two old men from the village. One proudly takes my motorcycle helmet on his lap and asks if it is for the heat. Explaining road safety to him in the Fulfuldé language is beyond me at this point.

Securely wedged between the old men and woman, I listen to their animated banter, sprinkled with a few recognizable words: Ooho. Yes. Kay. No. Yowwa means OK, but with all sorts of variations based on which part of the word is emphasized.

The woman offers me her rice pancake. I take a piece and she keeps shaking her outstretched hand, satisfied only once I take the whole thing. These people care that I am fed. This lifts my spirits a little.

The man to my right has been casually fingering my Nalgene's plastic cover. I initially wonder what materialism white nasaara represents. But his gaze is gentle, even as he solidly advances to rest his hand on my bag, never looking in my direction.

As we stop for two mamas to unload their sacks of rice off the roof, he finally just leans over and firmly covers my hand with his palm, vast and wrinkled like crushed velvet. He executes his move as would an anxious teenage boy in the back row of a movie theater, blindly confident.

Astounded that such an idea would possess an elder Muslim tribesman, I don't pull my hand away, but burst out in flighty, confused laughter. Does he want me for his fourth wife? What? Where am I?

I turn my head towards him, an attempt to gauge his intentions.

"Sembé," he says, the consonants rolling in his deep throat like gravel.

Sembé means "strength; wealth; the ability to make things happen."

This man sees me as strength. He touched me to feel my energy and share it.

I help him off his haunches and onto a moto. The other elder hands me my helmet back, grinning that he has aided me in my own journey. Useko, useko. Thank you, thank you.

Both bubble with graciousness equaled only by my own as they part.

Sembé. The word rings in my head. This is why I am here.

* * *

Rachel Hoy is a resident of Hamilton who attended college at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Editor's note: Rachel Hoy is a Peace Corps volunteer currently serving in Cameroon, Africa, as a health and water sanitation worker. Since 1961, more than 178,000 volunteers, making 27-month commitments, have served in the Peace Corps, working in education, health, HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, information technology, business development, environment and agriculture.





When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Thomas Tighe says internet brought funds to DRI 20 Jan
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Libby Garvey is education activist 20 Jan
David McIntyre captures medals on land and in water 19 Jan
Carol Bellamy new president of World Learning 18 Jan
Reed Hastings crossed "Latino Caucus'' 18 Jan
RPCVs sponsor Freeze for Food to aid Colombia farmers 18 Jan
RPCVs urge Bush to aid Democracy in Ukraine 17 Jan
Tom Petri proposes changes in student loan program 17 Jan
Golden Globe Win for Jamie Foxx in RPCV's "Ray" 17 Jan
Stephen Smith is new consul-general in Australia 17 Jan

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Story Source: Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Cameroon

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