All You Ever Wanted To Know (and more) About My Peace Corps Experience - Cameroon? Where's that?

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Cameroon: Peace Corps Cameroon: Peace Corps in Cameroon: All You Ever Wanted To Know (and more) About My Peace Corps Experience - Cameroon? Where's that?

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, June 30, 2001 - 9:46 pm: Edit Post

All You Ever Wanted To Know (and more) About My Peace Corps Experience - Cameroon? Where's that?

All You Ever Wanted To Know (and more) About My Peace Corps Experience - Cameroon? Where's that?

All You Ever Wanted To Know (and more) About My Peace Corps Experience

Cameroon? Where's that?

A Map of Cameroon

I was posted a little northeast of Bamenda.

Frequently Asked Questions

1) So what were you doing there?

Well, I was doing agriculture mainly. I lived in a small village up in the mountains and worked with local farmers, teaching sustainable agriculture techniques. Basically, I taught them how to incorporate leguminous (nitrogen fixing) trees and shrubs into their farms to act as a source of natural fertilizers and to stabilize steep slopes. I also did some work with clean water sources, my main project was helping to establish a piping system from a spring above the village to bring clean water down to people's homes. And I also worked with animal husbandry, a little forestry, beehives and a few other similar things.

But the above is just my work. I spent a lot of time checked out the cultural activities, which was my favorite thing about Cameroon probably. Very rich culture and traditions, and I spent a lot of time in the palace and at death celebrations and so on.

2) How long were you there for?

I was there from October 14, 1995 until November 9, 1997.

3) Did you like it? Are you glad you went?

Hmmm, that's a tough question. I'm glad I went. I liked parts of it and didn't like a lot of other parts. It was very hard living at times.

I loved the cultural stuff and traditional activities, dancing, music, magic. I loved the weather, being out in the warm sunshine and dry heat, blue skies and warm breezes. I loved the incredibly slow pace of life and never being late for anything, because 4 hours after the arranged meeting time was just fine, especially if you brought palm wine. I loved the food. I loved the beautiful landscape, the waterfalls and rock formations and mountains and forests and the ocean.

My least favorite thing was the sexism. It was incredibly stifling and prevelent in every aspect of life. I didn't like the racism, I was taunted and called whiteman and harassed every day. I hated the corruption. It was insane. Bribes to accomplish anything you can imagine in life, getting your mail, traveling to another town, passing an exam, etc. And lastly, let's not leave out the incredible incompetence of the Peace Corps administration. Don't even get me started on that one.

But yeah, overall, I'm very glad I went, I learned an incredible amount while I was there.

4) Do you think you really helped them?

Hmmm, who really knows? I think I helped them most in showing them what an American was like. I gave them a completely different view of what a white woman is, since most of their visions of us are from movies like Rambo and the Terminator. I helped to break down stereotypes. I don't know how sustainable my work is, really don't. If I'm lucky, perhaps 5% of the people I worked with are still practicing agro-forestry. I think the average is about 2% after 10 years.

5) Would you do it again?

Knowing all that I know now, if I had to go back and decide to go again, I would. But I'm not gonna join the Peace Corps again. Hell no. Once is enough.

7) Did you get any weird diseases?

Oh yeah. This is my favorite part of the story. Too bad I don't have room to fully describe bacterial dysentary. But I'll give you the highlights (I realize I may lose a lot of readers after this, that's ok). Picture me laying naked on the bathroom floor at 3 A.M., vomiting and shitting uncontrollably with a high fever and incredible nasuea, thinking I was gonna die. Lost 10 pounds in a week.

Also had malaria, giardia and amoebas. But I'm completely fine now. I think anyway. :)

8) What do they eat?

Oh, all kinds of really good stuff. The country is about 85-90% subsistence farmers (means they grow just enough to feed themselves). But Africa was not originally a farming continent, they were hunter/gatherers. So 95% of what they eat is from South America and Asia. The main foods in the region I lived in were corn, beans, rice, yams, potatoes, a spinach like vegetable called njamajama, a little beef, a little chicken, some fish, insects, oranges, mangos, pineapple, papaya, tomatoes, onion, garlic, avacado, guava, hot peppers, palm oil and plantains. I'm sure I've forgotten a few things, but that's the idea.

They also drank a lot. Mostly palm wine, which was tapped from palm trees like maple syrup and then allowed to ferment. Also they made a beer from corn. And they drank a lot of bottled beer (mostly in the bigger cities). And they made a liquor from the palm wine that was really strong.

9) Why did you do it?

Probably because I'm completely insane. But I like to believe it's for adventure. I love adventure. And I had these romantic ideas about the wisdom of the African people and learning about the roots of all people and stuff like that. And I've always wanted to go to Africa, ever since I was a little kid and learned about the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in elementary school.

10) Where did you live?

I lived in a small village, about 3-4 hours from the provincial capital by a dirt road in varying states of repair, in rainy season pretty rutted out and bumpy, in dry season, not too bad, but still bumpy. My house was a made of clay bricks, covered in a thin layer of cement. The roof was made of sheets of zinc. The floor was concrete. I was one of the fortunate few who had plumbing. I had a toilet and a shower, but no sink. There was a water tap outside. I also had electricity. It (and the water) went off for long periods of time, hours and days, sometimes the water was off for months. But it was nice when it worked. Overall, I had a very nice house to live it.

11) Were you all by yourself?

Yep. Just me. Volunteers are assigned singly to villages. The closest volunteer to me was about 20 miles. I did have a houseboy that lived in a small building behind my house. I also had 2 dogs, 2 cats, several chickens and a sheep.

12) What were the people like?

There was a really wide variety of people in Cameroon. The population was about 1/3 Muslim and 2/3 other folks. The Muslims were semi-nomadic, very tall, slender people who lived in the hills outside of the villages. They were sort of quiet and much more reserved than the other Cameroonians. They rode horses and herded cattle.

The rest of the population was mostly Christian, although they also practiced their animist beliefs. They were very outgoing, extremely strong and hardworking (for the most part). They loved to drink alcohol and liked nothing better than to sit in a bar and talk for endless hours about anything under the sun. They love to give speeches, about anything, their favorite thing is to have everyone in the room listening to them. They loved dancing and music and parties. Oh, and they loved eating. You never, ever, ever had to worry about having food left over at a party. That never happened. They were generally, fun, open, laughing people to be around. But also very simple, it was hard if not impossible to get into a deep discussion about the meaning behind things or philosophy or anything like that.

Got other questions you want answered? Email me and I'll put them on here.

Michael's PCV Index A really funny survey taken at our end of service conference. Check out some true and frightening statistics of Peace Corps life.

How An RPCV Knows They've Finally Readjusted To American Life Another quite humorous little thing for you to peruse.

By business grants ( on Tuesday, February 01, 2005 - 2:29 pm: Edit Post

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By Anonymous ( - on Sunday, November 04, 2007 - 1:20 pm: Edit Post

i really liked ur take on Cameroon. my parents r from there and although i was american born i have been submerged in the culture since i can remember! i have visited [unfortunately a very short one due to the amount of money it takes to get there and my family's work schedule] and my family even has a house in the city [bamenda] we [my moms side really] are from the village [alatening or the land of [in english]Fat-fat ]really, thats where our family compound is rooted now. however, i did disagree with one thing u said about the ppl being simple. u can indeed hold a deep conversation about the meaning of things and philosophy with SOME ppl. its just the things that are profound to u may not be profound to them. and the elders r riddled with insight [which im sure u experienced urself]. but each his own.

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