Brooke's Life in Cameroon as a Peace Corps Volunteer

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By Brooke Sparling on Monday, March 18, 2002 - 8:53 am: Edit Post

Brooke's Life in Cameroon as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Brooke's Life in Cameroon as a Peace Corps Volunteer

(Fam-Letter from Brooke...#8 4.4.02)

Beyond miles and miles of slushy cities and snowy mountains, across the deep vast Atlantic, through a hot, dirty capital, down a long road nestled between lush buzzing rainforests and humble hills there lies an old village. Simple cement tin roofed homes line the only street. The barren hard ground was rejoicing as the first rains of the season had begun the night before. It was sopping up every drop and morphing into a sloppy sludge. The leaves glistened and the people took deep, full breaths of the fresh cool air. Night fell and one by one lights went on and lamps were lit all across the village. People gathered in their homes, sat, rested, and recounted their day. Like everyday a variety of bugs and insects began to gather at each light source...But today was not like every other day... The bugs were bigger than before. Thick bodies and long clear wings. Two or three fluttered around the ceiling light. Then twenty seven which turned into forty something and then sixty... full. The winged creatures were crawling on the walls, flying around in circles, and creeping along the floor. The massive swarms filled entire rooms. They landed on the arms, backs, legs, of anyone inside. They landed on bare necks and fluttered their wings violently like they wanted something. Fling it off, it comes back again. The only escape is to get away from the light. Outside, in the wet darkness, there are only a few... who themselves have escaped and are going about their business seeking the cracks and the crevices of the light. Yet the people remain inside. The floors are now covered with dusty brown wings, hundreds of wings that have been shed by their owners for unknown reasons. Those that are wingless scurry across the floor anxious to begin their new landlocked life. Hundreds more continue to swarm, purpose-less, around the light. Buckets and tubs of water have been placed under the light. Children stand in the very center of the swarm and swat the insects down into the water. Women sweep the insects into the puddles on the floor and then scoop them into the buckets. Frenzied and methodical the people rush to catch all the insects before they get away. Eventually the swarm thins. The people tire. The moon is high and the hunt ends. Buckets brimming with bugs. The next day the twisted, soaked, dead bugs are spread out on a sheet in the sun. They dry to a blazing crisp as the day sweats on. Come evening they are heaped into a big pot and set on the family fire. Dry and crunchy add a dash of salt and a pinch of the local spice... stir it up. Heap it one plate... dinner is served. Yum...termites.

(Fam-Letter from Brooke...#7 3.27.02)

Hey fam!!! I got your package today!!! WOO HOO!!! It took about two months to get here but it was all intact.!! We had a meeting with the country director today (big boss) then all went out to the bar. I shared my conversation hearts with everyone - it was great! We don't get to hang out all 25 of us that often, usually HE +WS are split from the SED (Small Enterprise Development) trainees. It was fun! This week has been really good so far. I believe in the concept of yin & yang - that for everything bad that happens there is something equally good & vice versa. This was certainly proven to me this week. I had a horrible weekend. I don't even know why, just one of those emotional dives that happen to PCV's for no apparent reason. But now I'm back on top of the mountain peak again for no apparent reason really. I've been having great Celestine Prophecy talks with Katie and Corrie, going through the insights one by one, seeking balance, becoming more aware of my surroundings and my energy, etc. etc.

Other good stuff: I have new siblings too...well siblings that here visiting during their 2 week school break. I have three older brothers about my age and they're really cool to talk to. I also have two younger brothers (or nephews or something) One is six and he is SO CUTE! He follows me all over the place & makes funny faces at me. He's an awesome dancer too! It's so cute!

And...Kevin, Katie and I had a really fun night last night. We were at the bar with my host mom, the chief of the village & some other randoms & we were watching termites mate and trying to learn how to say "I want to buy a drink" in Bafia! (Bafia is the local language here.) "Nkon lolok bier" ...yeah.. I guess you had to be there....

Other good stuff about this week - I got pictures developed - YEA! I've enclosed some & I'll send more later. (My neighbor got them developed for me :). ) I got a letter from Renee and your package YEA YEA YEA! I'm excited to start reading The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (the book I got in your package). You should look into it. Or you could read Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, which I just finished. It's funny, I recommend it.

Quoi de neuf? Oh yeah, I'm learning Fulfulde, luckily it's not too much like pulling off toenails...only sometimes. (AKA PAINFUL ~ seulment quelque fois...)

Oh, you wanted to know how to count in Fulfulde??

1 = go'o

2 = didi

3 = tati

4 = nay

5 = jowi

6 = jowe ogo'o (with mark above the e. - webmaster's note)

7 = jowe didi (same with this e )

8 = jowe tati (again over the e)

9 = jowe nay (e again)

10 = sappo


Jamna = Bonjour

Jam bandu na? = comment ca va? (How's it going?)

Jam Koodume = Ca va tres bien. (over the e )

Noy inde ma? = Comment t'appelles-tu? (what is your name?)

Inde am = Je M'appelle...(my name is...)

Mi don janga Fufulde = J'apprend Fulfulde

Mi don winda = J'ecris

Mi be baaba bee dada bee minyiraabe gorko bee debo = J'ai une mere et une pere et une petite soeur it un petit frere. (I have a mother and a father and a little sister and a little bother.)

Mi faami!!! A faami??? A faamay!!

Je comprend le francais et aussi un peu de Fufulde? Est-ce que tu comprend?! Est-ce que tu as appris comme ca, avec les deux langues etrange?? Non? C'est difficile, oui? L'anglais est mort. Ca c'est qu 'est que ma professor m'a dit. Maintenant, ici, c'est ura:.

Yeah... anyway, it's coming. I guess. I like French a lot these days though. Thant's an interesting (nice?) switch. And yes, Dad, they gave us dictionaries, French-Fulfulde dictionaries. :)

And it rained yesterday. So far every time it has rained it's been a short, hard rain with lots of lightning - bolts, flashes, sideways & downwards. And everything is green now. Juicy. Lush. Yum. It's still hot, though, and buggy.

I don't really have that much more to report. I don't know if you want to put all these letters up on the web. This one's sort of pointless and it'll just take up space. Is the website going to get too full??'s up to you.

How's the house coming along? How are the pets? What did you do for Easter??

Dad, or whoever, here's something you can do for me. RESEARCH ~ Are there GIRL SCOUT type programs in other countries? Are there any in developing countries? What are they like? What do they do? How were they started? Are there any handbooks available? Any in French? ...just a thought.

Here are some stats for ya:

*Cameroon is the 2nd most corrupt country in the world, 2nd to Columbia.

* Cameroon has the highest volunteer-host country national marriage rate in all the Peace Corps!

* Average # of children per woman in Cameroon is 5.2

* Average age of women at their first pregnancy is 19.5.

* 1.5 million living with AIDS in Cameroon. Current prevalence = 11% of HIV. 1 in 14 Cameroonians are infected with HIV.

OK - C'est tout. Enjoy the pictures!

Je t'aime!!!! Brooke

(Brooke's Letter Home #6 sent on ~ Feb 29th, 2002)

Sannu! I'm sitting in the cose (PC house) here in N'Gaundere, listining to Tori Amos, chilling with my new post mates, and trying to ignore this perpetual headache. I've just spent a week visiting the village that I'm going to be living in. OK..I'm going to try to explain it as best I can..

Dibi is a small village one hour outside of N'Gaoundere, the provincial capital. There are a little over 2000 people living there, 75% Muslim, 25% Protestant. I'll be living in the compound of the chief of the village (he's wicked nice). My house is cement with a metal roof which is really nice, most people in Dibi live in circular mud huts with pointy stray roofs. I have a bedroom, a living/dining room, a small kitchen and an indoor latrine. And I have electricity - yea! running water though. I have a gas stove and I get water from the well. The volunteer there now is going to leave me all her furniture, cookware, and work materials so I'm stoked about that! It's a nice space - windows with screens and bars, blue walls, light, space - my own space - ahhh. It's in the chief's concession, which means it's within walls and the gate is locked at night, so it's safe. Not that it wouldn't be if it wasn't in the concession, Dibi seems pretty harmless - it's wicked small, everyone knows everyone, and there's definitely a good vibe there. The volunteer that I'm replacing, Amanda, hasn't had any problems at all. The worst has been men always asking her to marry them...most half joking I think.

I met a ton of people. They all seemed nice although I couldn't talk to them because they all spoke FULFULDE! There were a few people who spoke French - like the chief and the nurses at the clinic - but everyone else spoke FULFULDE. This was SO frustrating. I couldn't communicate with anyone. How am I supposed to get any work done if I can't even say "Hi, how are you?" ??? I'm starting up Fulfulde classes as soon as I get back to Kiki..but still. It's going to take me forever to get to a decent point where I can hold a conversation and then some. Yeah, there are people who can translate from French to Fulfulde for me for big things like presentations and stuff. But no one's going to walk around with me everyday setting up meetings, organizing, etc, etc. People have their own stuff to do. Ugh..this is going to be so hard!

Anyway.. more about Dibi. Dibi is a ranching community. This is how they make their money. They have lots of cattle. There is lots of meat. Perfect place for me right? I really don't mind it as much as I thought I would, honestly. And it's all up in your face. Oh yeah, they slaughter at least one cow a day and bring the big slabs to the center of town. There's a little area set up next to the main (only) road with tables where they hack the cow into lots of little pieces, put the little pieces on a scale, and sell them off to the people. Nothing gets left behind - stomach, liver, intestines, hooves, head ... it's really not that bad .. I don't know why. It's

REAL. Pure. Raw. Living. Survival. Reality

Neehoo.. (as Heather would say) what else.. Women all stay at home - cook, sleep, takes care of kids. Girls get married at 14 - 16 and then start having kids. Boys and girls both go to elementary school but almost all stop there. There isn't a high school in Dibi - if they want to go to high school they have to go to N'Gaundere and that can be expensive, so not very many kids go and certainly not many girls. Amanda started a women's group. They have a garden and they sell their veggies at the market. She's started lots of great stuff. She trained a group of peer educators to do AIDS ed too. She has set down a solid foundation but there is still a ton of work to do! For example, here are some things you can think about and send suggestions on:

- A dozen young adults are trained to do AIDS education but none will do presentations or teach a class, etc. There are plenty of venues - people ready to learn but the teachers are not motivated. What's in it for them? Why bother? Will someone pay them? What will they get out of it? AIDS is not always visible in their community so they feel that it does not affect them. How can I motivate this group?

- Girls finish elementary school, get married before they're 19, have kids and spend the rest of their lives in their homes subservient to the men in their lives. This is what their mothers did and their mothers' mothers and their mothers' mothers' mothers. It's been the only lifestyle anyone has ever known for hundreds of years (or forever). Are they happy this way? That is unclear..or just so embedded in the culture the question hasn't entered their minds. However, in a faraway land, options, possibilities, ideas, equality, a new mentality exists. Equality is possible. Respect is possible. How can I introduce/evoke this in these women (+ girls + community)?

Anyway...I'll tell you a ton more about my village once I move there - this was just a little sneak preview. N'Gaoundere is pretty cool too. it's the provincial capital. We've been riding around on motorcycles all week and going to the awesome market here. There's tons of fresh fruits + vegetables, meat, fabric, and lots of used clothes. There's a "cose" here. (pronounced "coz"), there's one in each provincial capital. It's a lot like a co-op. It's a house that's completely run by the volunteers that live in that province. We all pay monthly dues for rent + electricity & then we can stay here whenever we're in town. We have an ok house - it has 3 bedrooms, a common room, a kitchen, + two bathrooms - with hot showers! There's a wall around the property and we have a guard so its pretty safe. N'Gaoundere isn't the safest, in general, so we never go out with too much money just in case we do get robbed. We have monthly meetings and it's always fun to all get together. There are 12 of us in the Adamoua - 11 girls, 1 boy! Everyone came in this weekend an e all barbequed and hung out. It was cool to meet all my soon-to-be-new-friends/postmates.

I'm on the train back to Younde, now, back to Kiki, back to training. I miss the other trainees & I even miss my host family but I do not miss class & I really don't want to go back to classis. ..Urg.

This week in the Adamoua has been a nice break from classes, a break from the sticky heat.. a nice little vacation. It's been stressful too though. I've just been introduced to the five million issues I'm going to be dealing with in the next tow years. Having to learn a whole new language is a big-huge-blaring-growling-hairy-top-of-the-list monster. ...and then there's 4,999,999 snotty others. It's super overwhelming and I have definite waves of Oh-my-God-I-can't-do-this. They come and go but sometimes I really wonder. I also have waves of I'm-so-psyched-to-be-here and I-can't-wait-to-start-working. There are long waves and short waves, strong waves and weak waves. But it seems I'm more often on a wave than not on a wave...(whether it's a good wave or a bad wave).

I'm just taking it one day at a time and hopefully I'll get through! We'll see! There's lots of things I'm psyched about right now though: the start of the rainy season, getting a skirt made, hanging out with my friends in Kiki (Corrie, Kates, Mandy & Kevin), getting stuff for my new house, spending time with my host family, classes ending soon - 5 more weeks, mangos, and every week I look forward to MAIL!!! ..I'm finding that there's a high correlation between my mental health and my weekly mail. (hint hint!!) I feel bad that I haven't written to people more (friends & relatives) but trying to explain my life is so hard - there's just so much to say, I don't even know where to start and then it starts to stress me out and I can't deal so I don't write at all or I don't finish letters - UGH. It just adds to my already throbbing head. I'm trying to get better and I hope the website is helping too - hopefully people won't mind getting info second hand. I've got my new address too. it's:

Brook Sparling, PCV

Corps de La Paix

B.P. 567

N'Gaoundere, CAMEROON

I'll be moving in sometime around April maybe start mailing things there two weeks before...~April 6th or so. I'll always get anything that is sent to the old address because that's the PC Office so you don't really have to worry about it too much (B.P. = Boite Postale, in case you were wondering).

Well I guess that's about it for now - I'm on the train and it's hard to write. I'm going to send some pictures so you can check out Dibi and my new house! I hope all is well at home. Is it starting to get warm? Are the daffodils coming out? Who won the collegiate hockey championship?

I met that girl Margie yesterday.. she's ok...for a Spartan. Oh yeah, one more thing - there's this beautiful old hunting lodge a couple miles away from Dibi. It's owned by some French guy and is now just a little get-away/retreat type place for Europeans or whoever might be passing through.. There's not much to it but it'd be a perfect place for someone to stay if anyone wanted to come visit :) (It's wicked cheap and there's a lake and great bird watching. It's only open in the dry season: Sept - May).

OK, I think that's really all. Go to Whole Foods, buy a mango and eat it like an apple - just bite right into it. Napkins are not allowed. Let the juices get all over the place and think of me.

Listen to rain. Know the moon. I Love you & I miss you. XOXOXOXO Brooke

PS: 7 of the 10 current female volunteers in the Adamoua have Cameroonian boyfriends & one is engaged!! You don't have to put all the pics on the web - maybe just a few. And can you send me a sheet of stamps. *Give the Collins kids a big huge HUG for me!

(Brooke's Letter Home #5 sent on ~ Feb 29th, 2002)

Family!!!!!!!! Bonsoir! Ca va? I am good!!! This is going to be a short letter this week because I wrote a huge one to Heather, which you can all read, and I wrote huge letters to Renee and Scott (because they wrote me - YEA!) So - I'm burnt out with letter writing at the moment - and just burnt out in general.. But I'll try to sum up the week and fill in the gaps in Heather's letter. I had a good week. I don't know why. There's always a bizillion things affecting my mood so it's hard to know why I'm feeling the way I am. Anywho, the end of last week another volunteer moved into Kiki - Kevin. He just switched from another village, but it was pretty exciting for our itsy bitsy village, and an addition to our French class) The weekend was full of parties. Saturday all the trainees got together, made good food, danced, Sunday, Katie, Corrie, Mandy and I went over to Kevin's to meet his family and have some palm wine. Everyone here drinks palm wine. They make it themselves by cutting down a palm tree and letting the juices drip out (..or something). It's not that good though. Kevin got out his guitar and made up some songs about Kiki. The family loved it. It was fun! This week has been good. We've been learning about different teaching methods - how to involve the class or group, be creative, what's effective and what's not, etc. The host fam is good. I'm currently sitting in the dark writing this letter by candlelight and helping my sisters with their English homework. The electricity goes out all the time but tonight is different. There has been a "CATASTROPHE A KIKI"!! ..or so Caliste calls it with much sarcasm. What actually happened was - it RAINED!!! And it poured. And the wind blew HARD. Branches fell off trees. Everything got blown around and roofs even came off houses!!! (This all happened while we were at school in Bafia.) Part of Mandy's roof came off and there was water in her parent's bedroom. I'm sure everything will be fine. I guess this happens all the time. Meanwhile Calixte is prancing around singing "catastrophe a Kiki".. it's pretty funny. I guess you have to be here. Anyway...did I tell you my host parents are building a new house?? Just like you! They're building it behind the one they have now. It's pretty much done except for the ground - cement floors, electricity and whatever else. There seems to be a halt in construction right now. Perhaps a lack of money? I don't know. Also - I finally figured out who everyone in my family is and how they're all related. OK - First of all - my host father has two wives but his first wife is not here (I don't know where she is and her kids are all grown and are not here either.) My host mom is the second wife - she is 48 - she has 8 kids - 6 are grown and not here. 2 are here: Diane and Christian. Calixte and Junior are their cousins (somehow) and act and are treated like immediate family. Then my host dad's little sister lives with us (who is 50 or 60) and her kids - 2 girls 18ish Marte and Malise... But cook and eat separately from us. We all sleep in the same building - the two mud buildings are kitchens that don't get used much except in the rainy season I guess when you can't make a fire outside. ...So the family is a bit of an odd mix off all sorts of relatives living together but that's how all the families are here. They take in more family members if they can put them through school or better accommodate them. My family is awesome and the more I talk to other trainees the more I realize how good I have it and how lucky I am to have such a great host family! Some trainees aren't getting very much food at home or really bad food or their families keep asking them for money. I have no complaints about my host family. They make me pasta all the time and respect my privacy and money is never an issue. (The families are getting paid by the PC though so no one should be having money or food issues.) Anyway that's about it for this week. I weighted babies this morning then sat in on two classes at a local school. Now we have our med session and I have to send these letters back to Yaounde with the doctors. So..this is short but I'll write more next week and I'll try and call, too. Read Heather's letter! Next week I find out where I'm posted!!! And the week after that I go visit my post! The weeks are flying by now! I hope all is well at home - Mom, I got your valentine on Monday - THANK YOU!! And I just this second got letters from Gremily, Cindy and Kady! (sent Feb 11ish ~ so it took 17 days) Mail is so fabulous - I miss you! I hope you're getting all my letters - I think you are. Next week I'll tell you how to make endole. You can get all the ingredients ready: a big glob of spinach, half a small bucket of peanuts, a handful of salt, some palm oil, some water, a bullion cube, and two smoked fish left out on a shelf for about a week. ...The recipe is on its way!

OK - really going now. I miss you and I love you!!!


Rob, I got your letter too - thank you!!!

Check out my schedules. (Xeroxed on back of Brooke's letter.)

(Brooke's Letter Home #4 sent on Feb 21, 2002)

Bonjour ma famille!! Ca Va? Things are good here..a lot better than last week The week went by fast and that was really good. Also, I felt lots better after talking to you on the phone!!! Fewer four-hour French classes helped too I'm sure! We started learning about family planning and reproductive health (YEA!) We went over basics - stuff I've done in Women's Studies a million times - but now I need to know it all in French. Also, I need to know how women's health works in Cameroon of course. What I've found super interesting so far is that "technically" women are supposed to have their husband's permission for prescription contraception - like the pill or Depo-Provera (the shot). However - there are lots of ways women get around this - they say they're not married or go to clinics where they know it's easy to get w-o hassle. Most women here get Depo - the shot. It's great because it lasts three months - they don't have to think about it or worry about it, it's wicked cheap here, you can't tell if a woman is on it, and so they can hide it if they need to (from husbands or whatever). The PROBLEM is it doesn't protect from sexually transmitted diseases. There's really nothing that does (STD's like HIV) except abstinence and condoms. So there's nothing women can do about that w-o men's cooperation & that can be hard - REALLY HARD. But anyway - we haven't even gotten into all that yet.

I visited the village It is a one story cement building with about six rooms. Two haven't been touched for about five years, two have one cot with a bare mattress each, then one room is a pharmacy and one room is the nurse's office. I sat in on a few examinations/visits (ethics pretty much don't exist here - that's a whole other story). They were mostly prenatal consultations. The nurse weighted the women, took their blood pressure, measured the stomach, tried to calculate the date of birth (with last period) and recorded all this in a little book that each woman carried with them to track their progress. I was impressed that they had any prenatal care actually. ...The rest was pretty sketchy though. ..There was only one thermometer for everyone - which he swiped with alcohol before each use, and there were no gloves used (except for a OBGYN exam). They were making the best of what they had I suppose - there was just nothing there! There is a hospital the next town over where you go for bigger stuff (if you have the money) ..I don't know what the conditions are like there. I'll be going back to the clinic in a couple weeks to weigh babies and give vaccinations - YEA..and yipes!

In other news...we got our bikes this week too!! We may not get shares of stock, company cars, holiday bonuses, employee discounts, or a vending machine (ahh that would be AWESOME), but we get bicycles - WOO HOO! Do you think they just hand them to us?? HA! NO! They're in a box in a million little pieces and we have to put them together. Some people got brand new ones - others slightly used..mine is used but that's fine because it was (mostly) put together already. It's a Geneses mountain bike and mine's yellow (they only yellow one - yea!). We learned how to patch holes in the tubes, clean and grease everything - this involves taking everything apart! - even the ball bearings, brake wires, etc. We learned how to tru! Who woulda thought? And - Dad - we even got our own bike tool kits with lots of wrenches, patch stuff, a hex set - the works. It was like Christmas over here. We got helmets too! I'm not sure how much we're going to ride them, the next town is about 10 miles away. I guess that's not that far. ..Kiki's too small to even really ride around in! ..We'll see.

And what else. - I'm healthy, although I've been having an omelet and bread and sugar-milk for breakfast and rice and beans for lunch everyday . Dinner varies but is usually some sort of carb in some gross sauce. This can't be good for me right? I've been taking my multi-vitamins, what else can I do?? There is no dairy, no greens, and not that much fruit .. so I can't really do much about it.

I'm getting closer with the people in my group. We only see the business trainees once a week but there are 11 in health and 3 in water sanitation and we all hang out everyday. This is our group:

Health Ed living in Bokito..Meaghan from NH, Ann (Indian) from Kansas, Annie (Korean) from Seattle, Pete (African American) from Indiana, Kristin from Mass, Sarah from Virginia, Melissa from Seattle.

Health Ed living in Kiki...Kate from MD, school in Philly, played soccer in college, 1 semester in Kenya, Corrie from CO (Littleton/Colombine) very coloradoish skiing, etc, 1 semester in Cameroon, Mandy from W.IL., school in MD. blackbelt in karate.

Water Sanitation living in Dang..Kevin from all over, school in NC, Laren from WI, school at Mich Tech, Scott from Kentucky.

I'm closest with Corrie so far I guess but our group is very UN-clique-y so it's really good.

Mom, I got out my markers and everyone is using them and drawing - 7-9 high school age boys and girls are drawing right now - and they're pretty good. I don't think they have many opportunities to be creative. We have to have secondary projects at our post - maybe I'll do an art class or art club or something. (I'll have to see about funding/supplies, etc.) Who knows.

Some boys just walked by and showed us the rats they just caught for dinner. They were the size of cats. I am not exaggerating. Gross. I think Corrie stopped breathing for about 30 seconds. We're both just hoping they don't end up on our plates tonight! My family's pretty good though - they know I don't like weird stuff and might not even offer it to me if they had it. They haven't had anything too weird yet. I was glad to hear they didn't eat dog or cat. ...Of course I only discovered this after my neighbor came over with charred dog parts in a pot. ..That was great. I don't think my reaction was culturally sensitive. oops.

I washed my clothes again this weekend. I decided that when I get to post I'm going to wash my underwear and that's it. Everything else is too much of a pain. I haven't taken a bucked bath in a few days either. It's too much like work and besides, what's the point?.. I'm just going to be sweaty-slimy 5 minutes after I get out anyway. ..I sorta like being dirt nasty .. but you all knew that J

. I guess that's about all the news for this week. I still can't believe I've only been here for 3 weeks! It truly seems like 3 months!! Oh yeah, Mom, the other Kiki girls and I decided that our moms could use a little support group.. so you can call their moms if you want and talk about us. (Addresses in separate emails to each - note by webmaster (W), Bob Sparling)

Ok - final quick notes before I put this in the mails.

- We went on a long beautiful bike ride in Kiki - about 8 miles - what a workout!!

- There was a rat for dinner tonight but they made me pasta with tomato sauce. J YUM!

- I have lots of names here - PC staff call me Brooke, PC trainees call me Bess and my sisters call me Bess sometimes too. However - everyone here goes by their middle name so they asked me mine one day and I've been Elisabet ever since (to host family & neighbors). I actually like it a lot - it's easy for people to say, it's different, and it reminds me of Aunt Beth J.

- We have four kittens!! They're tow weeks old!! 3 black and white, 1 all black. Guess what their names are?? - Bess, Elisabet, Brooke and Sparling. --Hmmmmm- We still have the older black cat - the mamma, and a medium kitten ~ 1 month old that's all white with light blue eyes.

We're all taking Larium/Meflaquin for Malaria and one of the side effects is "vivid dreams" I took this on SAS (Semester at Sea) too, but I've been having long detailed dreams every night and I always remember them.. it's pretty cool.

OK..that's really all!!! I miss you lots and hope all is well in Mich.


Also - Keep these letters for me b/c I haven't been writing in my journal.

No hurry - but the next time you send a package could you send some Pantene deep deep conditioner and Neutrogena Max strength oil controlling pads? Thanks. Maybe also some Gatorade mix or anything w electrolytes or vitamins that can be mixed with water.

The PICTURES are: - My house., the window on the right is my room. The building on the side is where the bar is. - My sisters - Calixte is 14 and Diane is 17 this is in the morning before we all go to school. I will send more pics in a few weeks. (See pictures on "Brooke's Pictures" linked from her homepage.)

* Last night we didn't have electricity and I played "cache cache" - hide & go seek with my brothers & sisters in the pitch black - it was so much fun!

(Brooke's Letter Home #3 sent on Feb 13th, 2002)

Has anyone seen G.I. Jane??...Peace Corps training is a bit like Navy Seal training.. They push you to the edge of your limits and you either break under the pressure or grow stronger from it. This certainly isn't the Peace Corps' intention, it just happens to be the way it is. Tow people have quit already. I can't even really tell you what about it is so hard but it is hard. I think it's just the combination of 5 million slightly hard things all at once - 24 hours a day 7 days a week. There are highs and lows and I've had some lows already! But don't worry!!! I'll get through (I'm too stubborn not to!)

The French classes are the worst but then I have health class and things are fabulous again...I'll be ah-ite. Lots of the volunteers say that training is the worst part of your whole service (intense classes + homestay living + the newness/adjusting) I don't know, there are pros and cons to both training and service and being on my own!

Anywho...there are ups and downs but things are generally good. My homestay family is awesome. I really lucked out. I hang out with my sisters most of the time. They're 14 and 16 (I may have been wrong before) Caliste and Diane. Diane braided my hair last weekend. I have eight little French braids that are tight to my head in the front then loose in the back. It really hurt when she did it!!! It'll probably last about a week...I don't know if I'll do it again! I hang out with my host mom, too. I watch her cook, help, and try to learn. Food pretty much sucks. It's either bland or gross tasting but you just have to make yourself swallow it or starve! Some of the foods are: rice, beans, manioc, couscous, dried fish, chicken, beef, peanuts, pasta, and lots of mushy mystery mixtures. Oh yeah, bananas, plantains, pineapples and soon mangos. It sounds ok but it's just not... I can't explain it. I'm getting used to it though. (My friends ate SNAKE yesterday at lunch - I DID NOT.)

CAMEROON WON THE AFRICAN CUP for football (soccer)! It was really exciting! Even here in Kiki. The kids were running down the street yelling and the bar was louder than usual. My mom has a "bar" which basically consists of a fridge full of beer, a room with some chairs, and a tape player with big speakers. There are usually about 3-6 people in there talking or dancing and drinking. There is no cut off here so people get slurringly stumbling drunk. I sit in the corner with my mom or sisters and laugh hysterically! Then I escape to my room in the other building and never have a problem falling asleep. (She also sells Coke, Fanta, bread, sugar, etc. from the bar.)

I learned how to wash my clothes this weekend. You put them all in a big bucket of water put the soap in and smoosh it all around, then take each piece and rub it against itself and do that with each section of cloth. Wring it out and put it in a new bucket. Do this with each piece. This whole process must be repeated two more times in fresh water (to rinse.) Then - finally, you can hang them out to dry. They must hang out for 3 days so all the mango flies and mango fly larvae die.

To kill the other amoebas in my life I put bleach in my bucket - bath water and boil and filter my drinking water. It's not as hard as I thought. I have to make sure all my food is well cooked (that kills the yucks) or is fruit that's been peeled. I can't eat fresh fruit or veggies that may have been washed in bad water (I can soak them in iodine or bleach water though.) I haven't been really sick yet. I have diarrhea.. but who doesn't? It's not really that bad except when I have to get up in the middle of the night and run to my tarantula infested latrine! Originally there was just a dead tarantula but, quel surprise, there are more! There is a huge ~4 inch yellow and black tarantula living in the boards of the roof of my latrine. It only comes out every once in a while and my sisters tried to get it but had no luck (they probably just pissed it off...great!) They say it's not dangerous so I guess I'll just let it be and try to forget about it. Hmmmm...

I went to church on Sunday. There were about 100 people there, it was in French and Bafia (the native language) and I didn't understand anything. It was wicked hot and lasted about two hours. They sang and clapped and that was cool but otherwise I didn't get much out of it. It was interesting though.

Am I writing often enough or not?? I feel like I'm writing a lot but time here is really messed up..days and weeks go by so slow!! I'll try to write once a week and I hope I haven't been repeating myself too much either. I can't remember what I wrote before. Anyway, this week we start visiting local clinics and we get our bikes and have bike training so I'll have lots of fun stuff to report in my next letter. (This week we've been learning the water cycle, water-borne diseases, water sources, etc. - blah.)

* I just carried a bucket of water on my head!!! It was somewhere between 5 and 10 gallons for a distance equal to a block or so. Everyone was laughing at me but I did it!

We have toucans in the trees behind our house, two of which were made into dinner one night - I don't think I ate them...I dunno.

Well - I think that's about it for now. I hope everything's good at home. Send pictures!

I love you!!


Dad - check

* Watch G.I. Jane and think of me :) It's one of my favs.

(Brooke’s Letter Home #2 sent on Feb 6th, 2002.)

Hi…how are you? I’m good but very tired. I have so so so much to tell you that the thought of explaining it all has been too overwhelming and I’ve been putting off writing this letter. I’ll explain some but there’s just no way I can explain everything. This is what I’ve realized: no matter how well I explain things here the picture you get in your head will still be nothing like how it really is. For instance – if I went to the moon and told you there were green flowers there you would think of a pansy or tulip or daisy in green. I could tell you it has spikes on the side and you would picture a green tulip with spikes on the side. You can build a picture in your head which has all the elements I describe but in the end it will look nothing like the real thing. I will do my best but keep this in mind (and I will try not to get too frustrated..)

Overall I am really tired and overwhelmed. We have class from 7:30 – 5 everyday – half language and half technical (Health Ed). There are 4 people in my French class and 12 in my tech. All the teachers are native and are the best in the country at what they do – many with decades of experience some with masters degrees, etc. This might just be the best education I’ve ever had! I Love the subjects AND they’re paying me! The major downfall is that they’re throwing SO much information at us it’s super overwhelming. Plus – it’s 90° everyday in the shade and humid. Put it all together and my brain turns to mush real fast. I get tired – lethargic and have trouble paying attention and staying awake. (Yes, I’m getting 8 hours sleep claque jour). Anyway – class is awesome it’s just really hard..

When I’m done with class I come home and have to socialize with my family – organize/clean my room and things like that. My family is wicked nice. They speak French as well as a local language. We’ve been able to communicate ok although it has definitely been difficult. Can you believe I’ve been living entirely in French for a whole week??! Conversations all day and all night! Hours long. Me. French. C’est incroyable.

My family is cool. My “mom” is wicked nice. Mom – she’s just like you would probably be if you had a foreign exchange student.. Cooking big meals, doing everything for me, cleaning up and totally taking care of me. It’s ok for now as I learn to do all these things for myself. She is a nurse and works in the hospital in Bafia in the day then comes home and spends 1-2 hours making dinner. The family has three buildings (+ the outhouse)

The buildings are cement with corrugated metal roofs. Peace Corps has lots of regulations so they come in and fix up my room & outhouse. I have a screen on my window, locks on my window, door and outhouse, a mosquito net, metal lockable footlocker, water filter, oil lamp, and my own latrine. It’s just a room with a hole in the ground but it’s clean and it’s my own. Cement walls & floor & porcelain slab w hole in it.

The house is big – the family room is big and there are chairs and a couch and tables and a TV! (They get electricity at night). They have a big open room in the 2nd building with chairs lining the walls. We eat here but it’s also a local gathering place. They have a fridge so they sell beer & coke as well as bread & cigarettes, cookies & soap.

The Chief comes by every night to have a beer & sit and talk. There are between 2-10 people there every night, hanging out. In my room I have a bed w a mattress, sheets, pillow, blanket, a desk and two chairs.

There are 6 kids that live here. But it’s very unclear which one’s are actually their kids and which are cousins, half theirs, or what. They also have 4 older kids who have moved to the city. There are 4 girls here all 16-18, 2 boys 13 & 15 or something. There are also two older women who live in the back building. One is maybe a grandmother, one an aunt or second wife..??? Je ne sais pas.

There is a tiny tiny black & white kitten and a larger black cat with green eyes. The black cat was pregnant but now it’s not.. who knows where the kittens are. Pets certainly aren’t treated the same here. People don’t seem to really care about them – they’re just there. They eat whatever scraps or bugs they find. I wish I could pet them but I really can’t (says the PC) because they have all sorts of diseases. There are also goats, pigs & chickens walking around the village. I saw monkeys too!! – in the fields just outside the village.

Oh – do I ever have a chicken story… The first night I got here Madame Boulle (my mom) had a whole – dead- feather-plucked chicken in a bag. I was sitting at the fire talking with here and ended up watching her prepare it for dinner. She chopped off the feet, chopped off the head, and split it open up the middle. She yanked out the insides and proceeded to show me the heart and the stomach etc. It actually really wasn’t all that bad. If I’m going to eat meat I want to be fully conscious of where it’s coming from. I’ve had a lot of meat since I’ve been here and I’m fine. It was quite a humbling experience though.

Anyway – there’s a million more things to tell you – I just can’t do it all now. …I had an amazing welcoming ceremony –w- drums, traditional dancing and

singing, a speech from the chief.

It’s hot here. I mean really hot ~ 80° at night. Can you sleep in that??? I take bucket baths in the morning. The food is either really good or really bad..I’m eating a variety of stuff. The market is colorful, crowded, and everyone sells the same thing.

Cameroon is in the African Cup for soccer – Keep tabs on how we do – it’s really exciting here. I was at the fire when we scored a goal but I knew we did because I could hear the whole village cheering! People here are always happy! They’re always laughing or smiling – and SO welcoming and loving. The kids listen to American pop music! All the catchy, dance-able, hip-hop stuff – it’s so great! The other day my sister was singing Janet Jackson!

There are a lot of bugs. Lots. You know I don’t care about bugs, and you can’t here. They’re just everywhere. I even have a dead yellow and black striped tarantula hanging in my latrine…I did have to draw the line this morning though.. there was a huge 3-4 inch, furry brown spider in my bathroom. It had a white circle on it’s back. Anyway – I wasn’t about to get naked for my bucket bath with that thing! I made my sister get it out!

OK – I’m going to put this in the mail now.. I’m going to put it in the envelope to go with the next person going to the US.. it’s super erratic but I think the chances of it getting there faster are better than Cam mail. I don’t really need anything – a pocket French dictionary maybe. I still have lots of everything.. I’ll definitely need some more hand sanitizer at some point – I use it about 10 times a day .. is that bad? I still need gifts for my family but I haven’t decided what yet. I guess that’s all for now. I hope things are good at home. Did it ever snow? Heather – I bet you’re planning some b-day extravaganza – am I right? .. or at least have a big huge wish list. Rob – did you ever find some community service to do? Dad – how’s the website? ..I wish I had some way to check it out. Mom – could you use that Cameroon Art book in your class somehow? Did you get my first letter and my email? Ok .. I’m off to get more shots – joy.

I love you and miss you.



PS. Other info:

~4000 people live in my village – Kiki. There are 3 other volunteers in my village w me. Graves in the front yard – trash thrown in the back yard.

Oh yeah – also please send me a copy of Grandpa’s CD.

There are no lines on the roads – no speed limits – cars pass & drive wherever. (bearing right usually) really fast next to people walking.

700 CFA = $1. a meal is ~ 500 CFA (we buy lunches in town) so our small salary goes a long way!!


(Brooke's Letter (Jan 31 - Feb 1, 2002) received 10 days after the 2/2 email)

Hello everyone!!! Here’s my first letter! I’ve only been in Cameroon for one day but already there is so much to report….

The plane ride(s) were really really long but we arrived in Yaounde yesterday (1/30). It was nighttime when we got here so it was hard to get a real good impression of the country. This morning I woke up to the sounds of a rooster, the Muslim call to pray, and car horns honking ----all simultaneously. It’s fairly hot and muggy but there is a nice breeze…pretty much perfect if you ask me. There are palm trees everywhere, dirt roads and walkways are an orange-y red, and there are beautiful lizards all over!

We are here in Yaounde until Sunday (2/3) when we move in with our host families. We will actually be about 2 hours north of Yaounde living with families in villages there and having training there. We will be split among 4 villages: Bafia, Kiki, Boquito, and Dang. (my address is still Yaounde) These villages are all next to each other and although we will be split up for living we will have most of our training together in Bafia. My group is awesome! There are 27 of us and everyone is wicked nice. There are 9 men, 18 women, it’s a really diverse group – 7 minorities, people from all over: Seattle, Cali, NY, TX, WI, NC, KS, Ark, NJ, DC, Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, Alabama, Indiana, Mass, and NH. (I’m the only one from Mich.) Most people are 23-24 although 4-5 are upper 20s – early 30s and there’s one guy who’s 50. But we all really click!! We have a lot in common (of course) and a lot of the same goals and ideas. Plus there is definitely something about going through such an intense event that has made us get real close real quick.

I’m really tired. We haven’t had a moment to just do nothing until now. We’ve had orientations, introductions, paperwork, money stuff, classes and shots. I’ve had 4 shots in the past 3 days and we’ll be getting more shots – 1 or 2 a week for the next five weeks. Ugh. We’ve started classes too – just basic stuff – personal health and water purification. The real classes don’t start until next week in Bafia. We’ve been completely bombarded with information…As if leaving home, saying goodbye to everyone, moving to Africa, and making all new friends wasn’t enough to handle – we’ve got all this new information to take in and digest. My brain is fried and refried and then fried again. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight either (maybe the Sunday after next we’ll finally get a break.) But, oh well – this is what needs to be done so bring it on.

There are three different technical groups within our group: Health Education, Water Sanitation and Small Enterprise Development. There are 12 people in my group and we will be having some of our training separate from the other groups. I am definitely most excited about the health training and brainstorming future health projects. I’m starting to actually get excited about the French too. It’s sort of cool when we all start speaking French to each other. My French is about average for my group - some are worse so at least I’m not the worst one! I’m least excited about all the ~living~ details – boiling all my water, soaking veggies in iodine, bathing in bleach water, washing clothes by hand, and cooking. All these things are a pain enough in the states. I don’t know if I can deal with the hyper vigilance of it all here. I’m just going to be a dirty stanky half starving workaholic – sounds good to me!!

Anywho – I should probably try to wrap this up so I can get it in the mail. Sorry it’s so scattered.. I’ve just been writing whenever I got the chance. It’s day two now, Friday (day two of being in Cameroon) We had our French and Health placement tests – I think I actually did well. We’re still in Yaounde.. We haven’t really left the hotel and PC office (they’re right next to each other). I guess the city is not very safe – plus we don’t know our way around – plus we haven’t had time! I can’t wait until we move into our training villages on Sunday. I hope my family is cool! I can’t wait to start learning stuff. I can’t believe it’s been less than a week since I left! It seems like forever! Oh…and I sort of forgot this was a JOB – they’ve been giving us money and stuff so that’s cool. I haven’t started writing in my journal yet, I never really liked writing in a journal – my brain goes much faster than I can write and I just get annoyed but… I’m going to try.

ANYWAY – I’m really rambling on about nothing. I’m going to put this in the box going to the U.S. The next person to go (staff, old PCVs etc.) will take it but I don’t know when that will be. I miss you and will try to email if I can. Write soon! (Heather this means you!) And don’t forget the battery recharger. If you really can’t find a solar one a regular one would be ok…. No rush. Happy Valentines Day!

(Go see the Vagina Monologues!)



Tilli wins the prize for the best friend ever.
There was a letter from her here when I got here. YEA!

(Letter #1)
Subj: Bonjour from CAMEROON!!!!!!
Date: 2/2/02 9:00:05 AM Eastern Standard Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)

Bonjour!!!!! Comment ça va? ça va bien!! Je utilisé une ordinateur française et c'est difficile!! J'aime Cameroon! Et j'aime tout des personnes qui travaille avec moi

Hi!!! How are you?? Things are really good here. I'm still in Yaoundé.. right now I'm une petit cyber-cafe and the thong song is blasting on the stereo!!! yea!!! This is a french keyboard and it's messing me all up. This is what happens if I type "Hi Mom, how are you?"

Hi ?o?; hoz qre you§ Urg! But anywho, things are really good here. We've had all sorts of intro and prep classes. Tomorrow we move into our homestays!!! We'e moving into villages about two hours north of here, my village is Kiki, Bafia is 6km away and it's fairly big. There are 11 people in my family, the dad is a retired nurse and the mom is a nurse. They have a puppy and are Protestant. ..That's all I know so far!! I'll be with them for 11 weeks until I'm off on my own..

I can't wait to start classes!!! I'm SO psyched about the health stuff I'm going to be learning, and the French too. I got placed in the second highest French group- yea!!!

The people here are AWESOME - staff and volunteers. There are 27 volunteers, 9 men, 7 minority people, and there from all over the states. Most 23,24ish 5or6 28-35 and one man who is 50.

I'm happy, and healthy(so far) and miss you!! Please write! I'm moving tomorrow and won't have email after this. I love you!!! Please forward this to anyone I'm forgetting;



By anniechung on Tuesday, February 04, 2003 - 1:25 pm: Edit Post

just wanted to see if i could get a hold of you. I'm in chicago, neaa mich, but ifyou're in NH then i'll be near there this weekend. if anyone knows brooke's contact info in the states, please pass on my email.
I'm a friend of hers from the peace corps

By alphonse on Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - 6:03 am: Edit Post

hi i want to get in touch with any peace corps volonteer in cameroon or in any other country.I am a translator french/english and when going through one of your document i've come across certain expressions such as SPA ,HCN and Gambiansi would like to know more about those expressions
Thanks a lot!

By Paul Hamel ( - on Saturday, May 01, 2004 - 9:37 pm: Edit Post

Hi, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bafia, Cameroon from 1969-1971. I taught English at the Lycee de Bafia and volunteers at the hospital and school at Donenken, a few miles away. I would like to find out how Bafia has come along over the past 30 years. I would also like to see some pictures.

Paul Hamel
1133 North Clark Street
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 657-8814

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