Monday, August 26, 2013

Closing Up

Lastly, I am in the capitol just having finished our closing seminar. Meaning, that I will be coming back State side by December. The last two months in village were very contemplative/reflective for me as I was seriously considering/praying to God as to whether or not I was meant to extend my service for another year, or whether it was time to go home. Whether or not I was meant to give my heart for this community for another year, or If my love is meant to be spent somewhere else. The truth is that I am immensely happy with my life in Dir. I have never felt so fulfilled, so supported by a community, so joyful, so close to God. I love my quality of life, and I love the values that people live by. I love that on a Wednesday a man who comes knocking on my door for help at the hospital for his sick wife, is fixing my broken down motorcycle in the bush on a Sunday. I love that the mama who feeds me beans four times a week is also the woman who takes me out dancing at the bars. I love knowing the stories of the women who are waddling around pregnant at market, and a couple of months later being able to meet their babies. I love that I am the person women come to when they are looking for ways to stop getting pregnant. I love that the food I eat comes from the community, and that there are only certain times of the year that we get to eat it because we are dependent on crop seasons! I love that when the rains come, everything stops, that we are subject to the weather here, that we have to be humble to our environment. I love that I have finally figured out the logistics of living here, that fetching water, cooking on village ingredients, and life without electricity is normal to me now. I love that I have stopped constantly thinking about “What do I have to be doing?” “What comes next” and that I’ve just learned to sit with people. I love that I have time to myself, and time to go on long walks just because I want some time to think. I love that I can be in a village 40 km out into the bush and people know me by name. I love the surprise that comes to people’s faces when I am able to roll their native tongue with them. I love that I don’t need to worry about having social plans or “things to do” because whenever I have free time in my schedule I can just go spend hours with one of my boutique guys or the petrol guy talking about everything and nothing. I love that in the evenings my neighbors and I all gather around a lamp and a cell phone and listen to music while the goobers dance.

It’s amazing to say, but my life here has become so easy, so effortless, so normal. I think I may be crazy for giving it up. For saying good-bye to the life I have created for myself here and the people who make up my world here. But, despite that, I can’t explain it in a concrete way, but I believe God is telling me that (for the time being) it’s time to come home. There is still much work to do at the hospital and with the soy harvest in my last three months in Dir, but my priority as my service winds down is simply to soak up all the small moments that make my life so full here.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Passages and Pictures

Wanted to share a few passages from a book I just read. Peter Godwin's "When A Crocodile Eats the Sun." A book about Mugabe reclaiming white farmer's land in Zimbabwe. A very good read. There are two passages that encompassed feelings I have had about Africa better than I ever could.

To compliment my last blog entry about Ishmael's cerebral malaria:

"In my part of Africa, death is never far away. With most Zimbabweans dying in their early 30s now, mortality has a seat at every table. The urgent, tugging winds themselves seem to whisper the message memento mori, you too shall die. In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of a stage, waiting only for when you are called. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal.

Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That's what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life's alibi in the face of death."

Then, this passage words perfectly how I have felt at time here:

"I feel like weeping. Weeping at the way Africa does this to you. Just as you are about to dismiss it and walk away, it delivers something so unexpected, so tender. One minute you're scared shitless, the next you are choked with affection."

Secondly, just three pictures to share:

Here are all my little neighbor goobers dressed up for the Fete du Ramadan. This year I fasted with all the Muslims to better understand what the month of Ramadan meant (and I also had my own intentions in my heart I was offering). It was fascinating to join in on the fast and learn even more about the Muslim faith. I know so many of us in the United States carry negative connatations about Islam, but when it is not interpreted by extremist, it is a beautiful, very peaceful, and incredibly disciplined religion.

Here is a close-up of Samira. She was a baaaaby when I first arrived, always being carried around on people's backs and now she's a little grown up. Dressed up with traditional make-up and everything for the Fete = ) (Ain't the snot a nice touch to the overall look?) In the background in the yellow outfit and hat is Ishmael, all recovered and looking like a little man!

This is Amanda Fanta Clodine! My first baby named after me in village! Her mother is a simple village woman, and I did two of her pre-natal consultations. When she came to the hospital in labor I was on night shift with Hortence and we helped her through a difficult birth. Two weeks later, she came to market and my name sake recieved her first vaccination. As I was sitting there holding baby Amanda at market it came to me that this baby encompasses everything I love about my work at the hospital. I love that small village life allows me, not only to be there at once, but to see it all. To be there for the whole story.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Community Farms

The women from Mbigorro (with their goobers) posing for a picture on their farm. 

 The family in Malingara who has taken the community farm into their hands.

Planting soy in Malingara.

Planting soy in Mbigorro.

Personal soy field (Pilot Farm) in Dir.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bless the Rains

The Rains are BACK! Its amazing to see the transformation of the land as it transitions from dry to rainy season. During the dry season, the land becomes parched, dry, everything becomes dust, dirt, and the color brown. The land literally seems to be begging for water. Within a week of the rains starting (and the the real downpours won't even start until August!) the land changes to the most vibrant, lush green you can fathom. It becomes a different view entirely and seems to almost happen overnight. You gain a whole different respect for the song, "God Bless the Rains Down in Africa".

Rains also mean that farming season is back. Meaning, that soy is consuming my life (which is OK by me, because "Insah Allah" & as long as we keep the cows away, soon we will be consuming it! Ha, jokes!)

The soy project has entered a different phase this year. I'm still working my own field on the same plot of land as I did last year. Although, since I've got no kids working with me I am only doing 1/2 the portion. Farming is T-O-U-G-H, and I'm looking to see the end of farming season! This continues to be a pilot farm. Working it serves several different purposes. I get to learn first hand about the technique behind soy agriculture (which allows me to actually have some credibility when I am trying to teach it to others). It gives me purpose and something to fill my village days with. But, most importantly, in a village where only the Divisional Officer (a government official) and a few of the high school teachers plant soy, the field (especially with its' central location) allows people to SEE soy. To believe that, "Oh, hey! This can grow on our land? WE can do this too?" One of the best moments of soy demonstrations these past couple of months was when I was in the bush and trying to teach a mean (who had purchased soy for his personal farm) how to plant soy (you have to leave 20 cm between each pod and 40 cm between each line). When I asked him if he understood he said, "Of course, I saw the way you planted your field last year." Whoah!

Another important part of using the same plot of land is that by comparing this year's future yield to last year's past yield, I will be able to learn whether or not soy is a crop that should/can be planted twice in the same field, or whether its a crop that should rotate by year.

We've also got a couple of community farms going!

After harvest, when I explained my plans for the soy to the nurse in charge, he identified three communities where he saw a lot of malnutrition cases & where he would like me to develop soy culture. Malingara, Mbigorro, and Mberse are all 5,8, and 17 km (respectively) from Dir, but all fall under our hospital's umbrella of care. These said communities are the ones that I have been working with over the past couple of months, doing nutritional lessons and culinary demonstrations to teach them the value of soy and get them interested in it.

Mbigorro is a refugee camp, composed of about 100 individuals who fled the Republic of Central Africa 4 years ago due to persecution by opposing ethnic groups. I've been working with a group of about 15 women here, who are absolutely wonderful. One of my LEAST favorite things about being a Peace Corps Volunteer is that sometimes you have to be behind individuals nagging and nagging to make sure that things get done. These women are the absolute opposite of that, and despite the fact that they only speak dialect, whenever I tell them, "I'll be back in 5 days, you need to finish laboring this portion, or, you need to continue to weed here, or, I want to see the farm fully planted" they always get it done. It's amazing, and so motivating to understand (by their work)that this is something they WANT. Unfortunately, cows have started eating some of our soy (it's sprouted!) and unless they make a fence our work will be futile.(Cows are a huge problem, and their are MANY Agro-Pastoral conflicts in the Adamaoua) So fingers crossed that when I make my next visit to these women, their will be a fence surrounding their field!

In Malingara, it is mostly only one extended family who is working the "community farm". Of course, in an ideal world the whole village would be interested, enthused, and willing to work the farm, but alas, that's not the case. However, I've learned that development is slow slow work, and I believe that if the villagers can see one family profitting from soy, maybe next year two or three families will plant soy in their fields, and the next year, maybe two or three more...

Ironically enough, Mberse is the village that I spent the most time and effort trying to introduce an interest in soy, to very little avail. Although 3 families have taken soy for their personal fields no members of the community have stepped up to start a community farm. Although personal fields are WONDERFUL, they are difficult to follow up with monitoring, and the benefits of a community field are that they are often in places where the community (even those who are not directly involved) can SEE the field, and that visual also provides more teaching opportunities.

Although rainy season comes with its whole slieu of blessings (you no longer have to go to the well to fill up your buckest, you just put them outside! and vurrrhhhy importantly....MANGOES arrive!) It also comes with the curse of rises in malaria in the community. Things are B-U-S-Y at the hospital this time of year!

Since so many of my health related stories in this blog are heart breakers, I thought it was about time I shared one that at the end had me jumping for joy like a banshee.

Ishmael is 4 years old, and is part of the extended family that makes up my neighbors. So although he doesn't live next to me, I see him several times a week in our concession. One Thursday morning I walk into the hospital to see his mother waiting outside the consultation room with an almost un-concious Ishmael in her hands. I was shocked. I had literally seen him 2 days prior and he was FINE, Ishmael is a serious little boy, but his behavior that Tuesday was similar to how it always was. Ishmael's body was as hard as a rock, his eyes were practically yellow, he was convulsing, and his eyes were dilated and unable to follow motion. Most scarily, he smelled. Death has a way of smelling, almost as if it's announcing its impending arrival. It's impossible to describe, but you grow familiar with it, and when I do smell it, my stomach instantly drops anticipating what's coming next. The nurse in charge immediately saw him and diagnosed him with cerebral malaria, he prescribed medicines and blood transfusions, but even then (to me at least) the chances seemed so slim.

That is the scary thing about malaria in children under 5 years old. For adults, whose bodies have developed an immunity to it, malaria can range from feeling like your having a cold, to a reaallly bad case of the flu. But, for young children whose immune systems are not yet strong, malaria can kill within a matter of hours.

Ishmael followed his treatment, and on morning 4 of the medicines I walked up to the hospital to see him sitting outside and eating, (THIS was the moment where I screamed like a banshee!) Our resources at the hospital are slim, and truly we are a preventative clinic more than an emergency one. After so many illness and moments where people come in too late and don't make it, Ishmael's recovery as a (much needed) breath of fresh air. Not only Ishmael, but since the start of malaria season we have seen 2 other little goobers come in in similar circumstances and with blood transfusions and medicines, make it! It has been so neccesary to realize that lives that I have already taken as lost causes, can be saved.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Quick Pictures

So simple and yet, this is one of my most recent favorite pictures. Just a snapshot of my friend Olivia and her family. To me, it so perfectly represents what a normal afternoon is like in village. Let's sit outside the kitchen and hang out.

Here I am with a group of refugee women (there is a refugee village 8 km down the road from Dir, they come from the Central African Republic and have been established there for about 3 years) after a soy culinary demonstration. This refugee village, Mbigorro, is 1/3 villages the clinic's head nurse has chosen to try to develop soy products with.

A snapshot of a Fulbe girl early in the morning as we watched the cow get slaughtered. Can you possibly imagine a 3 year old in the States watching that with such a calm look on their face? Ain't this little girl beautiful?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Time Flies

Yikes! Four months! Where to begin? The past 4 months have been a whirlwind of visitors (as my Mom, Dad and sister, all came out...I'm a LUCKY lucky girl that all the members of my immediate family are willing to take a "vacation" to Cameroon and experience the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer).

Right after my parent's visit I took a 3 week vacation to Senegal/Cape Verde with 2 other volunteers (Eddie and Joe). I honestly didn't think I needed a vacation, but being out of the country allowed me to do so much processing. I hadn't realized until I stepped into a more developed setting how normal poverty, death, and corruption had become to me. I needed to get away to process that. And as a bonus, I absolutely fell in love with the country of Cape Verde, its culture, its people = )

I think that the reason my vacation came at the perfect time was because my Mom ended up spending 5 weeks with me in country. That's no small hunk of change, and for her, after 2 weeks the novelty of fetching water, no electricity, bucket baths, and seeing exactly WHAT you can cook on limited seasonal ingredients, wore off, and she got to see a little bit more of what's under the surface of these people's smiling faces. That despite their laughter, and ability to dance at a moment's notice, there are so many daily suffrances.

Explaining that to my Mom, trying to put into words the things that trouble me here, brought a lot of questions to my mind.

What struck me the most about my Mom's visit was seeing her reactins to the culture and the people. She was so in awe of the tiniest details, so compassionate towards the people. In so many ways, like a little girl walking through a toy store 2 days before Christmas. Seeing her in this environment, made me realize, "Oh sweet Jesus. That was ME when I first got here." Where did my awe, wonder, and compassion go?

I know that that's part of the rule of life, and that because I have established myself here, that I am living amongst the people and being a part of the community I can't hold on to those feelings of awe forever. Nonetheless, it scared me. Volunteers say that it's really hard to NOT get jaded in your second year of service. That you do end up getting exhausted of constantly being stared at, at being seen as the "White Savior who has come to fix all the problems", of having constant demands thrown at you. And before my parent's visit I could sense those feelings starting to creep in.

However, coming back from vacation I felt the opposite. I felt so rejuvenated and refreshed. Being away made me realize that I missed my daily life in village. Coming back and seeing people's reactions was a jolt (as I realized that since I was gone for close to a month people thought I had left for good without saying good-bye). People were happy to welcome me back, happy to see me, and I realized, "Oh my goodness. I really am a part of this place now. People expect to see me walking around."

I feel myself re-dedicated to the people and the work here. Especially as I realize how quickly the rest of my time here will go (service ends in December). I'm realizing that 7 months is not much, and how i need to make the most out of it, especially and I honesty don't know if I will ever have an opportunity to live this quality of life again (although I hope that's not the case). I'm realizing what an honor it is to be living this simple life.

So, WORK: Phase II of the soy project is in swiiiiing. Meaning that culinary demonstrations and agricultural lessons are happening to teach people the nutritional value of soy, the technique of planting, and getting them interested enough that they will buy and plant their own soy beans (planting season for soy in the Adamaoua is anywhere from mid-May to mid-July).

A comical story: When my sister was visiting we spent one of the days with another volunteer, Danielle, who taught us how to make soy milk on a gas stove. We needed to learn because we had a culinary demonstration in the bush a few days later where we would be teaching people the same thing.

So, off we went to preach soy and spend the day in the bush. We gathered a small crowd (especially, since I am no longer a novelty, but a second white girl certainly was!) and people waited to see what concoction we were coming up with. We talked soy and talked in general, but 2 1/2 hours later and 3 tries the soy milk would just NOT give. I didn't know what I had done wrong and had to assume that it had something to do with the fact that we were preparing it over open wood stove instead of gas.

I rolled my eyes at Alison and said, "Oh Goodness, this is embarassing" as I had to explain to people that "Sorry folks, I actually JUST learned this 2 days ago and looks like I didn't really learn all that well. I promise next time I come back, it'll work!" I expected people to lose interest in the soy, but they all laughed and said "No worries" and then proceeded to gather around the big pot and finish the 5 kilos of boiled soy bean GOOP with smiles on their faces!!! Alison and I looked at each other in shock, so true that NO food goes to waste here.

A couple of weeks later when I was back in the bush for another demonstration I was happy to learn that nobody got sick off the new recipe (something else I feared would quickly make them lose interest in the soy!) To the contrary, they wanted more GOOP! Yikes!

On a very different note, about a month and a half ago my next door neighbor (17) gave birth at home and lost the baby. Giving birth at home is a HUGE problem in our community and something we're constantly trying to teach against at the hospital.

I can't tell you how may newborn babies come in one week after birth, or mothers for that fact, with turrrhible post partum infections (due to conditions in the bush, or the rooms they give birth in). After antibiotics the mother's are usually fine, but the babies almost always don't make it. I can't tell you how many moms have come in when they've realized the birth is complicated and cried for hospital help. At that point, the nurses at the hospital try, but it is usually too late to change the outcome of the birth (our clinic does not have facilities, and since losing our doctor in September...still waiting for a new one... no one to do C-sections). I can't tell you how many women who test positive for HIV during prenatal consultations (testing and medication is provided free to all pregnant women thanks to the Cameroonian government. Antiretroviral treatment during pregnancy (as well as birth at a hospital and treatment for the baby during breastfeeding) GREATLY decreases the chances of a baby catching the virus from their mother) give birth at home, not only putting their baby at risk, but also endangering those who assist them at home (and don't take universal precautions by wearing gloves).

What's disheartening about these situations is that they are almost all preventable. They don't NEED to happen and they CAN be avoided. These babies shouldn't be dying.

But...that's also such a hard concept to transmit to people in such a religious society who believe, "God gives, God takes away."

As much as I have seen these situations, the passing of my neighbor's baby was such a close relationship that it really hit home (literally). This was such a young girl who has come to live in our concession for the past 6 months. She was loyal about coming to prenatal visits, and from day 1 when we took her history and realized that she had already lost a baby from home birth, we flagged her as DEFINITELY needing to give birth at the hospital. We urged her to bring in her notebook from the first baby she lost (here in Cameroon, patients hold on to their own medical records via notebook) but she had lost it. We further re-flagged her when the baby continually presented in Breech position (feet first, normally the head should be the presenting part). Breech position is not something to worry about in the first 2 trimesters, as sometimes the baby turns itself, but in the last trimester, it assures a complicated birth.

Not only, was she faithful to her visits at the hospital, but we had many conversations at home on our porch about how important it is to give birth at the hospital. As we got closer to one another, I told her to come get me NO MATTER what time it was. And yet...

When the baby came in the middle of the night, she stayed at home with only our 80 year old grandma to assist at the birth.

At 6am my little neighbor boy (14) came to wake me up with a pounding on my door and a "COME QUICK!" I did, to find the young mom crouching in one corner of the room and the blue baby in the middle of the room. It was too late. He was big and beautiful and would have been perfectly healthy if they had only gone to the hospital (a 10 minute walk from our house).

I was at a loss, SO confused as to what went wrong? What step was I missing? Where was the message lost? My neighbor grandma, who swears by traditional medicine said, "She's cursed. She's lost 2 babies now. It's a curse." and I screamed, "There is NO CURSE. She has NO BAD LUCK. That baby would be ALIVE if she had only gone to the hospital."

Whether it was money, lack of approchability, nurses not explaining things enough in laymen's terms. I still don't have any answers as to why they didn't come and get me until the last minute or why they didn't opt to walk to the hospital. However, that feeling that morning has taught me an immense number of things. Mostly, that there is still so much more work to do here. That I can't stop looking at any moment as a teaching moment. That there is such a value to the connection and the conversatinos that we have with mothers at prenatal consultations.

And one of the biggest lessons is how people cope with loss and suffering here. Two weeks after, the young mom and I sat in the kitchen shelling beans and she sat there softly singing a church hymn about how she was full of God's joy. I have so much to learn yet, from how to find the joys in this world despite the suffering that comes with being a human.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Looking At the Past Couple of Months

After the Peer Educators Formation finished in September the work continued. Suprisingly, I expected work with the high school students that were formed to be rather easy, but they proved to be too busy with school work to really be motivated to continue the work. However, the peer educators that were formed from the community were all about going out and doing sensibilitzations. Throughout the months of October and November we did 4 sensibilizations in the quartiers and with the motorcycle drivers. These sensibilizations revolve around the issues of: early pregnancy, induced home abortions, contraception, and proper condom use. Here are two of the peer educators presenting the complications of abortion. Though our sensibilizations have taken a halt for now, we still get together once a week to simply talk, and the conversations that we have have taught me a lot about what it means to be a youth growing up in a Cameroonian village.

Here's a shot of Papa Iza and I on one of our excursions out into the bush. After a year of working side by side with him Papa Iza and I have a very good commraderie and really understand how to work together. During down time at the vaccination table, he's also taught me so much about this culture and the Muslim religion. I like to refer to him as my "Big Muslim Teddy Bear" (not to his face, as that probably wouldn't translate well). But the days we go out into the bush his alter-ego changes to "Bill Nye the Science Guy" because he wears these really great googles (to avoid the dust) straight from 6th grade science lab! I like to think that my alter-ego on bush days is the "Red Power Ranger" due to my super snazzy Peace Corps helmet.

A look at what vaccinations in the bush look like. We take the moto on a 40 km ride to a village, but on the way there are lots of little settlements that people have set up to work their farms. These people know the rendez-vous for when Papa Iza and I will be back, and they wait on the side of the road for us the last Sunday of each month.

For Thanksgiving this year, Danielle invited all the Adamaoua volunteers to her house in Meiganga. She managed to cook up a meal that tasted so much like an American Thanksgiving (thanks to care packages from her Mama in the States). Danielle also invited her Cameroonian family and closest friends, so it was really neat, to see their reaction to our traditions and to our traditional foods.

December 1st was International World Aids Day. To raise awareness I worked with the peer educators and a couple of the high school teachers to put together a small ceremony at the high school. It included a couple of sketches, games, and interviews. Here are a couple of the high school students dressed up as opportunistic infections and being interviewed by a journalist.

Dry season is here again! Which means DIRTY DIRTY feet, lots of more trips to the water pump (and much more frugality with water), outrageous boogers, and brick building time! During dry season, the men and boys in village work to construct mud bricks. They mix mud with water and put it in a plaster to take on the brick shape, and then let them dry in the dry heat and sun. Towards the end of dry season, these men will start building houses/shacks/or outdoor kitchens with them.

A morning at one of the local water pumps. (There are two water pumps that are available to the whole village, which is truly toooo little for a population of 7,000 people). Trips to the water pump mean being ready to: a) have a killer workout b) be aggressive about when it is your turn to pump. (If you help other people pump their bidongs you get a lot more say in when its your turn to put your bidongs underneath the spicket).

Women and children washing clothes and dishes at one of the local streams.

There was a pretty severe Meningitis outbreak in the North of Cameroon a couple of years ago. To avoid that happening again, the Cameroonian government funded a national campaign in 4 out of its 10 regions to vaccinate all people 1-29! (That is 70% of the population!) Our hospital in Dir was responsible for vaccinating 10,000 people (that includes the population in the surrounding bush villages). The whole staff at the hospital was busy busy busy for 11 days as we tried all sorts of strategies to get to all the people our health area was responsible for.
This included days at the primary schools, markets, soccer games, excursions out into the bush, and even going into the bars! Here a member of my vaccination team and I are getting our vaccination cards organized before vaccinating a first grade classroom.

The first grade classroom that we vaccinated! One single teacher with her 97 Students!!!!! Can you imagine?? WOOF. (Definitely a problem within the Cameroonian education system....)

One of my favorite things about this country is all the goodies that come as donations from Western countries. This means that every week at market there are just piles and piles of T-Shirts, dresses, hats, whatever to go through that you can buy at incredibly cheap prices. This also means that you will see people wearing absolutley RIDICULOUS things. Like a young 16 year old guy wearing a "World's Best Grandma" T-shirt. No joke. One day in village I ran into this little boy wearing a Santa hat! (First one I've ever seen in this country). I was so excited and thought I would take the opportunity to wish y'all a Very Merry Christmas. Hope its wonderful and full of love. On my part, my Mami and Pops are coming to spend the holidays with me, which is the best present I can imagine = )