Hello there again!
Wow, it feels strange to be blogging away from Cameroon. Already three weeks have past since I’ve returned, and I’m still making small day-to-day adjustments. I think I can speak for the other volunteers when I say that there is definitely some counter-culture shock going on. It’s not so abrupt and huge as the term may suggest, but there is definitely some realizations you make once you return and are able to distance yourself from that foreign place in which you spent half of your summer. One of the most obvious outcomes is becoming more appreciative for every little thing we may take for granted sometimes when living in a place like the US. Everyday life in Cameroon was at or below the poverty level, but the people there were nonetheless happy to have what little they owned. Families were just grateful if they could bring food to the table, and sending children to school was sometimes nothing but a dream.
I learned from the community much more than I can put to words. They were a friendly group of people who more than welcomed us into their country, but also greeted us, invited us to their homes and churches, fed us, gave us gifts, and never failed to kindly say ‘hello’ and wave at us. Yes, we didn’t exactly blend into their society, but I had never felt so welcomed as I did in Cameroon. Perhaps sometimes people were a little too welcoming, if you know what I mean, but I never felt completely offended or uncomfortable. That’s just how their culture is.
Before I go on about my last thoughts on cultural differences, I would like to talk about the project. The last two weeks of the project found the other volunteers and me working on the Njinikom farm, which was, to and from, an hour and a half long hike each day. It was quite the challenge trekking up those steep, rocky mud roads each day but I always felt really accomplished at the end of a day’s work. There are about ten different groups of widows that will be benefiting from the money we brought for each of their plots of land, but we only worked alongside one group. This group was the arts and crafts group of Njinikom. Like all of the widows we have met across different groups, these women were really kind and giving. Throughout the last two weeks, our main focus was preparing the land for cultivation. Our main work consisted of clearing and hoeing the land, as well as building a propagator.
Along with the hard labor, the other volunteers and I interviewed key community members, like the president of the Njinikom arts and crafts widow group, in addition to the coordinator of the widows groups. This documentation and video recording will prove very useful and will be added to the wide variety of photos we have taken for the purpose of this project. We hope that these records will contribute to a successful project report and follow-up during the course of the months and even years to come.
The post-project part is in some ways just as or even more important than the project itself. Every volunteer doesn’t expect any sort of project completion during their stay, just project progress. Something as complex as a sustainable development project implies difficulty and lots of dedication. Sometimes that’s not enough because other factors play in, and as the other volunteers and I learned, culture is a BIG one. There’s not much you can do to influence change easily in a system that works differently from yours. It’s hard work and nothing seems to happen as planned. It’s not easy to get the results you want in the time frame you want them, but as a volunteer working for a good cause I was never expecting it to run smoothly. I was just happy to learn from my mistakes, learn from the community, and use those to help me move on and progress for the sake of the project. It took a lot of late night conversations and additional meetings to finalize some project details, and by the time we were leaving the other volunteers and I wished we could have completed more tangible work.
In the end, despite all the twists and turns, we were very content in our choice to come to Cameroon. We understood that although we didn’t accomplish much tangible work on the fields, we made a pretty good intangible impact on the people we worked closely with. I know that many of them could tell how much we cared to sort the issues out so that we can help them as much as we can. We were able to sit with Anna, the coordinator of the widows groups, and the project financial advisor, on two separate occasions before we left Cameroon to conclude the direction of the project once we were out of the picture. We feel much more secure now that we are close to establishing business workshops to be held for the leaders of widows groups. After all, teaching them a method of sustainable development is what Nourish International is all about. We hope that they will use those business skills to not only run their fruit and vegetation businesses, but to also grow and flourish these businesses. I would love to return back 20 years from now to see a Cameroon that is no longer suffering and limited as it is now.
There are few things I know I will not miss about Cameroon. Cold showers everyday, for one. Going many nights and even days at a time without electricity was sometimes unbearable, but the other volunteers and I found fun ways to occupy ourselves. The electricity was out most of the times because it rained literally everyday there, and although I do miss it sometimes especially since Texas hasn’t seen any rain since I’ve arrived, the rain made the mud roads the worst to trudge through. There is no possible way to walk through that untouched by blotches and squirts of red, thick mud over your shoes and pant legs. And it also made slipping on your bottom very likely! Add that to steep roads and long hikes, you got one big workout! Although they were good workouts, I will never grow accustomed to steep anything! I don’t mind the walking so much, but steep hills will never be my friend. It also would’ve been nice to have more connection to the world. The internet connection was extremely slow and we only averaged once a week at the lab. It was quite difficult to handle at first, but in the end, it was a challenge I’m glad I endured. It’s good to distance yourself from a little technology sometimes. Making sure to bleach or use a UV light to clean your water isn’t exactly something I’ll miss doing either. Oh, the stomachaches! I will never miss those.
But enough of the negative, there was way more positive! They are much more general but also much more meaningful. I will miss most of all the friends I made there. This includes the women we worked with, the kids I met on the street, our lovely cook, and so many, many more! They made our stay worthwhile and I thank them for welcoming us with such open arms. Trying new food was fantastic, and no matter what it looked like or what the content, I always jumped eagerly into the dishes. I loved trying the exotic food and all of it was delicious. Thanks to our cook, Zita, Emily and I have some of her homemade recipes that we can cook on our own. We want to cook our favorite dish puff puffs first! I’ll dearly miss the beautiful landscape of Cameroon. From the beaches in the South, to the bustling cities in the center, and to the mountains in the Northwest region where we stayed, every view was beautiful. And I felt like I could see almost every star at night – it was breathtaking. I’ll also miss the excitement around soccer matches there. I felt privileged to be a part of something that was so special to the people of Cameroon. That was one thing that brought all of them together, and it was a sight to see. And although French was not so prevalent in my village as it was in other parts of Cameroon, I will miss the presence of French the times I was able to practice it in the southern cities and in Limbe in our final days.
I would definitely say that Cameroon was an amazing experience. An unforgettable one that I will only grow to appreciate more in the year to come. I know that our work there and after the project will make an impact in some way for the lives of those good women. So many people we met there hope we return soon, but all I could tell them was that hopefully one day I would. I really hope to visit them again but for now I must settle for emails and occasional phone calls and care packages as our only ways to stay in touch. And finally, I want to thank all of you who stuck by me on my journey and followed my blogs. I really appreciated the support away from home. And of course, thanks for supporting a cause that’s extremely important to me.
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