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Cameroon In The Eyes of British And American Volunteers

There are very few Cameroonian bloggers based in Cameroon. This vacuum has been occupied by volunteers working in the country (mainly) for the British organization Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) and the US Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV). Their attempts to cope with everyday life in an African country is the main stay of their posts.

Ourman in Cameroon is a VSO volunteer based in Bamenda, headquarters of Cameroon’s North West Province, he discusses “coping strategies” in this post:

“The phrase “coping strategies” is a VSO staple.
I’ve heard it a lot over the last couple of weeks. From the volunteer who is trying to deal with a house that is falling down around him, another struggling and isolated out in the sticks, another whose NGO is disintegrating just as she arrived, another whose house is so far out of town that she can’t stay out much later than early evening and visitors are unlikely.
To put it another way “coping strategies” means “what’s going to cheer me up?” or “What do I need to make this work?”
To some it’s investing more of their VSO allowance in phone calls home. For others it’s a night out, a new hobby or whatever.”

Whether it is a “coping strategy or not” Pecae Corps Volunteer Jessamyn Bowling is ready tro haggle to the end with taxi-drivers in Buea, the capital of the South West Province. Blogging at Jess’does Da Roon she has the impression that they think she is a bit stingy:

“I’ve been trying to work on my anger management since taxi drivers in a certain neighborhood HATE me. Hate being defined as: charging 50f (the equivalent of about a dime) extra. Today I yelled at a driver and people on the street all turned to watch “Oooo whiteman done vex!” My local friends tell me that apparently I’m more stingy than a Cameroonian… I take this as a badge of pride, and let’s be honest, I’ve been gripping nickles since I was 5 at the flea market wearing a fanny pack. I fight with my tailor about paying for dresses since I’m dead set on not paying more than locals do… but maybe I take it too far? I honestly think maybe I lived in an economic depression in some past life. Which might prepare me for my life when I get back to the States?”

Notwithstanding her stand-offs with taxi drivers, Jess even got a marriage proposal as a reward to her perceived thriftiness:

“I flagged down a taxi, and being cheap as I always am refused him when he tried to make me pay 50f more (again, like a dime) and he accepted to carry me home at my thrifty rate. When I got in, he said “I go marry you.” I replied, “You no go ask me? You just tell me?” He said “I get confidence.” I laughed. A minute later he said, “You know economics well, eh? I mean, you manage money fine.” Apparently my stinginess is a desired trait for Cameroonian men, this is new. Just as I was about to get dropped, he said “I should start getting money for your bride price?” I answered, “Yes, but it better be much, eh?”

Transport hassles aside the big problem facing these bloggers from out of town is power cuts. Ourman in Cameroon:

“I am sitting writing this at 19.44 on Monday night.
I am writing it by laptop battery power. The power has gone again.
It was off all day yesterday – I eventually gave up around eight and just went to sleep. There was literally nothing else to do.
The lights came back on earlier but the internet was still down.”

Rebecca Hartog Blogging at Small,Small Catch Monkey was happy to see Ngambé Tikar, the little village where she lives, finally connected to the national power supply :

“Recently, I’ve really felt more like I’ve been in a developing country than a third-world country. SONEL is the only (state-run) power company in Cameroon, and I didn’t really believe SONEL would ever bring electricity to my little village. I’d asked around and been told that SONEL said Ngambé Tikar was far too en brousse and it wouldn’t be profitable. Thus, when the generator that was powering my house every night broke in July, I thought I was going to be in the dark permanently. Fortunately, I was reassured that the deputy (kind of like the congressman for Ngambé Tikar) was going to bring a new generator to village in August.

Imagine my surprise when SONEL showed up in early August and began rapidly installing electricity poles and power lines. I stopped to ask the workers when they thought the power would be ready. They assured me “at the end of the month at latest.” Which could mean by the end of the month, but more likely meant I’d be lucky to see SONEL light up Ngambé Tikar before I leave in December 2009. So I was even further surprised when the power lines and poles were basically installed well before the end of the month.”

At times these posts seem to be irk some Cameroonians. For instance Small Small Catch Monkey received the following comment on the about electicity coming to Ngambé Tikar:

“Isat said…
Slight point of accuracy sister:
AES/SONEL is a private utility company run by AES Sirocco – an American based energy company. AES took over SONEL in 2001. Yes the state still has shares in AES/SONEL but the majority stakes are held by AES.

True: It is the only power supply company in the country.

Deputé is a parliamentarian. Just as you would have it in the UK or elswhere. Some sort of congressman … may denote ridicule. I hope I am wrong sister.
Have fun in Ngambé Tikar.”

Volunteer blogs (if I may call them that) do not just end at discussions about darkness and light in terms of electricity. Tim Hartman Blogging at Peace Corps Cameroon has an idea about the problem with Cameroon. He thinks it is to do with mentality and the absence of books to develop critical thinking:

…mentality isn’t just the equivalent of development, it goes beyond that. Mentality leads to happiness. And it isn’t just development that Cameroonians want. They, like everyone else in this world, want to be happy above all else.

So if a change in mentality that is necessary for development can’t be made from an outside source, then how could I promote a change in mentality that would lead people to be happy? The obvious answer is that I can’t, that the change needs to be initiated and come from within. The one missing link that I still see here on the ground in Cameroon, though, is books. Remember my first installment of What’s Wrong with Cameroon? It was about reading. For me personally, I’ve been able to grow immensely from books. They lead to creativity and critical thinking skills, but they also share others’ trials, tribulations, errors, and points of view. I feel like I have become a happier person and developed personally and spiritually because I had the opportunity to read so many books and gain from others’ experiences. I expedited my own search for happiness through reading….

…The first part of my strategy is to get books in people’s hands. This is what I wrote about in my first installment of What’s Wrong with Cameroon. I’ve already received some packages of books that I have distributed and I’ll tell you about where they went and my experiences with handing them out in my next blog. But I want to restate my request. Send me your books!”

Tim wants his readers to send books. Others’ wish lists are more basic. Here’s Jess’ wish list:

“-boxes of processed food (sauces, mac n cheese)
-little packets of tuna
-fun tea
-books! (anything awesomely good)
-art supplies
-beef jerky
-dried fruits
-MUSICCCC – I can play anything, VCD, CD, MP3, just send me stuff. I thrive on it! (And it helps to fight the battle against my neighbor's loud Nigerian films/loud Christian preachings)
-calls & letters!

Rebecca Hartog at small small catch monkey insinuates about postal security while making her request:

If you are so inclined to send me a package (apparently only $11 for a letter-size envelope, no matter how stuffed full!), the best address to send it is:
(Soeur) Becca Hartog, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 215
Yaoundé, Cameroon
I would recommend writing in red, and drawing religious symbols all over it. You may feel stupid doing that, but wouldn't you feel worse if it never got here?

Here is a list of things that will always be welcome,…:

- Parmesan cheese, the kind that doesn't really need refrigeration (ie Kraft)
-DVDs (burned copies welcome) of any movies or TV shows, (wish list: “the office” US version all seasons, but esp season 2; “30 Rock” season 2; “The office” British version, any/all seasons; “Curb Your Enthusiasm”)
– photos (physical, not digital) to remind me of you, of home
– dried fruits (apricots, pears, cranberries, cherries, blueberries etc)
– pretty much anything non-perishable from trader joes
– tea, especially Tazo or Stash black chai or variety pack
– clif bars (especially the NECTAR Clif pomegranate cherry… or any other sport bar that is very similar to this one)”

In the meantime some volunteers have already adapted to their surroundings and appear to be loving their stay. It is the case with Brad who is based in Dschang in the West Province of Cameroon,and blogs at Brad in Cameroon:

“I am very excited for the next few months. I am finally feeling at home so much here it doesn’t feel like im anywhere anymore, I'm just here. I am enjoying teaching my classes, hanging with friends and my alone time. Every once in a while I get frustrated with my situation or bored but far less frequently than last year and not as badly. I also have some guaranteed good times coming up. I am going to Yaoundé in November and will be there on election night on which I don’t plan on sleeping. You guys aren’t letting Obama lose right? I was serious about not coming back if he does. John McCain is alright (actually he's right-center…oh! I almost deleted this it's corny I no but better than no joke no?)”

Siobhan in Cameroon has also turned the page:

“I'm not sure if this has come across in my blogs or not, but I really really like living in Cameroon. I love the east province, people here are wonderful and i'm starting to crave cameroonian food (the other day I had juice from a hibicus that was sweetended and ice cold, it was amazing). I'm really happy being here and just in case I haven't extended this invitation formally, anyone at anytime is more than welcome to visit. It wouldn't be your typical vacation, but I promise it would be an experience.”

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