I wrote this blog on Sunday – but am just now able to get it posted online!
It’s been a whirlwind 48 hours since we arrived in Cameroon; and an even longer 5 days since we left Portland.
We had a good time in Philly for Staging. Staging is our US-based training for our Peace Corps service. It is where we officially became Peace Corps Trainees, as opposed to our earlier status of invitees. We had a good time watching Jon Stewart on the Daily Show for the last time and enjoying some of the foods we will miss, like good beer, frozen yogurt, and hamburgers. We also had a good time getting to know the other trainees that are in our stage, which essentially just means they will serve in Cameroon for the exact time that we will.
Our stage is very unique. In total, there are 40 of us, 4 of who were transferred from Mali to Cameroon a few weeks ago when Mali had a coup d’état. Our stage does not represent any of the demographic statistics that are put out by Peace Corps; first off, we are one of three married couples, where most stages don’t have any married couples, we are split almost 50-50 males to females where it is usually 30-70 respectively, and we have three volunteers over 50, where most stages have one. I like that our stage is unique, we are a good mix and we have definitely been laughing a lot!
When our airplane finally touched down on Friday in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, we were immediately greeted by Peace Corps staff, hugging us, welcoming us, and rushing us off to collect our baggage. The Peace Corps staff has good connections here, they met us at the gate and we didn’t have to do anything for customs or immigration! Thankfully, everyone’s baggage made it. We arrived at the hotel that we will be staying at until Wednesday with an African band playing out front. As we tried to carry our bags up to our rooms, the hotel staff insisted we had a free hand to give us a cold cup of juice. We were then shuffled off to dinner. It was a great dinner with salad, rice, a tomato/bell pepper/onion stir fry to go on top of the rice, grilled chicken, bread, and fruit, all topped off with our first dose of anti-malaria meds for dessert. It was a great first night, and a great welcome to our home for the next 27 months.
I joked with my parents before coming to Cameroon that I would be eating croissants and drinking coffee in Cameroon, as they are a French speaking nation, thinking this would be the farthest from the truth…well, Saturday morning that is exactly what we had for breakfast. Who would have thought? The main task for Saturday was a language interview we had to do for placement into our language learning classes. It was supposed to be a 20 minute interview, all in French, to see how far we could get. Shaun thinks he got the record for being the shortest interview, and thus knowing the littlest French, as his interview was only 6 minutes! We had a good laugh at that – however, many people are in the same position as him and have only taken French once or twice.
Saturday afternoon we were able to go out in small groups and explore the area of Yaoundé we are staying in. Thankfully, very thankfully, our hotel is about a 10 minute walk away from the Omniplex, the soccer stadium for the Cameroon national team, and Saturday afternoon there was a home game against the Democratic Republic of the Congo to see which team would move on to play for the Africa Cup. No one in the Peace Corps staff said we couldn’t go, so almost all of the new trainees went to the game. It was a blast! The tickets were 1,000 CFA (Cameroonian Frank, said say-fah), which is all of $2 USD, and we were in the general admission section full of Cameroonians with their faces painted yellow, red, and green, wearing their national flag as capes. I supported the local economy and bought a mini-Cameroonian flag for 300 CFA ($0.60). Cameroon scored a goal off of a penalty, and that was the only goal of the game. The crowd was pretty intense and very loud – it made the Portland Timbers look calm! We had a great time at the game and learned that the most important thing to bring to an African soccer match is a whistle. That night, we were all invited to a traditional African dance show, the main dancer is the wife of one of the program directors here. It was a great way to end the day watching the dances and enjoying a beer with friends.
Today, Sunday, was very low key. We had our first safety and security briefing and filled out more paperwork. Our big event today was dinner at our Country Director’s house. It was a big to-do, as all Peace Corps staff were there, as well as close governmental ministry partners, some local media, the US Ambassador to Cameroon, and the Peace Corps Regional Director for Africa. While there were all these big-wigs there, it was a very relaxed night with tons of food and drinks and a great time.
Tomorrow we begin training sessions at the Peace Corps office in Yaoundé, and begin to get ready to head to our homestay and training center on Wednesday. We will be heading relatively NW of the capital to Bafia, this is where we will stay until August 16 when we officially swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers. It has been a great few days here and definitely a fun time. We are still anxious to find out where we will be posted, to get into our training classes, and to meet our homestay family, but we are trying to do as the Africans do; take life one day at a time and enjoy it along the way.