Since Shaun is in Nkongsamba for the next week, I have found myself with some extra free time this weekend, even though he did manage to leave me a giant pile of laundry! I figured this would be a good time to answer some of the questions people have been asking about our daily life here.
Our house has plumbing for running water, yet, there is none. Our family also has a covered well in the front yard. To get water for our shower, we pull water from the well and put it into two 20-litre jugs that we have. Then, when we either need to shower or “flush” the toilet, we pour the water into a smaller bucket. There is a scoop which you use to pour the water over yourself, soap and shampoo up, and then rinse and repeat. I am not sure I have ever gotten all of the shampoo or conditioner out of my hair since we have been here, but the bucket showers are far more refreshing than I expected them to be.
Buckets are key for life here! We borrow a large bucket from our family and put our dirties in there with soap and fill it up with well water. We wash and scrub our clothes in there and then put them in another small bucket with just water for the rinse cycle. Thankfully, our front yard is covered with clothes lines so we can hang everything to dry.
Our family does most of the cooking, even though we wish we could do more of our own meal preparations. They have a two-burner gas stove; think of a car-camping stove that you put on top of a bookshelf for your kitchen stove. They also have an outdoor kitchen (which is nothing like my parents outdoor kitchen, if only…) where they build multiple contained fires to cook over. Presently, Bafia is out of gas and no one knows when they will be able to get any more, so my family has solely been cooking outside over the fire. We wanted water to make coffee the other morning and it took one hour to get water to boil, given the time it took to build a fire and wait for it to heat up enough to boil. As for dishes, they do not clean the kitchen and do the dishes every night like my mom does and we wish they did! It is much harder without running water, but they soap up dishes in a big bowl of water and then rinse them in another bowl of clean water and let them dry in the drying rack.
Well, it is definitely a different diet than we are used to! After some negotiating and explaining preferences with our family, we usually eat scrambled eggs in a baguette for breakfast. For lunch at school, there is a mama that comes and brings cooked food, such as rice and beans and meat if you want to pay extra for it, or there are many street vendors that serve sandwiches. We usually opt for the sandwich because it is nice to get out of the Peace Corps house for a bit during the day. The most popular sandwich is an avocado, tomato and onion mix, with spicy black beans and a bit of their hot sauce (piedmont) inside of half of a baguette. You can also get cheese, like the Laughing Cow triangles, or canned meat, or tomato paste and cheese (aka…a pizza sandwich) or boiled eggs and mayo or any combination of the above. A usual sandwich costs between 400-500CFA, which is $0.80-$1.00.
At home, some meals are better than others. Fish is very common in the diet, and they love boiled plantains. I would say that is our most common side, boiled plantains or bananas with some sort of sauce on top, maybe with fish or other protein in the sauce. We are happy when we get rice instead of the bananas cause the sauces are usually pretty good, and we both love rice. They also have couscous de mais, couscous made from corn, but it is served in a dense ball, it is good with the sauce, but not at all like Mediterranean couscous. And, another African side is baton de manioc. It is essentially a root that grows here that you boil and it is soft but dense, it is similar to cassava if you are familiar with that. We both enjoy that – it is very good with either fish or spicy beans, which happens to be what we are having for dinner tonight, so I am happy about that!
Monday-Friday we have training from 8-430. We get an hour break for lunch. The day is broken down into 4 sessions, which are some combination of French class, technical training (for Shaun, English teaching classes and for me, business and model village savings and loans), health classes, safety, cross culture, or general Peace Corps info sessions. We have a half day on Saturdays from 8-12:30, and then are off on Sundays. Every night of the week we have a curfew of 7pm, so on the weekdays from 4:30-7, there are either soccer games going on, people using the internet at the Peace Corps house where we have training, but mostly, we all go to the bar. They have made the Peace Corps house an “immersion” zone, so we have to speak French all day at school, which is difficult to have normal conversations with friends. It is nice to go get a beer at the end of the day with friends and chat about nothing in English! On Sundays, we do our laundry, clean our room, play sports, hang out with friends, get online, and of course, hit the bar.