As many of you know by now, we are living far more comfortably here in Nkongsamba than we ever expected to be in Peace Corps Cameroon. It so happens that our house has both electricity and running water on most days. It used to be said by PCVs that if you had both of these resources available in your home you were considered to be living a ‘posh corps’ life rather than a ‘real’ Peace Corps life. It’s hard to say what makes ‘posh corps’ now though; things have changed a lot in Cameroon in the 50 years since Peace Corps arrived and while there are still a few volunteers without these luxuries, the overwhelming majority of us have access to these basic modern conveniences. In fact, from our stage we only had one lucky volunteer who is living at a post without either of the resources.
The simple fact is that the times are changing and with that development the standard of living for everyone in the Peace Corps is on the rise. Does that make our experience here today any less real than that of someone who severed here a decade ago? I don’t think so. We are still sharing the same standard of living as that of our neighbors in the community. If anything, the changes should stand as a testament to the development that has taken place here since Peace Corps began. To what, if any, degree we are responsible for that development is another topic, but as a whole it should be seen as a good thing that so much more of the population has access to running water and electricity now.
So, how is today’s ‘Posh Corps’ to be measured then with so many of us now gaining access to these utilities. It is foolish to think that everyone has it easy once these two resources have hit a village. There are still many factors that can cause difficulties for Volunteers as well as community members. One of the most difficult things for our generation to be without is access to communication. Believe it or not, some Volunteers still live in areas where they do not have access to either internet or mobile phone service in there village. Another common problem here in Cameroon in transportation; with the limited amount of investment in infrastructure the more remote areas, compounded by the harsh rains of the wet season, makes many roads impassable for certain parts of the year. This can lead to many problems such as gaining access to other resources such as fresh produce or gas for cooking meals.
But, even by the new measurements of life as a PCV, we are doing very well here in Nkongsamba. Not only do we enjoy electricity, running water, and internet all at our fingertips here in our home, we also have access to large markets 7 days a week and a very well stocked ‘white man store’. These factors coupled with the relative proximity to large cities Douala, Bafoussam, Bamenda, and Yaoundé all make for a very convenient and comfortable post location.
In fact, just earlier this week we purchased both a toilet seat and a showerhead to install in our indoor bathroom. Now these items may not sound like much to most of you reading back at home, but I can assure you that to any fellow PCVs here in country reading this, these are indeed luxury items.
Since arriving here a little over a week ago to a completely empty house we have done wonders in turning it into something we are now both starting to agree feels much like a home. We have acquired a decent start to a kitchen and have cooked several very delicious meals already including pizza, eggplant curry and just last night homemade tostadas with fresh salsa and what you could call sour cream. The living room now has several chairs and a coffee table, the dining room has a very lovely table, but not any chairs to accompany it yet. And of course are bedroom is coming along nicely with both a new mattress and simple closet that we share. We have also completed setting up our office which would be very nice had our main computer not crashed on us here already. And finally, the thing we just completed this week, that I think Mollie is most proud of, is our new curtains and kitchen shelves which we designed and created ourselves. Yes, I would say that the house is coming along wonderfully well all things considered.
Though we have used up most all of our moving in allowance on the items mentioned above we do not plan at stopping here. We still have large aspirations for this place and we feel that if we live frugally we will be able to save a little every month to invest in the other items we hope to have, such as a raised garden bed outside for planting vegetables, a second guest bedroom for when we have visitors, an outside table a chairs for when the weather begins to get nicer, and someday if things go very well, possibly a refrigerator for our kitchen.
Whether you call it Posh Corps or Peace Corps, we are feeling very much at home here in Nkongsamba. (An update with photos will hopefully soon accompany this post.)