Monday, December 7, 2009

Highlights from Africa

Tuesday November 3rd
We had a glorious farewell of bowling and food (miso soup) in Phili all thanks to Vince, Michelle, Rob and Joey. So thanks guys for a great sendoff, American style.

November 4th -6th
Epic. We rode the bus from Phili to NY City where I said the hardest goodbye of my life. Our trip from New York to Paris went fine. Once in Paris however things became a bit more complicated. Thanks to some tears and France’s only inhabitant with a heart we somehow made our flight to Libya. However illegally it might have been accomplished seeing as we never went through customs. Upon arrival in Libya we were greeted not so warmly by a man in a mask. Then we were corralled to a room full of scary men with guns most of which were smoking. Again, we miraculously made our flight despite the oversight of a lack in time change over daylight savings. We couldn’t help but feel happy when we made it safely through Benin into Douala. With one foot off the plane it was apparent we had landed in the jungle. Sticky upon contact with the air we went to retrieve the two of our four bags that had made it. We were warmly greeted by a tired Lucy Abia. Into the cab we went for an unforgettable ride. About five minutes in we stopped by 5 uniformed and heavily armed police officers. (Let me remind you reader that it is now 3:30 AM) Upon seeing our white tired faces we were asked for identification. Our bags were in the trunk so I volunteered to get out and retrieve them. Feeling a fear I had never known before I told Chelsea to keep her ass glued to the seat. After what seemed like endless interrogation I was allowed back in the car where I then received a marriage proposal from the interrogation officer. After our driver bribed the officer we were allowed to pass. A further eventful ride introduced us to a whole new style of driving. The best possible word to describe this style would simply be: terrifying. Around 5 am we reached Buea and were warmly greeted by the rest of the Abia clan.

Friday November 6th
After some sleep we became acquainted with the family and the area around their compound. We were attacked with unwelcome food and spiritual intervention. We were forced to buy traditional African dresses for a purpose yet unseen.

Sunday November 8th
Purpose for African cabbas discovered…. Kingdom Hall. Lucy has become educated on what it really means to be vegetarian and although our religious differences will never be sorted she quickly mounted the challenge of vegetarian cooking. We are now eating well,…. Maybe a bit too well.

November 9th-11th
We spent a whole days journey of misery (21 passengers to a 10 passenger van) to retrieve our lost luggage. We spent more time cooking, doing laundry, and getting to know the slow of the African people. We peel egusi (pumpkin seed) and drink hot beer like real African women.

Thursday November 12th
To move from the Southwest province, Buea to the Northwest province, Belo is not an easy feat. We traveled 14 hours through 3 taxis, 2 busses, one flat tire and one breakdown until we finally arrived to our new home. We were quickly introduced to the other volunteers and taken a long way down a dirt road to Madame Margaret’s house. This first night in Belo was eventful indeed. Our belongings were swarmed with RATS and lizards before we could even shut our eyes. Halfway through the night our bed broke to form the shape of a ‘V’. With an infested room, not toilet, no running water, and a broken bed we decided to move. It wouldn’t be until later that we would realize we might have stayed in these conditions just to receive the kindness of sweet sweet Margaret.

Friday November 13th
We met the mayor, the police, and the rest of the staff. We began to figure out just what we had gotten ourselves into, volunteering for RUDEC I mean. We talked with Josh (our new supervisor-the founder of RUDEC) and he arranged for us to be moved into the mayor’s house. We were to be staying with the mayors SECOND of two wives and she didn’t seemed too thrilled.

November 14th-15th
We spent a long slow weekend getting used to our surroundings. The other volunteers had gone away for the weekend so we were left to our own devices. Although we had a rough start in Belo the town and surroundings are absolutely beautiful. We are in the mountains here with waterfalls at every corner. And the people, oh the people are stunning. This area is a family place with lots of children moving about, more children in fact than I have ever seen all in one place.

November 16th-17th
We spent the first part of the week meeting people at the school in Njinikejim village and having dinner with the other volunteers. We stated teaching math and English. I am teaching class 5 and Chelsea was working with classes 3 and 4. The school in Njinikejim has five classes but only three rooms. To further complicate things classes 1 and 2 are taught in Kom, the native language here. The problem arises when the children move to class 3 and are expected to know English at the class 3 level.
The other volunteers here (split between BERUDEP and RUDEC) all live in their own houses and pay monthly rent. We were the first to try a home stay, the guinea pigs. Unfortunately we were placed in the home of woman far meaner than any other I have ever met. So, naturally, we spend some nights at the homes of other volunteers having dinner with them.

Wednesday November 18th
We went up the mountain to Ndawara Tea Estate. The massive estate is owned by one man. He is one of the first men to be truly half Kom and Fulani (the once nomadic peoples that inhabited the highlands). He is a tyrant, an exploiter of his land and workers alike. (However, I was excited for the opportunity to learn more about large scale farming in this area. Since it seemed there was not volunteer project running in which I could spend the majority of my time on a farm I compromised to teach in the school. However, Josh knew that I was keeping it as a personal goal to spend as much time working on and doing research about farming and agriculture in the area.) It takes hours of travel on rough dirt roads to reach his palace so naturally the sight of it is amazing.

He keeps ostrich to eat and has peacocks and monkeys for pets while his people don’t have money to eat. However devastating I find the knowledge I gained of the tea industry invaluable.

Thursday November 19th
Today at school we did manual labor and planted a garden. Different world huh? That’s right 8 and 9 years olds running around in uniform with machetes in hand. Oh yes and our first real experience of no water began this day.

Saturday November 21st
Today a group of volunteers got together and traveled to Bafut, and Saboga Botanic Gardens.
We went to see the Fon’s palace in Bafut (the Fon is a sort of grandfather of the community if you will). BUT we couldn’t go to the palace because a body of one of the members of the Fon’s palace had been stolen from the mortuary and the people were reacting. The people had set up road blocks and stated to destroy the mortuary to provoke the police. We moved on to the gardens which weren’t much of a site. We ended up hiking to some rocks... HMMM.... rocks. I decided to climb up and then for an unknown reason decided to tear some flesh off my bum coming dowm.... HMMM..... rocks.

Sunday November 22nd
Today we hiked Mbingo cliffs to a HUGE waterfall. On the way we found a rad horseskull and vertebrae.

Lunch=yams and bananas. Oh and by the way what we call yams, well, they aren’t yams at all.

November 23rd-27th
School was pretty routine all week except we had Friday off for holiday. Monday we went to a girls soccer game-rad. (The oldest girl of the family we are staying with, who isn’t their child, is named Collete. She has been the only one to care for us really, it was her game!)
Tuesday was a big day for me…we rode to Mbingo and then walked to Mejung with Patience, the house help, and we worked the farm. From early in the morning until about four we worked and worked in the farm weeding the beans, clearing the land, and harvesting okra.
(Oh and I have yet to meet a Cameroonian who likes okra the way us southerners do). Wednesday was market day (the market comes here every 8 days) so we bought some food.
We also went to the Blind Center, this small building is a center run by a blind woman to promote the livelihood of the blind people here in Belo. She is amazing and the crafts they produce are beautiful and certainly worth buying, so we did. Thursday, Thanksgiving, was a little hard but we spent the day teaching, had some fresh corn and avocado that Patience had managed to find us for lunch (both of which are out of season and hard to come by right now) and had dinner with all the other volunteers (none of which are American and know the value of a big Thanksgiving feast) Friday we had a party in a neighboring village for one of the volunteers who was leaving. We spent time with the locals and heard way too many speak. One day this week Chelsea decided that she wanted to go home a bit early. Will, her boyfriend, will be joining us in Paris and then coming along with us in India for the first 2 ½ weeks. She will be leaving the same day he does. Of course I was a little panicked about being alone in India for a month, then in Thailand for 6 weeks, a finally in Hong Kong for 3 days. But I am very happy to let you know reader that Joey will be joining the three of us while in India and staying on with me the remainder of the trip.

Saturday November 28th
Today we had another epic journey to Bamendjin Lake. However this journey was well worth the trouble because we got to see wild hippos swimming in the same lake we were floating in in an old wooden boat.
Once we were back in Belo we went drinking and dancing to send Gary off in style.

Sunday November 29th
Morning brought my first African hangover. We had planned to venture to Bamenda (the capital of the Northwest Province) to stay with our dear friend Esther Abia. The cab ride was terrible, 8 or 9 people in the cab at all times, one hour of me doing everything in my power not to vomit. But when we made it to Esther’s I was greeted with a bed and GREAT food. We hadn’t been fed since we left Buea and it was nice not to have to cook (Cooking here is an entirely different endeavor, one that most often takes HOURS).
We spent the rest of the night catching up with Esther and Prisca (Irene’s older and younger sisters respectively) and simply delighting in the company. Might I say that feeling at home somewhere is truly priceless?

Monday November 30th
Esther and Prisca fed us and took us to the market. Bamenda is a much larger town the anywhere else we had stayed so we were able to buy some gifts for people and some treats for ourselves, peanut butter and chocolate included! After the market we headed back to Belo. We took a much needed shower at Richard and Andy’s house after having dinner there. Andy is a volunteer with BERUDEP and had been coming here for at least 4 months at a time for the past 5 years now. He always stays in the dame house and so a few years back he invested in installing a hot water heater. He and one other house in all of Belo have hot water (not even the Mayor). Can you imagine one month without hot water, many days with not water at all….. if you haven’t done it I don’t imagine that you can. I went to bed with a sense of cleanliness that cannot be surpassed, despite all the dirt still beneath my nails.

December 1st-3rd
These days were pretty ordinary. We taught and did some exploring after work. I got into a heated argument with a teacher about verbally and physically beating one of the children. Over the next few days he seemed very receptive to my comments and agreed to a new teacher education program that I outlined with one of the other volunteers. The teacher education is to include positive reinforcement tactics, creative teaching methods, and education about the benefits of a positive learning environment. That program is set to launch in January 2011. We also established a new means of determining the needs of children for a new tutoring program that should launch the same date. Chelsea and I explored MIFACIG on Tuesday and a little piece of my heart broke. MIFACIG is a local organization that promotes organic agriculture. They are a nursery and education center that is self sustained by the selling of bred trees and plants. They hold farmer education courses and continuing education for adult school dropouts in the community. This center would have been the perfect organization for me to work with but with one week left there is not time to switch. I had words with my supervisor about withholding information. We discussed looking at the betterment of a community through a larger lens and about his selfishness. Hopefully the next volunteers will be treated with a higher level of respect and understanding. If any of you want more information on how to help this community in any way or more information and the outreach organizations here please, please let me know. These people need help and they are certainly deserving.

Friday December 4th
Today we hiked to a Beautiful waterfall where we could actually swim. Happy is the only word.

Saturday December 5th
The happy wore off quickly for today we did an HIV awareness program and tested 48 orphans for the sick, sick disease. The experience was invaluable. Some moments were even enjoyable. Out of 8 female volunteers I was somehow the one selected to show the older girls how to use a condom by means of a banana. The girls informed me that they had already been taught. I decided to make them race to see who could wrap the banana the quickest. Boisterous laughter overcame me when one of the girls asked for scissors to open the condom. Think about it………. funny right? I told her no, “In real life are your going to be asking for scissors or ripping it open with your teeth?” The other girls laughed…. Oddly enough, she won! The sad part came when we got the results. 3 kids were positive. All 3 kids are ones who are orphans and DON’T have sponsors. So now the kids have free medicine but no way to get to and from the hospital every week to get them. The cost to and from the hospital is less than 3 dollars. That means that for about 12 dollars a month the child can receive adequate medical care and for about 24 dollars a month could be sponsored to have medical care, transport, school fees (school is NOT free here), food, and clothes. INTERESTED????????? LET ME KNOW!

Later on that night all the volunteers got together and had movie night. It was really great; the simple pleasure of a movie is so underestimated.

Monday December 6th
We taught and sadly said goodbye to our students.
Today we pack for our departure tomorrow. We will spend our last week in Africa saying goodbye here, traveling the distance back to Buea, resting, hiking the second tallest mountain in Africa, Mt. Cameroon, resting again, being tourists in Limbe for a day, and traveling to Douala for our departure to Paris.

So far it has gone by fast. We have gotten to do a great deal and have met many wonderful people. The land is beautiful and the experience invaluable. I cannot believe we’ve been gone almost 5 weeks. Please write to me. Although it is very difficult to write back I am thinking of all of you more than you know. I miss my family and friends. To those of you who I have not spoken I tell you this, I think of you more often than you know, in Africa time moves slow and each of you are on my mind. Special thanks to Dr. Tara ….I ain’t been sick yet (except when I spent that money you saved me on beer). More to come soon I hope.


P.S. This stupid computer won't let me post pictures so there aren't any for this post of the last one. HOWEVER! I will post some pictures later. Also you can go to google and search FLICKR CHELSEA BURNEY and there are a few pictures there.

P.P.S. So I found a computer where I can post pictures obviously... YAY. And I forgot to mention that one night I almost cut the lower part of my nose and upper lip off because I decided to chop the African yellow pepper. You DO NOT chop this pepper, you simply cook it whole and take it out, its enough, I assure you.
I also forgot to mention that grasshoppers, well theyre a delicacy of course.


  1. Sounds like an adventure! At least warm beer is better than no beer.


  2. Mission accomplished-victory is mine (you have not gotten sick)! Hangover sick doesn't count. I'm so glad Joey is coming and you won't be alone. I panicked for half a second. You are my hero (no lie), stay safe so I don't have to come to Africa and rough some folks up.

  3. I can't believe I am just reading about your experiences when you are done with Africa!

  4. YAY PHOTOS!!! I most especially LOVE the one of just your dirty face in your Carharts. I love you sweet thing!

  5. Hey ...You made it through though.Thanks for the courage!