Adventures in Cameroon: Tales from a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer – Post #1

My name is Erica, one of the board members with One World Tuition. When our beloved President, Stefanie first spoke to me about her idea to form a non-profit to eliminate poverty around the world through education, I was intrigued and excited!! I happened to be in my first year as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) living in Cameroon, West Africa. I was elated to hear this news! We discussed through email the best way to go about finding schools, students and other logistics. It was fun to be in on this dream from the beginning. You see, education around the world is not free, there are no tax dollars going into the education system. Families are on their own to provide this for their multiple children, often deciding which ones they can afford to send and who will stay home.

Living in Cameroon, West Africa with the Peace Corps for 27 months was a whirlwind experience. By the time I returned home I held a larger worldview, wonderful memories, an African wardrobe, a new language, fabric galore, life experiences and a husband, just to name a few.

(First) The day I left for Cameroon! Tears soon followed this ear to ear grin!
(Second) The group of health volunteers. We all went through 10 weeks of training in a small village and became like family! I’m in the back row, third from the left.
(Third) Me signing the document to officially “swear in” as a Peace Corps Volunteer!
(Fourth) School children in training village.
(Fifth) My host brother, Yael. I gave him a frisbee for his 13th birthday.

Peace Corps Experience

The slogan for the Peace Corps says: “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love!” and so on point for me! Being a PCV was the most rewarding experience, I fell in love with a country and its people; a love I didn’t know could exist!

It was the most life-enhancing experience I have ever gone through. Living, working and experiencing African culture has been my dream since I was a young girl. The desire grew as I did through reading books, watching movies and hearing stories of those who have gone before me.

The Peace Corps is a wonderful way to live as one of the people in the county where you serve. The commitment for the Peace Corps is 27 months which at first it feels like a lifetime. But let me tell you, the days are long, but the years are short!! The first 10 weeks in the country were spent living in a village with a host family. We would go to training every day to learn the language, culture and basic life skills. It was difficult but since we were in a group, it made the time go by faster. The families helped us learn how to cook, clean, shop and live day to day life.

The Peace Corps allowed me to get to know a different culture other than my own and helped me develop an understanding for the world around me. I understand the way other cultures impact our daily lives and what we can do to bridge the gap between America, Cameroon and other countries around the world. It is easy to hide in the America bubble and not try to understand other humans in the world.

(Left) First night in country, having dinner at the County Director’s house.
(Middle) Close of service conference 26 months later.
(Right) Hiking a rock quarry during our 10 week training while rain clouds roll in.

Being a volunteer, I was only given a monthly stipend in the local currency that covered rent, utilities, transportation and food. At first, it seemed like everything was so cheap! Most of us volunteers would spend money so quickly thinking in American dollar because it goes a long way, but it was a dangerous way to think. I had to learn how to live, spend and think like a Cameroonian. While in the Peace Corps they provide full medical coverage, the monthly stipend and freedom to live on your own with your own house to decorate.

Daily life becomes filled with reading, washing clothes by hand, watching baby goats, walking to the market, making food and visiting friends. It all the people shouting because that’s their normal talking voice and buying food from someone walking down the street with a tray on their head. The packed buses shuttling people all around the country became my form of transportation wherever I need to go and the taxi drivers honking consistently, their way of asking if I need a ride when standing on the side of the road. I remember when I knew I was part of the people; I was on my porch which was 40 yards up a large hill, a taxi was coming down the road and I made a “kissy” sound as loud as I could (this gets someone’s attention in the culture, so it’s normal for us) and the driver heard me!! He waited for my friend (I was catching it for her) and I felt so proud that he heard my kissy noise because before that time, it had never worked.

Life has a volunteer is simple, fun, relaxing, challenging and enriching! I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

(More on this in future posts).

(Left) My counterpart at the hospital and the women I was training.
(Middle) My landlady making “fou fou corn” fermented cassava mashed up. Delicious!!!
(Right) Me holding cassava before my landlady mashes it up for fou fou corn.

Africa & Cameroon

Africa is the second largest continent on planet earth with 54 separate countries and home to 1.2 billion people. Of those people are countless tribes and languages. We cannot minimize Africa down to one place in our American mind. Each country has its individual cultures, lifestyles, challenges and strengths. Let’s keep that in mind the next time someone tells you they’re from Africa. (More on this in a future post).

In Cameroon alone, there are 270+ languages and people groups. It is known as “Africa in Miniature” because the diversity of the geography and its people. The soil is rich in nutrients and therefore the growing seasons are year-round. They have a rainy season and dry season. It’s a tropical climate, 5 degrees north of the equator.

Cameroon was settled by the French, British and German colonies. Therefore, the country is bilingual speaking French and a form of English called Pidgin. There are 10 regions, 8 Francophone and 2 Anglophone in which I called home for 2 years.

Starting from left: Cameroon, giant avocado, Garri and Eru (traditional meal), Tole Tea plantation.

I lived in Buea, capital of the Southwest region in the foothills of the glorious Mount Cameroon, the tallest mountain in West Africa that will forever humble me and leave me in awe of its splendor. 

I came to learn that Cameroonians have their own way of doing life and that’s okay! They do not have some of the modern conveniences, but they make do and I valuable that ability. The first few months being in the country I constantly thought “that’s different! In America…” I would compare my culture with Cameroon when there is no comparison!!!! And that is what I love the most. The people have their own way of life, they’re happy to work hard for what they have. A sense of work ethic that others may not value.

(Left) Mount Cameroon from my backyard after a rainy morning.
(Right) Day hike up Mount Cameroon.

In my next post, I will go into my specific job in the HIV treatment center at the Regional Hospital; providing care and support to those who are HIV positive and in treatment.

If you’re interested about serving with the Peace Corps, I can answer any questions through the email listed below.

You can also visit www.peacecorps.gov for more information.

Until next time - #NeverStopLearning,

Erica
erica@oneworldtuition.org