Cameroon


The water well is complete! Interesting that he made it a faucet instead of manual. I can see the pro’s and con’s, but he said people were really happy to have clean water near-by.

Check out some pictures in the AADB album.

Tchi Tchi well

My first actual visit to Bangou, not counting a 30 minute stop by the bank, was during training when all trainees go off to their selected villages and stay there for a week. When I got there, the Volunteer I was replacing set up a meeting with the Chief of Bangou, along with a few other important people of the village, including Chef top.

Me, Chef top and Aladji with scholarship recipient From 2008 AR Scholarship

Chef top was a sous chief under the Chief, which meant he managed the cartier, or neighborhood, I happened to live in. He was a fun, funny older man, that worked in Douala, Cameroon’s biggest city, for most of his life and now lived his retirement back in village, and was very hands on when it came to village problems, development and tradition. It was in his cartier where I started my Peace Corps service, asking questions in my barely comprehensible French and trying to figure out a way for me to make a difference.

Out of the people I knew, he was the only one with a car in my village and he would chauffer me and Aladji around often to different areas of Bangou for some meeting or cultural event. Even though I was his junior by decades and low in the traditional hierarchy, he always made space for me at the meetings and demanded that people pay attention while the young man with bad French made his point and after trying, he would often interject to translate in the local language what I was trying to say.

This man with a kind heart, great sense of humor and so important during my time in Bangou, died a few weeks ago. I was told that one day he was fine, then overnight he started feeling really badly. He went to Douala to the hospital where he died soon after.

It was pretty unexpected and the whole community of Bangou was shocked and saddened by his passing away. Hearing it here, back in the United States, I was especially sad, knowing that when I go back to visit I won’t see him sitting on his chair at his little hardware store overseeing his cartier and solving problems for everyone. It is truly a great loss for Bangou and my condolences go out to the people of Bangou, his family and everyone who feels the loss of this great man – Chef top.

Cheftop on the far right From Other pics
From Anthony Rodriguez Scholarship 2009
From 2009 AADB/Peace Corps Business classes

One of my favorite things to do while I lived in Bangou was go to the ‘Ecole Maternel’, the pre-school. Those kids are SO cute, and at the pre-school they are taught basic English and French, since usually in Bangou kids will first learn the local language named Bangou.

The education system being as bad as it is, kids need as much of a head start as possible to be successful. AADB wants to encourage more kids to make enroll and learn at the pre schools.

One day, I would LOVE for AADB to be able to start its own pre school, but with our limited budget, we at least wanted to make a small showing that we appreciate what they are doing. What do you guys think? Should AADB get more involved with the pre schools?

From Bangou in 2010
From Bangou in 2010
From Bangou in 2010

I’d never payed much attention to Africa and its history, probably since it was never taught in our schools. I don’t think that even if we did want to teach it, we could, as Africa is made up of hundreds if not thousands of different tribes and nations with history that goes back thousands of years but because it has been shared orally thru generations, it is steeped in mysticism. Teaching people about “Cameroon” or “Nigeria” would still be a Western history lesson.

My experience in Bangou was chance to see and live in a culture that not many whites got to see. I use their term, because to them, coming from America and with my lighter skin, I am a white man. This is a loaded title but I won’t go into that right now.

I got a chance to, in a small way be part of the history of Bangou. I integrated, ate, laughed and cried with them. I really did. At a funeral for one of the elders of the church I attended I indeed shed a tear for my sister.

These people became my people, Bangou became my village, and my friends there are still my friends now that I am in the US.

I want to help the village, help Bangou be the best possible village in Cameroon and even West Africa. I see Bangou being able to keep its tradition and culture, the history of the hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who have been Bangou, alive in a way that Africans understand and our people have long forgotten. The wisdom of the earth, where we came from and where we will one day depart to, is in a real way still alive in Bangou. The feeling that we are not above, or over the earth, but part of it and that our history and ancestors live on to teach us lessons and help protect their people and land is being practiced in Bangou.

This is the main thing I want to save, this hard to describe, mystic quality which we in the Western world, surrounded by buildings and things we have created, and noise from everywhere, have lost.

If you’re able, help me save this way of life from becoming extinct from the world. The NGO I started; American Association for the Development of Bangou (AADB) will put all its efforts into saving the way of life we are quickly destroying. 100 percent of all donations go to projects to save the culture and tradition of Bangou and help Bangou have a good education and healthy living environment.

Donate at americansforbangou.org

My Peace Corps replacement whom I had the pleasure to meet before I left, wrote a letter to one of her family members about her time so far in Bangou. Since its posted on a public blog, I didn’t think it would be bad to repost it here. Makes me miss Bangou.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dear Ate’ Jemi,

‘Musta na?  It will probably take a month for this letter to reach you and by then a lot will probably have changed, but for now I know that you are back in New York.  I hope that was the break that you needed.

As for me, the time I’ve spent here in Cameroon has really been good–and good for me.  My post Bangou is a village that is very vast.  I’ve only been able to visit less than ten of its 29 quartiers so far.  People are very friendly and I work alongside some very dynamic individuals.  In fact, that word “dynamic” is the word that is most often applied to describe my town and its people so I have reflected a lot about the significance of that word and my role here as a volunteer.

In reality, I feel very privileged to be here.  I’ve seen and experienced so many things already that I had never dreamed of doing in my lifetime.  People here treat me with great esteem, despite the fact that I’ve done nothing to merit such deference.  But my community and I are still in the prcess of getting to know each other.

I’ve spent the first month here at post visiting schools and the private clinics and associations.  I’ve also spent a great deal of time working at my micro-finance institution (MC2).

Even though I’ve already begun to concentrate on certain projects, there’s so many things I could be doing to the point that it can be overwhelming–but I’m trying to stay focused and level-headed.  The MC2 where I work is a very localized bank.  It functions on the premise that everybody knows everybody and the social solidarity should provide pressure for people to pay back their debts, right?

Not really.  My MC2, like so many others, suffers from high rates of non-recovered debts, understaffing, no clear budget or mission, lack of computer training, lack of computers.

So the time I’ve spent learning aspects of each job position, I’ve really been working more like an employee–which is not my role.  I’m supposed to be an advisor and capacity-developer, but because the intitution, which is already understaffed, is about to lose another employee, I’m obliged to help out as much as I can.

At the same time, I’m obliged to reiterate that I’m not there as an employee nor a volunteer of the MC2.  It’s a tricky situation.

I really want to find a way to update their records system because right now everything is on paper.  So computerizing the whole system would be more efficient but that requires finding computers (a project I am giving a lot of thought to).

Another aspect of my role as a business volunteer is to transfer skills to small entrepreneurs.  Small entrepreneurs might mean small boutique owners or mommas selling beignets on the street.  If I can show them how to budget and manage their money and credit, then they would be able to raise their income and pay back their bans to the MC2.  In this line of community development work, you don’t have to look hard or think too much about how things are connected to each other.

Well, anyhow, I’ve been talking a lot about my work here–but you can’t help but think about these things.

Culturally, Bangou is so rich with tradition and history.  Now that the dry season is almost here, there are a lot more traditional events happening, like funerals and weddings.  I’ve already attended three funerals and each of them were quite different from each other.  But the fact remains, funerals here in the Bunelke region are always a great time.  People come to dance and eat….I haven’t met a Cameroonian who doesn’t like to dance.

…I do miss certain things from time to time, especially people.  And I thought about my *damn* daogs yesterday, and yes–I miss them too (my little monsters).

I am in the process of getting a post box so I will let you know the address so that you can write me and tell me how things are getting long with you over there, in America, the land that we used to dream so much about when we were very little. Being here helps me to never forget that.

Hope that you are taking care, and write me soon!

found on this blog: http://sisterproject.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/the-letter/

Read this article on Cnet about how online donations are up this year. As more people are shopping online, you can also stop by your favorite charities Web site and give to those less fortunate. That bodes well for AADB which gives 100 percent of your donations to development and cultural projects in Bangou.

I’ve even tried donating myself. I gave part of my donation to AADB via the Web site. It works great, even sends you an email receipt which you can use as a tax write-off.

I remember my dad telling me about his reaction to AADBs first project ‘Cadeaux for kids‘ when we gave Christmas presents and food to orphaned and other families in Bangou and Bangangte. The gifts seemed kind of trivial; pens, oil for cooking, a t-shirt, but the families generosity was disproportionally bigger.

You can see they joy and appreciation for such a little act of kindness. My dad reminded me about how when they would give us presents for Christmas, race cars, Xbox, designer clothes, hundreds of dollars in cash, we acted slighty more excited than if I had found 50 cents on the street. The joy of giving, and receiving, had somehow been lost.

Those simple things like genuine excitement and appreciation, generosity, kindness, really are gifts from God and despite all the giving we do on Christmas, don’t forget to appreciate it, and enjoy it. That’s the spirit of Christmas and two years ago I had to go all the way to Cameroon to remember that.

Merry Christmas!

I’ve been back in the United States now for almost six months, although I’ve only been stable the last one. I just moved to Washington, D.C. about three weeks ago and have been searching for a job and found a place to stay here.

But it pains me to see the state of affairs in the US. We have absolutely everything we need, but we seem to want too much. The worst is hearing about NGOs and charities like ACORN and other corrupt organizations that don’t help anyone. Too many organizations that bill themselves as charities give barely anything to actual charities they are championing.

NOT at AADB. 100 percent of all donations from members go directly to cultural and development projects including the annual Anthony Rodriguez Scholarship and building wells as well as supporting the culture of Bangou.

Scams like these make me sick:

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hjPv0izoS5SCFF1ViiYgReruPFmg

And you can be sure that nothing like that will ever happen at AADB.

We do need your help still though, we don’t have near enough money for projects in 2010, and I know a lot of you were waiting closer to Christmas to give, so now is the time! Donate now on americansforbangou.org or you can give me or Anthony a check made out to AADB.

americansforbangou.org/donate

To say ‘Oh Ombe’ to the village I’ve been in for the last two years, I threw myself a little good-bye party. The party was a way to get everyone I’ve lived and worked with in the last 2 years at once, thank them all for welcoming into their community and to tell them that it’s not a good-bye, it’s “Au revoir”.

A lot friends came and it really was a great party. The Chief even came and gave a little speech. Afterwards, some of my other friends said some nice things and then we ate and drank, surely part of the reason they came in the first place. A few even presented me with gifts, Dr. Tchengue gave me a banana leaf picture, Yvette gave me some nice traditional things, and the representatives for the mayor of Bangou and Bangangte also had nice gifts for me.

It was a fun time had by all, which hid the sadness that most of us felt. I will Bangou and my friends there a lot.

From Other pics
From Other pics
From Other pics
From Other pics
From Other pics

My colleagues and PC admin voted me SED PCV of the Quarter last quarter and I got a certificate as well as dinner at the Ambassador’s house as a reward.

As a non-strategic country, PCVs in Cameroon are a lot more in the forefront of the American community and the Ambassador Janet Garvey has been very attentive to the needs of Peace Corps Volunteers since she arrived in Yaounde in September. As well as the Ambassador’s attention to Peace Corps, the Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr. Stephen Fox is an Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and is very welcoming to volunteer inquiries.

Ambassador Garvey received myself, as well as two other volunteers, the PC Country Director and the Country Desk Officer, Jennifer Brown, for the dinner. She was very welcoming and warm in receiving us, and I could see how she makes an excellent representative of the United States government in Cameroon. After dinner, Ambassador Garvey and James Ham presented us with certificates from the US Embassy and the US Peace Corps to commemorate our awards. This was a pretty cool way to finish my Peace Corps service… just one more thing missing…

From Other pics 2
From Other pics 2
From Other pics 2
From Other pics 2
From Other pics 2
From Other pics 2

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