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!

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