If we’re being honest

Hello Friends and Strangers alike!

Welcome back! I suppose blogging will go in the same “could use improvement” box as eating better, running more, and reading. For this, I am sorry for the delay. It has been about 3 months since I last checked in and I’m still attempting to wrap my head around that number. A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Cameroon said it best; Peace Corps service is painfully long, and painfully short all at the same time. It felt like just yesterday I was at Smith Mountain Lake with my friends at my going away party, and now 6 months has come and gone. So what have the past three months looked like?

My first month at post was amazing. I was on a new post high that Peace Corps. I love my NGO and the staff I work with. I have the best post mate to answer all of my dumb questions, and I have so many amazing PCVs surrounding me in the Littoral and the West Region. I am very lucky to be so close to so many other PCVs and I am able to see them more than I ever thought possible. I started my community needs assessment, found so much data about Nkongsamba, and started the process of collecting survey data. Month two was much different. I hit a point of extreme frustration, crisis at home, and overall doubt of my decision to join Peace Corps. I say this because I want to be honest. I want other PCVs in my stage and in the stage above mine to know it’s okay to not be okay.  I also want to emphasize that it is also okay to not be okay, publicly. While I am thrilled for the volunteers who haven’t been faced with challenges, I also want to address the martyr culture within Peace Corps. I feel like there’s a silent pact made among us that we cannot publicly say Peace Corps service is unbelievably difficult from time to time. We all have really low points, but we’re so afraid to admit to others that Peace Corps service isn’t always a bouquet of roses. I am guilty of this as well. For my own vain and personal reasons, I wanted my Peace Corps service to look like this wonderful, wild adventure, where I enjoyed every second of every day.

Here’s the truth:

  • December 24th: I hiked up to Tarzan falls with PCVs around Nkongsamba and two of my best friends in village. This was arguably my favourite day in Cameroon. Celebrated Christmas in Nkongsamba, which totally has a great ring to it if you know how to pronounce it! (pronounced Kong(like king kong)-Samba(sorta like Simba but with an A), the N is silent; still unsure why.)
  • January 1st: Tested positive for Malaria. Wanna know what simultaneously getting in a car wreck and have mono at the same time feels like? Get malaria. I didn’t leave my bed for a week. Lost 7 pounds because I physically couldn’t make myself walk from my bed to kitchen to make food.
  • January 8th: Finally recovered from malaria and traveled to Yaoundé to pick up medicine with my region-mate Julia. While in Yaoundé I met a friend of a friend from Lynchburg, ate amazing food, and finally got to see the artesian market in the city.
  • January 14th: Had my whole NGO over to my house for a housewarming/American food dinner. While they weren’t huge taco fans, it was nice to finally have everyone together like the family they’ve become to me.
  • January 20th: I locked myself in my house because I cracked under the constant pressure of sexual harassment I get in public. I cried for hours and refused to leave my house the entire weekend.
  • January 25th: I found out it was my coworkers birthday and had the honour of buying his first birthday cake. He was so happy and I loved being a part of that moment.
  • January 29th: I woke up to several missed calls from my mom. My grandpa was in the hospital, the prognosis wasn’t good. That day was a blur. I spent to day crying, filled with guilt for choosing to be so far away from my family, and on the phone with every Peace Corps administrator organising an emergency trip home to the states.
  • February 1st: I was back on American soil. My best friend Morgan drove all the way to DC to pick me up from the airport bearing gifts of new clean clothes and air freshener. While I was home I was able to see my family, friends, take hot showers, and gain 10 pounds I had lost by eating every delightful American meal I could. Bittersweet was the best way to describe this trip. Being in Cameroon so long had somewhat blurred the memory of the life and identity I had in the US. I won’t lie; I loved having “my” life back. I loved it so much, I debated whether or not I should get back on the plane to Cameroon.
  • February 18th: My first full day back at my post and I had every volunteer from my region over for our regional volunteer action committee meeting; which included a feast of tacos, many laughs, buying squad pagne (fabric), a haircut, and a deep appreciation of the people I call the Litty Littorals. I didn’t tell them (but I guess this is now), but I was dreading returning to post. They made a situation I felt panic attack level anxiety about, into such a joyful day, and I am so thankful.
  • February 21st: I tested positive for malaria. Again. I was instructed by the Peace Corps Medical office to go to the capital for more tests and to have a talk. While in Yaoundé I dealt with obvious challenges associated with malaria in addition to accusations of not taking my prophylaxis and threatened to be administratively separated on Dr. Blessing’s belief that I don’t take my prophylaxis. Once again my mind jumped to the thought “I should just ET”. I was incredibly sick, urged by both my parents and friends to come home, and suddenly felt like the Peace Corps organization did not support me or want me in country. Truthfully the only thing that kept me in country was the fact I knew I had a care package in my PO Box in Nkongsamba. *Continues shameless plug for my love of care packages*
  • March 6th: I traveled to Bafoussam for my stage’s Reconnect Training. Each stage comes back together after 3 months at post to receive new training and to present what we have learned and observed during our time at post. It was so good to see my fellow stagemates after 3 months apart. Since being at post and on my own, they feel like a very small amount of the population that truly understands the daily struggle of being an American living in Cameroon. We ate fish from a mama on the street, paid $60 USD for a bottle of Absolut, laughed at every embarrassing moment we’ve had in village, and took some really adorable polaroid photos.

These are just a few of the highs and lows that I have faced in Cameroon, and I am sure that there are many, many more to come. I want to be as transparent as possible. Peace Corps is hard. Peace Corps is frustrating. But Peace Corps is beautiful in it’s own way. Its the only job I’ve ever had that leaves me smiling ear to ear one day and laying in bed crying the next. But this is an opportunity for growth and change. On the last day of staging we were told by our staging staff that it’s okay if the only life changed during your Peace Corps service is your own. Another volunteer in my stage stumbled across the blog of a volunteer that served at her site back in 2010. 8 years later, her sentiment still feels incredibly accurate:

“If I came to Cameroon to save the world, I am certainly not doing it. I am witness to a different way of life. I am witness to my choices and actions and strengths, but more often my weaknesses. I am not saving the world, I am not even sure if I am saving myself.”
If you’d also like to check out this RPCV’s amazing blog, you can find it here.

So far, it might just be my own life that’s been changed. I also don’t feel like I’ve saved anyone or significantly improved the life of the people at my post. But I will say that I am hopeful and it is that hope that keeps me here. I try to constantly remind myself that everything in this country comes petit à petit; I certainly will not be an exception.

It is my hope that other volunteers will be more transparent. Share your victories and your defeats. This is my attempt to do the same. I hope that my candor sheds a light on what PC service is really like, and I hope it encourages others to do the same.

 

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Fellow PCVs that made the trek to Nkongsamba for New Years
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A few community health workers kind enough to help me with my survey, all while I butchered the French language
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The view from my balcony will always be my favourite part of Nkongsamba
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A very pale me, and some really great stagemates