Feed the Future- West Africa Food Security Partnership (WAFSP)

Hello!

After discussing my blog,  with many of you, I realized my last post never published.  Guess that’s the downfalls of having slow internet. I did extend a with the PC.  My next up date is Dec. 2015.

I have an update about my garden project- nearly 8 months after completion.  We  just harvested for the second time and to date have made more than 65,000cfa for the farmers (130$) Which, is pretty good, since the average income is less than $5.00/ week. Another thing I am proud of is that out of the 40+ who were trained roughly 20 are still keeping their home gardens! This is helping with income to the households and a more balanced diet within the homes. AKA: Food security. This means the garden will last long after I leave and the gardeners and their families will continue to eat healthy.  To my great surprise, my project and the write-up regarding the garden, was 1 out of 5 chosen for the WAFSP yearly newsletter. Unfortunately, I could not find the article online to share with all of you, however, I did find my Q&A session on the governments Feed the Future (FTF) website.  The link is at the bottom of the page.

I have been very proud of my farmers and their dedication to this project to make sure it lasts.  Right now we are working on a small video showing the labours needed to carry water from the nearby stream to the garden during the dry season and the makeshift of bamboo shelters used during the raining season. This is in efforts to raise funds for a water pump and greenhouse for the two seasons. I have no time table for when the video will be up, but it is under filming.

I would like to thank everyone for their time and patience with me and my delayed blogs.  If any one was wondering I have cut my hair- that will be shown in my next blog. Though, my goal is that it is sooner than 6 months

Government Feed The Future Story:

http://www.feedthefuture.gov/article/garden-business-market-peace-corps-helps-carve-path-sustainable-food-security

Market Garden Training- A 5 week course!!

I’m BACK!!! Wow, what a long stay from writing a blog.  This blog is a Market Garden training I completed in March-April with 50 attendees.  The farm is 100% chemical free! Talk about fresh produce! Thanks to Bonnie Plants and Alisha Foxworthy Finlayson for the three years of employment to get me interested in fresh produce and gardening! And I can not forget Adam  and Issac Moody at Lone Pine Farms, Moody Meats! What I learned there from a summer internship has helped me tremendously as I teach. They taught me crop rotation and the necessity of  sustainable farming.

Back to the Garden…The project was a 10 day, 5- week course explaining all the steps to have a successful garden; beginning from the nursery, teaching on compost, natural insecticide/pesticides, transplanting, to finally the harvest. I received a grant from the West African Food Security Project (WAFSP) sponsored by Feed the Future (FTF), and was the first person for this fiscal year to finish the project.   What is great about FTF is the recipients CANNOT use in-organic fertilizers or pesticides with their projects.  Farmers around me unfortunately, LOVE using fertilizers and pesticides, which can be expensive!  In addition, many do not know how to properly apply either and often kill their farms/crops.  Thus, teaching them a very CHEAP and EASY way to apply in-organic manure, fertilizer, and other means of keeping the crops pest free was a big hit and 25 have continued the practice on their own garden. The land was used as an agroforestry demonstration plot by the first Peace Corps Volunteer (’08 /’09) because of his training the ground under the growth was very fertile and produced healthy crops. The locals were amazed.  If that is not sustainability, I do not know what is….!  What you will read under this paragraph is the Success Story I sent FTF, which they published.

US AID logo West Africa Food Security Partnership

peace corps logo

www.usaid.gov              www.peacecorps.gov/foodsecurity

Upper Moghamo Market Gardening

Garden to Business to Market: The road to Sustainable Food Security

The truly remarkable aspect of the Upper Moghamo Market Garden is the community involvement. Watching my idea literally take root and blossom in the hands of my community was immensely rewarding.  The training consisted of a 6-week 12-day course and finished with 45 trainees receiving certificates.  Each week began with the technical training followed by fieldwork with all of the trainings taught by Cameroonians working with the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development (MINADER). The following is a list of the classes taught: Why is gardening important, how to handle nursery, improving the soil naturally, Week Food Security, Week 5: Marketing, Week 6: evaluations.

First, the training was designed and facilitated almost entirely by MINADER staff.  All of the knowledge and expertise existed in the community already, it just took me to organize the key players and unlock it. Now participants have a network of stable, permanent community members they can turn to with problems, ideas, and plans for the future to ensure sustainability. Furthermore, the participants themselves are now experts in gardening, food security, and agribusiness. One of the wonderful things about Cameroon is that people are not selfish with information; once other people see how successful gardening can be and start asking questions, this information will proliferate throughout the community and benefit anyone who is interested in generating more income or putting better food on their tables.

My community is full of hard-working people who simply have not found a way to transform their labor into a sustainable livelihood. Seeing the power of vegetable gardening, with low costs, huge profit margins and more than enough surplus to cover recurring expenses, stirred them to action. When you are out in a community watching people struggle just to maintain a bare minimum standard of living day in and day out, seeing that kind of reaction tells you that you are doing something right. These people know the community better than anyone does, and if they think this is something that will help supplements their diets and their wallets, they are probably right. This is the kind of project that can continue indefinitely.  The farmers formed into a profit margin cooperative one-mother garden. After the training, they received seeds and nursed seedlings they transplanted into their own for the home consumption.  To date out of the 45 recipients of certificates 22 have maintained and harvested from their own garden.  That is nearly a 50% success rate after the first harvest.  To date the mother garden has profited 45,000CFA= 90USD.  One major aspect of the high response is the garden is 100% chemical free.  When we told them, we would not spend money on chemicals, but make our own natural pesticide/insecticides even the poorest farmers turned up to learn.

A small story about the success of the garden is from a grown man who received his first certificate.  For many of the farmers this certificate was their first, but this story will forever be with me.  A man age of 32 came to me after the graduation ceremony with tears in his eyes and thanked me over and over again.  He did not graduate secondary school and when he graduated primary school, they never gave a “diploma.”  After dropping out of secondary school, he got a trade in mechanics, but the day of his graduation his father died and he never received the certificate.  This man is a successful/respected farmer and a very hard-worker in my village, and to this day he does not have any signed documents representing the work he has accomplished.  He told me that the day of graduation was the greatest day of his life and he will never forget by framing his certificate and hanging it for his children to see.  These are the stories us PCV’s strive and live to hear.

Finally, the community took charge of its own future and organized around this project. This is not a disparate group of individual farmers; this is a community coming together to build something real. With the cooperative, farmers have a support network they can go to for any issue that might arise, be it technical or commercial. They can work together to maintain fair prices and reduce costs. Perhaps most importantly, they have created a network of like-minded people that can work together in the future to meet the growing needs of a developing community and increase their food security while making a small income.

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I will post another blog soon on a separate project I completed during LAST Thanksgiving when my mother and sister came for a visit.  It was a wonderful visit and I will equally post a blog explaining how they spent their time in Cameroon with my new home and family.

What am I actually doing?

Here you go Mom!

For the past few months, my mother has been “hassling” me to blog about my work with the Peace Corps. “Seeing your vacation pictures and children in your village is all cute and fun, but I am sure everyone is wanting to hear about your work experiences, too. Try to blog on that sometime. But keep up telling us about your adventures!” She would say but always with a smile emoticon. So here goes….

The first three months at post (December-February) “work” consisted of immigrating in the community, attempting to learn the local language, Moghamo (in Cameroon there are more than 250 languages!), and do the necessary three month study of the village required by Peace Corps called PACA. PACA stands for Participatory Analysis for Community Action and there are required meetings to help learn about the culture, customs, and traditions of your local area. Being an Environment volunteer the most useful meeting I held was making the seasonal calendar. I found out there is a “hungry’ and a “full season”. I am currently seeing the hard way, what they mean about the “hungry season”. This season falls between the time of planting in February and harvest in late July/August. Throughout this time, I have lost 15 pounds mainly my fault because I am too lazy to go to market and buy food to cook but others do not have the luxury to just go to market and buy. Per usual, I got off on a little rant, now back to my work opportunities…

My village is one of 22 villages in the Moghamo “tribe” if you will. We are very proud to be in the Moghamo tribe and actually, 50 years ago on 20th of June celebrated our liberation or independence from Bali. The Bali people wanted our land and started a war, but the rest of Batibo (town) helped fight off Bali and push them back to North. I heard about this story and wanted to highlight the Moghamo culture. For the past couple of months I along with Bridget (another PCV) have been planning a Moghamo-United States Peace Corps cross-cultural festival. This Fete will allow me to fulfill some of the Peace Corps Goals and also show case the Moghamo culture! The fete will begin on Thanksgiving Day with a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with the Batibo Council and other invited guests. The morning of the 29th, the council will give a tour of Batibo for all of the Peace Corps in attendance. We will visit caves, a traditional palace, a stone sculpture that is standing only on three small pebbles, and other various sites. In the afternoon, we will be with the two orphanages in Batibo and with one that Bridget is working alongside in Ntolo a village in the Littoral region.

This is a Francophone region and even though there will be a language barrier it will be a nice vacation for the few children that will be coming to the fesitival. During the visit and festival they will be shown various Income Generating Activities (IGA’s) such as tofu making and how to make jewelry out of paper. We will also have a small sex education course on HIV/AIDs. After these lessons, we will open the field up and have a field day.Children in Ntolo 2

Children in Ntolo (Camp Bridget and PCV Health Gillian) after our nature walk and environment preservation session.

 

Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) is the big day where all 22 villages will attend and prepare to show off the various culture and traditions of Moghamo. It will be more of an exhibition where people will stroll around the yard and visit the various stands until moving on to the next. This will not happen until the afternoon. In the morning, we will have traditional dance, song, and a special “night” dance that will be done in private. After the Cameroonians display a couple dances the Peace Corps in attendance will show the immense diversity we also share in our country. I am hoping for dances ranging in Country Swing to Salsa even hip-hop if possible. I must give credit for the idea of the culture festival to the first Peace Corps in Ngyen-Muwah Seth Schapiro.
Many of you might be asking how is this related to Agriculture and helping the environment. Well, on Saturday we will have many stations set up where the people in attendance can learn how to make tofu and soy milk. Tofu is very rich in nutrients almost 3 times the amount of protein as cow meat. The only milk people drink here is powdered milk and that is only if they can afford to purchase it from market. The soymilk will give people an additional opportunity to add calcium to their diets and be able to feed their babies. Another station we will have is an improved cook stove. Right now, they use the traditional three stone method where there is an open flame that produces much smoke. We will teach on how to put mud around the three stones to enclose the fire, limit the smoke, and reach a higher temperature that will allow the women (who do all the cooking) to cook their meals up to 2X faster. These are a few different environment friendly techniques we will use to achieve environment safe practices.
However, my job here in Cameroon is not only an agroforestry extension agent. but also to work towards the goals of the Peace Corps.  There are three common Peace Corps goals that we all strive to achieve.

  • Peace Corps Goal 1: To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  • Peace Corps Goal 2: “To help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of the peoples served.”
  • Peace Corps Goal 3: “To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.”

As well as meeting all three goals with my cultural festival, we will be giving free HIV/AIDS testing with pre and post counseling. I am collaborating with many other volunteers from all sectors of Peace Corps Cameroon to try to accomplish every sector goals.

A side project I am doing with my village is teaching them about food security. The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. My villagers rarely eat fruits and vegetables in their daily meals, and the main foods they eat are very high in starches. I along with one of my counterparts have begun growing different crops such as carrots, tomatoes, peppers, sweet basil, and parsley and held meetings teaching the villagers on the importance of implementing these various foods in their diet.

Making the garden 3

Making the garden vegetable garden

The last project I am in involved with is one that the first Peace Corps volunteer began in 2007 with the help of a Non-Governmental Organization, CIPCRE (cercle international pour la promotion de la creation) (International Circle for the Promotion of Creation). CIPCRE did training on Medicinal plants and my counterpart, Pa Fondam, took a liking to the idea. Since 2007, he has received funding for a solar dryer and plastic sealer from CIPCRE to help promote the use of medicinal plants. In 2011 through a grant from the U.S. Peace Corps, he was allowed to roof the building he built where he dries, cuts, and stores the medicine.

 

working the fields 1

Women clearing and making ridges for the medicinal plants

 

Medicinal Plant Production Center 4

Medicinal Plant Production Center to the left is the solar dryer installed by CIPCRE

 

Recently, we have opened up a shop in Bamenda Main Market, which is the largest market in the NorthWest region.

I hope that is has helped show case what I am doing with the people in my village. And now my mom, will also have a better understanding of what I am doing!

Enjoy, please feel free to give feedback or ask questions!

 

A Birthday to Remember April 2013!

falls from afar    fallsWe made it!

Okay okay, less than a month late this time!  So I recently celebrated my birthday on Friday April 26th and boy was it an adventure.  I travelled to Nkongsomba, Littoral to help another PCV-Bridget- move into her new post, since her original post was shut down.  She could not arrive until Friday afternoon so I hung out with the other PCV’s until she arrived.  I arrived Wednesday afternoon and the other PCV’s and I went to the famous Nkongsomba waterfalls, which were gorgeous. Rumor has it the First Tarzans filming was at the waterfalls.?
Luckily it is the small rainy season and the waters were rushing heavily.  There were four chutes and normally in the dry season, you can only see one chute.  I heard you could walk down to the bottom of them and being the adventurer that I am, I began to trek down.  It was about a 10-minute journey down a very bushy area leading me through mud, rock, thick grass, and not to mention the humidity factor from all the mist of the falls.

PCV inching way down to water- In Nkongsamba, Littoral.  Jake with a counterpart

Right before you reach the bottom of the falls the grass opens up to beautiful, lush grassland that overlooks the falls.  I stopped for a while to catch my breath snap some photos and continue to go and bathe in the pool.  Wading in the pool, I could not help but think about Niagara Falls and the “Maid of the Mist”.  The falls here were much smaller, but the scenery surpassed that of the Niagara Falls!  Not to mention I was in Africa and only paid 2500CFA (5dollars) to visit. This was a great beginning to a birthday week full of celebrations, scenery, and great time with amazing friends.

Nkongsamba,  MADE IT TO THE BOTTOM!!Michael Showalter and Jaclyn in Nkongsamba, Littoral.climbed down the waterfall where tarzan was filmedcooling off

               After the falls we went out for supper, this is where we met up with another group of PCV’s from Bangem, and I found out I would be travelling with them in the morning.  Only shocker is that Bangem is Anglopone, since leaving my post I was in a French speaking area. Within a one-hour travel time, I went from speaking my not-so-good French to speaking Special English, which is also “not-so-good English.”  Nkongsamba is a lot lower than Bangem, so when I heard I was heading to high elevation I was excited to be in a place where I would not be sweating constantly.  Another quick  surprise was finding out we would not be staying in Bangem that night, but continue to travel to a remote village that cars and motorcycles cannot pass, so we would really be trekking to this remote village.  This is where Joe Cutler, a third year PCV is doing fish studies in Lake Bermin (Bo-me).  Yes, it is spelt Bermin but pronounced Bo-me.  I am not the one to ask for an explanation!!  From Bangem we took an hour Ocada (motorcycle in pidgin) ride down the mountain to where the bush became extremely dense.  Here we (Jess, Joe, Brian, Mia and I), were welcomed by many drunk individuals two of which were racing bikes on very slippery mud.  One came flying down the hill and hit the back break too hard, the back end fish-tailed, and he went face first into the mud.  He popped up noticeably embarrassed, but unhurt and ended up a great laugh for everyone.  After this little incident is where we began the trek (hike) 5KM (3.2mi) to our destination.  Once again, the scenery was absolutely gorgeous as we passed many bridges and a river to arrive to the first village. Per usual hospitality were the magnificent and amazing  people~ how people drop all their night plans just to assist us.  After our introductions of all the PCV’s,~ where the kids repeated our names, saying “ME-OW” in the cutest cats voices for Mia, we headed to the nearby stream too bathe.

The stars and moon were out in full force that night and we did not even need any artificial light to help us get to the stream to walk or bathe.  Bathing under moonlight, walking 5KM through jungle, and eating the local foods, on some of the most comfortable wooden chairs capped off one of my favorite days in Cameroon.  I am sure being in the bush with zero amenities had a great effect on the start of my birthday adventures.

The next morning Joe and his counterpart shared stories, and we took pictures.  Good-byes are always so hard and seeing the sadness on the villagers face made it very difficult, even for me, especially since only knowing them for one night.  Sometimes I  ask myself is it worth the mental drain becoming so close to people knowing them for such a short time knowing it will all will be taken away?  The answer is always an astounding YES!  The stories, friendships, experiences, and life learning lessons acquired always beat out the emotional stress one receives upon leaving a village.

We all packed up, BUT before leaving the village we stopped by Lake Bermin and went for a dip.  The lake is not just out in the open, you have to walk down a pretty steep incline for roughly fifteen minutes where out of nowhere the brush opens up and the absolutely stunning lake appears.  We went for a small swim and paddled out on the logs the locals use as canoes.  The canoes are just fallen trees that float, but they shove two sticks in a crack down the middle to use as handles.

pool of water- Jacob

While swimming we saw many of the species of fish Joe had been studying and at one point two eagles circled above the water looking for a mid-breakfast meal.  Unfortunately, the eagles did not dive into the water, but just seeing two eagles looking for food, I cannot complain.

After swimming in the village we had to trek back the 5KM (where the man fell on the motorcycle) and choose a different path to the next village walking roughly 3KM more to the next village, Ebasse-Bajo.

In this village, Joe and Jessica are constructing a water project to bring fresh clean water down to the villagers from the nearby mountain.  When we arrived the Chief welcomed us and we all sat and relaxed after the mid-afternoon trek under the beating sun.  Chief Sammy was very hospitable, as all Cameroonians seem to be, and offered us two of his rooms in the palace to stay that evening.  When his daughter, Martina, arrived from the farm she was very surprised to see us there “so early.”  I guess Chief Sammy told her we would be arriving on the 28th not the 25th.  This stressed her out immensely and she apologized for not having anything prepared for us to eat or anyone to welcome us on our arrival to the village.  She immediately left us as she had to go inform the nearby villages about the date change and found a chicken for us to eat that night.  Martina might be one of the loveliest women I have had a chance to meet.  Everything from the stories Joe told about Martina were so true! The hospitality she showed us after working 12 hours of hard labor in the farm making sure all our needs and “demands” were met.  After the greeting from Martina and Jessica’s counterpart plus a nice relaxing refreshment, we headed to the nearby stream to bathe.

There is nothing more fulfilling than bathing in a freshwater stream and looking at God’s creation all around.  One farmer harvesting cocoa gave us a few so while waiting for the Cameroon’s to leave site we munched on cocoa and took in the beauty around us.  It is amazing how many different shades of green and different patterns nature exhibits.  Everywhere I go I am continually blown away at the beauty and stunning landscape Cameroon has to offer.

After the bathe,  I was extremely exhausted and took what I wanted to be an hour nap, but after 1.5 hours Joe came and woke me and said the fete was about to begin.  When I arrived out in the parlor, it was crowded with many villagers crammed inside due to the heavy rains that had begun.  Under the rains the roar of the generator powered the lights in the parlor and Martina brought out the delicious rice and chicken she prepared for us.  I must give kudos to Mia for bravely killing the meal with a very dull machete.  After dinner Chief Sammy and the elders made statements about Joe and the progress the village has shown the previous three years and then Joe was given the Chiefs blessing.

having fun with village   Nkongsamba, Littoral. 

               By now the rain has slowed to a sprinkle and still under the power of a generator the dancing and singing began.  Opposed to “us” in the Northwest where we dance with a stagnant upper body, shake our booty, and move our legs.  The South Westerners bend at the waist and furiously shake their shoulders and arms up and down.  Both dances are pretty impressive, but the South’s is very comical, at least to this American!  We danced until my birthday came around and danced and drank some more.  Around 1 A.M.,  we all decided to hit the hay, but when I entered from “easy-ing” myself up to go to bed, Martina was up cleaning the bottles and arranging the furniture back into order.  Of course I could not let her do it alone so I joined and we began conversation.  Sitting one on one listening to her tell her life story from trials and triumphs was definitely the highlight of my birthday.  We chatted for a couple of hours until it I had to call it a night.

Whenever I know I am travelling the next day I can never sleep so I awoke at 6 and went outside to read.   Martina was already in the kitchen washing the previous nights dishes and making breakfast of all of us.  As usual I should never be surprised at the strength of the women here, but she told me she averages 4-5 hours of sleep a night so only having two will not be too much of a burden.  She did mention a siesta was in store in the afternoon.  J After everyone was awake and had breakfast I was going back to Nkongsomba with Jessica’s counterpart, Martin, but we only made it 15 minutes on the motorcycle before it broke down.  Of course, I was not too please, but what can one do when they are on the bottom of a giant hill, no phone service, and still 10KM from the closest town with a new bike?? Instead of getting upset, I looked at it in a positive that I needed to burn some of the calories off  that I most likely would consume in alcohol and that I had not exercised in a few days.  So, Martin and I began trekking and about ¾ up and an hour into walking we got some cell service and called an Ocada man to come pick us up.  We continued walking another 20 minutes until we met him; dripping in sweat I happily climbed the bike to continue to Bangem.  When we arrived in Bangem, I had a nice cold Brewski waiting me, and from there the rest of my travels were met with good fortune.

A lady was going straight to Nkongsomba, we partnered up and instead of having to take public transportation and paying some FCFA; she had a friend waiting and when we arrived at the next stop, she had a private car and it took me all the way to my stop for half the price!

Reaching Nkongsomba, I was filthy and sweaty and immediately went to shower thanks to the kind hospitality the Nkongsomba cluster shows.  After showering, those I left a few days before, I again met up with, and we went to the bar to begin birthday celebrations (again).  I wanted a chill night and other than the rowdy crowd for the first hour, the five of us just sat and chatted while I retold the stories of the past couple days.  Around 5PM Bridget arrived to her new home, although she still did not have a house, for her yet, the 5 of us picked her up from the bus station and dropped her stuff of at the main house.  We went back to the bar for some “chop” (dinner) where I received a call from my mom and grandma on my real birth- day!  After talking to my mom and grandma, the now six of us headed to Katie’s house to stay the night. I was worn out and was ready for a good night’s rest but then out of nowhere Katie came out with a cupcake and began singing happy birthday.  This took me completely off guard, was a great surprise, and made my birthday come full circle.

Being away from home, I did not know what to expect from my birthday, however, thanks to the Nkongsomba cluster, my birthday was a great couple of days.  I did become a little homesick, but the hospitality and love I received from both Cameroonians and Americans in Africa shows how great humankind can be towards others.  If only everyone tried to reach out and help others, the world be a peaceful place.

After this trip,  I challenged myself to try to be as welcoming to villagers entering my home as the two Cameroonian households and the two American PCV’s were to me on my birthday.  So next time there is a guest at your door, I challenge you to greet him/her with open arms and a glass of nice cold water.

***

I wrote this on Memorial Day and I want to thank all our military men and women, active and inactive, fallen and wounded for their service to keep our country safe.  They have allowed and given me amazing opportunities, I will take full advantage of the freedoms their sacrifices have given and the best 23 years a man could ask for.  Until I post again~ be well and enjoy the beauty and people around you!

Christmas/ New Years 2013- a little late!

Wow… so three months late but finally a post about my Christmas and New Years’.  Christmas and New Years in Ngyen-Muwah is definitely a memory that will last with me a lifetime.  Coming into post the person I replaced told me I need to be in village for Christmas in order to fully integrate and get the trust of the people.  After spending/seeing the holidays’, I now see why he told me I needed to stay.  Christmas is the biggest holiday celebrated at my post and might be bigger than New Years in the States.  Sadly, this is true the celebration of New Year’s over Christmas in the States- of course a personal opinion, but we in the United States, spend too much time and energy in welcoming the New Year rather than celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  So now how my Christmas festivities were spent in Ngyen-Muwah ….On Christmas Eve morning I went to church for a few hours to discuss what Christmas Eve service would be about and to start the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  I then went back home until the evening service. People were cooking and celebrating His birth.  I went to church around 9PM to welcome in Christmas and did not leave until 12:30AM.  It was one of the cutest Christmas services I have ever witnessed as many of the youth in village (5-15) performed skits. Even one of the Women’s groups had a skit about the fourth wise man.  Yes, I understand there are only three wise men, but they added the fourth including the Good Samaritan parable.  This struck home very hard and was great lessons to re- learn and hear again.  No matter who a person is, what someone is, how a person believes, how someone lives their life; we as humans must be kind and gentle and give them the respect everyone deserves.  The majority of religious affiliations go by the Golden Rule, and a reminder about this rule was a great boost especially spending the holidays away from home for the first time.  The Golden Rule roughly: One should treat others, as one would like others to treat oneself.  Once again, if everyone lived by this rule even during trying times the world and our lives would be a much better/safer and happier place.

Any who… after my second Church event I went out to the local bars, had a glass of Palm Wine, and celebrated with the locals.  The next morning we had church again at 8AM but “L’heure Afrique” turned out to be 10AM before church started.  Yes, there is such a thing called “African Time” where people set a date/meeting hour or two in advance knowing they will not start at the set time.  However, you never know exactly what time it actual start, so I usually arrive in plenty of time.  It is very annoying, but what can you do but bring a book and read?  During this Church service they had five different offerings and I put all of my donations in the first bowl (I did not know they would be doing an offering 5 times!). I do not know what the congregation thought, but I am sure they were confused as why the white man is not donating any more money (I did not have any more, since it all went in the first offering).  After this service, I began to prepare Christmas dinner with a good friend from post.  The night before we made an African Stew including meat, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, garlic, and other spices! Boy, oh Boy was it delicious.  Alongside the African Stew, I made some American dishes.  These included some delicious, amazingly awesome fudge (that literally melted in the mouth), popcorn with some Movie Theatre Style popcorn, and Buttery Jalapeño, and to top it all off my favorite American dish of all time… BLT’s.  (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato).  The Bacon I brought with me- microwaveable- but it cooks up great in a frying pan.  The meal was a big hit with all the children and all of my neighbors who came to eat.  They were very impressed.  Not only because the white person can cook, BUT ALSO a man could make the dishes especially cooking for 20 people.  Here in Cameroon it is culture to eat chocolate with bread; thus, whenever I would hand out a piece of fudge they would look at me with a confused expression and proceed to ask “ummmm, where is the bread?” Okay, they do not use the word “ummmm” in Anglophone, but it is how it came out to me!  Word spread fast that the White Man could cook and two of the “Princesses” from the palace came down to try their fair share.  They loved it and even took some back to the Fon (chef du village) to give it a taste.

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

After all, of this hoopla- cooking the day before, late church service, early church, cooking some more and then having 20 or so people in my home- I went to take a much needed nap!  As soon as I fell asleep, there were little voices at my window saying. “Mr. Jacob, Mr. Jacob, Mr. Jacob give me bobolo (balloon). Give me bon bon Give me bon bon”.  This was on repeat roughly 10X until I decided to get up and chase them down the road.  While chasing the little children, a high school kid came to me and told me the football match (soccer) was about to begin.  I should have known what this meant (they are just now thinking about playing and the game will start in an hour or two).  I could have had my nap!  Once again: l’heure Afrique.  I never have understood l’heure Afrique and never will, just set the time you want to actually gather.  If the people themselves know they show up late to EVERYTHING and have a name for it, why won’t they try to have it changed?!  Oh well… anyway, I showed up to the soccer field and wait for roughly 1.5 hours until we started figuring out the teams and which team was what color… this took 30 minutes itself!! Finally, after being frustrated for about two hours we begin to play.  Within the first 10 minutes, a corner kick came right to me and I had a chance to show them white man can play ball, however, the ball bounced too high and when I connected, it was too low and flew over the goal.  My team ended up losing 2-0, which was a bummer.  Upon going back to the village, everyone congratulated me for making it through the match- as if I have never played a sport before.

"Football" pick up match Christmas

“Football” pick up match Christmas

I showered (if you can call a shower a shower!) and prepared myself what would be in store next as they are still celebrating the birth of Jesus… drinking with the Fon (chef du village) and all of the “nobles” as they are called in Ngyen-Muwah.  This is always a semi-stressful atmosphere because the Fon has so much power, I have to always impress and be on my game.  This is to please him so I can get approval of projects, have him help me when needed, etc.  I have to have his approval to do everything.  When I arrived many people had been drinking all day and were pretty drunk and giving speeches about the year and what the next year will bring.  This was all in the Moghamo dialect (Mo-gah-mo) and luckily, one of my friends would give a brief translation to me as they were giving their speeches. Out of nowhere, my supervisor / neighbor Mbah David stood up, welcomed me once more, and said I should make a speech!  Good thing for Wabash College and my Rhetoric 101 class- impromptu speeches are not too difficult for me!  After the speech, I found out if I use “big words”, they do not understand me. I really learned how important it was for me to use “special English” and begin to learn Pidgin, which might be one of the coolest languages on the planet.  It is a mixture of different patois (local languages), English, French, and Portuguese.  After I spoke, Mbah David had to translate so everyone could make out what I said.  With all the speeches over, Mbah David told me to go home for my safety, and I happily obliged, I was tired… until I heard his door shut.  I did not go home, as instructed.I felt like a teenager sneaking out to go to a friend’s house in the middle of the night. I snuck out and went to town to get the full experience of how Christmas was spent on the town.  There were people cooking soya (street meat) for the first time in village, moto’s in the streets were blaring their horns, and everyone was jubilating and having a grand ol’ ball.  I am glad I did not listen for once (sorry mom) and went with my gut instinct.  There was a gala in one of the buildings, but I did not want to put myself in that stressful or perhaps unsafe environment (for a white man) so I just took my beer and sat at Pascal’s and “people watched” which I love doing best.  I went back to my room around 2:30AM and when I awoke at 7:00AM they were still blaring music and partying!!!  That was how my first Christmas was spent away from the States. Now for New Years.

As I said earlier New Year’s is miniscule compared to Christmas. They celebrate New Years’ Day not New Years’ Eve.  I know, right?  Who does not welcome in the New Year?  I invited my friend Amy Boys (cluster mate) over to spend New Years’ and make some fudge and caramel corn J  MMM mmm mmm. If I am learning anything, Africa is teaching me how to cook anything with anything!!  Around 11 PM people started lighting tires on fire, I know an environmentalist worst nightmare.  By midnight, there were more than half a dozen burning tires that were leading straight up to my house!! Luckily, the fire did not end up at my house! I gave everyone hugs and took snaps when the “ball” dropped and at first, they were confused, why was I hugging everyone? However, with the alcohol flowing everyone opened up and I even got a hug out of the bartenders daughter: who is usually very reserved.  Do not worry she was not drinking.  This custom of midnight and hugs and a kiss is not done in Africa.  New Years’ celebration is over and I went home.

Now that I have written about my Christmas/New Years’ blog three months late, I have to sincerely apologize to everyone who has been following me.  I do not have an excuse, I was just flat out lazy, perhaps a little more overwhelmed than I care to admit in a new country. I will really be trying to update posting every two weeks from now on with information on my projects, travelling, and other Peace Corps lives as well.  For now, I hope you enjoyed reliving Christmas and New Years after Easter!

Being Humbled: Northwest Agric-Show

Being blessed isn’t being rich, it isn’t being famous nor is it having all the new expensive fashion you desire. Its being Humble and Having Happiness. -Unknown

I know in my last post I promised to talk about the animal life, food I eat, and how I can live in the “wild” by myself, but I thought this humbling experience should be first. At the beginning of December the Ministry of Ag. held an “agric-show” where all 22 villages of the MoMo division attended. Of course some were represented more than others, but the turnout was decent. Watching the prize winners and their faces light up like a little kid on Christmas was priceless.
Bah Fondom (counterpart) and I left my village around 8 am to set up his medicinal plants. He was not partaking in the fair but wanted to advertise his medicine. He is a great salesman and made many new contacts. All of the participants were supposed to arrive by 10AM check-in and put a paper number on their plants to stay anonymous. Of course “African time”, the judging did not start until 1PM, which annoyed many, many people. There were more than 10 women representing Ngyen-Muwah and many took prizes home.  Women at the show is not a common practice.

This my counterpart and him talking about his medicinal plants

This my counterpart and him talking about his medicinal plants

The agric show is just like a 4-H fair where there are over 60 categories i.e., animals, plants, and Palm Wine. I was told I could walk around with the judges to learn about the crops but when the time came, the judges shooed me away so people would not complain about the results being biased. This annoyed me a little, but it was not a big deal. After 2 hours of judging the results finally came in!

All of the contestants were vying for a position to enter their winning crop into the Regional Agric show in Bamenda- Capital of Northwest. The day was hot, I would say roughly 90 degrees and the strong was “too much.” The prizes were money for the best farm competition: how square it was, cleanliness, weedless, and size. Wheelbarrows, spades, hoes, fertilizer, a plastic bucket, shovels, and cooking pots were also some prized prizes those that entered could win. To us the prizes would not be much, but to them the prizes were good as gold. When the men or women’s names were called the joy and happiness they felt and showed was unprecedented. The winners even 5th place had the biggest smiles began dancing and could not be happier.

She took third for winning best farm competition.  Won 2000CFA= 4USD

She took third for winning best farm competition. Won 2000CFA= 4USD

This by far has been the most humbling experience of my life from the joy the winners.  Because they were were so joyful just to be recognized by their hard work and many hours of labor. In the States if some received 5th place they would be reluctant to go and receive their prize. I was almost brought to tears as I was sitting there when a 60-ish year old lady fell to the ground pounding her fist in the dirt being completely ecstatic! The kicker is she won but a SPADE! The spade did not come with a handle so she will have to buy that, but at least she has something to show her neighbors and community. This is only one example of a  women winner celebrating dancing with their newly prized possessions out of 100’s. Unfortunately, her village is not as close of a family as mine (my whole family would have traveled with me just because I entered) and nobody was there to welcome her to receive the prize. However, after the women in my village won I knew I was posted correctly. Not because I had winners but because my village is close-knit and some came to support those that entered.

Women of Ngyen-Muwah standing next to their beloved winnings

Women of Ngyen-Muwah standing next to their beloved winnings

Yes, I can say my village can be lazy at times, but they are a very tight knit family. If a lady from Ngyen-Muwah won a prize she would have 4-5 women rejoicing with her and taken her to get the prize. This is the only village that did this, and this close-knit affection and support made me feel so comfortable where I am posted. I thought it was because I am the new white guy that I felt the welcoming and the village had a family atmosphere, but after talking to other PCV’s at other posts, they have a completely different experience.

To show how close the village is: In the two months I have been at post I have only cooked twice aside from the Christmas meal. I will be strolling around town and someone will invite me to their home and I will eat. Many days I will eat 5-7 meals usually all in the afternoon!  It is not only me that receives this attention, the people of Ngyen-Muwah are all one big family and help out everyone else. If a child comes from a poor family they will go to richer persons home and will separate black/white beans with the family and in the end the poorer family will get a meal.

After seeing the competitors winning and being ecstatic over something we may by in the states for 5$ made me extremely grateful and fortunate for the life I had growing up. I can now look back and see how much my parents sacrificed for me and my siblings.  I know next time I win a prize I will be extremely grateful and think of the women of MoMo division and how joyous they became to win a small gift.

It is not a gift or prize, but the recognition of hard work that truly matters. I would like to hear back from you readers, what you have been humbled by or a blessing you have.  Write a comment on my blog, and share your blessings forward!

Other pictures from the Agric show:

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Laundry

So turns out I am pretty bad about this blog thing. I started this one Oct 22nd! This is news from before I made it to my post… however, I thought it would still be good to share. And I also, keep seeing my counterparts posting new blogs and making me look bad. Thus, check out their blogs as well, vivelemonde.wordpress.com,http://etlenavireva.blogspot.com/2012/10/intermediate-high.html, peacecorps254.blogspot.com.

So this is what I wrote and never got to send it out!

In other news, home life is going swell! Momma and Sister are still the best cooks in Bafia and feeding me very well. My stomach has stretched to meet there demands and Momma is saying I am becoming African day by day. This is in part that my redness from the burn has turned into a slight tan. My sister thought it was funny to call me la rouge (the Red) instead of le blanc (the white). This weekend I decided to spend the time with the fam and it was great. On Friday we sat by the fire and grilled corn alongside the pot of stew boiling. The stars here are absolutely remarkable and once again I was awed by our Makers creation.

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