Angry in Africa

Justine's white person travel blog, of which the contents are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Aug 22

Why I don’t love this ice bucket thing

Lately every time I log onto Facebook I’m hit with a deluge of people dumping buckets of ice water on themselves for charity.

Over the past couple of days I haven’t been able to stop myself from listing all of the reasons I think this is ridiculous every time I see a new video pop up, so instead of subjecting my like-minded friends to yet another rant, here’s a blog.

So, why am I so annoyed that a bunch of people are raising awareness via social media and donating to ALS research? Because you don’t need to waste a bucket of POTABLE water to support a charitable organization.

What is potable water and why is it obnoxious to dump it over our heads for a social media stunt?

Potable water is water that is clean/safe enough for humans to consume. The developed world uses a lot more potable water than necessary for a wide variety of things, such as washing cars and flushing toilets - the water that removes your feces from your immediate environment doesn’t really need to be clean enough to drink. For those of you who don’t know (and given the state of awareness for water issues in the US, it’s not really your fault if you were unaware), much of the water in the developing world is not treated, and therefore not potable.

In Cameroon, if I want to drink water I either need to purchase a sealed bottle, boil, or filter it. Sometimes it’s necessary to add a small amount of bleach before filtering, or to boil and filter. The water I shower and clean my house, clothes and dishes with isn’t fit to drink. So it becomes a bit irksome to see lots of people happily dumping out buckets of potable water because they can.

But as for the main reason the bucket challenge annoys me, look at the sheer amount of water being used. The one bucket you’ve just poured out is probably about a week’s worth of showers if I don’t wash my hair. It could probably wash 4-5 meals worth of dishes. It could probably cook about 10 single person meals. Or it could flush my toilet 2-3 times. It could clean all of my floors if I was for some reason inclined to wash them. And it could be used to supply me with at least a week of clean underwear.

That’s cool, you say, but we have so much water and it’s super easy to obtain, so what’s the problem?

Well, from what I understand there’s a pretty bad drought in the Southwest at the moment, so no, actually you don’t have “so much water.” Also, wasting resources because you personally have a surplus is not what all the cool kids are doing.

To provide some contrast, let me tell you how I get water in Cameroon. Living in a regional capital, I actually have a really luxurious water situation. Every couple of days the water comes on for a few hours in my kitchen, typically at a trickle, and if I have an hour or two to spare I can collect enough to fill up my water trashcan and my filter. If I use the water sparingly and strategically that can last for about a week if I need it to. I also leave a couple of buckets outside to collect rain water, and there’s a well in my compound that I can use if I need.

As running water is nowhere near close to the norm here, many of my fellow volunteers have to either go to the well or forage themselves or hire someone else to do it for them. A trip to the forage usually involves several jerrycans, a wheelbarrow, and a walk that can be as short as 30 seconds or really fucking long, depending on how lucky you are. I can say from personal experience that wheeling several jerrycans back from the forage is not an enjoyable task. Some people have to hike into the jungle and get their water from a stream and carry it home. 

So yes, when you look at all the things that bucket of water could potentially do and the effort that most of the people I know here have to put into obtaining it, it does seem kind of obnoxious to waste it on a social media stunt. Of course I can only speak for myself, and I haven’t met any Cameroonians who are familiar with the ice bucket challenge, but looking at how water is used here (for example the water from the laundry will often be used to wash the floors, and the water from the dishes or a shower will be saved to flush a toilet if the household has one), I can’t imagine that an ice bucket challenge would ever catch on here.

Although that is pretty much how everyone showers anyway, so maybe I’m not thinking creatively enough…

Speaking of creativity, let’s address the creative aspect of the ice bucket challenge. Half of the battle of changing something is raising awareness about the issue, so I see what the engineers of the ice bucket challenge were going for. They’ve done a spectacular job of getting everyone’s attention, but I maintain that you can get people’s attention in less wasteful ways.

For example, the jump into a pool/ocean/stream/other body of water with your clothes on or donate challenge. Or the plant a tree or donate challenge. Planting a tree would be a huge pain in the ass, I’d rather just donate. Adopt a kitten or donate: everyone wins! Read a book or donate - people in the US don’t read enough. Call your mother or donate. I would double the suggested amount.

The moral of this blog entry: If you want to donate to charity, that’s awesome. I salute you. Carry on. If you want to congratulate yourself for your valiant slacktivism, it would be cool if you could do that privately.

Aug 17
“She’s here to teach English, but she’s American and our children learn British English. This isn’t good for the children. Why can’t she teach math?” Second-in-command to the mayor of Bertoua, who has obviously never seen me try to solve a subtraction problem, to my community host (in French)

Aug 16
Tan lines after less than three months in - will check back in two years.

Tan lines after less than three months in - will check back in two years.

Aug 14
What to eat when there’s no power and no gas and no one selling vegetables past 5 PM?

Tomatoes, bread, salt, peanuts and dark chocolate with a side of Beyoncé. This is surprisingly almost balanced.

What to eat when there’s no power and no gas and no one selling vegetables past 5 PM?

Tomatoes, bread, salt, peanuts and dark chocolate with a side of Beyoncé. This is surprisingly almost balanced.

Some photos of the living room in my new house. The bedroom is already too messy to appear on my blog. I can’t take credit for most of the furniture/decoration as I inherited the house from a previous volunteer but a few of those things are mine.

I live here!

Aug 13

What happens next

All of my Peace Corps posts thus far have been written as a trainee, but now, from the comfort of my new bed in my new house in Bertoua, I can rightfully refer to myself as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

After a slew of final evaluations and tests and presentations (the highlight of which was definitely my french language presentation ‘The Influence of Celine Dion in Cameroon’), the Peace Corps Cameroon stagieres donned various outfits made out of matching pagne for the official swearing-in ceremony.

Appropriately enough, the not quite legit looking moto my friend and I took into town sported an American flag over its front wheel. The ceremony consisted of numerous speeches from numerous people, a presentation given by us, a surprise musical performance of a Spanish love song about which not even the performers were informed ahead of time, and an awkward sorority squat photo op with the Peace Corps country directors and various Cameroonian officials.

We held a big bonfire on our final night in Ebolowa to hang out with each other and the training staff prior to our departure, and to burn the various handouts we’ve received throughout training. The next morning we were up bright and early so that we could stand around outside of the training center for two hours waiting for the buses to be ready to leave. Positive aspects: I’m pretty sure that some of our language instructors greatly enjoyed the opportunity to make fun of our numerous goodbyes and lengthy hugs. The four volunteers going to the East traveled to Yaoundé with the groups going to the Centre region and the Adamaua, so we were all able to have lunch (Chinese food!) in the capital before parting ways.

Our overnight stay in Yaoundé gave me enough time to eat delicious food, take an extremely satisfying hot shower and purchase another Beyoncé notebook for my collection before leaving for Bertoua, the regional capital and my new post. The bus ride was surprisingly smooth, despite the huge accident that completely blocked the road outside of Abong Mbong, and the driver’s attempts either to kill all of us or keep the small children on the bus constantly vomiting by taking all of the curves as fast as possible.

A few of the volunteers we’ve met during training came to help us lug all of our belongings to the CASE, an acronym for which I still don’t know the actual words that refers to the Peace Corps transit houses. In each regional capital there’s a building owned and maintained by the Peace Corps for volunteers who are traveling or commuting to the capital for the weekend to stay in. The four of us stayed in the Bertoua CASE for our first three nights in the East but we have now all set out to post.

Post for me happens to only be a 10 minute ride from the CASE, which has made moving all of my belongings in much cheaper, if not easier.

A volunteer showed me how to find my house for the first time I went to it, and I of course promptly forgot the directions. This led to a rather unfortunate moto ride about an hour later when, with a huge bag and my enormous suitcase, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out which turn we were supposed to take. This led to the driver, who mostly refused to speak, bringing me around the neighborhood, and me asking various passersby if they happened to know the tall, skinny blanche who used to leave nearby and if they could tell me where her house was. One individual’s directions sounded promising, but the driver seemed not to follow them, and instead took me to the house where a random white boy on a bicycle happens to live. (I’ve since learned that he belongs to a Danish family who lives in the neighborhood). Finally, I called one of my post mates, and she very graciously came on another moto to find me and guide me to my house. Naturally, I was about 30 seconds away from it by moto where I got lost and gave up.

Since then, I’ve done a much better job of finding my house - I’ve also decorated a bit and thrown all of my clothes on the floor of my bedroom.

During these next few weeks before school starts the only things I really need to do are meet a few officials, get my schedule set up for the school year and get to know the city. My personal goal for this time is to bargain for something in the market using Fulfulde. Wish me luck!

Aug 9

Highlights from our swearing-in ceremony two days ago - PCT —-> PCV!

Jul 21

Cameroonian wedding crashers

As it happens, the title of this post refers to me, my host mother and a random group of her friends. Predictably enough, we crashed a wedding last night.

I had expected the major event of the evening to be the joint birthday party for two of the other PCTs. We all got permission from the homestay coordinator to stay out last our 7 PM curfew for the event (until 9!), and when it was time the Peace Corps and drove us home so that we wouldn’t have to walk in the dark.

When I arrived home we had guests: three random men drinking beer in the living room, which is pretty standard. After maybe thirty minutes my mother turned to me and seemed to ask in French if I could stay in the house with the 12 year old girl who is currently living with us while she and the guys went out. I obviously said yes, and next thing I knew she was calling the homestay coordinator and asking for permission to take me somewhere that involved beer.

"It’ll be okay," I thought to myself, "it’s late and last minute so she’ll definitely say no and then I can go to bed."

Everything went perfectly with that plan until my mother hung up the phone and told me that permission had been granted and to get dressed because we were going to a wedding.

Horribly underdressed in bright green skinny jeans, I left with them around 10:30 to drive to a village slightly out of the city for the reception. It wasn’t until we arrived, parked and walked into the building that I was informed we weren’t actually invited to this wedding. I was pushed into the reception room first, and then one of the men we were with argued a bit with the bouncer and everyone else in the group with the token white person was allowed into the party.

Once inside we were seated and silenced, as the music was cranked up so loud that even if French was my first language I would never have been able to communicate with anyone. It also quickly became apparent that we hadn’t been invited because my family doesn’t actually know either of the individuals participating in the marriage.

Just before the happy couple entered the reception around midnight, cheap boxes of red wine and small plastic cups were distributed to all of the tables, and I managed to choke down two horrible servings of it in total. The food was served at about 12:30, and I was boarding the “I’m so tired and still a little drunk from the party I went to earlier and I just want to fall asleep at this table” struggle bus. The next hour of my life was spent walking the line between being openly tired enough to get my companions to take me home and actually passing out.

Finally at 1:30 they put me out of my misery and announced that we were leaving the wedding. Never in my life have I been so relieved to leave a party at such an early hour. The last thing standing between me and my bed was the groom, who was literally in my path to the door.

Lucky for me, he didn’t seem to question the presence of a strange white girl at his wedding, and after a quick, ‘felicitación!’ I was free.

Lessons learned: when someone announces on a whim that you’re going to a wedding, don’t assume that an actual invite was issued. Also, avoid cheap boxed wine if possible. But when under conditions of hardship, do what you must.

Jul 18
We made a friend during our site visit to Dimako, a village in the East not far from Bertoua, a few weeks back. He came to visit the house of the volunteer we stayed with one morning and we almost brought him back to Ebolowa.

We made a friend during our site visit to Dimako, a village in the East not far from Bertoua, a few weeks back. He came to visit the house of the volunteer we stayed with one morning and we almost brought him back to Ebolowa.

How to get through your Sub Saharan African homestay

Before we go any further, I’d like to issue a couple disclaimers. I in no way mean to imply that a Sub Saharan African homestay is a bad thing or that I haven’t valued or enjoyed my experiences. I’m writing this post because certain aspects of homestay life start to wear on you, and because as a not at all family oriented person the homestays I’ve experienced have proven quite challenging at times. The various homestay family members I’ve collected are all wonderful people who have been exceedingly accommodating and  I greatly appreciate having been welcomed into their homes.

It’s also worth noting that I am not an authority on all Sub Saharan African homestays ever. I’m drawing on experiences of (mostly) my own in Rwanda and Cameroon, and homestay family of a friend with whom I stayed briefly in Tanzania. Every country and every family is different, so things that went well for me or my friends might turn out differently for others.

So, without further delay: I’m about to start a homestay in Sub Saharan Africa, what the hell is going to happen?

The first thing I will tell you is this: go to bed early! I go to be usually at least an hour before I actually plan to go to sleep because it’s the only alone time I get all day. Not to knock family time, but when you’ve been at school/work all day and you then have to come home and interact with a bunch of family members (and often times neighbors who drop by) in a language that you’re not used to speaking, that last hour or two of the day spent with a book/computer/iPod becomes vital.  I’ve been informed by various Cameroonian and Rwandan program coordinators that alone time is a very American concept, and if you tell your homestay family that you want to be alone they will think you’re insane. Going to bed at 8 PM, however, is perfectly reasonable. Even the the one year old in the house outlasts you every night.

The first thing a lot of other people will tell you is to keep your electronics/valuables/things you don’t want to share locked away in your suitcase, because in a lot of families individual possessions tend to be treated as community property. While my families have been incredibly respectful of my belongings, I would definitely advise others to feel out the situation before revealing laptops/iPods/iPhones etc. I’ve agreed to loan an iPod to siblings who have been extremely careful and respectful about it, but I’ve heard horror stories from my peers. The one thing I use in front of my family on a fairly regular basis is my kindle. At first they were intrigued, but once I explained that it’s just full of English language books and that it can’t get on Facebook they completely lost interest.

Sharing possessions that aren’t as difficult or expensive to replace can definitely won you some additionally brownie points. I tend to travel with a bunch of brightly colored nail polish which I’m usually happy to share and various sisters of mine have definitely seemed to enjoy it.

Food is the next big thing. As a vegan, I’ve been extremely lucky to stay with wonderful families who are very understanding. If you have any sort of dietary restriction that you plan to maintain, I would recommend being very upfront with your family about it as soon as possible. Also, never rely on the word vegetarian to relay all of the information you hope to get across. Explicitly list all of the things you can’t eat, and no matter how horrible it is, try not to turn down the things you can have if your family is accommodating a diet very different from their normal habits.

(Tonight, for example, I ate a food called couscous du manioc which in no way resembles actual couscous. It tastes like nothing and has the consistency of congealed mucus - think ugali. It was awful, but since the whole family has resolved to be vegan while I’m staying with them, I eat what they put in front of me.)

Further, if you tell your family that you like/love/really enjoy a particular food, you need to be prepared to love the shit out of it for a very long time because it will be served to you with alarming frequency until you leave. I told my Cameroonian family that I love avocado on my first night here and we have it at least three times a week, and I’m expected to eat a bigger portion than everyone else. After my Rwandan family found out that I like cappati they started sending my younger brother out to the alimentation to get it for me for breakfast every morning. When a 15 year old is getting dragged out of bed to go buy your breakfast before he has to go to school every day, you’re kind of obligated to eat it. 

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your family questions. On time in Rwanda my host father disappeared for three days and I had no idea where he was but I didn’t want to ask because I was afraid that they had told me and I had forgotten and I didn’t want them to know I had forgotten. I was extremely confused for several days, and finally on the last night my family asked if I hadn’t noticed where my father was, and explained to me that he was on a brief trip to another part of the country.

Moral of the story: ask questions. Frequently.

Page 1 of 17