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.
- Why are you so white and so mad at Africa? /
- Leave your address if you want a postcard! /
- RSS /
One month later…
About a month ago I was sworn in as a real, grown up Peace Corps Volunteer and released into the wild to fend for myself. What have I been doing since then? Well, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on my couch.
My house was fully furnished by the volunteer who lived here before me, so I haven’t had any big house-related projects to undertake. And school has only started this week so I haven’t had classes to prepare for/go to either.
Last week did include both a day trip to see chimpanzees at Belabo and a second trip to Abong Mbong to pick up my kitten from another volunteer, but day-to-day activities have mainly consisted of hanging out in Bertoua and going to the market to buy vegetables every few days.
Among my victories from this time:
I successfully exchanged my empty gas bottle for a full gas bottle at the gas station.
After a week of lighting my stove with matches because I for some reason thought the pilot light was out, I established that the pilot light was not actually broken, and I now possess a surplus of matches.
I took my kitten to the vet for three shots and the entire visit cost a total of 7 USD. (Yes I realize that prices are all relative and things cost less because most people make less etc. but still, that’s super cheap compared to the US.)
Although said kitten has some skin issue that is believed to be ringworm, my now daily post-shower ritual of Ringworm or Bruise? has not yielded any fungal infections.
Kitten is almost officially litter box trained after soiling the welcome mat beyond salvation.
I’ve gotten some new pagne while here, although I’ve noticed that the majority of the pagne I buy tends to be black. When did my highschool sense of style decide to reemerge?
Two of the five postcards I’ve sent through postcrossing last week have arrived and one of the recipients complimented me on my “really good” English. At least I know one language!
Planes and trains and 95 straight up
I was listening to some PS Eliot and it made me think “hey, I should do a blog about transportation!”
So how do I get around this place?
To start with the obvious, I arrived by plane. I’m pretty sure the only international airports in Cameroon are in Yaoundé and Douala, but I believe all of the regional capitals have airports as well.
Traveling between cities or large towns usually involves a bus or a coaster. When given the option, I say always take the bus over a coaster. Coasters are like smaller minibuses - think super-sized minivan. The rows are constructed for about four people, but make no mistake, five people will be jammed in, regardless of body type. You will be sweated on by strangers, so you’d better hope the person next to you is Ebola-free.
A bus is pretty much like taking a bus in the US, just typically a bit shabbier and not climate-controlled. When stopped at a checkpoint so the gendarmes can pull everyone off of the bus to check IDs, it’s also much easier to disembark from a bus than a coaster, where the foldout seats block the aisle. Both of these options leave you at the mercy of the driver for bathroom breaks, and the culture of rest stops hasn’t really hit Cameroon yet, so I do my best to dehydrate prior to departure.
There is also a train that runs from Douala to Yaoundé to Ngoundere, which is fine capital of the Adamawa Region. I haven’t taken it,but I hear good things about toilets and breakfasts on the overnight trip between Yaoundé and Ngoundere.
One can also take private cars for journeys from one city/village/town to another. Private car in this context is really just a euphemism for organized hitchhiking. You go to a location usually on the main road of the city/town/village and wait for a car with space in it to come pick you up. The practice is common enough that there are standard prices for different destinations, and private cars tend to move faster than buses because they’re not stopped at checkpoints.
There are cabs in the bigger cities, but in my experience the only place that they are the most convenient option is Yaoundé. In Yaoundé most of the cabs operate like the services in Palestine: you flag one, tell it where you’re going and as many people with similar destinations you can fit in are picked up along the way. Alternatively, you can depo the cab and pay a higher cost but not pick anyone up. The biggest group I’ve had in a cab so far has been 8 plus driver, but we could have fit at least two more relatively small individuals.
My personal favorite mode of transport, for those of you who don’t already know, are the motos. Motos tend to be the number one choice for transportation within a city/town, and they are also commonly taken between towns/cities that are relatively close. Most people don’t wear helmets - other than a few drivers who wear them, I’m pretty sure the only helmets you’re likely to see belong to Peace Corps Volunteers. It’s also common practice for people to share motos. The largest group I’ve gone on one moto with has been three plus the driver, but I’ve seen up to four or five when there are children on motos.
A decent number of people in Bertoua own their own motos, or scooters if they have money. My personal favorite private moto owner was the professionally dressed woman I saw driving her three young children around.
And of course, there are Peace Corps cars. Mainly reserved for Peace Corps admin, they are huge white SUVs with the Peace Corps logo printed on the hood. You only to ride around in one of these if you’re accom get panying someone on official business or if you’re able to hitch a ride with someone who happens to be going to the same place as you. It seems to be a rare occurrence, and probably for a reason. I’m pretty sure the interior of one of those vehicles is bigger than my bedroom - if I spent too much time in there I might just move in.
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.