Friday, October 18, 2013

Gecko poop, fertility and other adventures in Cameroon

So, in my last entry I talked about starting a new job. I’m now 4 months into said job and living in Cameroon. Cameroon is beautiful and different enough from Kenya that it provides a lot of new challenges- the language for one. Cameroon is both French speaking and English speaking. I took a fair amount of French in college and this has been a great opportunity to refresh and improve my French skills. I know that I’ve posted before about funny language mishaps with Swahili. Now, I’ve had the pleasure of having some interesting French language mishaps too.

My confusion with “gestion” as in “gestion de stock” (stock management) and “gestation” (same as in English) always seems to break the ice and provide a welcome laugh during otherwise uneventful malaria stock management meetings. I don’t know why, but that one never fails to trip me up when I’m speaking.

Also, there was that one time that I confused “preservatif” with the English word “preservatives.” They are not the same. At all. One great example where you cannot just say an English word using a French accent and get by.

Luckily that conversation was with a Cameroonian friend who’s very understanding of other cultures and was not in the least bit judgmental when I said in French that “I don’t like to eat McDonald’s when I’m in the US because of all the condoms (preservatifs) they put it their food.” 

That would've been quite a plot twist in the film Super Size Me. Anyways, I'm a bit behind the times now because McDonald's has apparently gone healthy and has a whole assortment of new items on their menu (condoms not included).

Well, as I mentioned in the title, I’d like to take a moment to discuss gecko poop. When I lived in Kenya, I had a number of geckos that I cohabitated with. They weren’t the worst roommates I’ve had; they didn’t make a lot of noise or eat my food and were generally quite respectful of my space. There was just one little the exception- their little droppings. They would leave tiny dots of their previous meals around my floor and sometimes on my wall. It wasn’t enough to make me go all warrior with a can of bug spray to kill them, but it was an annoyance and just kinda gross. So for 2 years we mostly just tolerated each other in a mutually symbiotic relationship. They paid their rent in the form of eating other bugs that I dislike even more than them and I allowed them to remain and raise tiny gecko families under my roof.

Recently, in my new house in Cameroon, I’ve started to notice those same black dots. The Geckos have moved in. The strange thing is that I have yet to see an actual Gecko, though. Perhaps they’re more timid in Cameroon? Anyways, it was an odd mixture of comfort, nostalgia and annoyance at their return.

In between cleaning up gecko droppings and working, I’ve been dodging ever increasing fertility questions from my mother. Like “have I thought about freezing my eggs?” and do I know “about the incidence of deformities in babies the older a woman is when she gives birth”….and other lovely pressure-filled gems that come up in the middle of unrelated conversations. (Side note- When did my life turn into a Cathy comic?!)

I think she’s trying to remind me about my 30th birthday that’s around the corner. Or perhaps it’s payback for my ever-so-casual reference to her ability to join a 55+ “seniors” community soon. I’m not sure.

Either way, that woman is really keeping me on my toes in every conversation. Love you Mom!

A la prochaine….

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I'm now officially an RPCV-- Returned Peace Corps Volunteer!! I was blessed with a few really great options and I chose the one that felt like it would be the best fit. So....I'm now living and working in Yaounde, Cameroon. After 2 years, countless frustrations and many brilliantly happy moments, I still haven't gotten enough. I guess Africa really sunk it's teeth in.  I get to live my dream and work in a field that I'm passionate about (Malaria prevention) and for a company that I believe in. Couldn't be any luckier.

Guess I'm actually an NRPCV- Never Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

In addition to the genius that is  I found this out there on the intertubes. It's pretty on point for the most part, I think.

15 Symptoms of Chronic Peace Corps Withdrawal:

1. Guilty feelings about your indulgent lifestyle.
2. Salivating when you hear poly-rhythmic music.
3. Decorating more than 2 rooms of your house with host country memorabilia.
4. The desire to do everything outdoors.
5. Confusion between "immediately" and "by next week".
6. Greetings exceeding three sentences or eight seconds.
7. Making deprecating comments about American beer.
8. Subscribing to magazine normally found only in libraries.
9. Anxiety induced insomnia from lack of mosquito net in bedroom.
10. A fixation with ethnic restaurants.
11. Feeling nostalgic when your commuter bus is filled to over capacity.
12. Involuntarily using foreign swear words and interjections.
13. The inability to use the left hand when making cash transactions.
14. Reaching for the pepper before the salt.
15. Considering yourself better informed about third world countries than top level state department officials.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Chickens: Way too many to count have come and gone at the point… but the current count is 10. Rabbits: A new and delicious addition! 5 at the moment
Guinea fowl: 2

This post is about the friendships I’ve made in Kenya- not with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, I have those too- but with Kenyans.

As a Peace Corps volunteer there are times when we face loneliness. When I first got to site it was a bit of a shock. Here I was in a foreign country, all alone, with a nebulous job- work on improving the health of the community, transfer skills, empower people. Granted I had been through training, but once I got to site there was so much freedom and flexibility. My job and service here could be whatever I wanted to make of it. It was a bit overwhelming and I wasn’t really sure where to begin at first. I had to get to know the community, their problems, health issues and start to build relationships. Living on the Coast, there are much fewer PCV’s, so I had to work hard to build friendships with Kenyans. This is a big part of why I came here anyway, and it’s one of the goals of Peace Corps. It took a long time to form these great friendships with Kenyans and they are people who have forever changed my life.
The thought of having to say goodbye to any of them is really hard. I’m reminded of a close friend in America who once told me that “friendships are like stars, sometimes they shine brighter and sometimes a little fainter, but they are always there.”

The Gambo family- 

They live in my village and I am very close to the whole family of 6 (2 parents, 5 children). The mother does not speak English, so communication was a challenge at first. The father was a teacher, but now is working for a textbook publishing company. I usually eat dinner over at their house 1-3 times per week. Sometimes I go with the mother to her farm or to visit her relatives in neighboring villages. We go together to pick food for my rabbits or to collect firewood or to plant corn. I’ve taken their kids to go swimming a few times and to a nearby zoo. Their children had never been to the beach before I took them, despite living on the Coast. Their 5 children are the sweetest and most entertaining children. We have weekly movie nights and they come over and watch kid’s movies, play soccer, volleyball, cards and otherwise just hang out at my house. We have watched the entire Harry Potter series (multiple times). Unfortunately they also love Jurassic Park 3. A LOT. Which is my least favorite one and I’m not sure what I’ll do if I get one more request to watch it. Although, I suppose I will be able to add a few bullet points to my resume “Has memorized every line from Jurassic Park 3,” “Able to withstand torture.” Okay…Jurassic Park 3 wasn’t terrible…but….any parents reading this blog?? I’m sure you can relate!

The kids range in age from 6 months-11, so only the oldest one, Phillip, can understand the English spoken in the movies. But they love all the action, especially the Quidditch scenes. It lights up my life to have the children around and I look forward to a point in my life when I’m ready to have my own children. I see how the Gambo parents love their children, how they work hard at being good parents and try to raise their children to be good people and it warms my heart. No matter what country you live in, be it Kenya or America, love for your child is universal. You want them to grow up to be good people and to have a better life than you had. They work hard and sacrifice for their children so that they have the best opportunities despite their limited financial resources. They are really great people and have taught me so much about parenting and life in general.


I met her right after I got to my site in my shopping town, Kilifi. She’s originally from the Taita hills area of Kenya. She is funny, caring, sweet and loyal. She worked at a juice stand in town and makes the best darn mango and passion fruit juice in all of Kenya! We’ve known each other for about 2 years now and she’s one of my closest girlfriends here. We can really laugh and enjoy ourselves together. She went through the loss of her baby late-term in her pregnancy last year and she has had a very difficult physical recovery. After that loss, she came to my village to work with me as my counterpart. We worked on a number of projects together and she was an inspiration to the girls in my village. She really helped a lot of the girls that I had been working with for the past year through her willingness to be very open about her experiences in life and providing a lot of advice to girls that are dealing with a lot of challenges. I so admire her strength, faith, courage and determination. She has not only changed my life, but the lives of all the girls we worked with in my village. She’s back in Taita right now to rest both her mind and body and to fully recover from the challenges she’s faced over the past year. I can’t wait to see her again and it is comforting to know that even though she is far in physical distance, she really is only a phone call away.

I met her through one of the nurses at the clinic where I work. She lives in a nearby village and is mostly a stay-at-home mom but also sells beans and chapati in the evenings to people passing by her house. She has been so much fun. We instantly bonded and have a regular practice of spending the whole day together chatting, cooking and watching Bollywood movies. I had never seen a Bollywood movie before because of my general dislike of musicals; but I’ve come to find out that they can be pretty enjoyable to watch. We talk about everything from our personal relationships to our faiths. We come from different faiths, I am Episcopalian and she is Muslim, but I really enjoy the conversations we have on this topic. She has shared so much about how her faith has impacted her life, her marriage and her children’s lives and I feel so honored that she has shared those stories with me.


He was my counterpart for about a year and we worked together on a number of projects in my village. I have learned a lot about the culture and practices of the Chonyi tribe through him. He has become a great friend- like a younger brother to me. In general it’s not easy to form friendships with members of the opposite sex in the village-type setting that I live in, but I definitely have that with him. He moved away from my village to join the National Youth Service, (a ROTC type program) so I don’t get to see him very often anymore. Whenever he is back home in the village he helps with any projects and we get to chat and update each other on our lives.

Steve & Anne- 

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I have the most fun with them out of anyone else in Kenya (PCV or Kenyan). They both live in Nairobi, so between their visits to the Coast and my visits to Nairobi or passing through on my way to another destination, it usually means I get to see them about once a month only for a day or two at a time. Steve works in IT at a big NGO in Nairobi and I met him through my work with that NGO. Anne and I met through Steve. We instantly bonded and I have enjoyed spending time with each of them so much. They are really spontaneous, intelligent and fun people. We have only know each other for less than a year, but already have been on so many adventures together- snorkeling, museums, bowling, movies, dancing. I could talk to either one of them for hours about any topic and never get bored. We talk about books that we’re both reading (Freakonomics), our favorite TV shows like Lost and Prison Break, our families, job stuff and of course lighter sillier things too.

There are many other people that I haven’t mentioned here specifically, but have made an impact on me during my service and my life. In general my whole community has been really wonderful and supportive throughout my service. When the time comes for me to leave my village it will be a very difficult task. When I think about leaving all of these people whom I’ve met and developed friendships with over the course of my service, I’m reminded of this Pueblo Indian Prayer I was once given by a colleague before I left to join the Peace Corps:

“Hold on to what is good, even if it is a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe, even if it’s a tree that stands by itself. Hold on to what you must do, even if it’s a long way from here. Hold on to your life, even if it’s easier to let go. Hold on to my hand, even if someday I’ll be gone from you.”

I’m not sure what will come next for me, as there are a number of options on the table and different paths I can take. But I will for sure update this blog once a decision has been made and I begin a new or continue with a journey.