In Peace Corps, each of us are given a place to live. No one knows what that place will be like. Running water? How many bedrooms? How difficult is it to get there? Will I have a postmate? When we are in training, we can make requests, but the key word here is request. Peace Corps Cameroon is the kind of place where a small number of volunteers are so isolated and lacking amenities that they have a satellite phone. I came to Cameroon prepared to adjust to whatever Peace Corps threw my way. We traditionally have two meetings while training to discuss personal needs for a potential site. When I sat down in my first meeting with my program manager to discuss post, I made a list of things I would like, in order of preference. It went something like this:
2) less than 30 kilometres to the next volunteer
3) Internet access within 30 km as well.
But then I started rambling about how I have been daydreaming about making pineapple wine. And before I knew it, the meeting was over.
Then, four weeks later, we had another meeting. At this point I had been in Cameroon long enough to begin having some dietary stress. The lack of fruit in my diet was making me miserable. I was constipated for weeks at a time. Fruit is not really a regular part of the Cameroonian diet in the way Americans eat fruit. In the States, I can eat a fruit salad and a glass of chocolate milk everyday—that’s a great meal for me! Here, well, the primary ingredients in anything is palm oil, rice and piment. Everything else is optional. So by the time the second meeting arrive, I had been dragged through the mud with language training. I wasn’t feeling so confident with my French, I had even cried in language class the first week. I sat down and told my program manager that at this point, I don’t care where I go, I need to have access to fruit all year round, or else I will not survive. After that, everything is negotiable. I also mumbled that francophone would still be fun.
Fast forward to August 8th, when I arrived in Manjo. I had spent two days travelling with Ben to our region. I stepped out of a bus meant for 35, but packed with 56 (excluding children under 10). I looked around and saw two petrol stations and tons of people swarming at me. Because fate always is timely, the phone towers were not working, making a phone call was impossible, so I just stood there trying to remember how many bags I had. I would later find out phone service is very much an on-again-off-again thing here by the hour during rainy season. But then my community host, Monique found me and within minutes, I was moving through the center of town toward my apartment. As I crossed the street and people gesticulated to eachother that they understood why I was here, I knew that I would never again be a stranger here.
I am living on the Francophone/Anglophone line in the Littoral region of Cameroon. My village is francophone, and my language skills are greatly improved since those interviews in Bafia. I am 15 km away from 5 volunteers and 20 km away from Ben, a guy who began training with me. I have running water all of the time and electricity most of time. While, living with my host family, I spent every morning and evening drawing water from the well. And while I have running water, I still take bucket baths because I heat the bucket first so that I am not freezing cold. I am living in an apartment on the road to Douala. I have 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms. All fully furnished, though I have added a nice speaker system. I have two terraces, they both look out to the mountains which host enviable sunsets on the regular. One terrace has a sink for doing laundry or just to serve dinner on. I have a TV. With cable. I live less than 3 hours from the coast. I live in, what some argue, is one of the nicest apartments in Peace Corps Cameroon. The person I am replacing, Cherlin, took it a step further and had made the bed and put fresh soap out for my arrival. But the cherry on top is that I am literally surrounded by fruit. I even have a man, Thaddeus who delivers papaya to me when I call him.
Somehow, needing to be near fruit. Being arguably the pickiest eater in my training cohort has gotten me a little paradise in the jungle. It is my first time living alone. The apartment is huge. Washing the floors is quite an undertaking but also a very good workout. But most importantly, it feels like home.