Papaye France (Monkey Island)

The coolest part of the venture with Mom was our trip to Monkey Island. We met our driver Sylvest, picked up fruit for the chimps, bread and sardines for Mr. Bosko who lives in the reserve space, and gas for the boat. We travelled from Edea (Littoral Region) to where Mr. Bosko has set up Papaye France, a small reserve to protect chimpanzees. (PCVs call it “Monkey Island”) Mr. Bosko has been working with chimps for 15 years. It’s 15000 CFA per person for the afternoon at Papaye France.

After a 2 hour drive down an unpaved road, through rows and rows of palm trees and some type of birch-lookalike with small buckets attached to gather sap from horizontal slashes in the trunk, then through wide and thick rainforest brush, you arrive at the end of the road to 5 waiting and playful little chimpanzees:  Chance (Luck), Guave (Guava), Mandarine (Mandarin), Banane (Banana), and Miel (Honey).

They’re so playful! Banane, who is 5 years old, kept attacking our shoes, playfully biting our hands, and generally roughhousing with Alex. When Alex tickled him, he let out an adorable, pleased, breathy squeal of delight! Chance was playful, but not rambunctious and quite shy. Not unlike you’d expect from a 3 year old meeting a group of new adults. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had.

Mr. Bosko has the chimpanzees separated into 3 groups: babies and children of whom there are currently 5, ages 3 to 7, teenagers, and adults. The young ones sleep together in a little house of their own, except for Chance. Chance has been with Mr. Bosko since poachers killed his mother at 2 months old. He’s now 3, about 1.5 feet tall and weighs very little. Chance sleeps with Mr. Bosko in bed, refuses to nap during the day like the other young chimps and likes to wrap himself around Mr. Bosko’s leg while he walks for a free ride. They’re adorable together.

After time with the little ones, you board a boat to see the teenagers and adults from a distance. Teenage and adult chimpanzees are much too large to live and play with humans safely, so they have separate islands on which they reside.  Which we were glad of, they are big, loud, and strong! Check out our videos on flickr!



Mom’s Visit

14 days ago my Mom arrived in Cameroon. 3 days ago we said our goodbyes as she boarded a homeward bound plane. Another 6 months before another hello. Alex and I both are so thankful to be doing Peace Corps in an era of such connectivity. Although we live in a village without electricity, Ngan-ha has had cell phone reception since 2011, and we’re able to come into Ngaoundéré every two weeks to pass a weekend with the luxuries of internet and electricity, which allows us to keep someone keyed into what’s going on in the world at large and maintain relationships with our families.

Having a parent visit Alex and I here in Cameroon was a really humbling experience. I kept giving my Mom “outs”, “I’ll meet you in Europe” or “spend your money on an easy, relaxing vacation”. Cameroon is not easy, relaxing, nor a vacation, but she was adamant that she’d be coming here.

The first day off the plane we spent in Yaoundé, the administrative capital of the country. She was jet lagged, so it was a lazy day of street samosas, a fresh smooth of banana, papaya, pineapple, corossol, cassimango, and passion fruit. A delicious treat of the grand south of Cameroon. We ate well, walked a lot, caught up on family news, and finally that evening, headed for Ngaoundéré.

We must have dove in a bit quickly, because after her first Ngaoundéré meal of biftec pomme, she was pretty sick that evening. My Mom has always been the strongest willed person I know though and despite being sick, not having slept well on the plane, train, or at my friend’s place, we readied ourselves to go to Ngan-ha the next day.

Alex and I plunged her right into Cameroon. In 2.5 days, we went from one of the biggest cities to our tiny village. Luckily the first day was slow, our neighbors let Mom rest so she’d be up for the big celebrations for Youth Day that evening and the following day.

Passing a fête in village was a really good choice. She was able to watch, soak it all in, ask for translations and I did my best. Without much communication abilities (she speaks no French), the opportunity to be a bit of a voyeur without being expected to talk much was a low-pressure event. Alex and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the preschoolers, primary school kids, and our high school students dance the night away in performances for the soirée culturelle. 

Our final day in village, we made the rounds to all of the houses and friends we needed to greet and introduce Mom too. It was also Market Day, so Mom had a chance to see what’s available there. After he first bout of illness, she and I were both a bit nervous for her to eat too many village things that might potentially make her sick again. She only had 11 days in Cameroon, we couldn’t afford to waste any of them!

Friday mid-afternoon was gift time! Mom, the family, the Crosthwaites, and the Fulton Presbyterian Church sent a bunch gifts for our high school and the little ones who live in our compound. Hotwheels, barbies, frisbees, jump ropes, and a few soccer balls to be given out were the highlight of the day! Check out our flicker for a few photos!



Conges de Noël: Un Petit Tour du Cameroun

I wasn’t able to join Alex, Jon and Mary on the mountain, and instead headed to the West region to visit a friend serving near Bafoussam. The West and Adamaoua regions, in so many ways, couldn’t have a more different feel. Adamaouans tend to be more soft spoken, polite, and calm. Westerners are loud, forward and direct speaking, and unafraid to get animated. Cameroon is so incredibly diverse. It took me a bit to adapt to the more confrontation culture of the West from my rather tranquil home in the Adamaoua.

Travelling in Cameroon nearly always presents challenges. Bad roads, just barely maintained buses/cars, reckless driving, drivers who fill up their tanks only just enough and thus sometimes run out of gas in the middle of busy stop-and-go traffic… and we had a number of issues in our transit in December. Nonetheless, it was good to spend some time exploring other parts of the country during the holidays.

I passed a few days in the West region in a small village just outside of Bafoussam called Baleng. Many cities and villages in the West/Northwest have the prefix “ba”, meaning people. We’d planned to do some other travelling in the area, but my travel buddy came down with malaria, so instead our small group spent a few days rather shut up inside one PCV’s house, helping our friend recover. While she rested, Mireille e also went to a preschool performance in the village. The little ones are so cute, they performed skits, songs, and played games.

We met up with Alex and Jon in Bafoussam and from there, did a day trip to Foumban. Foumban has a really neat old school “palace” that belongs to the Chef (cheif/king) of the Bamoun people. The Bamoun are a powerful ethnic group in West Cameroon. They have their own language, system of writing, and religion. We wandered around the market in Foumban, usually bustling with a number of tourists, but which was quite empty. All of the artisans say that because of Boko Haram, there are very few visitors now. I’ll have to get some of those pictures from the other PCVs with us!

Onto the Northwest! Passing into Anglophone Cameroon is always a strange experience for me: an anglophone who arrived in Cameroon with no French background but lives and works in Francophone Cameroon. It’s refreshing and yet strange to hear English everywhere. The cadence and lingo of Cameroonian (Grammar) English is a bit different but rather easily adapted to when you learn some basics. “Dash me something” = “Give me something”, “Flop the car” = “Fill up the car (with people)”, “How?” = A shortened version of “How are you/How’s it going?”, “Drop me for here” = “Drop me off here”. As a language learner and English teacher, I definitely appreciate how much more Cameroonian English enunciates consonants and generally has a slower rhythm than the fast-paced American style. My Cameroonian colleagues at my high school say that when Alex and I converse in English, they understand him fairly well, but I sound like a small noisy bird, haha. Thus, it’s necessary when teaching to speak slowly and over enunciate even though it feels unnatural. Americans and Englishfolk do swallow a far number of our consonants, which creates challenges for language learners.

We stayed at another PCVs house near Bamenda before making the journey up to Wum, where we’d pass Christmas. Carter, a PCV in her 70s, is serving in a small city called Bali. She’s a spitfire and a has a wonderfully interesting perspective on her volunteer experience. Because of the rough lifestyle of some parts of the country, Cameroon’s volunteers are overwhelmingly in their 20s, but Carter is a great reminder that volunteers come in all ages! I’d highly encourage a recent retiree to consider PC service and when I reach that age myself, if my health is good enough, I may very well find myself prodding Alex with the idea once again! Also, she makes fantastic Chicken Gumbo.. a taste of home is always such a wonderful treat!

I thought I’d experienced some bad roads (keep in mind that less than 5% of the roads in Cameroon are paved) before we travelled to Wum, but I was clearly wrong. The road between Bafut and Wum is hands down the worst road I have ever experienced in my life. It winds around the side of mountains, is largely unpaved, and is more holes than actual road. On the ride back from Wum to Bamenda, I actually got carsick the insane bumps and serves got to me: and I’ve never been carsick in my life. Shout out to Jon and Shawn who live in Wum and make that trip once a month. Never again for me!

We had a really relaxed Christmas, ate at many folks homes in the evening. The main Christmas meal seems to be eaten in the evening rather than midday here. The following day, we made our own little American style feast: kebabs, banana bread, potato salad, and chocolate cake. A lovely way to bid 2015 farewell.






Climbing Mt. Cameroon


A volcano crater on Mt. Cameroon

During the Conges de Noël (Christmas Break), Alex and our fellow training-mates and friends, Jon and Mary (both serving in the Northwest region of Cameroon), made the journey to the Southwest Region of Cameroon. Alex had made arrangements two days prior to stay at a hotel in Buea, the regional capital of the Southwest. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, the woman who’d answered, asked what kind of room he wanted, confirmed dates and prices, neglected to tell Alex – he learned when he arrived the evening of his intended stay – that the hotel was in fact closed for remodeling/maintenance for an unknown amount of time.

Luckily, he found another place to stay nearby. There in Buea he met with Jon and Mary the following day and they began the 3 day hike up to the summit of Mt. Cameroon then down on the other side. Alex said he’s very glad for the experience, but it was a trying venture. At the base of the mountain, you begin the hike in the rainforest, thick and dense with greenery and sticky with humidity. Further up the forest thins into large expanses of grass, but the trail leads up and down, up and down over hills as the broad mountain lumbers upward. The porters/guides were university students working during the school holiday. They were friendly, fit and quick. The trail down lead through hardened lava flows from the most recent 2012 eruption.

Check out the flickr photos of the hike; they’re beautiful.



Sey Yeeso!

In November, the Adamaoua region received 8 new volunteers from the Health and Agribusiness training groups that arrived in Cameroon in September 2015!

Unfortunately, just after the new PCVs started north, Peace Corps decided to close the Mbere Division (County) in Adamaoua due to security issues. This closure impacted five volunteers serving in that area. Four of the five had served at least one year of service, and were given the chance to either take Interrupted Service status and return to the US as full RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) or they could be relocated in Cameroon and finished out their two years of service. Each of those four volunteers chose to take Interrupted Service.

I can’t imagine being moved from my village, whether 6 months or 18 months into service. You push yourself so hard to learn the local languages, understand and act within local cultural norms, try really hard to memorize all the names and intricacies of the family members who live in your compound on and off throughout the year as well as neighbors, friends, colleagues, get to know your students and memorise all of their names, figure out which shops have the best eggs, fewest rocks in the rice or worms in the flour, you try to see what projects your village wants and needs and how you can try to adapt to fulfill those desires.. and on and on. Adapting, integrating, living, building relationships, starting projects… trying to be a successful volunteer, while certainly joyous and rewarding, takes a lot of sweat (literally, it’s hot), tears, laughter and hard work.

And you form a family within the volunteer community. It’s very challenging to really communicate with those at home what life here is life. Being so far from our support system, PCVs create their own within their spaces near at hand. So those who’ve started a new chapter elsewhere, we say sey yeeso and hopefully soon.. we miss y’all something awful already!




Back to Cameroon

We came back from our trip to the States a month and a half ago. The moments since we last hugged our families and friends are a blur in between getting back to Cameroon for a week of mid-service medical check-ups, traveling first to Ngaoundere and finally to Ngan-ha, then my traveling to the North West region to visit a friend briefly before a conference in Bamenda. Where did the month ago?

Peace Corps Volunteers are told to expect (fairly tumultuous) ups and downs during service. Due to the unfamiliar environment, language, and distance from support systems, challenges are exacerbated here. Alex and I have to remind ourselves with the chant “small victories!” A few PCVs have asked me lately if I’m happy that Alex and I went home during our service.

Yes – I’m so glad that we got to catch up with our dear ones. That privilege was an incredible comfort for us. As were the privileges of familiar, delicious and nutritious food, task efficiency, cold beverages and hot, hot showers. I deeply enjoyed family cookouts, fishing, and enjoying the Midwestern summer. The financial side of it falls in the middle. I feel like we made a good investment in the trip home, but my bank account stared back at me a bit accusingly when I checked it earlier today. I probably could have gone without reading the Washington Post’s “Six Money Milestone’s To Hit In Your 30’s” this morning. Not an uplifting read at this time.

And also, no – going home wasn’t a good idea. While I couldn’t sleep on the plane ride home because I was so excited, I cried as the plane landed in Yaoundé.  I wasn’t sure that I wanted to come back. Friends and family are so kind in saying positive, supportive things to us, volunteers while we complain to one another sometimes, are either largely positive or largely stubborn, most often a strong mix of both. Year One was hard. Hard on me, hard on Alex, hard on our marriage. Just really challenging. I didn’t feel ready to do it again.

The transition especially was rough. Getting home, adapting back quickly, but also having this undeniable gap in relationships, a difference of experiences in close relationships that you can’t quite explain. The transition of Cameroon to home and then back again, the feeling that as my friends and peers start or continue new education/career/life paths, get engaged, buy houses/cars, and start/continue growing their families, that Alex and I have taken an off ramp just grew. We weren’t there to support our friends and families. It felt as if we’d taken giant leap sideways. We knew this when we made our decision to join PC, but the reality is another beast. Have we made the right choice? (cue bank account glares)

Alex and I made this decision together. My backing out halfway through wasn’t an option. But I also couldn’t feel happy about it. So, I just tried to feel appreciative. It’s an ongoing conversation between Alex and myself: If we can’t entirely happy with something, at least we can try to take stock of what it’s given us and be grateful. And in that, I found a little bit more.

After two weeks back in village, I gained a little perspective: how excited Soulay was about our return (and us to see him!), his gift from the US, and his self-proclaimed changing views on marriage/life from conversations and observations of Alex and myself, seeing how possessive and joyful Oudou gets over the “I Spy” book that he’s declared is his own and keeps hidden in our bookshelf, how much my neighbor friend appreciates company during her 4 month mourning period and how fulfilling I’ve found our increased hang out sessions to be, the joy of seeing my students again and hearing about their summers, the knowledge that nothing in village is remotely as hard or intimidating as it was a year ago.

Then I traveled to Bamenda for the education conference. It was a good reminder that EVERYONE’S first year was hard. Things we’ve seen, experienced, a myriad of pretty darned good reasons to feel cynical and call it quits. Equally it was a year for lots of growth and we’re all still here, gearing up for Year Two, however we can.

In those things, knowing that the challenges are felt by all, and being able to see the things in village that make it home, if only for a while, I’ve found a bit of satisfaction in being back. I’m still feeling apprehensive about the school year “kicking off” on Monday (though we won’t have full class sizes until October), but I’m determined to be a better teacher this year and I’m thankful to have the support from home and my fellow PCVs to do so.

I still miss home a lot and for so many reasons. Lately I especially miss the smell of a campfire on my hair and clothes, it’s that time of year in the Midwest. But a recently I heard a PCV say “Two years of “discomfort” in the span of a lifetime? That’s nothing when I think about what I’ve already gained from it.” And she’s right. So we keep on keepin’ on.

Sharing Cameroon

I spoke in my home church today about Peace Corps and Cameroon, and I mentioned that if anyone would like to donate to a Cameroon-specific organization, A2Empowerment directly impacts girl’s education in Cameroon! The scholarships are awarded to selected female students who demonstrate financial need and write an essay sharing a bit about themselves. They cover school fees, notebooks, and pencils. Peace Corps Volunteers directly oversee the dispersion of the scholarships. This year, Alex and I are excited to get back to village in August and tell the 20 girls in Ngan-ha that they’re scholarship winners! It’ll be a great start to the 2015-2016 school year!

Here’s the website:

Thank you!