Sunday, January 28, 2018

Adopt a Peace Corps Volunteer!

TotTK and his buddies

Did you know there's a separatist movement in Cameroon? Well, there is! I did not know that myself. I mean, I don't know much of anything about Cameroon, but that seems like one of the more important ones not to know. So there are over 200 languages in Cameroon, but the two big ones and French and English. I'm not going into the historical details here (because I don't really know them), but basically, the Anglophone part of the country is upset with the Francophone government, accusing the government of being negligent to that area of the country (which also just so happens to have most of the natural resources) and having a very heavy pro-Francophone bias, where people from the Anglophone area feel they are excluded for jobs in the government, etc. Again, this is all a pretty sketchy outline of the issue based on superficial conversations I've had with Cameroonians. I imagine there are all sorts of factual errors with that assessment, but I think, in general, we can just distill it down to the Anglophone regions (or factions of people within these regions and people abroad) are upset with the government and want to secede.

So within our first month in country, these protest really started ramping up. Of course the protests are all out in the Anglophone regions, not here in the capital, so don't worry for us, 'cause we're fine.

But! The Peace Corps volunteers that live out in that region? They were not fine. Well, I mean, yeah, they were fine, but still, in the interest of security, Peace Corps pulled them out and brought them to Yaounde. In an interesting, country-specific twist, Peace Corps volunteers in Cameroon are also not allowed to stay at hotels in Yaounde. I'm not sure if there just aren't any hostel-esque places or nothing that passes security muster, so the Peace Corps has a whole house for the volunteers to stay at! It has wi-fi and stuff!  It also fits like 26 volunteers and there were 40 in town so as you can see, math majors, that left quite a few homeless volunteers hanging around town. To solve this problem, the embassy sent out an APB requesting volunteers to host these homeless PCVs (that's "Peace Corps Volunteer" for those of you not in the acronym know.)

Now Mr. ATK and I are both proud RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) and Mr. ATK, being the kind-hearted soul that he is, volunteered ChezTK as a refuge for one lucky volunteer right away. I, on the other hand, being a touch more on the misanthropic asshole side of the spectrum, was not quite as eager to open our home to a total stranger, even if they were a PCV. I realize this probably makes me look pretty bad, especially to my fellow RPCVs and PCVs, but let me explain.

I had a couple reasons for not jumping at the chance to welcome a stranger into my home. One, we had just arrived at Post and were still unpacking so things were pretty disorganized and though we have an extra room, that happened to be the place where I was randomly putting crap that I didn't know what to do with. Two, we have a small child (TotTK, if you recall) who does not believe in personal space and while I make an effort to contain his unbridled enthusiasm for strangers outside of the home, I was not interested in policing him in the home, so anyone staying with us had to be cool with having the most adorable shadow in the world. Three, and this is perhaps the most important, I had been through a Peace Corps evacuation. A couple of them in fact and while for one, we were spirited away to a resort where we were self-contained, the other one, where we had free run of the city was crazy debauchery at its highest level. I mean, bring a bunch of isolated young people who are living in the boonies to the city where good food and alcohol abound and things are bound to go off the rails. I found it to often be like college but dirtier. So I wasn't keen on hosting someone who would be out 'til all hours of the night, hungover during the day, and might poop the bed (or at the very least vomit all over the place. But seriously, I've known a few bed poopers. Heavy drinking and all those stomach bugs don't make for a good mix.)

Anyways, Mr. ATK succeeded in making me feel bad about my misanthropy, so I relented, because, you know, I do like to help people. I told Mr. ATK to let the folks know, we'd be happy to host someone, but no weirdos and preferably a woman. I guess that got a lot of side-eyes when Mr. ATK specifically requested a female, despite his protestations that it was his "WIFE! Not him!" that wanted a female volunteer.  So less than 24 hours later we met the non-weirdo female volunteer we had been hoping for.

And let me say, it was the best decision we made in our first two weeks in country!

Nap time!
PCVTK (or "Ca" as TotTK called her) stayed with us for about a month before heading back to America with her Cameroonian husband. While she was here, she showed me around town (despite living in a village 7 hours away). Showed me that, despite all the razor wire and prohibition against taking any sort of non-embassy transportation, this city is not some terrifying crime-infested den. It's a fine city. It could use some sidewalks and traffic rules, but generally, during the day, it's fine to walk around. But I still don't venture too far from my area because it's usually 100 degrees out and the hills are not fun.

It was like having a live in tour guide. We went fabric shopping in the Muslim quarter (or the Britiquerie or Brick as it is commonly known) and I may or may not have gotten engaged to some random fabric seller. We went to an artisan market where I probably overpaid for some wooden spoons, but they were cute. We went to a Turkish restaurant where the shawarma was quite tasty and a Lebanese restaurant with great hummus and falafel. She showed me the parking lot where a guy sells the "best grilled chicken in town" and advised me on where to find the best cheeseburgers.

But most of all, she let TotTK climb all over her and bust into her room (though I did try to impart the importance of personal boundaries to him.)  And then when her husband (who TotTK called Rafis) came to town, TotTK promptly climbed all over him too and he did not seem to mind.

There's some sort of army crawl going on here.

Now it's been over two months since Ca and Rafis returned to America and TotTK still talks about them, though not as frequently as before.  In fact, just last night when I was putting him to bed, I asked TotTK, "Who do you love?" and he said, "Ca." And I said, "Who else do you love?" and he said, "Rafis." And I asked again, who else do you love?" and he said "Mia" (that's his nanny) and so I asked one last time who he loved and he said, "Chips." So then I gave up.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bienvenue au Cameroun!

View of Yaounde from Mount Febe

So the ATKs have arrived in Cameroon! Por fin! Also, I learned that Cameroon gets its name from the gigantic shrimp that you find here. Seriously, they are huge.

And after weeks in country, we finally got our internet hooked up so I can share my first impressions with you all.

1.) First, and this is a pre-Cameroon comment, the Brussels airport sequesters all travelers going to Africa in a section of the airport with, like, no restaurants or cafes. There's just a few vending machines. What really makes this galling is that you have to pass through immigration right before entering the area (though this wasn't entirely clear to me until we were at the guy passing through) and once you go through, you cannot leave. Again, no signs warning you of this. So we were trying to find our gate and then we were trapped for like 90 minutes. I never got my last cup of Starbucks. :( That's some shady shit, Brussels Airport. As far as I could see, while rushing through the airport, no other areas were sequestered like that.

But on to actual Cameroonian observations....

2.) Our house is nice. It has a sweet pool that is surprisingly deep. TotTK loves it. It is also surrounded by razor wire and has a 24 hour guard. Most people seem to think this should make us feel safe, which it does to an extent. But what it really does is make you feel like everything outside of the wall is incredibly dangerous. Of course, a month in now, we are realizing that we can indeed leave the house and not get mugged or whatever upon stepping foot outside the gate. And we've seen some interesting restaurants that look good. There's much to explore.

Enjoying the pool

3.) Oh. My. God. The hills in the city are crazy. Like, I thought Arlington, VA was hilly, but this place? I feel like I'm scaling a mountain every time I leave the house. And that's probably because I am. My Fitbit tells me I walk up the equivalent of 20 flights of stairs when I walk from my front door to the main road which is like three blocks up the hill. Looking on the bright side, my butt and thighs should be cut as hell by the time our three years here is up.

4.) This is not a very walk-able city, which has probably been the toughest thing to get used to. TotTK and I spent the last eight months hiking all over Arlington and D.C., checking out all the parks and playgrounds and artesanal doughnut shops. That does not seem to be in our future here in Yaounde. Besides the lack of artesanal doughnuts, which, don't cry for me, because what this city lacks in artesanal doughnuts, it makes up for in French bakeries, there are also no parks and very little green space. The crazy hills, lack of sidewalks, and seeming lack of consideration for pedestrians, makes walking around not a particularly pleasant experience. A stroller is basically useless, and because of the hills, putting TotTK in a carrier is also not very fun. This past weekend we tried a couple of journeys out with the ole baby carrier and while it worked, both TotTK and Mr. ATK were incredibly sweaty by journey's end. Like, "Did you fall in a large body of water?" sweaty.

So because of this, TotTK doesn't really get to leave the house all that much and that's a bummer. We go to the embassy on Sundays where a bunch of families gather and the kids play soccer and go swimming, so that's nice, but it's certainly not like it was back in the U.S. where he was playing with kids everyday at the Y or the park or baby gymnastics. I guess that's what the hardship pay is for. And eventually he'll be going to school so he'll get to play with kids there. So that's something, I guess. In the mean time, he'll have to make due with me and all the pillow forts and box houses he desires.

TotTK and one of his "houses"

5.) It's hot here, yet if you just tried to dress based on what you saw folks on the street wearing, you would have no idea what to wear. There will be a guy in a sweatsuit next to a guy in tank top. Mainly, I think, "Why on earth are you in a sweatsuit?"

6.) So many fresh fruits and vegetables! Delicious pineapples, avocados, mandarins, tomatoes as far as the eye can see! Mr. ATK can't stop raving about the peanuts and the eggs.  There are even two papaya trees in our yard! Sadly, I hate papaya.

So those are my first impressions. I reserve the right to revise my opinions, which I will probably do because first impressions are often wrong. Though I can't believe I'll revise my opinion on these damn hills. They are bananas.
Yaounde from the top of Mount Febe

Monday, July 17, 2017

Friday, April 21, 2017... A day that will live in infamy!

One of his elusive public tantrums! After his ride on the carousel ended.

So the terrible twos have arrived. And they arrived on Friday, April 21, 2017. It's weird that I can identify the day. I hadn't anticipated being able to pinpoint exactly when it would start, but lo and behold, it's like a switch flipped and my little baby turned into a willful tantrum throwing toddler. Also, I would just like to add that he was only 20 months old when this happened and so I feel slightly cheated as he was not two yet. I would have thought that I had four months of no tantrums ahead of me, but I would have been wrong. So very very wrong.

So how did I know they started, you ask? Surely I must be exaggerating? Perhaps, but it doesn't seem like exaggeration to me. Well, I pinpoint that day because it was the first day he threw a tantrum. Like a full on, red faced screaming, seemingly never ending, tantrum over something so ridiculously innocuous that I don't even remember what it was any more.  I believe wouldn't let him have a pouch right at that minute and a ten minute tantrum complete with pounding on the pantry door, hanging on the handle to try and open said pantry door. I remember being flabberghasted, like, "What the hell is happening?" And being torn between, "Well, this is just ridiculous" and "Oh my poor baby is so sad! I must comfort him." (FYI, the attempts at comfort were not well received. Unless I had an applesauce pouch to present to him, he was not interested in my so-called "comfort".) It took me a second to realize, "These are the Terrible Twos, aren't they?"

Since then, the Terrible Twos--and, again, I would like to point out that TotTK is not actually even two yet--have been aided by the acquisition of the words "No" and "Mine". And frankly, I don't think he even knows what "mine" means as he seems to use it as a substitute for "I want that thing you have" which often leads to the following conversation:

Me: No it's not. It's mine.
Me: No. MINE! You know what? Just gimme this. I'm putting it away.
TotTK: Anguished cries as if he were being stabbed multiple times.

It's a real mature, deep conversation.

In the 3 months since this new chapter has begun, it has certainly gotten a little more normalized. Like, it's just what toddlers do, right? Luckily, he generally is well behaved in public. There will be the occasional tantrum in a public place, mostly likely at a park that he does not want to leave, but those are exceedingly rare. That's good because, you know, it's kind of embarrassing when your kid has a melt down and there are witnesses, even if it's a pretty universal thing. But, on the other hand, it's like, he is so friendly and well-behaved in public that people don't (or didn't at the time) believe me if I mention that he throws tantrums. It's like I'm being gaslighted by my own son.

Of course, I don't want to come off as badmouthing my kid. I love the little booger, obviously, and I could certainly list all the hilarious and awesome new things that have cropped up in tandem with the tantrums, but then this would be way too long.*  Like, it's just so crazy. Everyone says to cherish "this time" because it goes so fast. But they say that about every time in a baby's/child's life. So it's basically just, "cherish everything all the time." And it does go by fast. Sometimes when I am trying to explain to him why he cannot just watch Dora the Explorer all day (or as he calls it, "Boots!") and he is crying and pointing at the t.v., I remember back to when he didn't do any of this. And then I remember back to when we first brought him home and Mr. ATK and I were like, "So when does he start to do stuff?" Now it's like, "Remember when he didn't do stuff? That was nice." So in someways, I guess you're always looking forward to the next milestone or achievement, and you're always looking back wistfully at the past. I suppose that is just what parenthood is.

And on that note, I'll leave you with a glimpse of TotTK's sillier side:

Also, he broke that popcorn bowl that he is scooting around in the video. That popcorn bowl was a gift from Best FriendTK many years ago, so that was sad. It was always a metal bowl, so it's really pretty impressive that he was able to bust it. Accentuate the positive and all that.

*Two words: Fist bumps. Two more words: For everyone.