|My time in Cameroon feels like it is wizzing by. I have felt pretty comfortable here this week to the extent that it has felt like a 'normal' week in Bamenda. This week has been a bit difficult in work, mis-communications, wondering whether I am achieving anything, differing agendas. But I keep telling myself that even if all I come away with the learning I have gained place that will be a good thing. Part of the learning is coming to terms with having no expectations of what you can achieve, as I agreed with another volunteer yesterday, you need to start with minus expectations if that is possible (and he is here for a year). However, we are so used to being busy, getting on with things and achieving (or at least convincing ourselves that we are achieving) it is a difficult habit to break – but a good lesson to try!
I have been getting on with organising my workshop with some female mayors and women's groups. It will be on Thursday and Friday and I am looking forward to running it with my colleague Mary, it will be interesting and hopefully a good strategy will come from it.... see how I am itching to achieve???
On Tuesday I went to lunch with the Mayor of Tubah. I had met his wife, Madame Confidence in the UK before coming over as her daughter has been studying there. I was picked up by their driver and taken to the council offices first. It is a nice, calm place and the council is made up of old, German, what looks like military buildings, single storey bunker -esk, but peaceful, almost sleepy with a few hens scratching around and some nice flowers. Fresh flowers are a scarce commodity here, perhaps because of the lack of rain (it is supposed to be the start of the rainy season now but it hasn't really started properly – the change of seasons being messed about all over the world – reminds you that we are one world) – there are lots of plastic ones in all the restraunts. We had a lovely meal of traditional coco yams and endole ( a kind of spinach like vegetable made into like a pesto consistency). There is no chance of me losing any weight, firstly the avocados are a staple sandwich filler for lunch and taste soo good. Secondly there is a lot of stews and sauces that use copious amounts of palm oil, that also taste good. Most food here is traditional and cooked traditionally on an open fire oven, including at the mayor's – see the picture. Local food tends to be plantains, coco yams, fou fou corn (a kind of starch somewhere between mash potato, rice and couscous), cassava and achou (not sure on the spelling). I was shown around the grounds of the mayor's residence where they keep pigs, goats and chickens for preparing in the kitchen.
This week has been quite sociable, I had dinner with friends at their house on Wednesday. It is nice to be in someone's real home and walk down residential streets. It can be difficult getting home though, it is not really safe to be out at night – we all look after each other, but it is dark as there is no street lighting. I met up with some of the volunteers that I arrived with who have gone off to different placements. Some are finding it difficult with the immense dust and usual lack of water and power, I am very lucky. Being here makes me feel very lucky generally. Lucky that I was born in the country I was to the family I have, lucky to be able to come here and have this experience, lucky to live in a society that is not crippled by corruption, lucky to be able to meet wonderful people that make you realise you can connect and become friends with all kinds of people wherever you are in the world. (A bit slushy but true)
On Friday I went back to Toubah to meet with some female councillors and the deputy female mayor. Another VSO volunteer had arranged for them to meet with me before the main administrative council meeting. My colleague, Patience and I had prepared a really short facilitation session, asking them about how women can participate in decision making in Toubah. We were there at 8.30am, but the whole group of women did not arrive until 10.00am. 'This is Africa' I was told. It was fine we chatted to some of the staff setting up the hall. Small flags, in the Cameroonian colours are hung around the room to remind the councillors they are acting for their community and country rather than themselves. We had an interesting discussion about whether it was OK for women to wear trousers (not traditionally) and did discuss participation with one of the women who had turned up on time.
Yesterday I went shopping in the market. A friend was looking for some material for curtains and I wanted to look for some for a dress. The main market here is huge and you could easily get lost. It sells everything from batteries, to meat to material to seeds and spices (lots of which we couldn't identify). It was quite calming and relaxing walking round, we felt more sheltered and relaxed than being on the street with the hustle and bustle and constant 'hello....hello, white man!?'. There was reams of beautiful batik, tie-dye and printed material, you buy it then take it to another part of the market where they will make you dresses, shirts, bags etc. I am hopefully going to the tailors this week with a colleague who always looks stunning.
I actually did some yoga today, after having brunch with friends next door! A lovely Sunday!