Update

So I just wanted to update on what is going on with my Peace Corps Response assignment. As you know from my previous post, my passport was lost in the mail….Well, about a week ago, I got some surprising information: It was delivered to my recruiter successfully! How, you may ask? Magic! I don’t know, I’m not questioning it. I’ve opted to leave at the end of October. Once I made peace with my departure date being pushed back, I signed up for an open house at a grad program I’m interested in. I’ll be going to Baltimore and visiting DC for a few days on October 14. I had already booked my flight before my passport was found, so I just felt it was better this way.

I am super pumped for my visit! I’ve got an action-packed week planned out. I’ll be meeting a ton of interesting people, finding out more information about this grad program (and hopefully making a positive impression), a tour of DC on a Segway, and a tour of the White House, plus general sight-seeing and catching up with Peace Corps friends in the area.

I don’t want to jump the gun, but I think I have figured out my career. What? I’m telling you, if my passport hadn’t been lost, I don’t know if I would have realized where my life is going. We’ll see how this visit goes, but it just feels right.

The program is a Masters in Public Policy, and I’m interested in concentrating in education policy. I feel like my life has always been on this path, I just wasn’t aware of it until now. It makes perfect sense as I am a strong advocate for education, yet was never really seriously interested in teaching as a lifetime career. I understand that classroom experience is vital, and wouldn’t you know that I’ve been working on applying to Teach for America ever since I got back. It was something that interested me, and now it seems to make sense why I was drawn to this. Granted, TFA is extremely competitive, so I know that realistically it is not a sure bet, but I’m going to work hard and see what happens. I’m also interested in the JET program, among other opportunities. My TFA recruiter is extremely friendly, energetic, and helpful in pointing me in the right direction. I’ll be researching education issues in depth the next few months, and eager to do so. Education reform is a deeply complex issue, and I see my role for the next few years completely as student: here to observe and learn how the system works–or is meant to work, and NOT as a reformer. I have no expectations, even after completing my MPP, of going in and changing the American education system because I know that I won’t be ready for that.

Mea Culpa

Sorry I have deserted you for so long. Believe me, it’s not because nothing has happened; everything has happened. I just couldn’t sit myself down to express it all. Seems daunting. So… I’m not even going to attempt it.

Since I’ve been gone I have:
Jumped out of an airplane
Traveled through 9 African countries
Met a hundred beautiful people
Finally visited my parents and family at home
Traveled to Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City
Said goodbye to a beloved family pet
Finally ended two toxic chapters in my life
Received two job offers
Accepted one

I’m going back to the Peace Corps, like an old boomerang lover. Just kidding. But I am going back. I’m going to Guinea within the month, but only for 9 months this time. I’m very excited. I can’t help but notice that I am always going into the Peace Corps in September. Funny.

Well, I won’t get into much for now. I just hope to reignite the writing bug in me. I want to work on this thing a lot more. I have so much to say, so much to process. A lot of it, though, is rather private. Once I figure out a nice balance between closed-lipped and exhibitionism, you’ll see a lot more of me.

Let’s build an orphanage!

Hey everybody!

So finally, FINALLY my project is up and ready for contributions.  Each donation is 100% tax deductible.

The orphanage that I work with here in Baham is being forced from their land.  Due to the generosity of the prefecture, they were given almost one entire hectare to relocate, but must start building within the next two years.  Please follow this link to make a donation–whether $5 or $500–every little bit brings us one step closer.  We don’t have much time, though.  Let’s get the $6,600 raised by the end of the month!  We can do it!

Marie Noel and Lisa during physical therapy

 

Soy, Tofu, and Tempeh!

Hey lovely babies! So it’s been awhile and mea culpa. I’ve got exciting/stress inducing news, but that post will wait until it’s a sure thing (no jinxies, please).

So what have I been up to lately?  Well, perfecting and promoting tofu, that’s what.  Tofu brochettes are extremely profitable for my lovely lady friends (income generation, hello); it’s roughly 7,000 CFA profit per batch! (What the WHAT?)  Yeah, you heard me.

So here’s the recipe Tofu Au Cameroun:

Ingredients:

3kg untreated dry soy beans, three ladles of red wine vinegar, spices (here that’s Maggi cube, hot pepper powder (piment) and salt), a clean cloth diaper, and water

Step1. Soak soy beans for roughly 7-10 hours, drain and grind into a smooth paste (will resemble homemade ice cream, yum)

Step 2.  Take the cloth diaper and squeeze out the milk.  The soy curds can be saved to put into sauce.

Step 3.  Place soy milk in a large pot and bring to a boil.  (At this point you can sweeten and drink as milk).

Step 4.  Add vinegar.  Leave on heat for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and wait for the mixture to coagulate.

Step 5. Once it is cooled to touch take the cloth diaper and squeeze out excess water (and throw out).

Step 6.  Mix in spices to the meet.  Wrap in the diaper and tie securely.  Place under a large rock and allow it to set for 15 minutes (this creates a dense, firm tofu)

Step 7. (optional) Cut tofu into half inch cubes and fry in palm oil until crisp.  When cooled place meat on brochettes and sell for 100 cfa.  Enjoy!

————————

I’ve been on a cooking kick and reading my new favorite blog:  Sweet Tater Blog. Tater’s got all sorts of delicious recipes and funny anecdotes.  Her blog inspired me to learn about Tempeh, another soy-based vegetarian must-have.  Please visit this great site to learn all about Tempeh (and even get your own free Tempeh starter delivered to your door!) www.topcultures.com 

Give tofu transformation a try!  (And let me know how it works out in the Comments section).

Who sucks at updating their blog? THIS girl!

Back from vacation! Vacation? May not be the best word for it. Adventure, session in breathing during extremely physical discomfort? Yoga asana? Better descriptions. A great time? Definitely.

Traveled all over the Sahel of Cameroon, to the very extreme of the Extreme North Region, where women with scarification on their faces, dreadlocks with shells, coins, and metals woven in their hair, and vibrant Muslim veils in chartreuse, magenta, aqua, turquoise, mauve, electric tangerine, and lemon yellow, dotting the desert like colorful flowers decorating a sepia background.

Me? I haven’t slept (well) in two weeks, but it was worth it. I need a vacation to recover from my vacation. I motorbiked in a peasant skirt over rocky terrain, rode bareback on an old blind horse, swam in numerous oases, camped out in a stranger’s living room floor decked out with colorful carpets and prayer mats, pillows, and a wonderful fan blowing on me, and drank more coca cola than I’d ever care to admit.

Stories? You bet I got ’em. Cannot, could not write them all here, though. So sorry. Just close your eyes and imagine being at the verge of tears, uncomfortable, and yet so happy, you wouldn’t change a thing. You might have an idea of what I felt.

A Year

I am now past the year mark and have about 11 months to go with my service.  This has been the longest I have been without seeing my family and my friends from back “home.”  Even though I have been in Cameroon now for 16 months, 11 months sometimes feels like a long time.  I ask myself, can I do it?  After all I’ve made it this far, the rest should be a breeze, right?  I think it might be.  Maybe not all rosy fun times, but I’ve broken up the upcoming year into “increments” based on project time lines, travel plans, visits, and Peace Corps meetings, and it looks something like this:  January- Agro fair/Mid Service, Feb/March- Environmental Education training, April-North to present HIV/GYD committee for “in service trainees,” travel, Agroforestry seminar, May-My Mom comes to visit!!!, June-Batir l’Avenir, July/August-HIV Summer Camp, September- COS CONFERENCE(!), October/November- GRE, World Map Project down town Baham, Replacement Site visit!, December-COS (Close Of Service) and travel.  Put in this context, this year is going to FLY BY.  This is not counting smaller projects along the way which will take time as well.  Each new hurdle is another accomplishment and another step for “what comes next.”

So what exactly does come next?  I don’t know for sure.  I am definitely going to travel.  I have a “Round the World” plan that may be a bit too ambitious for the time being, but I’ll find a way.  I just need to make sure I have some cash left to start my life.  I’m wanting to move in to the NYC area and try to get a job (as a Peace Corps recruiter, but we’ll see…also side jobs like research assistant, server, babysitting are in the forecast as well) and work for about a year while taking some classes and taking the GRE Psychology Subject test.  I’m very interested in a clinical psychology phd program in New York, school shall remain nameless for the time being, but you can probably guess.  I still see myself living in “another part of the world.”  But I don’t want to tie myself down.  I’m all about options at this juncture of my life.

I am, however, thinking about finances.  529 plans, investments, Roth IRAs, setting aside money to buy property one day.  It’s amazing the perceptional shifts which come automatically once this ideas start swimming around your mind.  I find myself changing.  Before I firmly believed that any one person sitting on wealth was sinful, if not THE ultimate sin when there is poverty and starvation.  More than one home a sin when there are homeless.  I still feel myself clinging to these points, but there is a shift brewing and I feel at the precipice of something huge.  Is it possible that Peace Corps service has made me more….gasp…conservitive???  Oh, the horror.

One thing is certain.  I. Do. Not. Want. To. Be. Poor.  Period.  Been there, done that.  When I was younger, I would flat out tell ya “Hey, I don’t know how, but I’m gonna be rich when I grow up.”  Then I changed.  I refused to say “idealistic” because I believe this to be a sell out term.  I was completely and totally socialist.  No rich.  No poor.  Enough for everybody.  No, if I do become “conservative” (barf, yuck, spit) I will call myself and everyone like me a sell out.  And I’m thinking about selling out.  At least a little.  Can one be a “bit of a sell out?”

Well, to the Paul Farmers of the world (and no, Oprah and Bono, you do NOT belong in this category because the vast amounts of wealth you hang on to, far exceed what you give away (and show me the proof that your donations have made any sustainable positive change, but I’m a harsh critic.  Rest assured, I’m toughest on myself) I salute you!  You have donated all personal wealth, time, and body to helping the poor.  You are unselfish.  But I am finding, that I, in fact am.

So how will this story end?  Will I turn out to be a Wall Street, wise-ass, tight pursed business woman, or the free spirit living off the grid in some B level road in the country?  We’ll have to just wait and see what develops.

Maybe I can look the hippie, living out of the van and washing my hand-sewn clothes on a rock by a river all the while with a nice nest egg in some account online somewhere…?  Who’m I kidding?  The world is gonna fall apart in a few years anyway.  😉

Do you have financial advice for our directionless author?  If so, post in the comments section!

Soul searching ?

Get ready for a whole slew of randomness!

I hate my neighbors, I love my neighbors.  I hate this country, I love this country.  I hate this job, I love this job.  And there you go.

What does this mean?  Well, it means if you are thinking of joining the Peace Corps and wondering what it’s like, you have your answer.  This experience are those sentiments expressed over and over, sometimes even during the course of a single day.  I have gone one year without vacation.  I am an oddity.  We get 2 days vacation leave/ month.  HOLY COW that’s….yep…48 days in two years of service.  How ’bout them apples?  So why have I gone over 365 of those days not on vacation or traveling?  The answer is a bit complex.  I suppose I could sum up with one sentence:  Growing up as a child, my family took exactly ONE vacation, and that was to Maine for 2 weeks (my dad drove there in back and I spent a total of 6 days in the backseat of a Geo Prism).  I’ve traveled plenty, don’t get me wrong, but “vacation”?  Hardly ever.  When I studied in Paris I took one week and met my boyfriend for a week in Switzerland.  Why wasn’t I gallivanting off to new awesome destinations like many of my friends?  I suppose it’s because, honestly, the thought just didn’t occur to me.  Vacation is something you talk about, not something you actually do.  Well, NO MORE, my friends.  I’ve got a week at post, a week working at the fair (that is if they don’t cancel it for a third time), a week at Mid Service (getting poked, prodded, and giving all of THREE stool samples), and then I’m hitting the road and hard like a Mother F*****!  I just might not come back.  Kidding.  Maybe.

Well, I’d love to post pictures of Christmas and New Year’s, but it takes like 3 hours to do that, and I just don’t feel like it right now.  But I probably will get around it.

I’ll leave you with this thought.  A few days ago I stood in line at the ATM and looked over at the Gendarme “sitting guard.”  He was slumped forward, resting his chin on the barrel of his large gun.  I just thought, “hm.”  The guard next to him polished off his Castel beer, and wished me, “Bonne fete.”

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 17 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 21 posts. There were 57 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 32mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was December 2nd with 40 views. The most popular post that day was Have as much sex as you want!.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were peacecorpsjournals.com, facebook.com, digg.com, twitter.com, and cameroonzara.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for peace corps placement interview, peace corps aspiration statement and resume, peace corps resume and aspiration statement, into the great wide wonder, and peace corps placement officer.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Have as much sex as you want! December 2010

2

And Thus It Begins….Phone Interview with Peace Corps Placement Officer June 2009
1 comment

3

Updated Resume, Aspiration Statement, and other such June 2009
2 comments

4

Peace Corps Projects 09-11 October 2010

5

Project of a Lifetime July 2010

Lazy Sundays

Today was a perfect Sunday. I slept in, read a just for fun novel, did some tidying, watched episodes of season one The Sopranos, listened to some Chopin, and visited with neighbors. A day to relax and collect my thoughts. Someone came by for some impromptu work, and I turned him away. Today was my day. I had soup and bread and butter, and a yummy cheesy egg and pasta dish. I did do some work related things, updating budget for the World AIDS Day event, but I didn’t mind. It felt good to accomplish something.

I used to hate Sundays. Sunday blahs. I was good at school, but I hated it. Hated getting up early, hated worrying about how I looked, hated the stress of homework and grades because even back then I was a perfectionist. I survived. Now Sundays are mine.

I’ve had time to ponder my life. My birthday is coming up. 25. It’s young, but in just 5 short years, I will be 30. That’s a real adult, none of this early 20s crap. I’m excited. I won’t be one of those women to lie about their age. If anything, I’m going to lie up. It’s better to be 35 and tell everyone you’re 40 because then they will reply “But you don’t look it! Wow, what’s your secret?” Hello, people, am I seriously the first person to think this up? The moment I can get away with it, I’m going to start telling people I’m 48, until I’m 48, at which point I’ll turn 60.

For someone who’s suffered such terrible motion sickness her entire life, I sure have mapped out a very interesting lifestyle. Go figure. Today I imagined myself in the future. I was a writer and psychiatrist living and working in Berlin, a single mother of 5 children, one natural and four adopted. We were cultured, and polyglot, and played musical instruments like the violin and piano, we knew sign language, and they excelled at calculus and gymnastics, we practiced yoga together in the evenings. And they thought I pushed them too far. And I did. But only because I wanted to open up all the opportunities to them that my parents couldn’t afford me, and through all the privilege salvage decency and humility, generosity of spirit. I got lonely at times, and knew it would have been easier to find a life partner, but I never did meet a man with the exact same ideas as me, and I never compromised. But I was at peace. I’d find my big love at an older age. It was my destiny. I saw patients and wrote columns and poetry and that ever-reaching novel. I had lots of friends. Friends who painted, friends who photographed, friends who wrote, and politic-ed, friends who traveled, and friends who lived off trust funds, and friends who advocated the poor, and friends who were poor, like I used to be. We had round table discussions over endless espressos through billowing clouds of tobacco pipes, because I only smoked in Europe. We listened to Joni Mitchel and my children studied abroad, and we summered in Switzerland, France, England, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. They were learning Japanese in school and I’d tell them how their grandmother was born there, and how at the age of 13 she stopped thinking in Japanese and started thinking in English. And they would complain to me, and I’d say “Enjoy it, it might not always be this way.”

I'll have one of these again soon, and everyday for the rest of my life

Better Ethical Judgment?

Do you like to kill animals? It is often, if not cliched, the little boy torturing animals and insects in a shed image of future serial killers we have ingrained in our minds. Of course, I am not like that, you say. There are some who would assert that the mere act of eating meat puts you into this category (ish). I eat meat. I also go through bouts of vegetarianism, veganism, raw-ism, fruitarianism, health fanaticism. Part of my soul is a dancing hippie, with long flowing hair, my peasant skirt full of puffs of air, and absolutely no top. Bare breasts in sun drenched mountain-top goodness. Yeah, man. But I eat that meat, sometimes. I love the bite of a fresh, pink steak, moist and flavor-bursting murder. It’s sick when you think of it. In the States I never come near the actual butchering of an animal. Doesn’t this make me worse? Not only am I eating (and often times unconsciously binging) upon a once living being, but I force the dirty work of killing the animal on to someone else, someone poorer, desperate for work, work that exposes him/her to the bacterias and physical dangers of the meat processing industry, but also, I imagine, the soul-scraping day to day reality of ending life. If I cannot push myself to do my own dirty work, do I have the right to enjoy my steak? I ask this question as if it were rhetorical, but it’s not a rhetorical question, in fact the answer is quite plain and obvious if you’d just admit that to yourself. No.

Here, it’s a bit better. Chickens roam around free to scratch where they please, until mama comes out and steps on it’s wing and chops its head off. It’s not forced fed, processed, or wrapped in plastic. But it is dead.

I have an image of myself, that does not match reality. There are times when I really get on a roll, and I am that healthy, hard working, giving soul, but then it all comes crashing down. I eat melted cheese, and roasted meat on sticks, fried chickens, fish… And you know what? It’s never as good as I imagine it to be.