Liz Gets Schooled

Hello, my lovelies.  How I’ve missed you!

I come with, what seems on the surface to be “bad”news.  A couple weeks ago I sealed my beloved Peace Corps Passport, a long with two copies of an application for a visa to Guinea, and four passport photos of yours truly into a UPS 2nd day air mail envelope and shipped off to DC in good faith.  On August 24, I did a routine search through my Spam folder just to see if anything important got sucked into there by mistake, and I see two emails from “UPS” with the headings “Your package cannot be delivered” and the like.  I panic, but when I open the email it becomes obvious to me that these emails are spam using my recent search history to bait me into opening them.  Still, worried, I went to the official UPS site and tracked my package and saw that all was well, and it would be delivered the next day.

I logged off and thought nothing more of it.  Until..

Last Thursday I was sitting in the waiting room of the travel clinic to get my Typhoid “booster” when I get a call from my Response Recruiter, Jill.  She is wondering if I’ve sent my Visa application.  My stomach drops.  Turns out my package was in fact lost.  Remember, my package was not lost when I received those bogus emails, but afterward, and yet here I was calling (harassing) UPS customer service centers all over kingdom-come.  I tracked it’s last known whereabouts in Davenport, Ia.  Kathy, the service rep, was simply heavenly.  I could hear her searching through their “overhead,” but for not.  She does assure me that she’ll do everything she can to find it.

I called Jill worrying that this was going to affect my chances of being a Response volunteer.  She assures me that I will still go, but may have to postpone my departure to the end of October.  I admit, I was very sad for two reasons.  I was so emotionally ready to be off again, and I loved that passport.  This was the passport that I backpacked across Africa.   All those lovely stamps!  I wanted to keep it as a souvenir.  I loved to proudly flip through those pages and look at all my visitor’s visas.  That was an accomplishment I hoped to share with my future children to plant that wanderlust seed in their hearts.  So please, if you are reading this, pray, wish on a star, think positive vibes, cast a spell, whatever that the passport is found and returned to me. Even if I don’t get it back in time to get the visa for Guinea to leave in September, I do hope to have it back.

Now I have begun to make peace with staying State-side for another month, however reluctantly.  I’m trying very hard to change my perspective on this, to be more positive and hopeful that this is all for the best.

Remember in my last post how I was trying to figure out how much to spill in this blog?  (If not, then scroll down).  Basically, I’ve begun to realize that as a writer, you have to make a conscious decision on how much you are willing to give away.  Personally, I would write my entire story, all thoughts, sins, and snarky comments for you to judge, but when your life includes other people you have to be discrete.  My words can hurt them.  That being said, I’m going to try to write simply from my perspective, without crossing any boundaries or embarrassing anybody I care about.  Here goes.

This summer shall forever remain ingrained in my memory as “the Ex Files 2012.”  No, we’re not talking about science fiction, as much as I love the genre.  All I will say that any guy from my past with whom I have held any sort of residual feeling came back into my life and then very promptly became completely unavailable to me.  I tried to maintain active friendships with them, but lines were blurred and feelings were confused.  And now geographically as well as emotionally, they are completely out, for the time being.  It literally happened in such a methodical way that it cannot be a coincidence.  While emotionally exhausting for me to have to say my final goodbyes, it has also been very cleansing.  It is like Life/the Universe/Whom-or-What-Ever has been cleaning house in my heart, making room for something (or someone) truly wonderful so that I can dedicate my whole self, free of baggage.  When I look on this transition in this way, I feel hopeful and…excited.  Possibilities.  Freedom.

Being in Cameroon on my own (which included replacing my shower and the pipes in my bathroom sink, taking care of rodents the cat brought in, and burying beloved kittens) showed me how strong I was.  I could live in a gigantic four-bedroom house in the middle of a foreign country alone, and thrive, even when I would wake up at 3am because of scary noises.  I could do it.  I also survived a dangerous encounter with three hippopotami, went sky diving, and continued to accomplish what I set out to do.  I can look back on these past few years with so much pride, and truly begin to believe in myself, as a person–not someone’s girlfriend or daughter or student, but as an adult.  This is huge.

I am determined to continue to work on myself.  I would love to try to eliminate jealousy, to love freely, to fight and argue in a loving way–without drudging up old resentments.  I’m not sure how, but I think Guinea is a part of this journey.  Also, as much as I was hoping to get out of Iowa and move on with this new, exciting adventure, I’m being given an opportunity to spend more time with my family (even if we’ve been getting on each other’s nerves), to work on my art, to prepare for applications that I am taking with me to Guinea for jobs/opportunities after this nine-month commitment.  The truth is, I don’t think I’ll “come home” again.  My parents are very welcoming when it comes to housing me during my “in between” times, but it’s time I find my own apartment in a new city and really start my life and shed these old dynamics.

So here I am given two gifts: the gift of a cleansed heart and the gift of time with my family.  I will not take these for granted.

People look for signs all the time.  My signs have been so obvious lately that even I can’t miss them.  Every single person I’ve talked to about my experiences have relished in my stories and insisted that I continue on this path.  I’ve been told by so many that I should put off settling down for having more adventures and that “all of that will come on its own time.”  I have to listen to them, these wise men and women.  Deep down inside, I have a slight gnawing fear that I am putting off settling down, have pushed away relationships to pursue a dream.  I’m scared that I will one day wake up and find myself alone, without family, too old to start one.  I think this fear comes from the conditioning we receive in this society to be coupled up.  While I am perfectly open to being in love and being a partner again, for now, at least, I’m content with what I have.  I just read a book called Singled Out by Bella DePaulo.  It was delightful and empowering, and really made me conscious to a lot of my own prejudices.  I highly recommend it.  I will think about doing a full review of it in another post.  But something I took away from it is that women have been taught to have this deep fear of “having it all,” and deep down believe it’s not possible.  It’s time we let go of that fear of future regret and just live as fully and lovely as possible.  I mean, how can you go wrong if you do this?  So, okay Universe, I trust you completely.

All in all, lessons learned:  Trust that the decisions you carefully made were the right ones.  Learn to let go–of resentments, jealousies, people, and yes, sometimes love.  You have to make room for good things to come into your life, and while this is painful, it will be entirely worthwhile.  And, finally, the UPS has way too many passports sitting around in their overhead that they evidently do not return to their owners.

Much love.

Yours, Liz

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!

Have as much sex as you want!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

…just use a condom!!  🙂

December 1st marks World AIDS Day and the Westies got it on in style.  We marched Bafoussam, the Regional capital, on the backs of motorcycles, driven by moto taxi men trained in HIV prevention and condom use.  We tossed those rubbers to the people like they were candy.  We also had an information table at one of the busiest intersections in the city, did condom demonstrations, and informed people where to get tested, urging them to get tested, get the results, and accept their status.  Go West…we do it in the baf(oussam)!  We will continue our collaboration with the moto drivers in their villages, and hopefully this project will be around a long time even after Peace Corps presence.

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to Dance

I would bet that many of you, myself included, like to believe that you are good, moral people in our hearts.  The kind of person who would stand up against wrong in any form; would catch a bullet for a stranger if in that particular circumstance; would fess up for a catastrophe no matter how humiliating.  Yes, well, today I found myself in a situation and I reacted well below my own expectations.  And I am ashamed.  My perpetually pregnant cat, Pagoda, came in through the window with a lively, wriggly lizard and was playing with it.  Me (no longer a tom boy since the onset of puberty) was completely grossed out and squeamish so asked a neighbor girl playing on the front porch to assist (clue number one that I am not as noble as I’d like to think).  And here’s the whopper: not only did she come in to get that sucker, she came in and proceeded to beat the shit out of it with her legless, armless doll.  That’s right, a skinny young girl beating a lizard on my dining room floor with a Sally Talks A Lot who’s seen better days.  And what did I do during all this?  Stood on a chair and looked away.  Alas.  There it is, I am a despicable human being.  Not only an “animal lover” but stood by and did nothing as a lizard (a namesake!) was bludgeoned to death with a child’s toy–by a child.  This is going to do wonders for my karma.

In another somewhat related note: Perpetually Pregnant Pagoda has become a serial killer and I condone the behavior by cleaning up after her.  Most kills (small mice) are food and I think that’s awesome and nutritious for her, but lately she will bring in a dead rat (and I mean huge stinking rats), decapitate them, disembowel them, and leave the whole mess for me to find in always the secret and surprising location (i.e. bookshelves, under dining room table, etc).  It’s become a rather disturbing pattern, and I have been contemplating turning her in (for her own good of course).  Gosh I hope she doesn’t read this…

A bit o’ good news!  We got the deed for the adjacent parcel of land (finally!) and it’s off to get the plans and budget to post my PCPP and start begging for money.  I’m going to get the price down as low and reasonable as possible, but it’s going to be quite the challenge coming up with the money.  I’m anticipating (and hopefully overestimating) around 20,000 USD for the two buildings.  Can we build an orphanage in less than a year?  I say we can!  Stay attentive for new information.

😀

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And finally I leave you with some pictures of a funerailles party in Dschang.  This was a funeral held on November 20th for a man who died in 1988.  Yes, you read correctly.  Always a good party! Cheers.

Orphanages, complaining, and honey

Rocking out to 80s Box Set.  Nice.

First off, some begging.  Please subscribe to my blog, send on to friends, save and read, read, read.  Thank you kindly.

That said, I have some good news.  Regarding my Orphanage/Center for children with Disabilities:  The prefet of Baham has agreed to hold a conference with the elites to give us the neighboring parcel of land.  Brilliant.  Not only this, we found an engineer who surveyed the land and sent his plans to an architect, for a much better price.  Zacharie (director) took out a loan to pay for it himself.  Sustainability.  By next week, could the proposal be sent to Peace Corps administration for approval?  Does this mean that in two weeks it will be posted on the website, open for all to send in what they will?  Let’s hope!  We have our work cut out for us to put these buildings up and children inside, but I have faith that we can do it.

Now for a little gentle bitching.  I work in a community of 50,000 people (at least) and this means that I cannot work with everyone all the time.   In my village it is normal to give someone a hard time if you haven’t seen them for a couple days.  For instance, you might say to someone, “You’ve abandoned me!  I never see you!”  Well, I’m getting sick of it, frankly.  I know they mean nothing by it, but how dare someone who hardly knows you to try to insinuate that you’ve abandoned your work, when you’ve been working on several projects like I have.  Well, I’m just going to start doing it to people myself.  Giving it out, instead of absorbing the negativity all the time.  Will I be a tougher, newer, improved Liz after this experience.  I certainly hope so!

And finally, I leave you with a photo taken this week during an apiculture class given to a group I work with by CIPCRE a pretty awesome organization in Bafoussam.  Go bees!

Alphonse and Jean Daniel demonstrate modern beekeeping with Kenyan Hives.

On Being Sick in the Peace Corps-Africa-style!

Someone once told me that Peace Corps volunteers who serve in Africa are often known as the “snobs” of the Peace Corps world.  Someone who served in Romania might recount what it was like to have the flu during service, but heaven forbid if this person tells this story in front of RPCV-African country because surely they will then hear, “Yeah, that reminds me of when I got MALARIA…”  Commence eye-rolling, please.  But it’s kind of true.  Currently there is a Cholera epidemic in Cameroon, and there have recently been cases here in the West Region.  Wednesday night I woke up with projectile vomiting and…well…other things as well…that lasted well into Thursday night.  I thought for sure, “Yep, it’s the Cholera.  I’ve got the Cholera.  Please don’t let me die.”  But it wasn’t.  I went to the hospital for some tests just in case, but nope must have been a virus.  You know the kind of sickness that comes around about once a year that you normally think nothing of….   No, here in tropical Africa, everything is Cholera; everything is Typhoid; everything is Malaria.

But sometimes it is those things.  Several of my friends have had malaria (even the ones who take their prophylaxis religiously).  Often, if you are taking your prophylaxis you will find that while painful, and all around sucky, you will survive especially if you get to the med center and commence treatment in a timely manner.  Other things, not necessarily as dangerous, but still quite unique to my situation are: chiggars (nasty insect which burrows into your skin, often feet, and then lays an egg sack and continues to swell 90% of her original size.  This sucker itches.  She doesn’t suck the blood.  Oh no.  She releases a toxin that basically dissolves your skin which she then eats up.  You must cut open and squeeze her and all her millions of babies out.  I have had 3.)  Mango flies (These babies like to lay their eggs in your wet clothes hanging outside.  You then take your dry clothes and put them on.  Several days later you notice a worm wriggling around just under your skin.  You then faint.  Only way to avoid these is to let your clothes dry for 4 days without touching them, or iron.)  Intestinal worms.  (Yeah we all know these, and yep I had them.  Best to regularly de-worm yourself as often as you do the family pet.)  Driver ants.  (Horrible beasts!  These wandering nomads will eat anything in their way, including elephants.  They burrow into your skin and eat you inside out.  I have had numerous attacks of my house which I won by constantly having a bottle of Raid near by.  One encounter happened at night at my friend Julie’s house.  I went out to use her latrine and noticed a few ants.  A few minutes later while chatting in her kitchen, my right leg suddenly felt on fire.  My pants flew off as I ran around the house shaking and smacking my leg.  She was amused.)

So there ya have it.  Some scary little buggars which will keep you up at night ;).  But all in all, it’s really not that bad in real life as it reads in print.  After all, just 12 hours ago I thought I had Cholera.  I just got back from a jog, and feel fantastic.  Let’s be vigilant, not dramatic.  😀