Sunday, June 12, 2005

how can a tiny mosquito cause so much pain?

I am a little more inspired than I was yesterday, so lets see if I can dish out some real substance in this entry.

I spent the night vomiting. I had a fever. It continued into the morning. My bones ache, my head hurts, my stomach is twisted into knots. This could be my first bout with the legendary illness known as MALARIA! Quite frankly, I’m ecstatic about it. I think it’s comparable to surviving a gunshot. Sadly, Malaria leaves no scars, but my story will echo in the halls of eternity.

SCHOOOOOOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER! SCHOOOOOOOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER! Hells yea. Professor Banick has some time off. That teaching 6 hours per week really took a toll on me. I’m going to spend the next three months, traveling, sitting under the mango tree, and just appreciating all the beauty and frustrations this marvelous country has to offer.

My dear old friend Stan (80 yr old post mate) has decided his time in Cameroon is up. He will be ending his service and returning to the States next Friday. Its really sad to see him go, I’ve had a lot of good times with the guy, he may be the funniest and most clever SOB I’ve ever known. I’m happy for him, though, he knows its time to go, and he’s got three wonderful kids to be with in the States. Stan, Richard and I have spent countless evenings sipping gin, and playing scrabble at Stan’s mansion (by PC standards). Good bye old friend! There is a great picture of Richard, Stan and I (the Nanga-Eboko crew on Richards website, this was taken at Stan’s 80th b-day party, click here)

The volunteer group that arrived a year before me is gradually heading back to the states. A new group arrives next Saturday. The winds of change blow once again. Hard to believe, I’m just a year away from my return to reality. Occasionally I think about what I will do when I get back, a very commonly pondered topic among volunteers. My plan involves Hollywood, fame, and piles of money, which I will donate to Africa.

Okay, that’s all for now. Stay healthy

Thursday, June 09, 2005

this blog is losing steam

Once again, its been ages since I've updated. Remember the good ol' days of weekly updates?

I guess it's only natural that my blog updating frequency should decrease since I havent had email access in my village for over 3 months. In fact I haven't had ELECTRICITY in my village for oever 2 months. I still write though. I write everyday in my journal. I think I will soon fill up all 500 pages in my journal. Not bad.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Girl Urinates on my Porch

Good Afternoon, Bon Soir, and Beum Beu Goré as they say here in Nanga Eboko. I have started taking Ewondo (local language) lessons for which Peace Corps will reimburse me. The lessons are given by neighbour, Achille. When I leave this country I will be QUADRILINGUAL. I can just imagine sitting through a job interview back in the states while the interviewer reads through my resumé:

“Oh, I see that you speak several languages. French, okay…Spanish, uh huh…wait! YOU SPEAK EWONDO!? Mr. Banick, this is great, we have been looking for an Ewondo speaker. Its such an important language in the world market. PLEASE accept our offer. How does 2 million per year sound?”

“Full benefits?”

“Of course, Mr. Banick, this is America.”

“6 months vacation per year?”

“Well, I don’t think that’s p-”

“Do you want an Ewondo speaker or not, buddy?”

“yes, um, agreed, 6 months vacation. So can we have you?”

“Ma di coupe. That means I eat chicken, in ewondo. And no, you cant have me, I cant stand working 6 months out of the year, that’s rediculous. Good bye NTANGEN (White man)”

Ah, what an interview that will be. Anyway, back to reality.

Yéyé, the little 3 year old who lives in the house behind mine came up to my door the other day. She was just standing on my porch, seemingly doing nothing, with a completely uninterested look on her face. When all of a sudden, she started to urinate on my door step. She’s just standing there, urinating, on my doorstep, like its nothing. I yell “Yéyé! Qu’est que tu fait? (what are you doing?)” She just stares at me, giving me this look like “what does it look like I’m doing white man? A little privacy please!” When she finished she just walked away, casually, like it was nothing. Does she pee on everyone’s doorstep? Is this a facet of Cameroonian Child Culture that I have yet to discover? No, according to her 5 brothers, she just pees where she wants to. So as I’m trying to clean it, my little cat (named black man) comes over to have a taste…just crazy I tell you, the things that can happen on my front porch. Luckily I removed Black Man (my cat) from the puddle before he got to drink it.

The gender of my cat (named Black Man) has been determined. White Man’s cat is indeed a male. Black Man is a male. Thanks for the gender determination tips GMA and GPA.

I know, you are still waiting for pictures. Here’s the deal: I have no AA batteries for Camera at the moment and the one’s they sell here are too weak to power it. I figure, since Blake will be here 2 weeks from today (WOOOHOOO, its about bloody time), and since he is a professional photographer with a full arsenal of high powered photographic weapons, I will let his pictures do the talking. He is going to take MANY MANY MANY pictures of our grand adventures all over Cameroon, and they will all be posted. You can count on that. Please trust me here. As long as Blake hasn’t screwed up his Visa Application, or lost his Yellow Fever Vaccination card, there should be no problems. Please, don’t screw anything up buddy, please.

What else. Oh, I’m getting really good at carrying buckets of water. Its becoming my daily workout. Trekking down the old dirt path to the water source. The best time to go is around 10 a.m. when kids are at school, otherwise the place is like Water world (the water park). Children everywhere, waiting in line to get water, bathing, cleaning, having water fights, staring at me. One of my buckets is labelled “Laundry” in black marker. I was at the water source the other day when I overheard a little girl tell her friend “see, the white man’s name is ‘Laundry’, its written right there on the bucket.” I had to clarify things for these confused little girls. I can handle being called ‘white man’ all the time, but I will not be known as ‘Laundry.’ That is unacceptable.

Since my house is on the dirt road that leads to the high school, I am treated to a parade of gawking high school students everyday around 3pm as they walk home from school. Some of them just stare at me. Some of them make comments about me which I can hear (Either they think I don’t understand French, I am deaf, or they just don’t care). I hear things like “look, the white man cleans his dishes.” Or “I hear the white man keeps his cat INSIDE the house, like a child.” Or, “who is this WHITE MAN?” Sometimes they just yell “BLANC!” or “WHITE.” I tend to ignore or just stare back at everyone, except for the yellers. I always talk to the yellers. They say “WHITE!” and I say “BLACK! Come over here for a minute.” They are usually a bit taken back by my demands, but they always end up coming over. I give them a little lecture about me having a name, that it isn’t White, or Blanc, just as their name isn’t ‘black’ or ‘noir.’ They listen with open ears, and they are usually very good about calling me Allen every time they see me thereafter. That is one of my Peace Corps projects, and it is quite a success.

My other projects involve cleaning my house (a never ending process, the second I finish, the dishes somehow get dirty again, dust builds up again, and all the stuff I put away has found its way back to where it shouldn’t be. I am a very messy neat freak. My house is either a disaster area or it is immaculate.) I also play a ton of SCRABBLE with my post mates Richard and Stan. We play SCRABBLE all over town, usually at a bar in the company of a cold beer. I also read a ton. There is a great library on the University Campus where I will be teaching that Richard is working on organizing. There is a whole selection of books in English and French, covering all subjects.

I am really enjoying myself in Nanga Eboko. I haven’t really started doing much ‘real peace corps work’ here, but I am quickly realizing that ‘real Peace Corps work’ is the stuff that isn’t ‘Real Peace Corps work.’ It really involves hanging out with the neighbours, knowing the culture, communicating, sharing ideas. People are getting to know me and my culture, and I am getting to know them and their culture. It’s a great exchange and I am learning a lot from it just as they are.

I have IST (In Service Training) week after next. I will be at a hotel for a week, and rumor has it, they will be showing the super bowl there, and there is a swimming pool. That will be FANTASTIC. Five days later, its HELLO BLAKE NOLAN. For the next month after that, it’s the craziest adventure ever embarked upon. You will read and see all about it.


Friday, January 14, 2005

My life in the dust

Whats happenin people,

Its been a while, you look older, as do I. I am a bit dusty after the long journey to the Peace Corps office from my dusty old cow town. Before I wash up, let me update this blog, it been a while.

I may have stated this before, but the trip from my town, Nanga Eboko, to the capital, Yaounde, is done in old beat up prison buses. These things were built by the french sometime in the 60's and they are now used to cover the 150 or so mile stretch of dirt road from my town to the city. The road is dusty and treachorous, very dangerous. The beat up old vans speed around corners at high speeds swirving around herds of cattle and lumber trucks. I always tie a hankerchief around my face to avoid inhaling the massive amounts of dust that fly in the windows. Its the dry season here and that means dust and heat like its nodbody's business. On my way here I was treated to two blown out tires, which is an average day on the road. It took about 5 hours this time. If this trip were done on an American highway, it would probably take about 1.5 hours, no kidding. The amazing thing is that these beat up old buses actually still work. They are never really inspected before they go anywhere, they are just fixed when something breaks, and something always breaks. Luckily there is always a teenager on the bus whose only job is to fix stuff and he is usually pretty good.

Anyway, besides the travel, my new post is FANTASTIC. My house is pretty much set up now. I had a local guy make me all kinds of furniture, I painted the walls sky blue, I painted a mural of a pacific ocean sunset on one of my walls (I miss the ocean soooooo much, even though I havent lived by the ocean in 10 years). I got a little cat who I named BLACK. The cat is actually black and white and grey, but I named it BLACK because everyone in town calls me WHITE. Its name is really "Evindi" which means black in the local language. I am called "ntangen" which means white. So now all the little kids in my neighborhood run around screaming "evindi" looking for my cat. I call the cat "it" because I dont really know if it is a "he" or a "she" The gender of the cat is TBD. When I find out I will get it SPAYED/NEUTERED because I dont want my cat sleeping around, thats not cool. My cat is very nice. Sometimes it thinks its a dog, it licks my hands and it comes running to me when i whistle.

I take a bucket bath once a day to keep myself so fresh and so clean. In exactly FOUR WEEKS I will be teaching BLAKE NOLAN how to take a bucket bath. Blake is from L.A., I think this bucket bath business might be a little intimidating for such a pretty boy, hahahaha, he has NO IDEA what is coming.

My neighbors are all very friendly. The guy across the dirt road from me is my best friend in town. He takes care of everything. He spends his days sitting outside of his house making clothes, yes, he is a taylor. he uses an ancient sewing machine and a REALLY OLD iron that is heated by COALS. Yeah, he puts hot coals insde the iron, and IT WORKS. Straight out of 1870. John also takes care of my cat when I leave, he washes my clothes and he scrubs my floors (dont worry, I pay him well). I like to go out for beers with John, everyone in town knows this guy, it makes me feel cool and not so white.

I bought a t-shirt the other day that says "CRACKER" on the front, I wear it everywhere. Nobody really understands it here, but I think its hilarious. The second hand t-shirts you can buy here are great, and they only cost about a dollar. I got another one that says "Porn Star" Again, people dont understand it here, but as long as I am entertained!

I have started tutoring students in English. I havent started teaching at the high school, I wont start until the third trimester which starts in March. But get this, how does "Professor Allen Banick the Third" sound? Thats right peole, I have been contacted by the local UNIVERSITY to teach english. I havent accepted the offer yet, but they have offered me a very lucrative deal which includes: access to the internet cafe and to a cafeteria which serves large portions of not-so-good food at excellent prices. Hard to resist! I will let you know.

What else? I like kids, and thats good because there is a constant flow of children in and out of my little house. They are very easy to entertain, I must say. they come in and play with my can opener, my nail clippers, and they read through my newsweek magazines. In exchange for my kindness, they get me water from the well, they clean my shoes, and they fetch me beer at the store. its quite an arrangement I tell you.

All in all, my life in dusty old Nanga Eboko beats my life in Bafoussam, although I do miss my friends and tennis in bafoussam. I am quickly making new friends in Nanga and I have two outstanding postmates (Richard and Stan) with whom I play many exciting games of scrabble. Scrabble has become a favorite passtime for me, African nights in the village would be a little boring without it.

Its been a while since my trip to the beach, which was one of the most relaxing weeks I've enjoyed in a LONG TIME. I spent most of the time with Jen, laying in the sand, eating fish and shrimp, drinking expensive beer (prices go up by the beach), and doing nothing. I want to buy property on the coast here before I go. Apparently you can purchase beautiful beachfront property for a whopping 1000 dollars an acre in some areas. yeah thats right. If anyone is interested in investing, let me know.

For those of you who have sent me packages, I have some news. I still havent received any packages and I just found out that all mail is being held up in the port city of Douala due to some postal strike or something. this is good news really because it means the mail isnt lost and that I MAY ONE DAY SEE IT.

Thats all for now. I will be updating more frequently, especially after BLAKES VISIT! WHOOOHOOOO, BLAKE NOLAN come on down. Yeeeeeeahh.


Saturday, December 25, 2004

Happy Holidays Folks

(This blog entry was formerly in the form of a mass email to all my family and friends...)

Ho Ho Ho
I can't believe that time of year is already upon us again. I look outside and nothing is different. It's still hot, the palm trees still have leaves (do palm trees have leaves?), the shopping malls are the same as they always are (non existant), and life is good.

Here's wishing you a happy holiday season from the armpit of Africa. I know some of you have been expecting emails from me for a while, others dont care to read this email, and others are pissed because I havent been updating my blog.

I have been quite busy here in the past month or so. It all started with me switching posts and moving from the dirtiest loudest most aggressive city in the world, to one of the dustiest, quietest, most peaceful little towns in the world. This is one of the better decisions I've made in my life as I am a thousand times happier now. Starting in January I get to work with kids, tutoring them in English and possibly taking on teaching high school english classes. This is a daunting task consdering class sizes range from 80 to 120 students. I look forward to the challenge and it will be a great relief from sitting in corrupt banks preteding I know what im doing. My new town is called NANGA EBOKO (no relation to EBOLA VIRUS). I still have my cell phone for those of you who care to call. Unfortunately internet access may be more rare for me, so those blog updates may not come as often as i would like them to.

For Christmas I am heading down to see my host family with whom I lived for my 2 months of training when I first got here. I look forward to it, apparently the beer and food and festivities and family will be plentiful. I do miss the holiday season in the states, where I would normally be watching Bronco games with my Dad and going to Reno to visit my lovely sisters. Not to worry, I get to do all that good stuff again in '06.

For New Years, if any of you are cold, you can think of me, as I will be spending 5 nights in the beachside resort of Kribi Cameroon. White sandy beaches, cold beer, warm water, and a new years buffet. I will be accompanied by a lovely young lady named Jen. I am tanned already, I will be a true african after this trip. Then its back to NANGA EBOKO to teach. Then I only have to wait a month for my bEST BUDDY BLAKE NOLAN to come on down to the armpit for a month of exciting adventures roaming this chaotic country.


Love Al, Allen, Abay, Mr. Banick, Alain, etc.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

finally a moment of peace

Its been a very very long time. Even since I teased everyone with my last entry.

Let me explain myself because I can. Actually, we'll just start this off at the beginning. Rewind back to Thursday, November 18th 2004. This is where is all began.

I was in Bafoussam, feeling sick as I had been for the past month. Sore throat, coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, typical allergy symptoms. This is really nothing to complain about, but since it had been a month straight of constant fatigue and overall feeling like crap, and since the doctor in Bafoussam didnt do anything helpful, I decided to take a trip down to Yaounde to see the peace corps doctor here.

On the long bush taxi rides, one has plenty of time to think, especially when there isn't anyone trying to sell you herbal miracle cure all medecine. As the man seated next to me started to nod off and rest his head on my shoulder (acceptable here, in fact you cant really get away from it), about an hour into the trip, I started to realize some things. I realized that I was getting very tired of Bafoussam, very quickly. I realized that I didn't come to the Peace Corps to play tennis which is what I was doing 5 times a week. I realized how happy I was everytime I got to leave Bafoussam to spend time in a village. I realized how much I like the peace and quiet and clean air as opposed to the constant rumble of diesel engines and all the wonderful smells they create. I realized I really hate sitting in an office without any real purpose. I realized there is no use wasting my time here if I am the least bit unhappy. I realized that I really like Cameroon, the people, and my potential contribution to development here. I realized I wanted a change of scenery. I only get this one opportunity in my life to really live a rural african lifestyle, so why not take advantage of it. Quite frankly, when you remove all the awkward scenery, life in bafoussam wasnt much different than life in any american city (granted its actually very different, but playing tennis and surfing the internet can be done in any american city).

When I arrived in yaounde, I spoke to my program director who was very supportive of my decision and he said he would begin to search for a new post for me. He said it wouldnt take longer than a few weeks to get this thing done. I also visited the peace corps doctor while in town, she gave me claritin and my allergies dissappeared. All of a sudden I was feeling great, full of hope and optimistic, free of allergies.

Now it's Saturday November 20th. I decided to visit my friend jen before heading back to post in Bafoussam. Jen doesnt live far from Yaounde and her village is especially small and remote. What was supposed to be a 1 day visit, turned into a 5 day visit. I had a great time experiencing more of "the simple life." Many things happened in this village while I was there. I met a bunch of cute little kids who love candy. I gave them lots of candy which is bad for Jen because they now expect a bunch of candy for doing nothing. she usually makes them fetch water from the well to earn the candy. I also attended a few of the classes she teaches, as she is a TEFL volunteer (english teacher). I had a great time in the classes and the experience made me want to try out teaching for myself (the pieces are all coming together). She let me teach one of her classes. I had no lesson plan, so I resorted to teaching the (clean) lyrics to "Ain't nothin' but a G thang" by snoop dogg and dr. dre.

1 2 3 and to the 4
snoop doggy dogg and dr dre.
is at the door
ready to make an entrance
so back on up

It went over pretty well. By the end of class I had all 25 students standing, rapping, and waving their arms like they just dont care. I asked myself "what in the hell am I doing working in a bank?" I realized my calling in the world.

Another thing happened at jen's. A baby was born. My first son. Yeah, a lot can happen in a week. Jen is very close to the baby's parents (she's close to everyone in the village for that matter), and they wanted to name the baby after her. Unfortunately the baby turned out to be a boy. Since I happened to be with Jen when we walked into the house to visit the newborn baby, they decided it was only right to name him after me. Allen Jean something something is a healthy little newborn and I am proud to be his "godfather." the scary part is that the whole family thinks that I am going to take this kid back to the states and provide for him. I have some explaining to do upon my return to that village! I did offer him diapers, a little sweater, and some other baby stuff that jen picked out. I cant wait to teach him how to play baseball and take him fishing and camping and stuff...

Okay, time is running low...
After all that I went to this town called Nanga Eboko for Thanksgiving. A bunch of volunteers got together there and we had a wonderful TURKEY dinner (slaughtered the day before by our friends). I also spoke to a fellow volunteer who is posted in this small town who happened to be moving to a new town for various reasons. I saw her soon to be vacant house in the quaint quiet vollage, and I fell in love with the place. It is such a change from dirty smelly bafoussam. The town is small and reminiscent of the wild west, dusty, run down, saloons, you name it. I live in a little neighborhood with many children and a well where I fetch water (or send kids to fetch water). I love the place and I love the peace and quiet, this is the peace corps I expected. The trip to Nanga from Yaounde, the capital takes four hours. It is done in VERY OLD BEAT UP 4x4 mini buses, it is completely unpaved, the buses break down EVERY TIME (a tire blew out on my last trip). Needless to say, getting there is a pain in the arse, but it is well worth the struggle.

So I have been there a week now. I still have cellphone service (so you can call me) and there is an internet connection at the university where two of my fellow volunteers are working. I should be able to keep updating this blog at least every two weeks (not as frequently as in Bafoussam where I was surrounded by internet cafes). I wont be able to play tennis anymore :( But I wont risk my life everyday getting hit by cars :) You win some you lose some, but in this case I win more than I lose.

I will take pictures, I will post them, I will write more about my post, I promise. For now, I can tease you with this one picture of my new house.

Time is out,
gotta run. Thanks for your patience this time, I know its been forever!

A bientot!

Sunday, November 28, 2004

preview of upcoming entry

Its been a long CRAZY time since my last entry.

I dont feel like writing now because the crazyness has yet to end. It should be all settled by tuesday.

Here's a little preview:

Cameroonian baby is born, I am chosen as his God-father (and his parents name him after me which means he is Allen the 4th and I dont have to name my first son Allen!).

Tales from a week spent in the village of all villages

My first experience teaching (involved me teaching and performing a song by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre to a class of 10th grade Cameroonian village kids)

Watching a mob of people attack some guy, police pull out guns.

Catching a man in the act of pick pocketing me at a train station, screaming at him, and then watching him get attacked by security guards.

Getting scammed for 5000 francs (10 bucks)

Riding in a Cameroonian train.

Thanksgiving CAMEROONIAN style

and last but not least A MAJOR CHANGE IS TAKING PLACE for me (details to come)...

Stay tuned