Pure toddler evil. I love it.
As much as my Peace Corps service has been an emotional rollercoaster it has similarly been a financial one. For those of you who do not know, we get paid once a month, our monthly salary wired from headquarters in D.C. to our bank accounts here in Cameroon towards the end of the month. The date never seems to be the same. This money includes the expected expenditures for monthly rent, life, and travel and, put simply, is plenty. Surprisingly or not, many volunteers struggle with managing their finances. Maybe it’s the once-a-month inflow of income or maybe it’s the “youthful” lacking of fiscal responsibility.
I would love to say that I have been financially responsible throughout my service. Not the case. I saved just about $50 over the course of training in Bafia to help cushion my move to post. And even though we are given a sufficient move-in allowance to our posts, mine was not enough. You see, whether you are opening your post, like I did, or moving into a house previously lived in by three volunteers before you, you get the same amount as volunteers. So that safety net quickly disintegrated as I settled into my first, empty house. Gas tanks, cook stoves, mattresses, kitchen and life supplies quickly disintegrate that initial pile of money.
Then after settling into my now homey abode, I moved posts and was now expected, again, as is quasi-customary in Peace Corps life, to pay the volunteer living in the house before me for the things being left behind: mainly the furniture and the mini-fridge. This was a financial low point for me. I had just stocked a house and now I had to buy another? Luckily, I was able to borrow some money ($300) from another volunteer and move north. A second, arguably lower financial low point hit me when I paid that loan back and subsequently arrived in my banking city of Garoua at the end of the month with $1 in my pocket. That was enough for me – I learned my lesson.
Going through that experience catapulted me into reacquainting myself with my inner, frugal, Spanish grandmother who keeps all of her life’s earnings stuffed into the mattress in her bedroom. Banks cannot be trusted. Well…anyways, I devised a system of envelopes to keep my cash in order. Each month I’d put aside so much for living, my house and “utilities”, travelling, planned vacations, and even an “in case of emergency” fund, the latter proving itself time and time again. It was magnificently thought out and it ended up working like a dream.
Just by putting a little bit aside each “payday” I had already paid off trips to the beach and other traveling, touristy things months in advance. At one point I had something like $750 locked away in my envelopes. Then evacuation happened. Then the subsequent displacement. Then the third post. And as you can guess, a third house. This one, like the first, completely empty, besides my suitcase, backpack, and Peace Corps issued water filter. Déjà vu! That really came full circle from my first place to now.
But getting back to the money. I fully intend to return to my envelope system – in the states too! — …only, I can’t really do it yet. You see, I have this problem where I feel like I have to get everything right now. And some things I did actually need right away, namely a mattress, gas tank, and cook stove. Living anywhere is more than those three items. I needed sheets, towels, curtains, kitchen supplies, a table to prepare food, a little table to hold my cook stove, little stick stools to sit on, pillows, a regulator so none of my appliances explode, and assorted buckets, jugs, and containers to safeguard the running water that flows on a schedule I have yet to figure out. And just like that, I’m left with a few coins in my pocket and payday is not for another week. Maybe. Not a good place to be in. And honestly, not a good feeling to have.
My solution? Well, I cannot reinstate my revolutionary budgeting system until after I get money in the bank. Until then, I have locked myself in my house, rationed out my remaining food (dry lentils, chickpeas, and split peas…how leguminous of me), and have hidden the 200 CFA francs necessary to get me a taxi ride to the bank safely away from my perpetually hungry inner Shane. Scraping the barrel like this really sucks. This is why you should never blow your “in case of emergency fund”. Always save a little for later. Either that or don’t splurge on second hand curtains.
That’s my kryptonite.
Alright, fair and friendly blog-o-sphere, I am here to briefly address the issue of facial hair. Not that I feel like I need to explain myself for my “sudden” change in appearance. But I am at a loss of what to write about these days because SOMEONE refuses to supply me with ideas and questions for which to base my posts. Please refer to “The Gift that Keeps on Giving,” posted on the 22nd of July 2012 – I told you this would happen! So now in return for your silence I am writing about my beard. Wow, I did not see this coming.
The no shave thing started as something between me and my Gaschigan post mate the first day we were displaced in Garoua. I’m not sure where the scheme came from or why we were so into it but like all questionable fads, we threw ourselves behind the “no shave evacuation” idea without shame. I liked the idea of keeping it going until I was reassigned to a new post, you know, something to hold onto from village. Also, having just had all of my work progress guillotined by geopolitics, growing a beard made me feel like I was accomplishing something productive. Sort of like what I imagine owning a chia pet feels like to first time pet owners.
About six weeks of not touching the thing, I began to get judgmental looks from other volunteers. When a Peace Corps volunteer gives you the judgment eye regarding your appearance, you know you’re in a bad place. So I began to tame the face of a homeless man (literally) into that of a more rugged, maintained lumberjack. And even though I am now in a new post, I have yet to shave the thing off. And it no longer has anything to do with my agreement with my ex-post mate, he bowed out months ago. It’s more symbolic. The last time I shaved was in Gaschiga. Having my beard, seeing it in the mirror, feeling it on my face acts as a reminder of the village life in the north I once had. Comfort isn’t the appropriate word, maybe nostalgia, perhaps placation. Either way, it makes me happy, regardless of how it makes me look.
Which, in the words of countless others, is dead sexy.
Of all the things that you could be thinking about at this current second, I am almost positive that the thought that pops to the front of your mind first is “Best. Day. Ever. Shane posted on his blog.” Warning: the initial sentiments of excitement and joy may or may not shift towards feelings of rage and confusion. Allow me to explain myself. You heard it here first, this will be my longest blog post to date. By a lot. But in my defense, and to my credit, I think that the following words truly snare the emotions I’ve felt over the past two months. Past two months! The post will be split into two parts, not so much for convenience’s sake, but more so out of how my brain compartmentalizes feelings and events. I thank you for your commitment to me and my service and as always, I hope you enjoy reading my words. Without further ado:
Things Fall Apart (written on Thursday, the 28th of March)
I’ve always had a strange fascination with quotes: where they’ve originated, whose mouth they’ve left, what they’ve meant. As an idealist they’ve given me strength and equipped me with the linguistic ammunition necessary to put a positive spin on life’s toughest lessons. Those who know me best are familiar with my addiction to writing inspirational phrases down on small white pieces of paper and hanging them everywhere. Turning a closet door into a mosaic of deep thoughts and uplifting proverbs.
It is no surprise that my favorite quotations made the trek with me to Cameroon. For each of my three journals I’ve kept in Africa, for example, I’ve taped in a meaningful quote on the front page to highlight a specific, underlying theme to my service. When I started conjuring up the framework for this blog post just over a month ago it was my plan to share with you some of those same quotes that I had hanging on my walls. Those scraps of paper that remind me to live a better life. Even though it was my intention to lead you through a “quotational” tour of my house, their significance, their place in my life, as I am learning, plans change.
My time in village has come to an end. I cannot go into specifics. God, I cannot go into ambiguities. We’ll leave it at geopolitics. Know that I am safe. But also know that I am incredibly sad. Humans are not meant to be ripped out of their communities. We are social animals. Our connections run deep and our relationships are rich in substance and meaning. This is why I feel empty inside. We bid farewells for a reason – to gain closure and acceptance for the ensuing distance that will separate us – and it is necessary to prepare for these farewells. But to just disappear, to turn your back and walk away, is a miserable thing to justify.
My first journal, as I prepared it the sleepless night before I left for Cameroon, holds a clipping taken from the Allegheny Campus validating my reasoning for going to Africa, my rationale for putting so many miles between my loved ones and me; an interview I had done regarding my upcoming service with the Peace Corps. When they asked me why I had decided to join, I was quoted as saying, “I think that the thing that I hope to gain most from Peace Corps is sort of an opportunity to just live my life, as crazy as that sounds…It’s just that I’m not ready to continue my education. I’m not ready to get a job. I don’t want to sit behind a desk. I just want to live.” That quote steered me through my first 5 months in Cameroon. It justified my absence from my family and friends in the states. It acted as the flame to my hot air balloon. It got me to my next chapter.
The start of my second journal nearly aligned with my move to post. On the inside cover you will find a cutting from a card given to me by a good friend, Lyndsay Steinmetz, with the words “And for everything else, remember that it is a process.” Those words could not have been a more constant reminder to me. The ups and downs of my first year as a volunteer. The failures. The successes. The emotions. The questioning. But in the front of my mind I knew that if I just trusted the process, for another hour, just one more day, until next week, things would work themselves out. And they always did. I made it to journal three.
And as I sit here today, tears in my eyes, I am left in disbelief. What is this process I trusted? I had a family in village. I played with their kids. I ate dinner with them. We shared jokes. They were a sounding board for my ideas. They were there to comfort me and offer me support. I learned to read their expressions, and they, mine. To them I will forever be “Mister Shane” and forever in my ears I will hear them saying good bye to that name as I drove away from them on a moto, silently sobbing, being forcefully torn from my village of warmth and comfort and home and sent into a life of uneasiness and limbo. What had I so blindly thrown my trust behind? Why did I so naively follow my desire to “just live my life” without the foresight to think that I could end up being hurt so badly in the long run?
My third quote. One that I have a hard time reading right now let alone writing, taken from my second favorite president in American history, Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again…who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.”
I have fought in this arena for over 20 months. I have literally been covered in dirt and dust and mud and sweat and blood. But I have always pushed onwards. Enticed by the prospect of a worthy cause or perhaps more likely by the implicit “triumph of high achievement” I assumed I would one day obtain. Honestly, the latter part of T.R.’s quote never meant much to me. Failure was never an option. I didn’t consider it a risk. I would have pushed to the end of my service no matter what. Yet, I suppose the possibility always existed; failure and success are each sides to the same coin.
There are a handful of pages left in my journal. Even though I am a few weeks away from a fourth edition, I have had the quote earmarked for some time, already written on a small piece of parchment tucked into the last pages of my current diary. It’s from Julia Glass’s novel, Three Junes, and it goes like this: “Here we are – despite the delays, the confusion, and the shadows en route – at last, or for the moment, where we always intended to be.”
Where I “always intended to be”? My current situation? Never. I imagined myself at a joyful close of service conference with my peers, spending our last days in country together reminiscing about the trials and tribulations, the memories and laughs, boarding a plane to return to the states together. Never this.
But intentional or not, I am here. My world shattered a month ago. And as I sit in the present, trying to place the pieces back together, I’ve realized that the quotations I so faithfully lived by before are merely words on pieces of paper. There was never any essence, no connection to the larger connotations. Wanting to “just live my life” is asking for experiences, both good and bad. I needed to be kicked in the heart, needed to un-shield my soul and allow it to weather the storms of grief and sorrow, needed to learn that trusting the process means something larger than just steering myself down the one-way street I so confidently positioned myself onto. Life is an interconnected labyrinth of neat city streets, winding country roads, and obscure detours. A fluid maze of unpredictable experiences. A destination does not exist. Only more journeys. I cannot complain when I reach an unforeseen intersection because it’s those surprises that make life interesting. It will take time for me to fully accept that this wasn’t my fault. I didn’t fail. The events that ultimately ended my service were out of my control – out of the Peace Corps’ control.
For my friends and peers that I leave behind, I ask you for your understanding and I wish you the best of luck in your remaining service. Please know that this decision was not an easy one for me to make. It simply came down to the fact that having less than six months in a new village didn’t seem fair to either a new community or me. Our last period of service is meant to be delegated for tying up loose ends with work, travelling to visit other people’s posts, and preparing to return to the states. I want neither an umbrella of guilt hovering over me nor a disappointed community behind me as I approach the end of my service with close friends.
To my family and friends in the states to whom I return, I beg for your patience and sensitivity during the next few months. Not to be harsh, but recognize that I do not feel like I am returning home. My home was here, at least it was meant to be for a bit longer. To quote an acquaintance of mine who I respect very much, “It is difficult for a nomadic mind to have just one home.” This is how I feel. Your love and warm wishes have kept me standing these past two years and I know that even though I have mixed feelings about coming back to America, I very much look forward to being closer to that fountain of support: those of you I love so much. We will get through this together.
And unless something radically changes in the next week, I believe that this will be my final blog post. This wound will take some time to mend itself into a scar. I leave the arena neither a victor nor a loser, but rather, a player lucky enough to have played the game. A road spans out in front leading me towards a nonexistent horizon. And I will follow it. Though bruised and beaten down I walk away a better, wiser, stronger man than I was at the beginning of this experience. Cameroon and the people I’ve met here have forever changed me. For that, I will be forever thankful.
We Were Always Together(written on Sunday, the 28th of April)
From my place on the floor I neither know how I got here nor how to escape. So, I continue to sit here in the metaphorical pit of confusion, staring up at the distant tease of sunshine. My gaze falls upon the pocked walls of my prison, potential handholds, ascending ever so vertically to freedom. I sigh. It has been nearly two months since I was evacuated from my northern village. Eight weeks of analyzing two very different doors. The first leading me back to the United States; the second opening to a third post here in Cameroon. To live in a world of pros and cons, a drawn out internal struggle where everyone’s advice contradicts everyone else’s advice, a time where days and weeks are smeared together and sedated. Life as a displaced Peace Corps volunteer.
After so many weeks of just sitting around, waiting, contemplating, considering, I finally made up my mind. Not really. I had set a deadline for myself. I would let that lackadaisical leviathan that is Time decide. The date came and passed. The first of April. I reached my hand out and grasped the familiar door knob leading to America. And paused. Although I bid farewells to friends, both American and Cameroonian, and my suitcases were packed full of souvenirs and mementos from my African experience, my feet still felt trapped in the cement of indecision.
People say that when you’re lost, it is best to stay put. Someone will find you. Help will come. It took getting to that point in my head where every thought negated the next and my soul felt as if it had put through a blender to arrive at this realization. In the maelstrom that were those frenzied, pensive weeks, it never struck me to just stop. To sit down. Not in dejection or failure or concession. But to rest. And to think. About where I came from instead of where I was going. How I got here instead of how to get there.
I literally got here as a result of an evacuation. I figuratively got here as a result of my support system in Peace Corps Cameroon: my fellow volunteers, my friends, my peers. Knowingly or not, over the past two weeks, they have reminded me why I want to stay here and finish my service.
I was ripped away from my village community abruptly. That was devastating. I was not prepared to tear myself away from my volunteer community as well. Why add pain to pain? I am one to thrive in these close knit social fabrics. To allow the loosening of one thread unravel the rest of my cloth seems ridiculous. There is still much to get out of these next few months.
So I stay. To serve out my contract. To finish what I started. To continue to discover the richness of Cameroon. To bask in its culture. To live in a city – Bamenda – and work in partnership with Heifer International. To enjoy everything that my last chapter of service has to offer. To build character. To push my limits. To grow stronger. To live my life.
Thank you for all of your warm thoughts and kind words over these past two months. For those of you who were with me at the brink, who were tough enough to watch me take a long look at the vastness that lie ahead and who now welcome me back into your ranks of camaraderie and friendship, I am forever indebted to you. Although antagonizing in the moment, I now find that experience of standing at the cliff of departure, slowly sticking out my foot, and then turning around and walking back electrifying. A true, albeit nonconventional, adrenaline rush
Let’s wrap this up. It takes almost losing something before you can fully appreciate it. Today, at this point in time, I feel as though I am in a higher place in my service. The lenses have cleared, the fog has lifted, the chaos makes sense. Cameroon, you can’t get rid of me: I’m staying. Now, more than ever, I know what I want out of these next six months. And they’re going to be awesome.
At first, the prospect of raising chickens was something that excited me in ways I usually reserve for my private life. The irresistible thought of having edible pets intrigued me to the point of purchasing four well-established chicks back in November. But now, as I am sitting, 86 days later, teary eyed, sipping an overpriced Heineken and listening to OneRepublic’s “It’s Too Late to Apologize” at 10:47am in the morning, I am filled with guilt. “Why?” you ask. Well, allow me to start from the beginning.
To say that I chose to raise chickens in order to create some cost-benefit prototype that would be super-imposable in the form of a microloan to some villager in Gaschiga would be only the quasi-truth. Honestly, I came into Peace Corps wanting to raise either chickens or goats. Given the cards the universe dealt me, poultry it was. So I set out, my own agenda coupled with my volunteerism, and purchased four lovely chicks. Expecting everything to go to plan, I looked forward to consuming all of the chickens, once grown. Not that I would be killing them myself. That’s something that past and future vegetarian-Shane would never be able to live with. Gifting the chickens to friends, having them slaughter and prepare the chickens, and then eating them together seemed to fit my moral code just fine. But, as is life, things did not go to plan.
I decided after the first two weeks of raising chickens that I was going to sell at least two of the four. Two reasons. First being that in order to acquire numbers to create a cost-benefit analysis, I would have to actually see what kind of outputs my inputs were going to create. Speaking of inputs: my second reason. These chickens were getting to be pricey. They do not sell chicken feed in Garoua. Instead, one has to purchase the necessary ingredients – ground corn, soy, and fish bones – and mix it oneself. I spent five thousand francs for ground up fish bones and nearly double that for soy. Providing a healthy, well-balanced diet to these four heifers along with purchasing their coop and fencing proved to be more expensive than I had anticipated.
That’s when Gladys died. Yes, I named them. As I hinted to earlier, I am an ex-vegetarian who has a soft spot for animals (not to mention a strange definition of the word “pet”). Her death was sudden. She died within 36 hours of showing symptoms: loss of appetite, wheezing, puffy, red eyes, isolating herself from the others. Initially I felt awful. It wasn’t until after some guy in village told me that it was completely normal to lose chicks early on that I began to feel better. Apparently, according to him, 1 in every 10 chicks will die. Not so sure I was comfortable with watching my lovely chicks mingle with the likes of Darwin’s survival of the fittest premise, but I was content knowing I wasn’t some bad guy who killed his fluffy white chick. It was nature.
Over the next month and a half my three chicks grew into their “ens” and plump to the point of where walking was a chore and balance was not always a priority. I had groomed them to be mighty eaters with an appetite for protein. That’s when I left for mid-service, in early January, leaving behind enough food and water and domestiques to keep my ladies well and alive. So I thought.
Erma was dead when I got back, baking under the Northern sun, feathers all aflutter. I’ll be the first to admit, the circumstances of her death were sketchy but I cannot hold it against the kid who I left in charge of her well-being. He did everything I asked, not to mention he kept my basil alive, and it was clear that I had missed her demise by only a few hours. Unfortunate.
So, I had lost half of my product: 2 dead, 2 alive. It wasn’t looking so good from a business perspective. Nor was it looking so great from the perspective of my final two chickens I imagine. However, we had a solid two weeks together. I picked the day, January 24th, as the day that I was going to carry my prized hen, Blanche, to have my counterpart’s wife slaughter and prepare her. In the meantime I would try to sell the other.
Long story short, I wasn’t able to sell Dorothy before disease got to her first. Geez. So besides consuming Blanche in the most delicious of manners with my counterpart’s family, I accomplished nothing. Wait, what’s that? Oh, it’s just my cost-benefit analysis telling me that a $40.00 chicken tastes magnificent.
Getting to the meat of all of this (too soon?), here are some of the lessons I learned. First, if you want to raise chickens, vaccinate them yourself. I made an ass out of myself by assuming that when the guy told me the chicks came vaccinated, they actually were. Sometimes, it takes more than one go around to properly vaccinate the little bastards. Second, stock up on poultry meds in your regional capital so that you are never left in a pickle at post like I was. I sent money for chicken medicine into Garoua with moto drivers on more than one occasion. That’s 500 FCFA I’ll never see again. Lastly, don’t get attached to the animals you are raising. They are going to die and if your experience is like mine in anyway, you’ll be the one chunking them from the end of a shovel into a field of dry grass. I’m not going to lie; catapulting a chicken over your compound wall holds a certain entertainment factor. Unfortunately, it is coupled with dodgy ethics and resulting poor self-esteem. I digress.
Perhaps the best piece of advice with all of this poultry talk is to just give it a try for yourself. When again are you going to have the time, energy, or desire to raise chicks? Yes, do some research beforehand (learned that lesson) and yes, try to find someone in your village who knows a thing or two about raising chickens. Having someone like that in my situation would have changed the entire experience. My first go around clucked me up real good, but I’ve learned what I needed to learn and I will be back raising chickens come rainy season. And so should you.
I take my health very seriously: fitness, exercise, nutrition, cleanliness – everything. I mean besides some cuts, scrapes, burns, and bruises in 2012, I had a rather healthy year. A nice rebound from my malaria ruined December of 2011 mind you.
Well, maybe it was the clear bill of health I received at mid-service from the Peace Corps medical office or maybe it was the (slight) bragging I did to my peers about my diarrhea free first year of service, but whatever it was, it cursed me with an awful bout of giardia. I don’t know what it is about tropical diseases, but they really know how to hit me like a freight train and bring the best out in me.
Besides some explosive interruptions, I practically slept an entire 24 hours my first day, was completely horizontal on day two, began medications on day three, day four brought some light snacking from the seated position, and day five permitted me to actually walk around and attend to my life. Leaving my house for the first time in five days was an experience for both me and the people I encountered. Clearly I hadn’t seen sunlight or the sky or anything for a while so that was all very refreshing and exciting. But to other people, I must have still looked awful: a frailer, more pail version of myself. My village family kept apologizing for my lack of appetite and my long absence. As if it were their fault.
It feels great to be back in the land of the living. Being sick here in village sucks even more than being sick in the states. No roommates or family members to check up on you, no hot, running water, no comfortable box-spring mattress with lotion infused Kleenex on the side table with cable TV in front of you. Just me, a 50 litre bucket of room temperature water, a floppy foam mattress, complete with a frumpy pillow, an ever shrinking roll of toilet paper and my old computer.
And hey, look, I survived just fine. Just goes to show how much we actually need to get healthy. So long as I have meds, I can sick sleep and be an uncomfortable, sweaty mess anywhere in the world.
I often find myself drawing on the experiences I had in student government. In all reality, haggling in the marketplace isn’t much different than reaching a compromise between two disputing sides and standing up in front of a classroom of a handful of unruly Cameroonian children equates to an auditorium of a few hundred tranquil American families. From communication to patience and from adaptability to planning, my time post-Allegheny has proven to be an extension of the student government syllabus I fine tuned in college.
To put it into perspective, I once sat in on a meeting of the high school teachers here in village as they elected their faculty officers. When no one raised their hand for the position of vice-president, I had to forcibly restrain my right hand from raising itself. Luckily after a few minutes an actual teacher volunteered for the job. Thankfully. I was starting to black out. What can I say; I tend to gravitate towards positions of leadership backslash responsibility? You’ll be happy to know that of the 15 available leadership positions for the 11 persons in attendance that day, I walked away title-less. I digress; I think you get the gist of what I’m trying to say.
Maybe saying that I am “fine tuning” my communication skills is not totally accurate. I am relearning how to communicate. Think of it as if I were relearning how to swim. My first time around I was thrown into a pool by some shmuck with a certificate. Pretty straight forward. But now imagine someone starting to re-teach me how to swim, but this time in a pool of chocolate pudding. The technique probably isn’t much different but I’d imagine there are essential alterations (i.e. being encouraged to swallow “water”, the ineffectiveness of kicking, and being even more highly discouraged from peeing).
I remember learning in my speech class in high school that eye contact is essential. We once did a drill where we had to give an impromptu speech while everyone had their hand in the air. We could not stop talking until we had looked every person in the eye and they had subsequently lowered their hand. That wouldn’t fly over here. Eye contact, especially in a large group setting, is not common stance. It’s sometimes challenging to get the read of an audience because of this; as human beings, we give so much away with our facial expressions. Take me for example, you can read what I am thinking like I’m an open book: my face says all. With the amount of nonverbal communication that takes place, a lack of direct eye contact is something I often find myself missing.
Something I love about Cameroonians, however, is their audible gesticulations when they agree with something. In student government, if you agreed with something that someone was saying, you would tap your knuckle or your pen against the table top. That way, if you were the person speaking, it felt like a million bucks if you had a chorus of tapping phalanges at your back. Well, here instead of pattering against the nearest hard surface, the people make a clucking noise in the back of their throats. Or, they do a quick inhale of their breath, almost like a gasp. The first time I heard someone doing this I asked the volunteer I was with if the woman had a respiratory problem. Not at all, turns out she is just quick to agree. At any rate, whether it is a short breath in, a cluck in the throat, or a pen tapping on a table, the end result is the same for the communicator – utter assurance. Of course there is also a cluck associated with those things negative in the world…but that is perhaps another blog post for another day.
It becomes more and more evident that the skills I will leave Cameroon with will not be limited to hitchhiking, cooking without a recipe, village French, and how to prevent diarrhea. No. I will leave with a toolbox of refined communication skills: communication skills 2.0 if you will. Navigating various conversations through a web of cultural dissimilarities, using a second language, sometimes a third, speaking through translators at times, speaking with hand gestures and props at others, growing comfortable with silence and repetition (and repetitive silence) and recognizing the importance of asking “do you understand?” Through the blunders and the laughter (sometimes with me, sometimes at me) and through the troughs and crests of frustration and confidence, I am growing as a communicator.
All in favor?