Reflections: Haiti to Cameroon

I went to Haiti about 1.5 year ago with the William and Mary Haiti Compact team for an international alternative break right after I graduated. This past week, I found myself stalking the blog of the latest WMHC team that just took a trip down to Haiti to do some really solid development work.

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Going on a mini-hike into a valley in Bazou. And I look like a midget.

As I was reading through the blog post (http://roadwestraveled.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/bonswa/), it made me reflect on my own experiences here. And as I did, I took a peek at my own blog post that I wrote shortly after I came home from Haiti. And what a difference there was in my perspectives and attitudes, compared to now, where I’m nearly 16 months into my service here in Cameroon as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Let me try to unravel this in a slightly organized way.

Cameroon is a tough country for development. I truly believe that the vast majority of Peace Corps Volunteers are here doing solid work. But, after having had many discussions with different people, and of course, mixing that with my own experiences, it seems that Cameroon is pretty difficult country, in terms of development work.

West is the Best

West is the Best

I’m not trying to make this a case of, “My post/country is harder than yours,”  or “Pity me because I’m here,” but Cameroon being a tough place for development work is the conclusion I have reached. People experienced in the international development field (especially in sub-Saharan Africa) have remarked how they’ve seen dishonesty and corruption collide with aid work to create this current environment of, “We need help because the whole world tells me we’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, or developed enough, but I don’t want to work for it.”

I’ve heard many people (ie foreign aid workers, PCVs who’ve traveled to other countries in sub-Sahara Africa (sSA), and even a PCV who grew up and traveled extensively through many different sSA countries), that nowhere else do random people come up to you and ask you for free handouts, yell aggressively, ‘LE BLANC!!!!!’ or feel that they have the right to just take money from projects as if money grew on trees.

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Beautiful hills leading out of Bazou

Who is at fault for this sort of culture is a whole different story, and a very complicated one at that. I’m not trying to toss the blame on the average Cameroonian, because they must have learned it from somewhere. But what I’m saying is that the end result can be incredibly frustrating to work with.

And that’s what I’ve seen for the 15 months.

To say the least, I’ve been extremely frustrated with my work for the past few months, because projects seemed to just cave in on themselves and can’t seem to right themselves. My efforts to get anything done have been hampered by the feeling that people just genuinely don’t care enough to change their own futures or that of their kids.

I think these past few months, my failures in creating projects have caused me to become extremely jaded to development work. I should probably make it clear that there are definitely PCVs out here in Cameroon who ARE finding success, but haven’t been one of them.

So now let me loop this back around to Haiti.

Reading my old blog post reminded me of why I joined Peace Corps. I was so inspired and touched by locals, on the ground, trying to lift themselves out from poverty – helping one another in doing so. Of course, we did get asked for money, but at that time, it seemed more okay, or at least more tolerable. Maybe I felt that way because I had only been there for a handful of days, and I still had my rose-colored tourist glasses on.

I was definitely re-inspired when I read the WMHC’s blog. They wrote again about Sonje Ayiti (www.sonjeayiti.com), a really awesome NGO that works to empower Haitians, especially Haitian women, through various projects in different areas (ie agriculture, business, health). Sonje Ayiti is led by Haitian-American Gabrielle Vincent, who has really stretched the limits of what is possible. I had forgotten how inspired I was when I went to Haiti, toured a farm used to support and empower women, and listened to Gabbie speak. To see people wanting to help their own communities on such a level -  and then actually doing it and being successful with it – is really touching.

When I compare that to my current situation at post, it’s like night and day. I don’t think that my village will be ready for that sort of development for a long time – not until they realize that they need to help themselves before anyone else can. So even though that’s been a tough situation for me to reconcile with, I think I’ve learned three things from this reflection on my Haitian/Cameroonian experiences:

1)      Development is not the same everywhere and there are definitely many success stories.

2)      I remembered why I decided to join the Peace Corps. I remember now what inspired me, what I hoped my experiences would be like, and how much I wanted to make a difference

3)      Sure, Cameroon may be a tough place for development, but development is still possible out there.

So, moving on to other things, life at post has improved a bit since my last blog. I’m currently in Yaounde for mid-service (ie when we have meetings with our program managers and other PC admin, and then poop in a cup/get blood samples done for medical exams ).

It’s so weird that this is a big milestone for the “half-way point, “ even if that had already passed. This is the real deal, kids.

The past week was spent with several PCVs who came to my post. One of the PCVs closest to my post, Julie, came to Bazou for the first time, as did a PCV who came all the way from the East region, and another PCV from the South West. Our days together involved eating a bunch of delicious foods, watching movies/TV shows, swapping stories from post, and a hike down into a valley in Bazou (it involved lots of mootmoot bites though. Ugh.) But it was so great to hang out with some PCVs, and I felt like I was finally readjusted to life in Cameroon after my month-long vacation.

Then Friday afternoon, I left post and met up with a Peace Corps car (ie had AC and I wasn’t squished) in Bangangte that took us all the way to Yaounde in record time. I’m spending a few days with my US Embassy family that I met during the 50th Anniversary before I’ll be gracing the laboratory with my stool samples.

Aaaaand on that note, Toodles!

HIGHS:

- I taught again this past Wednesday, and it went really well. I ended by teaching them a song created by another PCV, which translates into, “Who Would Like Malaria?” I was really hesitant at first since I have no singing skills, but I think that they really loved a) watching their teacher sing and b) learning through a song

- PCVs come to visit. Always a good time

- I started feeling better from being sick

- Timon, Pumba and I formed a team in killing a cockroach. Pumba spotted it/chased it, I smashed it against the wall, and Timon ate it up

- I got a ride from PC on the way down to Yaounde

- I’ve had some delicious foods and get to sleep in a comfy bed for a few nights

LOWS:

- There were a few large cockroaches and spiders in my house. Hello, dry season

- Speaking of dry season, we got about 15 seconds of rain in Bazou which is totally unheard of in January. Nice to meet you, climate change

- I’ve been bitten by many a mootmoot these past few days. I hate them with a passion

Love,

Wes, Pumba, and Timon

1 Comment

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One response to “Reflections: Haiti to Cameroon

  1. Melody Porter

    So good to read your reflections, Wesley! It is helpful and interesting to hear your perceptions of the contrasts between Haiti and Cameroon. I’m going to share this with the team.

    Keep up the good fight – including against the cockroaches!