Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Goodbyes


I wrote this blog post with the intention of posting it the week I was leaving village.  Because of a family emergency, I had to pack up my life in Danfili and say my goodbyes in the course of one day, several weeks earlier than planned.  As I readjust to life back in the United States, I am dealing with the loss of my grandmother as well as the loss of my community in Danfili.  My grandma was an avid reader of this blog and was always full of questions about Cameroon.  It only feels right to post my final entry as I planned.

Wonderful friends who accompanied me to the train station





As I start my last month in Danfili, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on my time here.  I’ve been here so long and yet no time at all.  I’ve learned so much and have so much to learn.  I’ve done so much work and yet accomplished so little.  I have so many feelings about leaving this place and about going back to the U.S. 

So what can I tell you about these past two years?  How can I put all of this into a blog post or a sentence long explanation?  All I can say is that as I reflect, in this place that is so different from what most of us know, the memories that I will always remember are surprisingly ordinary.  I know that you expect to hear that I will never forget the car with the cow in the trunk or the questionable food, but I’m sorry to report that my happiest memories here are everyday things.  I will never forget the extraordinary experiences, but the ones that make it hard to leave are simply memories with the people who have become my friends and family.

I won’t forget the many excursions to Lake Mbella.  From the first trip out with Rashida to the last trip when we celebrated opening a bank in Danfili.  The day I spent having a picnic and playing trivia with two good friends.

I won’t forget all of my little kiddos who drove me nuts and left me laughing.  Watching Hawa go from a reserved little girl to an assertive preschooler.  Coming home to the kids at Asta’s house all chanting “Eliza! Eliza!”  Bamanga’s little guy, Abdoulaye, crawling over and reaching up to ask me to hold him. 

I won’t forget all of the wonderful individuals who welcomed me, not as the “nasara”, but as their friend.  Doudou who was my first close friend here.  Bamanga who invited me into his family as if I had always been there.  Fadi who I can always be honest with.  Nyandon who has become the little brother I never had.

I won’t forget all of the things I learned.  David who taught me Fulfulde.  Habiba who taught me how to sew clothes.  Sadjo who taught me how to make Folere sauce.

I won’t forget the work triumphs.  The day that Asta and I finished the village census that we had been working on for months.  The meeting where I watched three men explain the importance of family planning to community members. The day that Bamanga and I accomplished the final step to open the MC2.

I won’t forget the small adventures that we had.  Climbing the hills on the other side of town with Abdul Aziz and Fadi.  Taking a moto with David to a nearby town to take photos of the beautiful landscape.  Vaccinating in the brousse of a small village with Youssoupha where we crossed a terribly unstable “bridge”.






What else can I say about the past two years to truly explain what these people and this place have meant to me?  The best experiences and people are always beyond words.  No speech, photo, or souvenir can do them justice.  As I say all of these goodbyes, all I can do is appreciate the memories, the skills, and the love that they have given me.  Only truly amazing people make goodbyes so hard and in the end all of the pain is so worth having had them in your life.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Apr├Ęs la pluie, c'est le beau temps

“After the rain comes the beautiful weather” 
This phrase became our moto during the project to open an MCin Danfili.  We had to keep reminding ourselves that all of the obstacles would be worth it in the end.



Representing Danfili in Ngaoundal on Labor Day (May 1, 2015): Alhadji Bachirou, Bamanga, Me, Fadi, Iya


It all started back in May 2014.  I had been at post about 6 months and was celebrating “May 20th” in Ngaoundal.  I spent the holiday with another volunteer, Brian, and his counterpart, Mohamed.  Mohamed is the accountant at the Ngaoundal branch of a Cameroonian microfinance institution called MC2.  The rain poured all afternoon and we were stuck in the bar chatting.  After hearing that I live in Danfili, Mohamed told me about a project that had been started back in 1998 and to that day had not been realized.

When MC2 opened in Ngaoundal in 1998, many “Danfilians” opened accounts there.  They were very interested in the bank and how it could help them.  Within a year or so, they tried to open their own branch here in Danfili.  For various reasons, it never happened.  Fastforward to 2008.  Again, a group from Danfili decided that they wanted to open a branch of MC2 in Danfili.  The idea was to open a “caisse rurale”.  Microfinance is already designed to meet the needs of the poor, but a “caisse rurale” goes a step further by reaching out to villages.  It is essentially a scaled down operation that functions in a small village.

This time, the community’s effort got much further.  They found a building to rent, sent two individuals to train in Ngaoundal for two months, and obtained a donated safe.  The safe was fixed, building prepared, and training finished, but the branch never opened.  There were many reasons for this, but it mostly came down to miscommunication and an untimely, but unrelated problem at the existing MC2.

This brings us to May 2014.  Mohamed explained to me the history of the project and how he came to work at the MC2 in 2008 after the failed attempt.  He knew that the staff in Ngaoundal still wanted the project to succeed, but the question was: Was Danfili willing to try again?

Admittedly, this project grabbed my attention right away because before joining Peace Corps, I had read about microfinance and was very interested in the success it had had.  In addition, as volunteers we are often the one to suggest a project and explain the importance to community members.  To find a project that the community had already identified as valuable and useful was a dream come true. 

After meeting with Mohamed, I went back to Danfili and met with Bamanga, the president of the board during the previous attempt in 2008.  I had known him through other work projects, but it was during our work on the MC2 that we became close friends and work partners.  After hearing his take on things, he brought me to all of the other board members to hear what they had to say.  Although there was clearly a lack of confidence and trust, everyone agreed that they were willing to give it a try one last time.  Both the community members and the bank personnel agreed that by having an outsider facilitate, they just might succeed. 

For the next year and several months, we worked through constantly emerging hurdles.  Each time we thought we had it figured out, a new problem would arise.  If it wasn’t the landlord changing his mind about selling, it was a lack of willing personnel or red tape from the group financing the project.  Each of us tried to back out at one time or another out of pure frustration, but each time was talked back in.  Finally, in March 2015 a community member agreed to sell us land at a reasonable price and we started building.  At the same time, we found two staff members, Fadi (one of my best friends) and Iya (a young guy in village).


The inside of the building in March 2015

The building from the outside in March 2015

Bamanga in the lobby in April 2015


Informational meeting to answer questions about the project in April

Meeting attendees
The finishing touches the day before opening


Once the building process started and Fadi & Iya headed to Ngaoundal to train, the project started to feel attainable, but we were still wary.  Between March and the day we actually opened, we still had at least ten incredibly discouraging obstacles to overcome.  (The last of which happened only four days before we had scheduled the opening.)  I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that the day the bank was functional in Danfili was an unbelievable success for those of us involved.  From the day we dredged up this worn out problem, many people only had words of discouragement.  They said that we were wasting our time on a project that two generations had already spent their time and money on only to see it fail.  Others simply refused to participate and preferred to watch from a distance to find out what would happen.  For Bamanga, myself, our two staff members, and the rest of the board members, standing inside the building on opening day watching Danfilians open their accounts was unbelievable.  MC2 Guichet de Danfili started operations on August 31, 2015.


Fadi, Madame Bobo (the director of MC2 Ngaoundal), and Iya starting work on the first day

Board members wait to open their accounts on opening day

Iya opening accounts for Bamanga and Alhadji Bachirou

Fadi at her desk on opening day

My partner in crime, Bamanga, and I exhausted, but proud after a week of preparations 

Myself, Fadi, Madame Bobo, Iya, Alhadji Bachirou, Monsieur Abo, Alhadji Moctarou

Picnic at Lake Mbella to celebrate a successful end to the first week of work

Great friends and work partners: Iya, Fadi, Me, Mohamed, Bamanga 

 Oftentimes as PCV’s we are frustrated by the lack of community buy-in on our projects.  That is what made this project so rewarding and such an honor to be a part of.  Through all of the obstacles, I had the most wonderful work partners.  They put incredible amounts of their own time, money, and energy into this project in spite of the discouraging remarks and continuous obstacles.  Not all volunteers have the opportunity to work with such motivated community members on such a rewarding project and for that I will forever be grateful to the members of MC2 Danfili.



Wednesday, August 5, 2015

July Photo Update

My friend, Abdul Aziz's new baby girl and first child, Aissatou! 
Putting down the second floor of the new mosque in Ngaoundal.  Everyone pitched in because they needed to lay the entire cement floor in one day.

Finally learned how to turn couscous.  This is pretty bad form, but give me a break, it was my second time!

First Cameroonian meal that I prepared all by myself: Couscous de manioche and Koombee (my favorite!)


Hawa showing off the new outfit I sewed for her.  (Thanks for the fabric, Brian!)

My friend, Aissatou's new baby girl.  She is only a couple days old and won't be given her name until a week after her birth.

Neighbor boys looking spiffy for the Fete du Ramadan

The neighbor gals in their Ramadan outfits

Two of my very favorite Danfilians, Fadi and Bamanga, and I in our Ramadan outfits

The Tibati mosque

During the Fete du Ramadan each year, the Lamido (the head chief of the region) organizes a "Fantasia".  Him and all of the members of the chefferie wear their tradition outfits and perform a ceremony for the village.  People come from surrounding villages to watch and greet him.  The man in the green turban and sunglasses is the Lamido.

During the ceremony, members of the chefferie race from the far end of the street to the Lamido's palace where  he is seated on his horse.  When they get close to the Lamido, they slow up their horses at the last minute and greet him.

The fete crew: Victoria, George, Brian, and Pax

More members of the chefferie on their horses.

Finally, in July we sent Brian back to the good ol' US of A.  One last night with the Ngaoundal crew (including our bartender friend, Antoinne).

Monday, July 6, 2015

June Photo Update

Some of my kiddos 
The Danfili high school students on the last day of school

Danfili teaching staff on the last day of school


The beautiful view (although photos don't do it justice) from Malarba-Beka, a small town outside of Danfili

New bird siting, but haven't identified it yet

Finally made it out to Tello Falls: the view from the top

Tello Falls





Tuesday, June 9, 2015

May Photo Update

View of Mount Ngaoundal from in town 
View from the top of Mount Ngaoundal

Community members and hospital staff with the beds Alhadji Adamou (on the far left) repaired for the hospital 

The "Mother Leaders" Asta and I have been working with on maternal and child health issues. 

The high school director accepting the water filter that the A2Empowerment scholarship recipients raised money to buy for the school.
The "Hommes Dynamiques" (both experienced and newly trained) after receiving their certificates of participation.  They will also be working on maternal and child health issues.

The Mbororo family outside of Kandje (another village near Danfili) who were incredibly appreciative when we rode out to vaccinate their kids.  They fed us 3 separate meals (during a 2 hour visit) and sent me home with a chicken and big bag full of leaves to make sauce with!  The man in the white is the oldest brother, and therefore chief of their encampment.

The view of most of the encampment from the entrance.  Each grouping is for one brother and his wives and children.  Their cattle graze in the surrounding "brousse" and all of the green next to the houses is corn that will grow to be higher than the roofs in a couple months.

My adopted "postmates" who have kept me sane and are getting ready to head back to the States this summer

The chicken I was "gifted" outside of Kandje

Danfili High School staff on the last day of school