It has been about a month since my last post so we have a lot of catching up to do, but don’t worry, this post will be pretty packed with pictures. I guess we’ll go in chronological order and start off with late March. As of March 20th, Cameroun Écologie’s website is officially moved to a new hamburger! If you don’t know what I mean by that, then I recommend going back to read the post Back to Work. But if you don’t feel like reading two blogs right now, all you need to know is that I’m using it synonymously with the word “webhost”. If you want to read the rest of the posts, you can go to Erin’s Edéa. On the very next day (March 21st), I held my first workshop for six of my colleagues. It had been a long time in the making because I had been pushing it back for a while; I couldn’t very well teach my colleagues how to use the website if it wasn’t yet migrated. The workshop went well, and I was glad to host it just for five of my colleagues so I could test the waters before diving into the planning and hosting of a workshop for all twenty of my them. I wrote an article on this workshop as well for Cuso, so maybe you will see it on their website soon (both in French and English).
The next couple weeks I was working mainly on reports for Cuso, writing that article for them about the workshop, and planning for the arrival of my parents and Roland. Planning my family’s stay in Cameroon was a big task. Usually it is my mom who plans all of the family trips so this was a new experience for me. I’m not even sure exactly when I decided to take on all the planning, but it was probably around the time when I told my mom over a Whatsapp call that she just wouldn’t be able to use Euros or American money here at all and the exchange rate for Francs at the bank in Cameroon would be way too high, so we decided that I would pay for everything and give them a nice long bill at the end of the trip. The two biggest tasks involved in planning it were deciding on and booking the transportation and arranging a couple homemade Cameroonian meals for their time in Edéa so they could meet my colleagues and especially the couple people that I am always mentioning such as Blondine.
On the morning of April 1st, I squeezed into a crowded van with almost 20 other people and settled in for the 3 hour ride to Yaoundé. I was so excited to see my family and Roland that being a sardine didn’t bother me so much. My friend Tijan picked me up from the bus stop in Yaoundé, and then I went directly to the hotel to drop off my stuff before walking over to Muriel’s house. I really wanted to introduce my family to Muriel, but she just happened to be leaving for France the very same day my parents were coming to Cameroon. Sandra also just so happened to be there and so we all had lunch together before Muriel left for the airport. A few hours later after spending some time with Sandra, I was finally in the car with one of Cuso’s chauffeurs on the way to the airport. The wait was so long. I had been looking forward to their arrival for almost a month. Luckily my mom was diligently messaging me with constant updates of their flight whenever she had wifi.
When we finally got back to the hotel it was already 11:30pm and the hotel restaurant was closed so I took them to one of the first restaurants that I had visited in Yaoundé. The next day I took them to see some of the other attractions that I had visited when I first arrived over four months ago. We saw the Monument of Reunification, Mount Febe, and the central market, but ever since I told Roland that I had geckos living with me and that I am always seeing orange headed lizards doing pushups where ever I go, he has really only had two things that he wanted to see in Cameroon; me and lizards. It goes without saying that he took a lot of pictures of them throughout the trip and he seemed a little more interested in Cameroon’s foliage and wildlife then the typical tourist attractions. I’m impressed by how many species he is able to name of both plants and animals even in a country so foreign to him, and if he doesn’t know their name he will try to find it out. I may have been showing him around Cameroon, but as always he was finding ways to teach me about the natural environment around us.
It was nighttime by the time we got to Edéa but Blondine was ready and waiting for us with dinner for the evening. I had asked her and her mom to prepare “Sauce Noire” and fish for my family so they could get a little taste of Cameroonian food on their first night in the town I have been calling home. It’s the rainy season right now in Cameroon, which means that there are many impromptu thunder storms, and the electricity is cut quite often. In the morning Roland and I woke up to the sound of heavy rain on the roof and we wondered if it would be possible for us to go and see the monkeys that were planned for that day. It took us so long to make up our minds and get the stuff together for them that we unfortunately didn’t end up going. Instead, I showed them around Edéa, introduced them to Cameroun Écologie, and we went to sit by the pool until it was time to have dinner with my colleagues.
I had asked Nathalie to prepare a meal for everyone to celebrate the arrival of my Canadian family to Cameroon because I wanted them to eat even more Cameroonian food and meet the people I work with and see on a daily basis. I was really happy to have everyone in the same place, and it made me feel like I finally had the chance to introduce my Cameroonian family to my Canadian family. I know I have only been here for a few months, but the way that everyone calls each other by familial names here has rubbed off on me. Even if it’s just because I refer to them as moms, sisters, and even daughters, I feel like the people that I work and live with here are like an extension to my family. They have all done a lot to help me integrate and feel at home in the country.
It obviously wasn’t only me that had to do a lot of preparing for my family’s trip here, they not only spent the month getting their shots and VISAs, but mom also spent a lot of time making sure to get all the items on the list of things I asked her to bring from Canada. For example, I wanted to surprise Blondine with glasses as a remedy to help with the headaches that she often gets by the end of the day. I had also tried on multiple occasions in Douala and Edéa to find children’s books in French for the kids, but it proved difficult to find books that I thought they would like. Mom brought two mail envelopes filled with books that she had ordered in Canada, and I’ve got to say that it’s really nice to finally have a way to distract the kids when they come over before they start bouncing off the walls. Yesterday, I read “Love you forever” to the kids and, yes, it still is just as emotionally moving in French. I mention the kids in almost all of my posts, so you probably know how important they are to me if you have been reading, but I was really glad that I got to share the real experience with my family.
After two nights in Edéa we moved on to Limbe. It took us until the middle of the afternoon to get there but once we arrived we still had time to see the botanical gardens. The botanical gardens were really beautiful, and Roland (of course) was really excited to see them and learn even more about Cameroonian foliage. If you were to look through Roland’s camera it would be pretty easy to tell who took which pictures. He tended to take a lot of pictures of plants and animals, but it’s structures, machines, and artifacts, that most catch my eye…even in the botanical gardens. I don’t have a picture of it, but I thought one of the most beautiful parts of the gardens was the stone and very old stadium at the heart of it.
The hotel that we stayed in in Limbe was called Tsaben Hotel and it was just across the road from the black sand beaches that Limbe is famous for. If you look closely in the photos, you can also make out Roland and I in one of them, and my dad and I in another.
We arrived at the hotel in Limbe just before a thunderstorm, and we could see Mount Cameroon from there looming eerily out of the dark clouds in the distance. Even if I didn’t capture it in the photo, I thought it was really breathtaking and it made me really glad I finally got to see a little more African landscape. I think the most forest I had seen before Limbe was on the side of the long road that stretches through Yaoundé and Douala, which is beautiful, but doesn’t compare to hiking through it. The next day we did just that. My dad was a little sick because of some of the food from the day before so he sadly couldn’t come, but mom, Roland and I woke up early so we could start climbing the mountain by 7:30am. We obviously didn’t have time to climb the whole mountain because that takes three days and I had only set aside the one day for it, but we still felt accomplished to make it to hut 1, which is 1,875m above sea level.
In May I will be making the trek again with some other volunteers, but this time we will be climbing all the way to the top. Mount Cameroon is actually an active volcano that last erupted in 2001. The only hint that we saw of this on the path, however, were the black volcanic rocks that we might sometimes stumble over. The black beaches that I mentioned earlier are also that color because of the proximity of the volcano.
That afternoon was a little more relaxed. We got back from the hike around 3 or 4pm and then I read a bit while Roland took a nap. After that, we went for a walk on the beach, and then mom and dad went back to the hotel to have dinner there and Roland and I went out and found a restaurant there. Even though I love spending time with my parents, Roland and I were really happy to have our first “date night” in four months.
In the morning we said goodbye to Limbe and set off on the longest drive of the trip; from Limbe to Kribi. This drive took us about 4 – 5 hours, but we did end up getting to Kribi around 2pm. Our first stop in Kribi was to visit the family that I had spent Christmas with. I introduced them to everyone and we talked for a bit, and then we were off to meet Sandra. The plan was to go with her to the Chutes de la Lobe and then back to her place to watch the sunset on her balcony and drink wine, but believe it or not we didn’t get to the Chutes until it was almost sunset. Regardless of whether we were on her balcony or a tropical beach, we still watched the sunset from paradise. That night, we all had dinner at Anna’s house with the whole family. I think the best part about this was that my family got to meet another family that had made me feel welcome during the holidays when I was still in my first month of being so far away from home.
As I write this post, I’m thinking about how the goal that I had in mind while planning this trip was to give my family an introduction to what my life has been like here in Cameroon but, in doing so, I ended up squeezing in bits and pieces of the highlights of my trip as well (including the challenging parts). It’s true that being here in Cameroon hasn’t been all sunshine and pagne; I have seen a lot of difficult sights that I never would have been exposed to in the first world, and this was made even harder for me by the language barrier that prevented me from expressing some of the thought and questions I had. Not to mention that, even though I have made some amazing friends here, I can’t help but think about the deeper glimpses into their lives that I would’ve gotten from understanding every French conversation that I overheard and have been a part of.
The language barrier was a challenge for my parents and Roland as well and, even though I tried my best to translate for them, I often recognized the familiar look on their faces that I had probably myself worn many times when trying to understand the quick flow of a casual conversation in a second language. All in all I did want the trip to be comfortable for them, but I am grateful that now they might be able to understand my biggest challenge of the placement a little better; learning how to traverse both the cultural and language barrier in Cameroon.
At this point the week felt like it was going by very fast. We only had one night in Kribi and it just so happened to be our second last night before my family’s flight. In the morning we had a big day of driving ahead of us because we would be going from Kribi to Edéa, and then to Yaoundé where they would spend their final night in Cameroon before their flight back to Canada.
Cécile was kind enough to welcome us into her home for lunch in Edéa on my family’s second last day in Cameroon, and cooked us a huge fish from the Sanaga river. I was very excited to introduce my family to Cécile and you might remember me mentioning her in some of my other posts. I have written about how beautiful her house is, and back in December I was just hoping to be invited there one day for dinner. Looking back, I have had dinner at her house multiple times with different groups of people and each time I learned more about her exciting and busy work and life.
Cécile is a UN representative for Central African women involved in the agriculture and forestry industry, and this made my mom even more excited to meet her because my mom’s parents and siblings are all farmers (she’s the only one that opted for the city life). We discussed many things, but my mom brought up one non-profit organization which connects and supports country women worldwide. I hope that one day this will lead to some sort of partnership between the two of them, and it would make me even happier to have that connection to Cécile so we wouldn’t lose touch so easily after I get back to Canada.
We got back to Yaoundé pretty late and had our final dinner together at the hotel restaurant. We knew that we had less than 24 hours before they would all be on their flight back home, and this made me feel even more like we didn’t have enough time together. On the other hand, I don’t think even a week more would have been enough to show them everything I wanted to, and dans toutes façons I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to them again for another two months. The next day we had planned to go to the National Museum together before the airport, but Roland and I wanted to stay behind and just spend some time talking in person before it would be back to nothing but Whatsapp calls until I got home. My parents had such a good time at the museum that I actually decided to visit it the next day after they had left to get a taste of it myself. I guess no matter where you live it’s easy to take the tourist attractions for granted. When I dropped them off at the airport I only stuck around for long enough to say goodbye and give each of them multiple hugs, but I did leave them with one final thought that another volunteer had told me when I first arrived in Cameroon; “Cameroonians love three things, food, drink, and women”. Yes this is oversimplifying, but what is really meant by this is that life here has taught me that everyone has their struggles and there’s always someone who has it worse, but it’s necessary to let it go, relax, and appreciate the simple pleasures in life. I hope that this mentality will get me through the time that I have left here until I see them again. I am unsure about how I will feel when I get back from Cameroon, but I imagine that at the very least the contrast between Canada and Cameroon will be yet another grand culture shock.
One more thing. The following blurb may just sound like a promotion, but it is something that I really believe in. I believe that donating to a Cuso volunteer is one of the most effective ways to spend your charitable dollars because you know exactly where they are going and what they are going to support. You can also be confident that they are actually helping the community because Cuso’s structure is set up to be a tailored approach to volunteering. I hope that those of you who have been emotionally supportive to me can also contribute in this way, it would mean a lot to me. Even if you just visit the sponsorship link and donate $5 – $10 each, it makes a huge difference. Thank you for taking the time, you can read more about why Cuso volunteers are raising funds here.