Monday, September 24, 2012

To please my mother...a blog post.

Edit: Started this post on Saturday but decided to wait until I figured everything out before publishing it.

So I was chatting with my mom on Facebook this morning. (Isn't it great having parents who wake up at 4 AM? And know how to use Facebook?) For the past few days she has been insisting I write a blog post so that people don't ask her if I'm doing ok. Moms. My response? "I'm not doing anything blog-worthy! I go to work. I come home. I sleep. I shower sometimes."

Lo and behold, as soon as I finishing discussing this with her something of note happens. I decide to go get a snack. While this alone is not really something worth blogging about, my experience, which probably lasted about 45 seconds, was fairly interesting.

So I live above a mini-mart. On Saturdays I usually treat myself by buying a snack from there. Things usually purchased: Petit Dej (literally "breakfast") a type of very thin chocolate chip "digestive". A yogurt. (self-explanatory) Fanta.

Things I do not purchase but frequently stare at: the un-refrigerated cartons of eggs, Pringles (for like $700), and of course...La Vache Qui Rit (Laughing Cow). Cheese. The food of my dreams. While I had originally assumed this cheese was as overpriced as the Pringles (also it was not in the refrigerator) and therefore not worth it, I did a little math. You see, my Petit Dej cookies cost 350 CFA. That's about $0.70 for a pack of 8 cookies. La Vache Qui Rit costs 800 CFA. "Ridiculous!" I thought to myself in my first few weeks here, "That is simply too overpriced and un-refrigerated for my tastes!" tastes have changed. And I did a little research. As it turns out, La Vache Qui Rit is one of those cheeses that you don't have to refrigerate. As it also turns out, 800 CFA is only about $1.50. I pay $4 for that stuff  the US.

So I made a decision this week. Saturday, in celebration of completing my 3rd week here, I was going to buy the cheese. I was going to eat cheese for the first time since leaving American soil and I was so excited.  (All of my Wisconsin readers are groaning at my decision to buy crappy cheese. But you know what? Wisconsin has cheese. Yaounde...not so much.)

All week I have been counting down to cheese day.

I should have known that it was not meant to be.

Saturday rolls around. I grab some money and stuff it in my jeans pocket and start to head out the door. It's pouring outside. "I guess I'll wait a little while longer" I sigh to myself. I read a book. I take a nap. I pace back and forth. Finally it stops raining. CHEESE DAY! So I head out the door and downstairs. My building is 4 or 5 stories high and I'm pretty close to the top. As I walk down I pass the sounds of cooking, arguing, watching poorly-dubbed American tv and I finally get to the big courtyard at the bottom preparing myself to greet the guard who controls the gate to the building. Except he's not there. In his place stands a soldier. Not just any soldier, but a guy fully decked-out in a uniform and a helmet. Oh yeah, and he's armed. I quickly slide past him and peek out from the gate. Only to realize all of the shops are closed.

"Hmm...this probably isn't the greatest place for a lone American to be right now." I think to myself. So I do what anyone else would have done in this situation. I turn around and walk through the gate again. The guard stares at me, almost glares, and I nod and mutter a quick "Bonjour" hoping maybe he'll offer up some explanation to the helpless white girl. Nope. Not even a nod back. I high-tail it back upstairs and collapse into bed as the dreaded realization dawns on me: Today will not be cheese day.

So what was actually going on? You may ask.
Well, it was not as I had assumed when I quickly facebook messaged my brother saying "THERE IS A MILITARY COUP OUTSIDE MY APARTMENT!" (Yeah, sorry Alex...) It was not, as we later decided, people protesting an increase in fuel prices. What happened was simply this: The president went to visit somebody in the hospital. Right near where I live. And they have to close down the whole street for that. Unfortunately I didn't find this out until Monday morning, so I remained cheese-less throughout the weekend.

Next Saturday. Next Saturday I shall get my cheese.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Lizard and I (Wicked, anyone?)

So while apparently (not that anyone in my family other than occasionally my mom cares about football) the "match of the football season" for the midwest was going on last night. Well folks, here in Yaounde, we had our own little match as well. No, not Bears vs Packers or anything like that. This was Lizard vs Elena.

The Scene
So there I was, around 7 pm, chatting happily online with Sean and anticipating an early-to-bed kind of night after a week of being awoken to the beeping of taxis at 6 AM. (Ugh, that's for another post...) I hear a squeak. My first thought: "That better not be a bat." The thing about bats is that if you don't know when the bat entered the area, and you've slept in that room, you have to get a rabies shot. Simple as that. So, I casually make my way over to the light switch (it gets dark around 6 pm here) and I look at the corner where I heard the noise. "Nope! No bat, phew. Just that paint chip...wait a minute." That was no paint chip. Tan colored, about the size of my index finger, with jet black eyes. It was a lizard and it was staring at me and I was terrified.

Now at this point in the story I should let you all in on something. I spent most of my summers growing up at camp. I've slept in the woods. I was a girl scout. I was a camp counselor for four years. I met my boyfriend at summer camp. I've had a chipmunk run across my bare feet before. And I hate creepy crawlies. You know what I mean. I get itchy at the sight of a spider, I get jumpy at the prospect of having to kill a giant centipede crawling down my wall, and apparently I cry when I see a lizard in my bedroom.

So here's what happened. I stared at it. It stared back. Both of us terrified of the other creature who had suddenly made its presence known. I started frantically typing to Sean, "LIZARD IN BEDROOM OMG WHAT DO I DO HOW DO I GET IT TO GO AWAY I JUST WANT TO GO TO SLEEP AND NOT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT DYING OF GROSS LIZARD DISEASE!" (Which I apparently decided was a thing that could happen to me) Our conversation essentially goes like this:

Sean: Trap it in a bowl and set it free.
Sean: Trap it in anything and set it free.
Sean: Take some deep breaths and ignore it and maybe it will go away.

So it eventually crawled back into the hole from whence it came and I thought all was right again with the world. Until about ten minutes later it got brave again and poked its little head out of the hole.

"Go away!" I said to it in my best calm and lizard-scolding voice.

We were obviously still both terrified. It was clear that I was going to have to spend the night locked in a room with this lizard. I had considered the option of being protected by mosquito netting, except that my mosquito netting has a large, gaping hole in it. (Effective, I know) So I zipped up my backpack and duffel bag, ensuring that no lizard could infiltrate it and open up a hopping lizard night club in my toiletries bag. Then, I thought about what I could do. Eventually I adopted the strategy of wrapping myself in my sheet (even though I was hot from worrying about the lizard) and falling asleep by the light of the computer. Like a little kid with a nightlight, I was hoping that my magical computer light would ward off the enemy long enough to allow me to fall asleep.

I slept fitfully, waking up every so often to make sure there wasn't a lizard up my nose or something and in the morning..he was gone. Or at least, he was not in the spot he was in before.


So here's to you, mister lizard friend. Wherever you are. (Please don't say you're in my backpack.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

All quiet on the Cameroonian front...

So I suppose I owe you all a blog post, but I must say that things are relatively uneventful over here. I know, I know, I'm in a foreign country! How can things be boring? But well, I'm at work most of the time. I guess I should comment on some of the many different trains of thought that run through my head during the day, but they seem to be escaping me at the moment.

Let's talk about eating, because it's one of my favorite things.

No matter how hard I try, I never seem to be eating enough for my Cameroonian comrades. Yesterday we had a visit from a Kenyan woman who runs an organization for African women's rights. Unfortunately, the stagiares (interns) were not invited to participate in the actual meetings and such, which is sad because she seemed like someone I would have enjoyed networking with, but she did invite us to eat lunch with her. It was nice to have a conversation in English for once, although I found myself speaking in sort of a weird accent. I think I tend to do that a lot. When I'm around one of my very dear friends from England on her occasional visits to the U.S., I feel as though I round out my vowels a little bit more and speak in a lighter voice. Also she kept making these high-pitched noises that sounded like "MMMMMMMM!", but I'm pretty sure they were in no way related to the food she was eating. Anyway, so she invited us to eat a meal consisting of....any guesses? Anyone? I'll give you a hint: Chicken and plantains. All the while we are discussing how she loves to eat and how she doesn't understand people going on diets. She says that once you know hunger truly, you see food, you eat it. We joke about American diet fads and I manage to scarf down my plantains. I pick all of the meat off of the chicken as everyone crunches bones around me and I try to finish quietly. "Please, PLEASE don't make me eat the bones again. I'll eat a hundred more plantains if I never have to eat chicken bones again!" I offer up a silent prayer.

You'll be pleased to know that my prayers were answered. However, I was staunchly criticized for the way I ate my chicken, and told that I "didn't really eat" because there were still parts left on the chicken.

Meanwhile, the American (and oddly enough Senegalese) food cravings abound:
-CHEESE (as expected, there is no cheese here. It's just too hard to ship/store. They have La Vache Qui Rit in Bastos for like $8000)
-Poulet yassa
-Cheese, lettuce, and tomato sandwich (yeah..weird...I know)
-Waldorf salad
-Tacos (this one haunts me.)
-Lee's Garden. Sesame delight.
(Let's be honest, sushi, tacos, and Chinese food all count as American food the way it's prepared in the U.S.)
-Plantains (Wait, were you listening? Caught you!)
I'm sure if you asked Sean he could give you a much more detailed list, as I inform him of pretty much every craving I have. The good news is, after living in the land of Beer and Cheese for a year, I may finally go back to a semi-normal body weight. (Ach, those Americans and their diet talk!)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

In which I do NOT ride a motorcycle on a bumpy dirt road, thankyouverymuch

Yesterday I went with my friend Audrey to her aunt's house. She lives in Yaounde, but definitely on the outskirts. On the way there we took two different taxis (two? three?) I don't actually remember, but it was definitely more than one and less than four.

The point is, it's really far and taxis don't go there super frequently. I appreciated this when we got to the house, we sat around back where there was a really huge mountain (but not Mt. Cameroon) to look at, blissfully distanced from the "BEEP BEEP BEEP. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP" of downtown Yaounde. I helped wash some dishes and tried to help cook, but was terrified of the way they wield knives here. (Cue Senegal flashbacks to being mocked for my onion cutting skills) They basically cut things like onion slices and plantain peels the way people peel apples with knives. So we decided that I would learn how to cook by observation. Most of the morning was spent with me entertaining the 4 month-old baby while they cooked and people asking me what country I'm from every time I met somebody new. This seems to be a common occurrence. Apparently I sound "francophone" but "not French". Meaning it sounds as though French is my native language, but I don't have an American accent or a French accent. We have an interesting conversation about how "most white people are racist and they go up to Africans and try to rub the dirt off of their skin in Europe." Yeah. Not that I've experienced anyone trying to wipe the powder off of my skin or anything...

Anwyay, so we ate some chicken, they goaded me into eating the top of the chicken bone like they do (Never again), and then Audrey and her cousin suggested we go down to the main road so they can charge their phone credits. We did not charge their phone credits. What ended up happening, as usual, is that everyone stared at me and shouted things at me. This lady shouts across the street for us to come into her shop, as she has fish imported from the White House. Mmmhm...ok. So we go into her restaurant and the two other girls pick out a fish. (Seriously? Didn't we just eat chicken five minutes ago?) Also these fish were raw and just hanging out on a counter top right near the oven. Now I'm not super picky about FDA regulations while traveling, I adhere to the 10 second rule, thank you. So we tell the lady I'll share with Audrey and she leads us to the "Section VIP", giving us the option to sit in areas Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela. We choose Nelson Mandela. I drink a tonic.

On returning to the house, we find ourselves just missing a huge downpour and we hang out inside with the baby for a little while. Eventually a TON of people show up for Audrey's uncle's monthly meeting of the like Super Manly Men's club or something and the kids' table in this instance becomes the pantry. So we eat in there. We talk. They eat. More peanuts are circulated around. (Cameroonians eat peanuts like it's their job.) The food was basically more plantains for me and beef hooves which I casually avoided. Eventually it gets dark and we decide it's probably time for us to head back. We walk down to the main road and someone says "We'll just take a couple of motorcycles up the hill." here's the thing about motorcycles and me. My mother has told me, in the United States where roads are paved, that should someone ever offer me a motorcycle ride, there is no way I should ever do that. So I guess around here motorcycles are like cheap taxis. You smush three people on one and head on your way. No.Way. I continue to resist their explanations of "it's ok, we'll put you in between two of us" and eventually Christian and I decide to walk up the hill. So we catch a taxi, driving one hour in between two girls belting out Celine Dion, and finally we arrive home. Yippee! Home!

Except the guard to my apartment has locked the gate and gone to hang out with his buddies. I should note at this point that Audrey is an hour late for a mass that she is supposed to be singing in. So she makes a few calls, we wait about twenty minutes for him to unlock the gate and fetch the guard to unlock the stairs (at least I'm really safe?) and I get home, culture shock abounding, and collapse into bed.

Yeah, it was one of those days.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Again with the pamphlets!

Looks like more pamphlet folding lined up for today. The pamphlets themselves are really interesting though, I'll get to that. I suppose I should explain a little bit more about what exactly I'm doing here and how this organization works.

So for those of you totally out of the loop, I'm getting a Masters of French Studies with a concentration in international development from the University of Wisconsin through their Professional French Masters Program. As part of the degree requirement, one must intern abroad in a French-speaking country. For the most part, this means France; however this year we do have a few people in other countries. (Haiti, Canada, Congo-Brazzavile...etc) So I'm here for three months to work for a women's health/rights organization called RENATA.

RENATA works mostly with young girls who experience teenage pregnancy, but they really do a lot of other things as well. Their biggest thing is the formation des tantines. Essentially, they go into regions and find teenage mothers who they believe are qualified to counsel others, and they train them to open up an association in their region where they counsel girls on matters concerning sexual health. This includes pregnancy, rape, incest, breast ironing, and a boatload of other issues. It's pretty efficient in the sense that you hire people who understand the problem very well already and they open the associations are autocratic, so there is not a lot of intervention from the main group. They also work on other projects outside of the associations on things like gender equality and birth control.

That being said, the pamphlet that I've been folding is for kids in elementary school. It's essentially a mini coloring book entitled "Prevention des abus sexuels sur les enfants dans les ecoles primaires et maternelles" (Prevention of sexual abuse of children in elementary school) It still shocks me occasionally that incidence of sexual abuse is so prevalent in young children here that these pamphlets are necessary. They include activities like "Color in the parts of the body where you don't want to be touched!" And "BooBoo is sad because somebody touched him and he did not want them to. When are you sad?"

The pamphlet also includes a section on gender equality and how girls can grow up to be the president or a lawyer or anything else and how boys can help out around the house! It's all very interesting, but again, it kind of takes you aback when you realize something like this is necessary.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Today was a little rough. Please, no pity, it was just one of those days where it really dawned on me that I'll be away from my loved ones for another three months. It's not a long time for some, but I'm someone who likes to be settled, and moving to Cameroon just after becoming settled in Madison gets me a little down sometimes. The title of my blog is "Forever Wandering", and it's true that I often find myself moving around from one place or another, but that doesn't  mean I totally enjoy the wandering every step of the way. It didn't help that my friends were at the German organization today and will be tomorrow, and I essentially spent the entire day working on my project alone. They're both interns that finish up working at RENATA tomorrow (Friday). I know I'll see them outside of work, but it's nice to have a little support system from 8 AM-3 PM(sort of). about that "courbe en U"...(It's a PFMP thing.)

As previously stated, not much to report although there are some interesting ant-like creatures parading around the bathroom sink.

With love from Yaounde and more interesting posts hopefully to follow,

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

They put sugar on their popcorn....

I saw a guy wearing a White Sox jersey today. It was a Michael Jordan jersey. That's hilarious, by the way, for those of you who aren't baseball fans.

Last night after posting that blog entry I had another one of the incidences where I'm in my pajamas, getting ready for bed, and I hear shouting from the door. "ELENA! ELENA! TU ES-LA?" (Elena, Elena, are you there?) It was M. Le Docteur, aka the big head boss guy. He informed me that I would be going to the headquarters of the German organization which finances RENATA in the morning to learn more about their partnership. This is awesome since I'm mostly here to learn about how a non-profit organization functions in a developing country.

"This is where all of the white people live"
That's what my colleague told me as our taxi arrived. The organization is located in the neighborhood that houses most of the embassies, called Bastos. I live pretty far from Bastos, so her statement wasn't TOTALLY true, but I definitely understood what she meant. We were with a girl who suffers from hearing loss, but whom they described as "a deaf mute". She clearly was not mute because she talked to us. It's so interesting to me how even this organization, which fights for the rights of minorities, doesn't completely operate the same way we do when it comes to political correctness.

M.L.D. sat me down in his office. He's a very nice guy and I really think he's doing something amazing with his work, but for some reason it felt a lot like waiting to be disciplined by a principal. "I want to tell you about the relationship between our two organizations."

Ok. Great.

He sat me down and explained for 20 minutes everything about the history of the two organizations and how they function. Awesome! Ten pages of my final project had just been spoken to me. I forgot my notebook in my apartment.

I retained it all though. I'm super fascinated by how much independence is given to the local organization and how much of it is managed by exterior groups.He gave me a couple of pamphlets which will help my research a ton and he said that in a little while I can accompany them out of Yaounde to attend a training for new counselors and see how that all works. I will probably get to attend the elections for their new executive secretary and such!

After that meeting Grace and I went to a grocery store in Bastos that had mostly European products. She thought that I would want to buy groceries there since I'm American, except groceries there were super expensive and things like ramen noodles and pringles. No thank you. I will not pay $8 for a container of pringles. So I requested we go to a place where I could buy fruit.

To market we go!
Grace and I took a taxi to a market fairly close to my apartment. We walked around and I got stared at a lot and a lady let me try a slice of orange because she was happy to see me. We bought oranges and papayas at the fruit stands. Alas, it is not yet mango season. I did, however, see avocados the size of my face! I may have to purchase one of those soon, although I'm not sure I could eat it all before it went bad. We then headed into a little shop and bought some popcorn from a popcorn machine. I was excited as this is one of my favorite snacks in the US, though was surprised to taste something sweet. Turns out they just pour sugar over their popcorn! I miss the delicious buttery salty kind, but this was good too.

We headed back to work (because people just leave work all the time there....that's another story.) and I folded some pamphlets with Audre until we decided to go visit Christian at work. He took us out to eat at a Cabaret, which is actually more like a karaoke bar here but with dancing as well. (Also the news station on loop playing Michelle Obama's rendition of the national anthem...) We ate Ndole, which is kind of a spinachy flavored dish and when someone says l'Ndole it sounds like "Land o' Lakes", and some more plantains. I'm beginning to realize that plantains in Cameroon are kind of like rice in Senegal. It's just going to keep happening, which is unfortunate since I'm not a huge fan of those. So far I'm not SUPER excited about the cuisine here, except for the produce, but Saturday I'm going to Audre's aunt's house to learn how to cook some Cameroonian food! Seriously it will be all day, she's picking me up at 7:30 AM.

So that's how today went more or less. I enjoy getting back to my apartment at a reasonable time so I can update all of you on everything before I forget!

With love from Cameroon,

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Soo....I'm in Cameroon...and I have friends?

Well, my internship is finally here! It's my second full day in Yaounde and work just finished (because work finishes at 3 pm here.) My first couple of days have been fun, interesting, exhausting, and stressful all at the same time.

Let's start at the beginning:

I arrived in Cameroon Sunday night around 6 pm after about 24 hours of travel. At that point, I had planned to meet the my big head boss guy's driver. Seriously, this guy is the BIG HEAD BOSS GUY. People don't even call him by his name or by Dr., they call him "Monsieur le Docteur". All the time. Even when he's not around. So..nobody was there. I had by chance e-mailed someone there to ask for a phone number, so I was able to borrow someone's phone (at the price of $3 American) to coordinate with her. She said "Oh, you're arriving today? I'm going to call my friend and then I'll come get you." I wait. and I WAIT. An hour standing outside the airport with my bags as men came up to me asking if I needed a ride or help or a taxi or if I wanted to exchange my money right then and there. (Bad idea by the way, if you do that, which I didn't. It's totally fake currency) So eventually I meet up with none other than M. Le Docteur lui-meme le roi de Yaounde, Centre, Cameroun (from now on known as "M.L.D."). He's a very nice guy, and was sorry for all of the confusion surrounding my arrival. So my apartment and the office are about a 30 minute drive from the airport but I made it! I arrived and I passed out immediately after being told by M.L.D. that I could sleep in and that my co-workers would help me out in the morning.

Day one:

Long story short, I did not sleep in. I woke up to all of the girls waiting around outside the office for the girl with the keys. (By the way, the office is literally right next door to my apartment. Like...they use my living room as part of the office. It's in the same building basically as a dorm-type setup. I have bunk beds with a mosquito net (hurray!) and a desk and from my window I can see a papaya tree and a neighborhood of houses that we would consider "dilapidated", except that they have satellite tv and nice cars. )

Anyway, I woke up confused and gross, but well-rested. I showered, which was not a totally terrifying experience, and went to work. Everyone introduced themselves to me and then stopped talking to that was kind of awkward. Eventually someone made coffee and they offered me a cup. Which I drank. Alone. On the couch. Though one would say that I'm pretty shy, I was baffled by this social situation. I had NO IDEA how to break through to these people. So I went with the strategy that my mom taught me when I started pre-school. I went up to some girls folding pamphlets and I said "Can I help?".

It kind of worked. It was still super awkward. They taught me how to fold pamphlets and then stopped talking again. Eventually I made conversation with a girl named Audre (like au-dray basically) and she offered to help me exchange my money and buy a cellphone. She also told me that her little brother, who studied law, was coming with us. Turns out the universal way for me to communicate with people is by discussing law. So we took a bunch of taxis and ended up downtown where I exchanged my money and bought a cellphone. I have to say that the way that both of these transactions occurred would not have been possible by myself because Cameroon has weird laws where you need to show your passport to buy a cellphone and create a bank account to exchange money. Christian, being a lawyer and a good business man, was able to work his way around these obstacles.

After buying the phone we ate "meal" at an outdoor restaurant under a canopy. I'm beginning to realize that Cameroonians eat one giant meal in the middle of the day (ours was around 4) and then snack whenever. This pleases me, as that's kind of how I eat. I had some plantains and potatoes and this huge bowl of yogurt with couscous. I appreciated the yogurt, not so much the couscous. I saw a kitty that looked like Leopold and "Payphone" came on the radio and I had a brief bought of homesickness, but it passed quickly.

After that, we said goodbye to Christian and Audre and I tried to take a taxi back to the apartment. We got in a taxi, except something didn't work out (I'm still not quite sure what it was) and he made us get out. So we walked. and we walked. and we WALKED. all the way back to the apartment, trying to catch a taxi along the way.

Catching taxis in Yaounde goes like this:
The going rate for taxis is 200 CFA, if you're going far you up it to 250 CFA so that the guy will accept your offer. You stand by the side of the road and you say something like this "250 CFA, two places, *neighborhood*" If they accept your offer, they'll point at you and stop the car. If not, you're SOL. The thing about this is, it's not like where you can miss a taxi in Chicago and just wait for the next one. If they don't like your offer, chances are the other guys won't either. Anyway, we ended up walking all the way back! Afterward I was so exhausted that I put on my pajamas, but just as I was getting ready for bed I heard a doorbell! Turns out I have one. It was Sophie, the lady who helped me find my internship, and her daughter. Sophie's sister had sent over some belongings for her via my luggage, so she came to pick them up! It was so nice to see a familiar face after an entire day of meeting new people.

Being white in Yaounde:'s interesting, that's for sure. For someone who doesn't get a lot of attention normally, walking in the road and having people shout "LA BLANCHE! LA BLANCHE!" (The white lady! The white lady!) is a little strange. People touch my arm to see if some of the whiteness will rub off. They tell me I'm a "bonne blanche" (good white person) whatever that means. It definitely feels different than being a toubab in Senegal, but that might be because there I was with a group of students. Here, I'm the only white person I've seen since I left the airport.

I realize that my post has gotten extraordinarily long. So much happened in my first few days here and I haven't had a chance to write about any of them in the blog. I guess the biggest thing to pull from this is that, today I folded more pamphlets, and I showed my co-workers pictures of my family on Facebook and one of the girls wants to marry my brother. So...that's all you really need to take from this.

The girls were nice and left the wifi on in the office so that I can use it to catch up with my family and friends! It's so nice of them. Hopefully this will continue and I can keep updating you all.

Love from Yaounde,

Friday, August 17, 2012

REI: Where you go when you intern in a developing country.

I take forever to buy things. When I was in middle school I ended up accruing somewhere around $500 in a shoe box under my bed from babysitting and birthday money because I simply didn't buy things when I went shopping with my friends. As I've gotten older, I started to realize that sometimes you need to make big purchases, and between moving into a bigger apartment and preparing for my internship I have learned to bite the bullet a few times and buy things that are really necessary. In the past two weeks I have made three trips to REI, and I'm likely to make at least one more trip before I head out. It took two trips for me to buy the right water purifier (and mull it over...and over...and over...) and today I bought my first travel pack! I'm really excited about this. I took a big wheeled suitcase to Senegal and I've vowed "never again" shall I make that same mistake. I still remember the look of horror on the hotel owner's face when we first arrived and he was told he would have to help us lug our big, American suitcases up three flights of stairs. So with the help of a nice salesman I purchased the Deuter Act Lite 60+10! I also became an REI member because I realized that the benefits are actually worth it in this case...

That's it, really. I've bought a few things off of Amazon that I think would just be more expensive than necessary at REI like my travel blanket and quick-dry towel and laundry kit. It's weird not knowing what to expect from my apartment. It's in a really nice neighborhood, described as the "nouveau-riche" area, but really it could be super nice and equipped with wifi or I could be taking bucket showers. Needless to say, it makes packing kind of difficult. I'm trying to be sort of "middle of the road" with my packing list and taking things that will be useful in both situations and necessary in the latter.

Two more weeks!
You can tell it's for women because it came with a fake flower....

Friday, August 10, 2012

Counting down!

Last Wednesday I turned 23 and this past week has been filled with celebrations! One of the many events was that my mom came up to visit me and see the new apartment now that Sean and I have started to settle in. As a birthday present, we went shopping yesterday for some clothes and other things that I'm going to need for my internship. It's crazy, but I have been so distracted with moving into our new apartment in Madison that I didn't even realize HOW SOON I'm going to be leaving! Several of my classmates are already at their internship sites, two of them have finished their stage already, but for me the adventure is just starting to get rolling. I'm getting nervous, but excited, mostly just realizing how busy I'm going to be in these next few weeks.

We have to get everything out of our old place by Tuesday. This means that Saturday will be dedicating to schlepping things across town and unpacking even more. I'm a little concerned that our apartment won't even be ready by the time I head to Yaounde.

One of the things my mom and I did was search for a water purification device at REI. It's confusing because there are all sorts of little differences between all of the systems and I'm not sure which one is right for my circumstances. I'm doing a little more research today and I'll head over in the next few days to pick out the right one.

It's been surprisingly difficult to find a good packing list for Cameroon. Most of the ones I've found online are Peace Corps packing lists. This is great except that the Peace Corps provides some essentials like hygiene products that I'm going to need to bring myself. I'm also going to be working in an office for the most part, so that's a little different than what a lot of PC people are doing in Cameroon. Thus, those packing lists are useful, but not exactly what I need. Maybe I'll post what I've packed before I leave and report back at the end of my stage on what really was necessary, what I needed, and what I wish I hadn't packed at all.

Well I expect I'll blog a few more times before I leave. For now I'm just enjoying Madison and our new apartment and trying to squeeze in as many "American" things as I can before I'm abroad!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Getting excited..

I've been researching more about my organization and some of the research they've done that has garnered international attention. Here's a Washington Post article explaining some of their biggest research!:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Back to blogging!

It has been quite a long time since I last blogged, the truth being that my summer, while it has been very fun, hasn't been very blog-worthy. Sean and I have spent a lot of time packing up boxes, shopping for furniture, and piling up frozen vegetable bags on our bodies....ok so it's been super hot here. Last week the apartment finally topped 97 degrees and so our minds have been focused on our big move to our new apartment!

Some of you might be confused. "I thought she was moving to Africa?" Well, I am. At the end of next month. But first I get to move across town into a wonderful apartment with an in-unit washer and dryer and central air and a beautiful kitchen counter that is more than just a square and a couch that isn't made out of wicker. So yep, still going to Cameroon, but first I need to tie things up here! (Of course, it wouldn't be me unless I moved into an apartment and could stay in it for longer than a year, but this time I'm staying for a grand total of 4 weeks.)

While I've been on summer break I've:
Gone camping
Gone to a White Sox game
Hung out with lots of old friends in Chicago
Learned to knit
Played with my adorable sort-of nephew (all the while thinking of and missing my adorable actual nephew!)
Cooked and baked a lot
Had a visit from a friend from camp
Attended the Milwaukee Summerfest music festival where we saw a Ben Folds Five reunion concert
Helped a friend move
Bought a new phone
Aided in the trapping/rescuing of a raccoon on my parents' roof/in their attic
Experienced my first "coupure" (power outage) since living in Senegal
Fixed a complete toilet disaster (we're talking a completely shattered tank, and me saving thousands of dollars for everyone involved by stopping the water flow with my handy toilet skills I learned from living with a plumber's daughter for 2 years!)
....among other things I'm sure. So, like I said before, I haven't been super bored, but I also haven't done anything incredibly blog-worthy. I'm getting really excited for my internship, although fairly nervous. I wanted to start blogging again so that I can get in the habit of blogging while abroad. Even though it seems like total common sense to spend a few minutes every night writing about your day, I find that when I move to a new place I am often so wrapped up in everything that is going on that I completely forget about blogging unless I'm homesick, and that's no fun to read or look back on later! I also plan on keeping a private hand-written journal mostly entailing my research for my grad program and how I'm personally adapting to the situation. My friend did that when she was in Senegal and we were looking over it together a few months ago and I really wished I had done something similar.

That's all for now. I'm going to try and blog fairly frequently up until my departure, but we'll see if that actually works out. I'm trying to learn a little Pulaar (aka Fulfulde) before I head off to Yaounde..where's the Rosetta Stone for African languages?!? (Ok, so they have Swahili but come on. They have sooo many Asian and European languages) Anyway, that's a rant for a different day.

Until then...
Ngonen e jam!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Just a quick update

This is just a quick update to let you know I fixed the problem with the pictures on the last entry, and also to say that things are moving along nicely with the internship in Cameroon! I've been in contact with both the executive secretary and the technical director of RENATA ( if you want to check it out) and while they're both out of the office until Monday, I'm going to have a phone call with them to iron out all of the official details so that they can draft up a contract/lettre d'invitation for my visa!

This is all very exciting, although I did also just look up airline tickets to Cameroon for round trip September-December and we're looking at about $1600 including the discount of the travel stipend which I was awarded. Here's hoping somebody hires me this summer! Otherwise I might end up looking like this:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

And the wandering continues!

Spring break has unfortunately ended. It was a great week spent with my family in Chicago and Boston, but now I'm back in Madison for the home stretch of school! It's been about a year since I started this blog just as I was contemplating my move to Madison and it's interesting to see how right now I'm contemplating moving again! So..."where to?", you may ask. Well..that's a great question!

Although I had originally planned to be gone from about May-September on my internship, I'm currently slated to leave sometime in September and get back at the end of December. The good news is, after months of complaining that I would never find an internship and that nobody wanted me, that has certainly changed! The bad news too many people want me. Currently I am in negotiations with two different non-profit organizations, one in the south of France and one in Cameroon. The organization in France works with children with Autism (how perfect is that?), but they aren't sure they have the funds to pay me, and under French law interns staying for 3 months (the minimum requirement for our program) have to be paid. Obviously I wouldn't be opposed to working unpaid, since that's kind of what I assumed before I knew about this law, but in terms of getting my visa and everything I need to be an "intern" with a contract, so they need to pay me. It's a great law to prevent the abuse of interns that is so prevalent in France (and in the US), but it definitely hurts non-profits which are generally volunteer-based. At the same time, this organization is still being viewed as a "plan B" for me, because I would prefer to work with an organization connected to a developing country.

The second option I "potentially" have is a non-profit in Cameroon which works with women and young girls who experience unplanned pregnancy, abuse, and health concerns. I would be very interested in working for such an organization. It's a topic I think is important to address worldwide, and it also means working pretty closely with adorable children and their moms! So far my contact, and that of my director, with the organization has been to the effect of "Great! We would love to have you! When will you get here?", so we need to make the details of this a lot more concrete before I accept that offer. I would really love to work for this organization and it sounds like exactly what I want in this internship experience, but it is a little frustrating that I need to negotiate contract details and logistics in a country where that kind of stuff isn't super important. I'm definitely leaning toward this option, but time is of the essence since I need to buy a plane ticket, get my visa, and figure out where I'm going to live in either city.

So..what this boils down to is still a whole lot of "wait and see". I'm trying to arrange a phone conversation with the Cameroonian organization, because I feel like as soon as I get on the phone with them I'll be able to deal with things a lot easier. I've actually had a fair amount of experience with "la culture ouest-africaine" in terms of time management, but it's a little different when I'm also working with an American school system who needs everything to be figured out on paper.

In the meantime, I'm excited to finish up my last semester of actual classes and to actually enjoy my summer break now that I know I'll be here instead of abroad. Sean and I have a small camping trip planned for his first weekend home after he graduates and I'm planning a weekend/day trip to Chicago at some point with some friends here to try out a Senegalese restaurant I never knew about while I lived there! I'm definitely ready to be "done" with the whole school thing, which I guess is a pretty common consequence of a week of spring break. Only about a month left though! We just started "Module Maghreb", which is a unit in one of my classes where we discuss politics of French-speaking North Africa. It's a really short unit (boo...we spent forever on France and Quebec), three weeks of Maghreb and then two weeks of Sub-Saharan Africa so I'm really excited for that. Yesterday we met our professor, who is from Egypt, and I spoke a little bit of Arabic with her! It was my first experience using Arabic with somebody I don't really know and she was excited about it.

Well that's it for now, I guess I'll leave you with a few pictures from my trip to Boston with my brother to visit my sister, her husband, and my adorable new nephew!

Me and the nephew!

My brother is not too sure about holding a baby...

My sister, happy to finally have her little one home!

My brother shaming history after a beer at the "oldest restaurant in America"

I have some more pictures that I took with my actual camera (not my phone). I'll get around to putting those on facebook eventually...

Monday, March 19, 2012


Remember all of those posts where I complained about my apartment being 65 degrees with the heat on? Remember the flannel sheets and down blanket Sean's family gave me for Chanukah? Remember the big pot of chicken soup simmering on the stove for most of the day? Well...I think I may have been a bit too much of a complainer. It is HOT outside! I stubbornly refuse to state that spring is officially here, because I did not move from Chicago to Madison in order to be sweating under my ceiling fan in March! Although it does make me feel a bit better when I remember that I'll hopefully be out of this apartment before the summer really gets into swing. (Of course, any country that I move to probably will not have quite the same affinity for air conditioning as America...)

Now, I bet you're all (and by "all", I mean "Mom") asking yourselves why I'm suddenly updating my blog. No, I do not have any other internship news. Well...sort of. I still don't know where I'm going to end up. It's beginning to look like it might be more of a warmer climate than originally expected. My parents aren't so keen on the idea, but I have to admit...I've caught the Senegal bug again. (Er...metaphorically.) Perhaps it's the fact that the weather is getting warmer out again, perhaps it's a result of meeting a couple of new friends who also studied in Dakar, perhaps it's the Yassa simmering in my crockpot, or maybe I've just actually started thinking hard about where I want to spend three months working for relatively no money and how my experience will relate to my studies.

The truth is, I'm still looking at France, but I only really want to go there if I work for an organization like Handicap International. I'm frustrated with the way things are going getting an internship there, but going to Senegal isn't a way to avoid this frustration "because it's there". What originally spoke to me about an internship with Handicap International was that I could learn the bureaucratic side of a non-profit organization which implements programs for people with special needs in developing countries. What this search has turned into is "any organization which helps people with special needs in France". Don't get me wrong, I've volunteered for local disability non-profits all my life, it's something I like to do and I think it's important; but what I'm looking for with this internship, especially as a student of international development, is how to resolve problems that arise through implementing a program in a developing country. The key word here is development. Something different from the experiences I've had previously that I can point to on my resume showing what I can do. All I can say, for people who equate me+Senegal with bad news, is that it feels right.

Yes, my experience in the past wasn't as great as it could have been. Yes, they are going through elections right now which may cause some tensions, but just this morning in France 4 people were killed when a rogue shooter drove by a Jewish school, and he's being linked with a string of other attacks targeting ethnic minorities. France is becoming increasingly xenophobic in some ways (just check out a strong candidate for their presidential elections, Marine LePen if you don't believe me). While the dangers aren't similar in nature, they're both threats that I would have as somebody studying in a foreign country.

So...this is where I'm at right now. I'm still keeping France in my back pocket as a "plan B" (no organizations suggested as of yet by the coordinator), but I have contacted a school in Yoff (a neighborhood of the Dakar region right near the airport), which was created by parents of children with special needs so that they could get the education that were unable to receive in mainstream schools. The school also does a lot of community outreach, and they've taken on foreign interns before to help lead programs in the community as well as teach the kids and help with administrative duties. I really think this would be perfect for me, but as you may or may not know...if the French are slow at getting back to you...well...let's just say I once had a professor who was 2.5 hours late for class in Dakar. So we'll see where this all takes me! (I know, you're getting tired of responses that don't actually mean me, you aren't the only one...)

In the meantime, classes are going well. I'm enjoying them for the most part, some definitely more than others. I really enjoyed a presentation I had to give recently where we posed as stockholders in Rio Tinto Alcan (a mining company in Canada) and essentially gave them an ultimatum regarding their employee lockouts. In my business class we had guest speakers from the Food Network and American Girl come in, and in my oral communications class we have a guest lecturer for 4 classes who founded S.O.S. Racisme in France and now works for an organization called Nouvelle Cour. So things have been pretty interesting around here. I also took on my first freelance translation job last week for a dairy commodities company, which I think went well. I guess I'll know if they contact me for more work later on and I should be receiving  my check in the mail any day now!

I think that's's going to be a busy couple of weeks before spring break when I take a trip down to Chicago for a few days, then I'll be off to Boston with my brother to visit my sister and brother-in-law and meet my new nephew!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I have too many books...

Is that even a thing? Having too many books? I've tried to rid myself of ones that I know I won't read anymore. College textbooks, things I've had for years and never really gotten into, books I don't think I'll read again...but somehow my apartment is FULL. I've been doomed from the start. My mom comes from a long line of teachers and my dad can spout baseball and American history facts like it's his job. (It's not, in case you were wondering.) While other kids got trips to the toy store, we got trips to Barnes and Noble on teacher discount day and we never left with less than three books. Road trips were a chance for my brother and I to zip through books and then trade with each other. Summer reading charts were laughable in our house. My mom would read us books while we were in the bathtub. Books and the Potatoes clan pretty much go hand-in-hand.With no cable in my apartment and some novel-centric grad school classes, things are getting pretty messy around here. It all started when I filled up my bookshelf upon moving to Madison.

Yes, one of those cubes has DVDs in it...but I had nowhere else to put them! Since moving in, I have cleaned out the shelves considerably in order to make room for new books. Now I can't seem to stop noticing them...

 ....At the kitchen table... a random hodge-podge of books and other papers in the bedroom...
....and, of course, in the bathroom. Don't get me wrong, I have always been a  bathroom reader. (I used to take an anthology of the United States presidents into the bathroom in second grade) When I moved into this apartment and saw that there was a SHELF above the toilet wasn't long before that was put to good use.

So, with my impending move to France upon me and the soon-to-be-combined book collections of myself and Sean I'm wondering if I should invest in a Kindle or just buy some more bookshelves. Sean has been given strict orders (*ahem* requests) of "DO NOT PUT MY BOOKS ANYWHERE WHILE I'M GONE" that he seems to be willing to comply with. I guess the real question is, can I go three months in a foreign country without needing an entire suitcase dedicated to books?

I suppose I can just buy an extra suitcase while I'm there to bring them back...

Monday, February 6, 2012

A very ME kind of breakfast


5 big strawberries
1 banana (peeled and broken into 4 or 5 chunks)
5 ice cubes
1/2 cup milk (I use soy milk but skim should work just as well)
1 glob (about a teaspoon, but really glob at your own discretion) of nutella, sugar, peanut butter, or PB2 chocolate

1. Insert everything but the "glob of delicious flavoring" into your blender.
2. Blend until it turns pink.
3. Insert glob here.
4. Blend until that gets mixed in.
5. Consume.

Because obviously the bananas and strawberries make up for the glob of sugar....right?

First post of the semester!

(I started this post about a week ago and forgot to finish it...)

I'm not sure anyone really reads this anymore, but just in case my mom still checks this blog just in case I have posted an entry, I thought I would throw her for a loop and actually give her one. Last I wrote, I was in the midst of final projects and anxiously awaiting the arrival of winter break. I'm happy to report that the first semester of grad school is not, as I had previously believed, eternal and winter break did indeed happen! Highlights of winter break include:

  • One month with Sean in Madison!
  • I became an aunt on January 13th! (My nephew is cuter than your nephew. Seriously, no contest.)
  • A few days spent in Wheaton with my family/watching the dog while my parents were in Florida. 
  • The shocking absence of snowstorms in Wisconsin (as well as Chicago). Thus, no ski trips this year! Not even a snowball fight! My apartment made up for it by managing to stay at 64 degrees for most of the month of December...
  • Four trips to Barnes and Noble in the span of a week. (Yeah, this is what happens when you give me gift cards...)
  • My first UW sporting event! Sean and I went to the UW Men's hockey game as one of his Chanukah presents. They won 6-3 and I really got into the Badger much as I can get into sporting events that aren't the White Sox.
  • Planning and cooking a Chanukah dinner for Sean's family. (Chicken matzo ball soup, butternutsquash soup, sweet potato latkes, regular latkes, challah, strawberry spinach salad...Lots of soup and potatoes...)
So I didn't have any big vacation (Most of my classmates were either out of state or out of the country while I stayed in Madison), but it was still a really great month of relaxing. Although I must say, after Sean left and there were still two weeks left of winter break I was about ready to pull out my hair. 5 weeks is too much time to relax! This semester started not a minute too soon, with my first class last Monday. So far I'm really interested in everything I'm taking. There seems to be a running theme with Quebec, at least for the first few months of this semester. One of the classes that I had been looking forward to since starting this program last semester was a class on intercultural professional communication. I'm having trouble discerning the difference between this, and the class before it (communication orale...something...) because they're both taught by our program director back-to-back and both pertain to understanding other cultures. The first class is more teaching us about how to comport ourselves in the professional situations which we feel most vulnerable or self-conscious and the second focuses on several main francophone cultures. (Quebec, "Europe", and Maghreb (Morocco...etc). So it's been really interesting.

In line with Maghreb, I've started taking Arabic on Tuesday nights! I'm really enjoying it so far, although I've only had one class. The homework is entertaining for me and so far I can write and read probably about 1/4th of the alphabet. This will come in handy if I hope to work for the State Department or a non-profit who has operations in West Africa or Maghreb. My teacher is from Morocco. Since Arabic, like most languages, has a variety of dialects, it's nice that I'm learning a dialect which will be useful for me later on.

Aside from that, not much is going on around here! My parents came to visit on Saturday and it was really nice to see them. I got free lunch, groceries, pumpkin muffins, hummus, and potato soup! Who could ask for anything more?

No news yet on the internship front, I'm sorry to say. I'm trying to be patient, but it's getting a little more frustrating now that some of my fellow students are finding their placements and I haven't heard anything since October. I know she's working on stuff, I would just like a confirmation that I still exist in her mind and that she hasn't totally forgotten me! My program director says we should start hearing things's that.

I'm off to do some reading about the Lottery system in Quebec before class!