Friday 30 March 2012

Prescraft Handicrafts, Bamenda, Cameroon

I rarely ever blog about food or restaurants. It's not that I refuse to be a foodie (who doesn't love good wining and dining), but I tend to focus my travel writing on adventures and activities. That is; however, until...Prescraft.

A fair trade enterprise headquartered in Bamenda, Northwest region of Cameroon, Prescraft is "a producer, seller, and exporter of fine African arts & crafts." Currently, over 150+ men and women directly benefit from the store's activities. The store's decorations and artisan artifacts combine traditional African culture with modern styles and flair.

Prescraft's home decor - great mix of Afro-Euro-Americana trends

Most people shop at Prescraft and then walk next door to Prescafe. The restaurant itself provides sleek IKEA-ish furniture while you dine. Menu choices include everything from cappuccinos to tomato soups. I highly recommend any kind of salad.

Even the bathroom entrance at Prescafe is sheek

It was the first time in two years I've ordered salad from a restaurant in Cameroon (due to my unhealthy eating habits and the fact that I worry about getting sick from uncooked food), but Prescrafe's pasta salad was too good to pass up.

Prescafe's pasta salad. Yum.

After two years of basically eating only Cameroonian food (and the occasional pizza/Lebanese treat), I might only blog about food and restaurants when I come back to the US!

The Smallest Peace Corps Post: Village of Kurubi, Cameroon

You can try to research it online, but chances are you won’t find Kurubi, Cameroon anywhere on Google Maps. Not to be confused with Kribi, a well-known beach resort in the South region, Kurubi is a small 150-person village in the country’s Northwest. It is also here where I went to visit fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Crystal Leanza.

Crystal was my roommate in Philadelphia where we met for “staging,” a pre-trip departure ritual where Peace Corps Volunteers meet the other members of their group with whom they will spend the next two years with in their respective country. It was only fitting that I visited Crystal’s post before we traveled together to our Close-of-Service conference where we will find out exactly when our service ends. Two years already done!

After meeting in Batibo, the palm wine capital of the country, we had lunch at the new, swanky restaurant in town (just ask around for the restaurant - people will know what you're talking about as there's only one restaurant!). We headed off with motos to Kurubi where we took a half an hour walking tour around the village (it's really small) while catching up on our lives amazed at how fast the past two years went.

Note to future Peace Corps Volunteers: Enjoy your service and treasure it all! Though two years seems long, it is really only a microcosm of our 80+ year lifespan. Your service will pass quickly!

The local spring which serves as the village water source

Kurubi, Northwest region, Cameroon

The high school of Kurubi where Crystal teaches science

Crystal's jungle backyard

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Traditional Chiefs and Monk Monestaries in Foumban, Cameroon

Foumban is unlike other cities in the West region of Cameroon. Predominantly Muslim, it is considered an art capital of West Africa. Founded by the Bamoun Kingdom before colonization by the Germans, the city is home to a traditional Sultan who lives in the Royal Palace.

The palace itself is interesting though outsiders are only allowed to visit the small one-room museum on the second story. It is 2.000CFA/person, but if you are a history buff or interested in one of the few museums in Cameroon, the visit is worth it. Artifacts include traditional military outfits, swords, and pewter statues.

Sultan's Palace, Foumban, West region, Cameroon

Tip: Try to visit Foumban on Wednesday as it's market day! The market, which is located right outside of the Sultan's Palace, becomes a sea of liveliness and color.

Foumban's Wednesday market

After shopping at the market, we headed over to the Village of Artisans. The village is not so much a traditional market of artisan objects, but rather a street of boutiques where one hops in and out of shops and watches everything from welding to carpentry. The souvenirs are expensive, but if you want statues or home items, this could be for you!

The best part of the Village of Artisans? Meeting the traditional chief of Foumban! We walked in the compound as there were beautiful mud huts painted with colorful murals. One of his young sons saw us and asked if we wanted to explore inside. He ran to grab his dad who was nobody else, but the chief, Amadou Ahidjo Mbouombouo!

Traditional chief's compound

Amadou proceeded to show us dozens of photos of his trips abroad with the latest one to New York. He travels the world promoting Cameroonian culture and selling artisan artifacts. Not too shabby if you add that on top of being a chief!

We were wowed by the artifacts in his house from the elephant feet to the military swords. If anybody ever wants to travel to Foumban or wants to stay at a traditional chief's house, give Amadou a call at 74 00 55 45 or 99 93 09 19 or e-mail at He'll take care of you!

Showing us a traditional military sword

Letting me feel like a queen

On the way back to Bafoussam, Amadou took us to the village of Koutaba. There, approximately 30 Trappists monks produce coffee and syrup in the monastery. It was after-hours (make sure you come in the morning or mid-afternoon), but they were nice enough to take us on a quick tour. Foumban and Koutaba have easily become two of my favorite places in Cameroon.

Trappist monk monastery, village of Koutaba

Monday 26 March 2012

Beautiful Dschang, Cameroon

Forty-five minutes outside of Bafoussam lies Dschang (pronounced "Chong"), an old German colonial town. The town is "man-made" with a constructed lake and a mountain resort.

After exploring the Artisan market, we walked over to the University of Dschang. Like it's counterpart, University of Buea, the college architecture was very modern with multi-storied buildings and tennis courts. The students sported Western jeans while enjoying the sunshine on the grass-covered campus.

The surrounding villages of Dschang were easily my favorite parts of the day. At Lingam, 10km from Dschang on the way to Fongo-Tongo, we were escorted by friendly villagers to the Cascade de Lingam (Waterfalls of Lingam). There they "blessed me" - this consisted of hitting leaves on my feet!

Though it was dry season, the waterfalls were gorgeous!

Cascade de Lingam

Having my feet blessed from my ancestors

Continuing on, we headed off to the Southwest Region to the Chute de la Mamy Wata (Mommy Water Waterfalls!). The falls were small, but the view was phenomenal!

View from Chutes de la Mamy Wata

That night, we met up with fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Jessica Veldman, at the Musee des Civilisations, a newly opened cultural museum focusing on the diversity of various groups in Cameroon. Dschang definitely showed its charm!

Musee des Civilisations, a two-story cultural museum opened in 2011

Sunday 25 March 2012

Bafoussom, Cameroon: My New Favorite Underdog

I've always loved cheering for the underdog. With movie legends such as Rocky and The Karate Kid, who doesn't enjoy supporting the little guy?

As such, my favorite travel venues aren't the large touristy monuments, but rather the local parks or secret waterfalls...the places that are just comfortable and peaceful. Thus, one of my favorite cities in Cameroon has now become Bafoussom, capital of the West region.

Some Peace Corps Volunteers live in cemented, unpainted, and gray one-room homes. This is Ryan's posh city apartment!

Jealous of his view!

Lonely Planet describes Bafoussom as a city with "little of great interest for travellers" - WRONG! The city is sprawled out which means that when you walk on the sidewalk (yes, Baffassom has sidewalks!), you remain a distance from the front doors of shops. What does this mean for the traveler? Less chances that people will bother you with screams of "Foreigner!" or "White person!" (they'll yell that at you even if you are traditionally a minority in the US).

Do you know how Cameroonians learn about American culture? They watch Desperate Housewives

Secondly, the city is clean. Served by Hysacam, the city has daily trash collection as opposed to littering as is the only choice in other parts of the country. In fact, Bafoussom was recently voted the "most beautiful city in the West." Though the distinction came from Bafoussom's own city council, I'm supporting it!

My favorite part of the city? The market! Here, one will find everything from horse hair dusters to beautiful dresses to handwoven baskets. The Bamileke people love to haggle, but perhaps they love it more when a foreigner haggles them harder!

Shopping at Bafoussom's market

I wish I could wear this outfit and look just as cool!

Bafoussom's nightlife concentrates around Akwa, a trendy neighborhood with outdoor cafes and bars. Crystal is considered the most upscale bar (which means they have couches with cushions), but it's just as easy to find grilled fish and street chicken just right outside.

The West in general has a temperate climate and an the best selection of fruits and vegetables in Cameroon. Artisan objects are plenty and the chefferies (traditional chief compounds) are traditionally grandiose. Hands down, Bafoussom wins for me.

Traditional chief's compound, Bafoussom, Cameroon

Wednesday 7 March 2012

International Women's Day Soccer Match

So you're an American living in Africa. Crazy enough for most people. When you walk down the street, people will randomly yell "white person" at you (yes, even if you are not Caucasian). People I've never met will know where I live because out of a city of 400,000, I'm the only one that looks like me. As such, it's typical for a Peace Corps Volunteer to try to avoid situations that will attract even more attention as we constantly live in a "fishbowl."

So when the high school teachers of Lycee Mardoch invited me to play in their 1st Annual Teachers vs. Students International Women's Day Soccer Match, what else could I say? Yes!

Let's note that I used to be pretty good at soccer. Eight years of playtime including club tournaments and Varsity games make for a pretty solid foundation. However, the last time I played competitively was exactly eight years ago. Plus, this is Cameroon, the land of Samuel Eto'o and diehard fans. During the 2010 World Cup, shops would close as Cameroonians would huddle by the dozens around one television. Our Peace Corps training sessions would end early so the Cameroonian trainers could watch home games (albeit we worked through the USA games!). Soccer is life here, so to avoid complete embarrassment, I had to practice to step up my game!

My training consisted of two hours of passing with my postmate, Cyrus Suleman. I got too busy to really practice and March is the beginning of hot season. Eh.

Today was the big day. International Women's Day is tomorrow, so this week is chalk-full of activities. Throwing on my soccer socks, double-knotting my shoes, and applying sunscreen brought back elementary school butterflies before important matches. This time would be a little more intense as my teammates would be almost twice my age and the opposing team members would be almost half my age! And yes, I'd be the only American in sea of Cameroonians.

Warming up in my XXXL jersey

After never having met 7/8 of the teachers, they put me as starting right halfback. The whistle blew and it turns out that most of the women had never really played before, so the competition wasn't too tough! I kicked the ball
no more than a total of five times that first half, so I just ran around getting a good workout. The students scored a goal by the time halftime was called.

But the second half I tell you! I was really confused on the new formation, so by the time we started, I wasn't really sure what my position was (or if I had one at all). So wherever the ball went, I went! While in the goal box, a student got fouled for a handball which led to the teachers scoring the penalty kick!

A minute after kickoff, the teachers brought it together for a passing play and a great cross to where I was standing. With a terrible whack at the ball with my right foot, it was a GOOOOOOOOOOOAL!

The winning goal! I promise my form used to be better.

The next school day was spent with everyone talking about the American's "magnificent winning goal!" As this was the first annual match, the Vice President told me that my legend would live on each year after. Going from fish in fishbowl to soccer celebrity? Cheers to that!

Winning team photo. Cameroonians don't tend to smile for pictures, but don't be fooled. Everyone was happy!

Saturday 3 March 2012

Peace Corps Life Skills Seminar

Today we finished our two-day Life Skills seminar for 15 participants across 5 organizations that work with youth groups and women in the community. What is Life Skills you ask? I'll let Preparing for Work eloquently describe the program:

"The Peace Corps Life Skills Manual is a comprehensive behavior change approach that concentrates on developing the skills needed for life, such as communication, decision-making, and critical thinking. It also helps learners understand the importance of assertiveness, self-esteem, resisting peer pressure, and creating healthy relationships. Additionally, it addresses the important related issues of empowering girls and guiding boys toward new values.

The program moves beyond providing information. It addresses the development of the whole individual, including their health—so that a person will have the skills to make use of all types of information, whether it be related to reproductive and sexual health, safe motherhood, and other communication and decision-making situations. While the focus is on health, the life skills are relevant to those found in work readiness curricula and could be adapted for other purposes.

This manual consists of more than 50 different interactive lesson ideas, using role plays, games, puzzles, group discussions, and a variety of other innovative teaching techniques to keep the participant fully involved in the sessions. Lessons include HIV/AIDS training sessions that are particularly useful in working with youth and other vulnerable groups."

Participants included Red Cross staff, Breaking Ground coaches, teachers, and general motivated community members. At the end of the Training-of-Trainers seminar, each organization made an action plan of how they will implement the Life Skills curriculum in their work. Go team!

Peace Corps Coordinator Djenobe Talajo served as the Life Skills Trainer

The participants were happy to receive their diplomas

Showing Djenobe some gratitude