“Doesn’t it suck that violence is inconveniencing your life and your future plans?”
-Chaunte Hines, my sister
As I re-read my last blog entry, I am reminded of how naïve I was just a week ago. I’ve been so unaware of the way things are able to spiral out of tension and justice, turning into violence. How a group of people can affect everything. How the president can influence everything. How the streets can become empty and tense at the same time. How a turn of events can spiral into something that no one has control of.
I will try my best to recount the facts and not my personal political opinion.
A strike began Monday, when taxis and motos stopped circulating. The protesters wanted the prices of gas, soap, bread and other things to return to their original lower prices. Everyone said that it would be over in a couple days. I was planning on traveling to Bamenda that coming weekend.
Tuesday, gas stations and some private businesses were burned up in Douala. Some rioters were shot and a few were killed. Abby, Sammy, and I all left to join up with a couple other volunteers in a bigger town where we felt we would be more secure. We were put on Alert status by Peace Corps. Wednesday. Rioters and protesters continued as they awaited word from the president. Military appeared everywhere in the streets. We were put on Stand fast status, so that we were not to go anywhere. Thursday, president Paul Biya made a speech, addressing the rioters. He told them that it is not in the streets that you solve problems in a democratic country. After the public address, people were more upset, and Friday was the worst day of the strike. I vowed not to leave the house. I was disappointed when I would watch the news, because they said that everything was back to normal, that taxis were out and everything was safe. It was not. There were still attacks being made. There were still schools and city councils being burned up. It was only when we tuned into BBC through a volunteer’s cell phone that we heard that in Bamenda, some children were taken hostage, to be used as human shields. I think four of them died. With the military all around, the rioting and destructing soon disappeared in our town. Six of us ended up consolidating, in which we gather incase we may have to face the next stage of the emergency action plan- Evacuation.
I will just say that when you realize that you’re life is so critically affected by the turn of the events that can suddenly appear, it does something to you. As volunteers, we ask ourselves constantly why we are here and what we can do effectively. We convince and re-convince ourselves that we are in fact making a difference because the country wants a change. When a volunteer is no longer sure of this, they are forced to re-evaluate what they want and why they are still here. More questions are added to the list, with a good amount of doubt. And these protests and riots could have dramatically changed my Peace Corps experience. It still could I suppose. I never imagined before coming here that anything like this would be lingering over me, forcing me to be more flexible than I’ve ever been, that flexibility including that I may have to terminate my mission all together. That there is so much more to the big picture, that something like civil unrest could not only affect my safety- but my life here, and everything that makes up my life: my counterpart that I gave my key to just incase I had to leave everything, my students that I knew were continuously knocking on my door to see that I returned, my neighbor Roger that drops his carpentry work if ever I need any handyman help at the house- and Franck, who is known as my son in village these days, who brings tears to my eyes thinking about how much I want him to succeed in life, who has pushed me to… not just to take upon myself a responsibility, but to accept a project that someone bigger than me has brought me into. I am most definitely not ready to say goodbye to him.
But I was happy to stay. As it all came to an end, I reflected upon the things I experienced first hand, not just the hearsay of citizens and ex-citizens. I can truly understand why things happen the way they do, and while I cannot put my opinion here, I can say that I have one that is more concrete, after having been through this. Let’s sit down and chat when I get back, yes?
On a lighter note, I am the momma of two villagois chickens! I am raising them because I can! And because I like to eat chicken! Franck will help me tend to them. Sammy is so silly. At first, she was frightened by them, hiding in the bedroom for most of the day. Now she goes back and forth, undecided…if they start to enter into the house, she chases them outside the back and then runs away. So I guess that’s a great skill to have, that my kitty knows how to heard.
I am currently working on a water project, to get water to my high school. Because there is no water at the school, students must walk a long way whenever they want a sip of water. This affects my classroom first hand because students miss so much class when they are going wherever they can to get a drink. I am working with the principal and the student-parent association to get part of the funds. The way the Peace Corps Partnership program works is so that my community must raise 25% of the total costs, and then I will put the application in so that the project will be on the Peace Corps website. From the website, whoever wants to contribute to the project for the remaining 75% will be able to. So everyone who has been asking me how you can help? Voila you will have your chance to aide my village community soon enough. You’re support is much needed!
I have just learned that I will be one of the two host volunteers in June!!! Look at me, still working for study abroad programs, even when I am abroad! I will be there to greet the new volunteers in the airport when they arrive for the first time, when the lights go out and you truly realize where you are. What’s even more exciting is that my postie, Tim, will be the other host! We will be working together, using our bargaining skills that have gotten so good together, buying the new trainees phones for them, etc. etc. I have a training workshop in May, then new trainees arrive in June, so I suppose that going home during that time is out. I still want to go home. I miss everyone so much and I am hoping that a low-price ticket comes available soon for in the summer.