The Life of Brad

April 15, 2010, 4:06 pm
Filed under: Cameroon

To all those who donated to my two projects, I really wish I could send an email to all of you personally updating you on the progress of the school/training but the information I got on who donated is simply name and address, but not email addresses. But, if you know anyone who donated who is looking for an update let them know I have posted one!

I want to thank specifically one person who is from New York and donated with the comment “I have enjoyed reading your blog, PCV in Cameroon in the past”. Thanks so much and I apologize for not updating my blog since you donated… hehe.

Also, thanks SO much to my Dad and Kelli and to Mom and Steve. Without the support of you four the school project would not be possible. Thank you so much for all your help in the fundraising and getting the word out. Steve, thanks for getting me in the paper! 🙂

In conclusion,

I love MANGOES! Seriously 3 mangoes for around 20 cents is AMAZING and I don’t know what I am going to do without them in America….


Training, school, misc!
April 15, 2010, 12:55 pm
Filed under: Cameroon

So I think anyone who had been abroad for a long period of time will sympathize with my lack of posts recently. In the beginning of service everything was new, shocking, surprising and interesting. Now, however, Cameroon, and more specifically, Hina, is my home. I am so used to life here that I really nothing shocks or is abnormal to me anymore. It is like asking anyone in America what is new and they all go “nothing”… because life goes on and they don’t find anything they are doing particularly warranting descriptions. I mean, in order to write an entry I need something to say that is worthwhile and new and exciting, right? I should probably write a blog when I get back to the US because I am going to for sure have reverse culture shock J.

Where had I left off? Nate came and visited and it was amazing, actually even more fun than I had expected. There were some tough moments, the highlight being coming down off mount Cameroon and being absolutely exhausted and trying to figure out logistics with the hotel and water and food and Nate was feeling bad (A.K.A. he joined the club after being in country for only a couple days. I still have managed somehow to avoid joining the club, if you are a PCV you know what the club is. Since I have not asked Nate whether I can share his experiences I will leave that up to him). But besides that one hour where I was stressed out, once I had a cold beer in my hand and was sitting by the beach in Limbe Nate and I began to construct our new home at Madison Park. We paid 8,000 CFA for a room with a bed, dirty bathroom, and A/C directly on the black sand beach of Limbe. The beach had a little bit of litter and stuff on it but still I think it might be the most beautiful beach I have ever been on. When you are in the water you see small mount Cameroon coming almost directly out of the waters, and the peak is almost always masked in circulating clouds. A mile or two from our hotel on the backside of the mountain is the second wettest place on earth, second only to some place in Asia I think… really it was amazing. We spent a couple days relaxing in Limbe. This hotel was not even really a hotel, not yet. I mean, the managers are working on fixing the place up but it basically looks like a place to have a wedding reception / family reunion and was started by an Ex-PCV who sent all this old American stuff there so the lawn was littered with childrens toys, basketball hoops, trampolines, even a workout room all filled with American stuff… it was kind of a twilight zone. But they let us use the kitchen for free, and our 8,000 CFA price (17 bucks) a night for a literally on the beach room with AC was amazing. Each evening we made sure when we were in Limbe to buy some food for breakfast, either haggling pineapples for 50 cents or a dollar, or oranges, 10 bananas for 50 cents, or croissants, or even chocolate infused croissants that we would drink with instant coffee on the beach. Might not sound that great but it was definitely cheap as can be and wonderful. I started reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas shrugged and actually really enjoyed the book. I mean, she could’ve gotten her point across in 800 less pages, and I don’t necessarily agree with her TOTALLY free market militant ideas, but really enjoyed the focus on the human spirit and creativity.

Annee, another volunteer from the north tagged along with Nate and I for the majority of the trip. She is amazing and really made the trip just that much more special. Kumbo, Bamenda, back to Limbe, to Yaounde, back up north!

It is so hot. Last year during the hot season I slept in my house every night, but now I can’t even understand how I did it. I really think this hot season is hotter than last year and now in the evening when it is bedtime it is 103 degrees in my house. The other day in the sun my thermometer got up to 130. It has been fun sleeping outside this year though. I am starting to really realize that I don’t have that much time left here and am paying attention and just trying to soak up every experience.

For those who don’t know, I got accepted to every Master’s program I applied to and just a week ago chose to accept the offer at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. I will be in the 42 credit 2 year program in Global Epidemiology. It is a dual-department program offered by a synergy of Epidemiology and Global Health. I am really really excited and the more and more I read about Emory the happier I am about my decision. Yeah, you may be saying you turned down Harvard and Johns Hopkins, but I think Emory is really up and coming and their star will only begin to shine more in the coming years. They are the most ethnically and religiously diverse among the top 20 research universities and their program I believe really focuses on research but ALSO a lot on good teaching. The top top top programs I think might be better if you really want to do a Doctoral study on a very advanced and specific topic so you want to be where there is a ton of money and the best researchers in the field. However, for my MPH, I want to be able to come out with low debt, since it definitely will not be my terminal degree, and I think research opportunities are important (and definitely do not lack at Emory, they create the most research funding of any university in Georgia, and have contacts with amazing international public health organizations, with the CDC, CARE international, the Carter Center, Emory hospitals, etc. etc.) but I also think teaching quality and professors that actually LIKE teaching and WANT to teach rather than just being forced to teach their one class a year but really just want to focus on their research kind of thing. One example of the cultural /  religious diversity of Emory is the fact that the Dalai Lama is coming to visit this October. Emory is the world leader in studies on Tibetan Buddhism and has close ties with many institutions in Tibet and India and the Dalai Lama is a distinguished professor at Emory and has made numerous visits to talk and engage students, faculty, and the public on Buddhist and life teachings / human rights. Also, the programs at Hopkins/Harvard were both Master’s of Science programs rather than MPH programs. I want an MPH degree because it is more well rounded and more internationally recognized. I am not 100% sure what I want to do with my life and the MPH gives more flexibility, the MS degree is good if you know you want to for sure do research and sets you up for a Ph.D in a specific specific field of study. Anywho, I am extremely excited and Emory has selected me to receive a research assistantship position from day 1 so hopefully I will have the opportunity to maybe work at the CDC this fall!

Life up north has been extremely busy lately. Between all my grad school research and decisions I have also been working on a couple huge projects; health training, school project, HIV testing and presentation tour.

My health training ran for five days 2 weeks ago Monday to Friday and was just amazing. A couple months ago I sent a communication through the traditional chief of Hina to all the traditional chiefs in the smaller villages to have them select a man and a woman to participate and be educated as village health educator. I specifically told them that these people will not receive any money for their work so the village should select someone who is motivated to work, educate, and improve the health of their village for free. Only one village didn’t respond with the names, so that made a total of 23 villages * 2 = 46 people. In organizing the training I wrote and compiled a comprehensive health manual that was 103 pages in French and covered all topics on health that I found of primary importance. Hygiene, water and water treatment, maternal/child health/birth preparedness, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other tropical diseases, first aid, and probably other things that I am forgetting right now. I am really proud of the manual and each of the 46 people who attended got a copy to take back and use as a resource. I have had numerous other people in my village and even in other smaller villages that I have never been to ask me for a copy, but sadly copies are relatively expensive so I have had to refuse… but I might make 10 or more copies and give them out and just pay for them myself because I think it is important.

But more about the training, I had help from Annee, Brianna, and Katie for every day but the last day (Friday) and I am eternally grateful for their help. All but two people who had sent their names in showed up which is basically unheard of here and everyone was EARLY or exactly on time (8am) every single day. There were even people who drove home and slept every evening and came back who had a two hour drive by motorcycle and those two were not late not even one day. Amazing. Motivated people make me happy and more motivated myself! Everyone was very involved and asked questions and there was no problem with the whole Muslim male and female thing, even talking about reproductive anatomy and sex people were asking taboo questions without flinching and I think that just speaks to how well the villages selected the people to come to the training. There were some superstars that I am excited to work with in the future and am just REALLY excited about the prospects of what the next volunteer in Hina can do who will replace me. They now have two contacts, one male and one female, in almost all of the small villages outside of Hina, most of which were really excited and just asking asking asking when I can come visit their village and work with them. I still hope to get around to at least 10 of the villages before my time is up, the superstar villages, and really just… it is amazing and was amazing to be able to train them. They learned so much and I think it will have a profound effect.

One week after the training (so a week ago) I met with the 3 educators from Hina to talk about what we can do as a first step together to improve the Health in Hina. They told me that they had already taken the initiative to form a formal group (GIC they call it here, Group D’initiative Commun; community group) consisting of around 10 of the superstar educators in the 4 or 5 surrounding (close enough to bike to) villages around Hina. I was just really surprised because when I first got to post there were two community groups that I started to work with that really just fell apart after maybe 5 meetings and they really just were thinking that if they started a group that means automatic external financing. Poop. Yet, this group knows that they will not get financing and just are passionate about improving the health of their villages and were really pushed and moved by the training. Really this training was the best idea I have had and the most successful thing I have done in my two years of service and I would REALLY recommend it to anyone out there who is considering something similar to it. It was great also doing it at the end of my service when I have all the acquired knowledge about local practices and what the real problems are on the ground and what to focus on and such. But really if this can balloon out it could have a BIG effect.

For example, when I had my meeting with the people from Hina we agreed on tackling the lack of latrines for our first project. Thus, in the next week or so we are going to have a meeting with the Sous-Prefet and hopefully he will agree with us and we can make a law that every house has to have a functioning latrine in the next one or two months. Because really latrines cost nothing. People just need to dig a deep hole and then cover it, which there are traditional methods to do with sticks and wet mud (like their houses) rather than cement so it doesn’t cost anything. If we could then branch out form Hina working with all the other educators and the traditional chiefs in the smaller villages to put on a campaign that every house in the entire Hina region needs to have a latrine do you realize how big of an effect that would have on improving the quality of life of people here? There are more than fourteen big illnesses caused by the fecal-oral route including polio, cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, amoebas, giardia, hepatitis, typhoid…etc! Not to mention the other worms and hookworm and all those other baddies too. Think of the benefit if every single poop episode fell into a deep, covered latrine rather then around the river which people are obligated to drink from when there is absolutely no water because there are no wells or pumps. I can’t overestimate the effect that that one change would make and it really wouldn’t be THAT hard to educate people and enact that change in the next year. I am really optimistic. All the other things too though like soy and Moringa for nutrition, OH and the other huge one if women knew how to breastfeed well and not give ANY water before 6 months of age. These couple small things could have a massive difference on the health of locals at NO cost. That is what I like. No cost. Yeah, mosquito nets are great but there have not been any large-scale distributions of them for the last 3+ years and most people don’t use them. I like interventions that individuals can do here for free. Like, for example, putting old fabric that one folds over many many many times and use it as a crude filter when they are pouring their water into their large canarys (water receptacles at each house). Yeah, it is not 100% effective, but it is effective and that intervention has been a huge approach used at the eradication of guinea worm.

But, so I am excited and the training was amazing. I just want to say something specifically to those who donated. Thank you. I hope that someone who donated in memory is reading this and can accept my warm thanks. I was not expecting my project to get funded so quickly, yet to my astonishment it got fully funded so incredibly quickly and I didn’t know how or why until Kim Ahanda in Peace Corps notified me that my project was being funded in memory of a Peace Corps associate and that the family and friends and loved ones had selected my project as most closely resembling his wishes to work and educate regarding HIV/AIDS. I want everyone to know who donated in memory that your love and warm thoughts have had a great effect already and I sincerely hope that it will continue to blossom with the next 3 health volunteers that follow me if they continue to work with the trained individuals in all of these rural villages.

NOW that my training is finished I have moved on to my school project. The project is well underway and we have completed 1500 cement bricks, the foundation, and the cement floor, and are now starting on building the walls. The entire construction process should take no more than one month and the mason I chose is really just amazing and I have complete confidence in his abilities and that he will stand by his word. He also wants the project to go quickly because he wants to cultivate his fields of millet and peanuts which will demand his almost full attention in around a month as well, so our priorities are aligned and I envision a wonderful ending to this project. The village is really really excited about the school and at any one point during the construction there are around 100 or so adults and children hanging out around the construction site ready to help move rocks or sand or do whatever they can to help. It is really just fascinating and wonderful to see how motivated Ketcheble is to fight for their children’s futures. They are spending a good amount of money because they are in charge of transporting all the materials, water, sand, gravel and such which takes a lot of gas. I would say by the end of the construction they will have spent around 1,000+ dollars to realize this school themselves which is just an amazing sum and feat for a village where people don’t have money to buy meat more than maybe once a month. I am hoping that money will be left over from the building project so we can do some other cool projects and maybe help the village buy the materials for the school benches, maybe some books, and to construct a latrine next to the school.

Alright I am tired of writing but I hope this update gives all y’all a little info on my life as of now. Tomorrow I am heading back to post to give free HIV/AIDS tests in Hina and then will do a tour of around 10 villages working with the educated community actors to present and educate about HIV/AIDS and then give free tests, it should be a good thing, we’ll see how great it is though depending on how many people decide to get tested and how many positives we find…

I love you all and hope you are well!,


February 9, 2010, 3:36 pm
Filed under: Cameroon

Just got back to Yaounde from a WONDERFUL 2.5 weeks with Nate (bro). We had a great time in Limbe and Bamenda and it was just wonderful to have time together as adults to reminice and talk about growing up and family and life and love and….! I think it was an important trip for us as brothers and hopefully can springboard a more active relationship and communication between us.

Heading back to post FAST to get to Maroua by the 14th and Men as Partners starts the 15th running through the 26th. Should be a blast!

Got accepted to a couple grad schools for next fall:

Boston University, Emory, U of Minnesota, Johns Hopkins

Waiting on: Harvard, U of Washington, U of Michigan, Columbia

Hopkins is currently winning as #1, but I am a flexible person if someone provides the right motivation… in this case it is cash $$$. How unlike me, right?

Ok off to catch the train up north!



Mid service and updates!
January 13, 2010, 3:51 pm
Filed under: Cameroon

I am in Yaounde for a week for our mid-service medical checkups getting poked and prodded in every way imaginable and so far have come out clean besides bronchitis. It was cool, I got an inhaler so I can be cool like my asthmatic friends!

In 7 days my brother is coming to Cameroon!!!! I am so excited and it will be great to take some time off and relax with him touring around the south of Cameroon.

Anticipated highlights are:

– Spending three days climbing and camping on the highest mountain in West Africa (Mount Cameroon) at 13,255 feet. Not only the highest mountain in West Africa but an active volcano that rises out of the sea.

– Relaxing our tired legs on the beach at Limbe eating grilled fish for 50 cents. Sleeping in tents and hammocks on the beach, body surfing and throwing the disc in the water.

– Camping in Africa’s oldest rainforest in Korup national park. A living museum more than 60 million years old with more than 1,000 known species.

– Biking in the mountainous highlands of the Anglophone west province between villages and maybe Peace corps volunteers.

It will be a special 18 days between brothers and I will be sure to post some pictures when it is done!!

School project
January 13, 2010, 3:43 pm
Filed under: Cameroon

Hey all,

I need help to build an elementary school for Ketcheble, a hard working self starting village in need in Northern Cameroon. The current elementary school for 300 students is made up of two woefully inadequate one room buildings each smaller than most American living rooms. The youngest students’ building has a roof of sticks that provide shade but no weather protection. It can’t be used during the 3 to 4 month rainy season. It also lacks floors, doors or windows and furniture except a black board and a plastic chair for the teacher. The older students have a tin roof, a door and sit on rocks or on planks between rocks on the ground. The Cameroon government provides two teachers and the villagers pay for a third. The current situation is clearly not conducive to learning and continued education.

This project would build a new cement building with large, clear blackboards and desks. Also, we will be constructing a male and female latrine.

$11,500 more must be donated by the end of February for the project to happen. This added to the $8500 I have received to date from the local villagers and the first weeks US donations will totally fund the project. The construction must start the first of March to insure it will be completed in the final 7 months of my 2 year Peace Corps service.

You can use this link

to see the official Peace Corps project description and to make a credit card donation for this project. If you know of a group/corporation that can make a significant donation, the Peace Corps can
provide documentation thanking them for their support and describing the project in more detail.

100% of your donation will go directly to me for use in paying for materials and labor to build the school. There is no money spent on overhead costs. I will do all the planning, coordination and administration for this project at no charge. The Peace Corps gets your $ donation changed to local currency and delivers it with no reduction.

As soon as the Peace Corps notifies me that the total has been received, myself and Hamidou (a local commercant who owns/runs one of the few stores in the village where I live) will go to Maroua, the provincial capital, and buy all the materials needed. We have the material lists prepared and agreements in place with the suppliers. The villagers from Ketcheble will provide their community owned “market” truck to transport the material to the building site.

The next week, Halidou, the best local mason/building contractor will direct the Ketcheble volunteer workmen to find, prepare and move local sand and gravel to the site. Halidou will provide and supervise the skilled craftsman at customary prices to build the school. The school will be complete by June this year before the rainy season stops all construction till October. Both Hamidou and Halidou have proven experience in the local community and I know them both well.

I have attached pictures of the current school buildings and the town of Ketcheble.

Thanks in advance for considering this,


Naïve optimism?
December 18, 2009, 10:11 am
Filed under: Cameroon

I am worried that I am at the point where I am going to start losing some of my unfaltering optimism here. We volunteers share between us all of the hardships but never really post them on our blogs, which I think is for the best. I, as well, have left my rants away from my blog (for the most part) and instead have burdened some other wonderful volunteers in late night philosophising about our lives here.

Peace corps is hard. Definitely the hardest thing I have ever done. The hardest element is being in a village alone next to suffering every single day and trying to will others into action alone. No matter how much a volunteer might want to accomplish and how passionate he/she is it really rests in his or her population to reciprocate volunteer energy and initiative. Clearly a volunteer acting completely alone cannot accomplish anything. Or, anything that is going to be effective in the long-term.

I think it is easy to hold on to little victories, little gains over the course of a year, but the second year is difficult. Volunteers know this, that there are more failed meetings than successful ones. I cannot count the number of times I have gone to a meeting only for it not to happen. As a volunteer you may have nothing else on your schedule for a couple days but this one meeting and you will spend three days preparing, maybe changing your schedule, maybe biking upwards of 30 kilometers to attend in rain, mud, and guck only to find that the group is out in the fields, forgot, wasn’t informed…etc…etc…ad infinitum.

The hardest thing about being here is to realize that one of our most important jobs is to NOT lose our optimism. I find it ironic that here I say I am losing my optimism and feel like giving up on even trying sometimes and I have been living in these conditions for a year. Now, here at the same time I am frustrated when individuals claim that there is nothing they can do, they have “learned helplessness” over years of false promises and poverty. They have been living in these conditions for 20 years, 30 years, 70 years… and I say I am losing optimism after one year? Hrm…

But, it is just difficult. Most people, example, the youth with which I spend the majority of my time with complain daily about lack of opportunities in Cameroon for jobs caused by complete corruption at every level of society and a government that really is invested in NOT empowering and educating its population. Ok, I will give you that, opportunities do not abound. Thus, when I am here and say hey, I want to work with you to start an income-generating project, you would think that they would jump on the bandwagon, but they don’t. The majority of youth in Hina stop school around 10th grade and then spend their days pumping tires for 30 cents or loading and unloading 50-100  kg  sacks of millet into market trucks for 5 cents a bag. Why continue paying upwards of 30,000 CFA (70-80 bucks) to go to a highschool that has no teachers because all the teachers are in a new training program set up in Maroua if even with a highschool diploma there are no jobs? Even to get a Ph.D here in Cameroon requires an incredible amount of corruption money.

For example, the army recruits people every year. This year they want 1,600 people for all of Cameroon. Over 100,000 kids apply. The application itself costs 40+ dollars. Oh, and even if you are the most fit and the smartest, likely you won’t be taken, you represent a threat. If you pay corruption $$ however, you are right to the top. Doesn’t sound like the greatest idea does it to have an Army based on corruption….

So, it is funny because I embarked on this Peace Corps experience DIRECTLY on the heels of my Bike and Build summer where my wildest flames of naive optimism were nothing but fanned. After bike and build, seeing that there were an infinity of “naively” optimistic youth in the US who don’t blink when someone says  “that is not possible”, instead they become more steadfast in trying their best… my idea that a group of passionate people can accomplish anything was even more entrenched.

I don’t want to lose that. Where is the good in people here? I think we (the developed countries) are much to blame for the condition and continued poverty of Cameroon, yet, all I see daily is their own people continuing this cycle through corruption. If I were to write the job description of the gendarmes (the police) here it would be simply to make life, commerce, travel, markets as difficult as possible for the daily uneducated citizens in order to get 1,2,3 dollars from them. That is their job. They sit on the road and stop ANYONE who wants to pass and make up an excuse as to why they are breaking a law. A 60 year old man who takes a bag of mangos from his 50 year old mango tree in his house, straps them on his bike and bikes 30k at 5 am through the mud to sell his mangos for 5 cents a piece is stopped. He is required to pay a dollar because he has no identity card. I literally don’t know how many more times I can SEE this happening and not become involved. It hurts my soul.

I realize that all my friends in village who are amazing people, we are losing the battle. It will take years upon years once the battle for education and optimism is won here for it to take hold. A girl who is born today in Hina still won’t go to school. These effects will be felt for the entirety of that girl’s life. Hopefully 60-70 years. In reality, maybe 50. What is the answer?

Example. Two days ago a student from the highschool in Hina where I have been giving health education classes during their open hours said he wanted me to come to his village and give a presentation about basic stuff like maternal/child health and water since the majority of women in Hina give water to their children from birth. Dirty water from the river. People poop in the river, babies drink it. Babies die. Cholera, diarrhea, amoebas, giardia…etc. Furthermore, most women here do not give the colostrum, the first milk and many wait up to 3 days to begin breastfeeding. Yes, no lies. 3 days.

The youth took his brothers moto, came and picked me up in Hina, took me to his village and I waited 2 hours under a tree in the center of the village as he did tours around his village calling people to come to the meeting. Planting is over, people have nothing to do. No one came. This is his village, his friends, his family, no one came. There were people around 100 feet from me, sitting under a tree, tons of men and they didn’t even walk over to where we were. He was devastated.

Ok, I don’t want you all to think I have lost all hope and optimism. It is in there, somewhere, you just need to realize how impossibly difficult it is to live in a completely undeveloped village where people die daily, babies die daily, people with HIV develop AIDS quickly due to poor nutrition and just die in their house all alone. Families abandon people if they have AIDS, they die isolated, in pain, alone.

My optimism would increase if the general population of the world cared. They don’t. I am sorry if that is mean, but they don’t. Even if they do it is similar to the developed world’s response to climate change. Yeah, I changed to compact flourescent lightbulbs (CFL) and turn my heat off at night. Great. Good for you. But then you drive an SUV 200 miles to and from work every day. Wait, even if you drive a Prius. Doesn’t matter. Simply the construction of a car is incredible wasteful. I think cars are the worst invention humans ever made. Probably even worse than the atomic bomb. If you disagree, let’s chat about it.

You eat factory farmed meat every day. Your house is 2000 square feet, constructed out of materials that if they get wet, the entire house is ruined. Not constructed to last more than 50 years. Oh and you own a boat. You are not fighting climate change. Sorry. You are still the problem.

So am I. I am just as guilty as everyone. But I am trying. Radically.

I am reading And the Band Played On right now by Randy Schultz and it heavily criticizes the US response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the 1980s. Realize. We dealt with the crisis poorly, extreme criticism was leveled on the CDC, NIH, NCI, and the Reagan administration… oh mostly all administrations across the US. Realize. It is 2010. The disease is STILL IN THE BEGINNINGS in Africa. It is still on the RISE. And realize again, less than 1% of urban African populations know they have the disease. That number is even lower in rural villages. Realize. If you don’t know you have the disease, you won’t act in ways that prevent its transmission. Realize. How long will it take once we actually START the fight here? Realize. Clinical latency of the disease, from HIV infection to the start of symptoms can be as little as 1 to 2 years and as long as 15 years. Without treatment (Africa). Meaning that the numbers we see today will increase dramatically even if we were to start action today. What are we waiting for?

I have gone to every large place in Maroua that should be in charge of providing the “FREE” HIV rapid tests to the population. There are none. There have been none for over 6 months. Now going on a year. No tests. In the entire Extreme-north of Cameroon. People ask me every time I give a presentation, I agree with you now, I want to get tested, where do I go. I say, you have to go to a private hospital and it is expensive. Your government is failing you. The world is failing you. How much does an HIV test cost? How can we do ANYTHING against HIV without tests? People are getting married without being tested, infecting families, children. People are giving birth without being tested. Where is all the AIDS funding GOING if we don’t even have tests???

I will end it there. I am hungry. Hehe.

I still have my “naive” optimism. I don’t believe optimism is ever naive. The individuals who say you can’t do it or it isn’t possible are the one’s who make it naive. Because if they were on the bandwagon, if everyone was passionate, interested, and active, anything is possible.

Until next time, become active. Please. Stop sitting and playing video games. Stop fixing your second car. Get a degree and come work in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle east. Please. I need 30 other naively optimistic individuals at my side, I am beginning to feel that I am  alone… and that is dangerous.



And now we begin “the lasts”… already?
November 29, 2009, 11:34 am
Filed under: Cameroon

Amazingly I just realized that I only have less than one year left here in country. Already. I just celebrated likely my last Thanksgiving, my last Fete De Mouton, and soon my last Christmas here in Cameroon. Once December starts it will be for sure that I only have one more cycle… no longer can I say, oh, I can put that off until next time around.


Life has been incredibly great lately. I have been for the most part perfectly healthy. My parents came and I spent a wonderful week and a half with them that just flew by. I think they both enjoyed their time here and I just hope that they got to get a taste of what the country has to offer and what my daily life is like.


I have been traveling a good amount lately, visiting nearby volunteers and teaching HIV/AIDS classes to highschoolers (SO FUN). They are always so interested and ask amazingly complicated and advanced questions, as well as having a wonderful sense of humor :). I also visited a nearby volunteer and gave a general maternal and child health presentation for literally an entire village (around 400+ women, men, children). I found that really rewarding as they all accepted the knowledge and were very engaged asking questions…etc.


I have received funding for my community health educator project so now when I get back to village here I will start going out to the 20+ villages attempting to find interested and motivated educators. For now I just got this amazing opportunity to collaborate with the Centers of Disease Control in Atlanta to conduct a cohort study on the cholera epidemic in the extreme north of Cameroon. Basically we are going to every single health center that treated a case of cholera and interviewing all of the health care staff that treated a case. Also, we are interviewing the family of all patients who died or the individuals themselves if they survived their cholera diagnosis. Basically what we want to understand is why the death rate of cholera here in Cameroon is so high (~13%). The death rate of cholera has always been above 10% here in Cameroon, yet the WHO acceptable death rate is <1%. Also, comparing Cameroon to other nearby countries such as Nigeria and Chad, the rate is still high as in these countries the death rate is consistently lower than 4%. It has been a sweet opportunity and I have learned so much about just general field work and specifically cholera. Today (Sunday) is our day off, but tomorrow we start again at 5:30 in the morning to go survey health centers!!


I also just finished our extreme-north bike tour where myself and two other volunteers biked around the extreme north giving HIV/AIDS presentations and promoting soybeans. I became an expert on making tofu and soymilk and we went around to a bunch of villages with soybeans on the back of our bikes and taught these villages how to prepare the soy that they already grow. Soooo when I come back to the US let’s get together and make soymilk and tofu! 🙂


Alright, I have a bunch to get done today on my day off, so I will catch you all later!


Endless love,





November 29, 2009, 11:13 am
Filed under: Cameroon

See this article:



This article is why I don’t agree with the major tenets of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I personally do not find standardized testing all that attractive as a the focus only on standardized testing where all students in a state take the same test under the same conditions as the means of assessment encourages teachers to teach a narrow subset of skills that will increase test performance rather than focus on deeper understanding, humanities, arts, science, foreign language, religion, political science, philosophy, ethics…. I think math and science are important elements of being a good citizen of the world, yet I too feel that the humanities are being forgotten in America. If I were interested in Biochemistry I could get my entire PH.D paid for by either the government or some other slush fund for continued science research. However, I am interested in Public Health Internationally… increasing health outcomes, helping others, based on my personal ethics, and thus I will have an incredible hard time having my doctorate paid for.


Standardized tests only test an extremely limited amount of knowledge and encourage teachers to teach to the test in order to receive positive outcomes. Historically, and even on the GRE, I have done very poorly on standardized tests. Yet, in classes, I flourish.


Surveys of public school principals indicate that since the implementation of NCLB, 71% believe instructional time has increased for reading, writing, and math (subjects tested under the law), and decreased for the arts, elementary social studies, and foreign languages.


I am not opposed to forms of accountability for schools, teachers, principals to provide a quality education. I think more needs to be done to hold schools and teachers responsible and to reward those that achieve positive outcomes. However, it is not just in our elementary,middle, and high schools that we have this unyielding bias towards math and science, it comes through in college and in graduate schools. We need to focus on encouraging creativity, uniqueness, teaching thich nhat hanh values and worldviews that can only result from challenging and opening one’s mind in the persuit of disciplines that are not so cut and dry as math and science. Don’t get me wrong, I am a scientist, skeptical, theoretical, I like evidence and proof before I believe or accept something… and I believe in the scientific method. I just think that our current governmental school system on NCLB constitutes a regression to the mean, discouraging creative thinking and rewarding 1+1 = 2. I know that when I have children I don’t want the center of their education to simply focus on how they could be a good corporate employee. Thoreau’s Walden anyone?


I liked the quote in the article :


Nobody was ever sent to prison for espousing the wrong value for the Hubble constant.


With love,



Projects, projects, projects!!!
October 28, 2009, 8:42 am
Filed under: Cameroon

Hey loved ones!,

I am so sorry it has been so long since I have posted but I have been SUPER busy doing graduate school applications any time I have had access to the internet. I am pretty much done with applications now which is a big burden lifted and now I am just excited to sit back and wait to see where I might be spending the next two years of my life. I am applying for Masters in Public Health programs focusing on international epidemiology.

Wish me luck getting accepted and getting cash $$$. :).

So I don’t have much time as I am about to head up north to catch up with another volunteer and do some work together. ALSO, my wonderfully beautiful parents are going to be HERE in Cameroon in less than a week, so I need to go up north to meet up with them as well.

I have so much to tell you all, but it will have to wait another week or so until I can write a good long entry.

One thing is that I have two projects that are going to be up for funding. One is currently up on the peace corps website and can be found here:

This funding system is great because there is absolutley no overhead, all the money given goes directly into a bank account here and is all used to fund the project. After this project is funded I should have another one up soon to fund building a two-room schoolhouse in a nearby village that is awesome.

Life has been amazing lately, I hope it has been equally great for those at home!

Love you all,



P.S. Dudes and dudettes, last night when I went out to get dinner I was sitting there with another volunteer and another random white guy walks by and stops to say hi asking where we are from. We said from the US, he was clearly French. But it was sweet, ended up spending all night with him and his other three friends talking in french about life here (they were tourists). It was great to exchange culture, to know that I can hold my own in “real” french, and to just be somewhat of an expert on the extreme-north of Cameroon… sweet.

September 9, 2009, 1:13 pm
Filed under: Cameroon

Dear readers,

Since last time I blogged… TWO of my very close and amazingly beautiful, smart, and talented friends have started their Peace Corps journeys as well! Kate is now in Thies, Senegal finishing up training to start as an agroforestry volunteer, and Sara just got accepted into Peace Corps Niger for their animal husbandry program. Let’s give it up for them *clap*! I am just so excited for them and they are going to have an amazing experience and accomplish great things, I know it. Also fun is the possibility of me visiting these two wonderful people. On my way out of country I could go through Nigeria to Niger by car, then fly to Dakar, Senegal, then fly home. Sounds like a good and low-budget after PC trip!

So I just finished up a SUPER long trip down to Yaoundé to take part in the new informational technology committee. In total I have traveled for over 70 hours in the last week getting down to Yaoundé and back up. On the way down we arrived in Ngaoundere and attempted to reserve tickets on the overnight train that arrives right in downtown Yaounde and normally takes around 12 hours or so. We arrived at the train station to discover that the train had de-railed the night before, injuring 300 people and killing 5. Right after we found out that train tickets were not being sold for an indefinite period of time we also got a frantic call from Peace Corps making sure we were not on the train. LUCKILY no Peace Corps volunteers or admin or anyone was on the train that night, an amazing thing since people are always traveling down to Yaounde. So, now that the train was out the only other option was a hypothetical that we had heard existed… a car from Ngaoundere to Yaounde. Now, the reason the train exists is because there really are no roads connecting Ngaoundere to Yaounde directly… or even indirectly. The terrain is very hilly/mountainous and through rainforests. The four of us volunteers who were going down for the meeting contemplated whether we should try the car or not and finally decided to give it a shot. We went to the station and asked how long it would take. The driver said we would leave at 5:30am and get into Yaounde the same day, during the late evening.

To spare you all a very long story, we left at 5:30 am and didn’t get into Yaounde until around 8am the next day. Yeah, 27 hours in a car on bumpy, muddy roads packed in like cattle so you really cannot move and get chafed shoulders from rubbing against the person next to you. Haha… it was quite the experience. Yeah, an experience, but not one I will repeat.

Well, the IT committee went really well and we are working on setting up a website for Peace Corps in Cameroon ( It should be up and running in a couple weeks so check it out!

On the way back from Yaounde the train was running but I went to the station with another volunteer and we waited from 7 pm until 2:30 am for the train to leave. It left at 2:30 am and arrived in Ngaoundere around 8:30 or 9 pm the next day. Hrm. Well, here I am safely back in the extreme north and I am heading back to my post tomorrow.

It is Ramadan right now which means that for thirty days Muslims get up at around 4am to eat breakfast, drink water, and then starting with the 5am prayer do not eat or drink anything until the call to prayer at 6:30 in the evening. This time is in memory of Mohammed who once did not drink anything or eat anything for three days straight, along with doing Ramadan as it is practiced now. These thirty days are a period of spiritual clarity and are meant to re-focus Muslims on the teaching of the Koran.

I supported my village which is around 95% Muslim by fasting with them for two days straight. It was just amazing to get up at 4, walk over to my neighbor’s house with some avocado and bread to share and drink tea and share food until the call to prayer. We then sat and chatted about development as the sun rose, it was a very… spiritual… moment. However, let me tell you, it is NOT easy to go an entire day here and not drink water. Not eating food is not such a big deal but since it is still over 100 degrees many days and the sun is so sharp, the two days that I did not drink water I spent most the day not moving for fear that I would start sweating. It was a great experience though, around 30 minutes before they are allowed to break the fast many people are selling food along the streets (not a normal time to sell food) so that people can break the fast with the goodies they like. Most people break the fast with some fried dough and bouille (a milk-ish substance made of millet, sugar, sometimes with rice in it). Then at around 10pm or so they eat the real big meal of the day and then go to bed to start all over again.

Another difference is that during Ramadan everyone is obligated to go to the mosque at 7pm and pray 17 prayers, which takes around 30 minutes to do. I don’t yet know the symbolism of why 17 prayers, but neither do the individuals I have asked so… just more prayers to mark that this is a holy time..?

Hehe, one fun thing is that every morning around 4ish there are young people who run around in the streets yelling, banging pans, singing, to wake everyone up so they don’t sleep in and miss their opportunity to eat and drink water for the morning. Alarm clocks are not very widespread… J.

The family who I eat dinner with, their father Kari is who I ate breakfast with and break the fast with each evening, he does not drink water during Ramadan. He only drinks a ton of bouille in the evening. He states that if you drink water after not eating anything it isn’t good for your organism and can cause stomach issues. I just simply cannot understand how he can survive without drinking water besides bouille… but Africans continue to surprise me with their lack of need for water…

My soy field is growing well and I had to weed it all with a hoe by hand before I left for my committee meeting and whew, that is HARD. I must say though that people in my village are amazing. I was out weeding one morning and a young boy happened to be walking by and just started helping me out. He was much more skilled at it than I was too and over the course of 2 hours probably did twice as much weeding as I did. But, that was just so nice! I mean, surely he has a field to be working in, and is probably tired and sore from working every day but he stopped and helped me, it was just great. I gave him what I had… some peanuts. Hehe. Also, one of my other friends in village offered to help me and helped for around 4 hours for three morning straight until we finished weeding, and he did it all just out of the warmth of his heart. He has a field that needed weeding too but he helped me for three days, working his butt off, helping me, and didn’t ask for anything. I waited a week and then paid him 2,000 CFA (4 dollars) and he went overboard trying to thank me… I was like… Uh no. YOU are the one who is generous and amazing, you helped me not expecting anything. Thanks for being such a great friend. I may have come here to try to lend a helping hand to the population, but I can’t help but feel like they help me more than I help them…

That is all for now… talk to you soon!