Here's a copy of the letter that is being sent to my mailing list. Everyone should get it this week, I hope.
It's been slightly more than six weeks since I left California and I am starting to settle in to my new home and environment. My bag did finally arrive after two weeks, which was a great relief and has enabled me to wear my contacts, run regularly, practice yoga and change my clothes! I so appreciate the little comforts of life.
I have a nice home. Actually it is huge, particularly for a single person, and I am only using the main floor (there's an entire second apartment downstairs). Some of you must come visit me and fill this place up! Speaking of which — I basically get the entire month of December off, so if anyone wants to come to Cameroon for a visit, this would be an ideal time. That is also the dry season here in the North West which should be nice and warm and make traveling around easy. Let me know.
I have a few luxuries which are nice — a refrigerator and a sit down toilet. I also have a shower which I really appreciate, even if the water is freezing cold. My two big purchases to make my life comfortable have been an electric teapot (boils water *so much* faster than doing it on the stove) and a large rug for the living room (thanks to a donation from a friend). I asked Janet (Mrs. Sama) to buy the rug for me and she was brilliant — saved me $10. She's a fierce negotiator. She even negotiates over tomatoes! I have running water, but for the time being it comes from the river which is clean enough for washing but not for drinking .We have a beautiful clean spring but the pump doesn't work, so a couple of times a week I have one of the boys fetch some water for me. We also have electricity (it was PRTC's big project last year to get electricity pulled into the compound). It is not terribly consistent and the voltage varies quite a bit. Thank God I have a laptop. One of my first accomplishments was to buy a backup battery for Beatrice's (the Secretary) desktop computer. She basically does all the adminstrative work for everyone and her computer used to reboot numerous times a day. It often took days to get a letter written and printed. Some evenings they seem to be doing "power sharing" (where they intentionally cut the power to a particular area for a couple of hours). Last week it was 7-8:30pm for us — the most inconvenient time in my opinion. But we're just villagers, so I'm sure the electric company thought it was the best choice. And then we have entire days with no power for no reason we can discern.
Buying food is an adventure. The closest main market, in Bambui, occurs every 8 days (because their traditional calendar has 8-day weeks), which means it moves a day each week and is often during the workweek which makes it difficult for me to get there. The market in Bamenda is every day,much larger and has more variety, but is 30km away so it requires finding a ride. There is plenty of food around, if you know what you are looking at (I often don't) and it's so cheap that at times it is difficult to buy a quantity appropriate for a single person. Protein is the most expensive thing to buy — a single egg costs $1 to $1.20 — but I rarely spend more than $0.20 on a bunch of any vegetable.
One thing I am learning is that often the local solution is the best. When I first got here, I went to the fancy grocery store and bought, among other things, liquid dish soap. This is what I am used to. But it was NOT cutting the grease in my pan. I asked Janet what she used. I don’t use much oil and they tend to use a lot, so I was sure they had confronted this problem. Well, they use what they call "savon" (french for soap), which is the local soap. It is a brown cube, about two inches by two inches by two inches, and they use it for everything — dishes, clothes, bodies, etc. The liquid dish soap cost 2,300 FCFA ($4.60) and a cube of savon costs 200 FCFA ($0.40). And it works — much better. It's a bit harsh, so I buy the good stuff (Dove) for my body, but the savon is great for dishes.
Our big coup so far is that we have Internet access on the compound via cellphone! We got into a trial that MTN is running because Mr. Fru's (the Principal) son is the sole distributor for MTN in the North West. (He is a *BIG* man — he drives the only Mercedes SUV I've seen in Cameroon.) Until December at least it is free, which is awesome, particularly since the connection is pretty slow. Not as bad as 56k, but not too much better. It is perfectly fine for e-mail, but surfing the Web can be trying sometimes and we can't download anything like music or videos or programs. Viewing photos on the web works okay, though.
I've been running regularly and riding my bike. If you want to see my actual workouts, check out http://www.motionbased.com and search under tlongacre. I have this excellent Garmin 205 GPS watch that I bought at Metrosport before I left and because of that and Google Earth, I now have a map of PRTC's land and the surrounding paths and villages where I've run and biked. To see this, and to read more details about my adventures here and see some photos, check out my blog: http://telcameroon.vox.com.
I have become quite an aficionado of text messaging. It costs me about $0.50 to send a message internationally, which is a fraction of what an actual call would cost. So, if I have your cellphone number, you never know, you may get a text message from me someday! (If I don't have your cellphone number, feel free to send it to me, Mom ).
My contact info, in case anyone wants to send a postcard or a Christmas card, is:
P. O. Box 72
Bamenda, North West
Cell: +237 501 00 69
The mail is notoriously slow and unreliable, but I'm here for two years, so I figure I'll get stuff eventually. Well, as long as it doesn't look valuable or anything.
Workwise, things have been slow to get off the ground, but it seems to be picking up. The first couple of weeks I was here we lost both electricity and water and so we were rather consumed with trying to restore those. Next week a few of us are going to represent PRTC at an "Open Day" for local NGOs and I am coordinating the creation of our display which has to be created from scratch. So that's the project for this week (including redesigning the PRTC brochure). The week after next Mercy and I will go out to the field for most of two weeks to do follow-up visits with the people who received micro-loans within the past year. We need to evaluate their projects, see what sort of support they might need and collect payments on their loans. I am really looking forward to getting out into the field.
It is funny for me to be living out here in this rural setting. All of the people that live and work at PRTC are basically farmers. Yes, they have degrees (at least an Associates degree), but they're in Agriculture. And, in addition to your house, every family has at least one plot on our land for their farm. I am a city girl through and through. I don't even like to garden. And Friday I helped write a grant proposal for researching new varieties of yams that will be more productive (hopefully) than the usual varieties. Go figure. The universe has a great sense of humor!
I am doing well. I have bouts of loneliness from time to time, particularly on the weekends, not surprisingly. I wonder what it means to be an Anglican deacon here in this Presbyterian center, but I find that an interesting inquiry to be in. At the deepest level, I feel a profound sense of peace and ease. When I was in the US, even though everything looked great and my life was good by most external measure, I experienced a constant underlying agitation that just would not go away. Now, it's as if I was turned inside out
and, regardless of the external circumstances or appearances, I experience a constant underlying sense of peace — that everything is fine and will be fine. For that I am profoundly grateful
Take care everyone.
– Tracy E. Longacre
Bambui, near Bamenda, Cameroon
Here's a riddle for you,
Find an answer,
There's a reason for the world
You and I
– Five for Fighting
Cameroon Blog: http://telcameroon.vox.com/