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My Final Cameroon Reflection

Hello, friends!

I’ve now been home for about two weeks, and I’m writing my final reflection of my experiences this summer as a Dickey Center intern.

I started out with a bit of reverse culture shock. For the first week, I would sometimes find myself confused at the shower faucet and the warm water that would come out of it. I would also find myself in a daze in front of the open fridge door.

The reverse culture shock is finally fading away, but I’m noticing some changes to my daily behavior. For example, I’ve been putting in lots of effort to collect as much water as I can while waiting for the shower to become warm and while showering for other uses.

Obviously, I’m enjoying the time with my parents and friends, and I’ve been busy with some odd jobs here and there. During my down time between my busy schedule, however, I’ve been doing lots of reflecting.

When looking back, the memories that flood into my mind aren’t memories of the frustrations of having my things stolen, the discomfort of being temporarily undocumented in a new country, or the fears of having to deal with corrupt police. Instead, the memories that flood into my mind are memories of the thrill of experiencing a new culture, the fulfillment of interacting with the community, and the joyful and funny moments with my colleagues and friends back in Cameroon.

I’ve come out of this experience with an even stronger motivation and drive to work in the global health field and tackle global health challenges, but most importantly, I’ve come out of this experience with a greater sense of humility and a deeper understanding of the road to come.

You see, the most important lesson that I learned during this experience was that before, I romanticized the idea of global health work in my head. Each time during my field experiences during the past few years in South Africa and Kenya, I had fallen in love with the people and the cultures that I encountered, I had found fulfillment in the work accomplished, and I had embraced the challenges of living in a lower-resource setting. This ingrained an idea into my head that global health work would always consist of the joys of discovering a new culture and meeting new people while accomplishing work that would feel fulfilling. This is obviously a romanticized and idealized viewpoint. Now, after experiencing a month of night shifts in a rural hospital and after going through the ordeal of having a passport stolen, I now understand that one of the biggest challenges to global health work will be the accumulation of tough and heartbreaking moments.

I have gained this humility and I have learned these lessons thanks to each and every one of my friends and mentors. I appreciate them for sticking with me during these past two months, and I am forever grateful for the wisdom they have given me. I would not be the person today without all of my friends and mentors, and I know that I will continue to learn from all of them.

I look forward to the journey ahead!

Cheers,

~Sirey Zhang

 

 

 

 

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In a Spaceship and Through a Wormhole (Sirey’s Cameroon Dispatch #7)

Hello, Friends!

During the past week, I wrapped up my last leg of my research by spending about a week with in a remote village in the West Region of Cameroon called Bamengui. Like I mentioned in my last email, the village is only accessible by motorcycle, especially during the rainy season, where the small road is muddy and slippery. We encountered heavy rain on the way there which made the journey rather nerve-racking, and our bags loaded on the bike didn’t help much.

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A photo of smiling faces unaware of the road and weather conditions ahead

Boris and I stayed on a mattress in the living room of the mud-brick house of a local village elder named Wilfred. The house was surrounded by wonderful neighbors (including a family of pigs in the pigpen next door) and we were well fed and watered from the hospitality of the small community. Several of my meals included some well-prepared but unknown bush-meat. I doubt that I will ever know what I truly ate for those meals.

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Some daily scenes around the village

The work was tiring but fulfilling, and I was able to successfully engage with mothers and families about vaccinations door to door in French.

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Boris and I at the start of the work day: optimistic and cheerful

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Boris and I at the end of the work day: cynical and tired

The results were striking—the health infrastructure and sensitization in the remote village is extremely poor. I won’t go into details in this blurb, but I think the state of the entrance sign of the village health center represents the healthcare of the community as a whole.

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An old sign

Although it’s not the first time in my life that I have seen this level of health infrastructure, the emotional reaction maintains its intensity each time.

My time in Cameroon wrapped up, and I was able to take some last silly selfies before my departure (I apologize for the scruff on my face).

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Left to right: Dr. Dinga, Dr. Sinda, Josianne, Boris, and yours truly

As I’m sending this message to all of you right now, I’m sitting airside at JFK waiting for my last leg to Denver. I thankfully made it through the police checkpoints and immigration in Cameroon with only a little bit of resistance and hassle. To be honest, stepping on the airplane at the Douala airport was a bit disorienting to me. I felt as if I stepped on board a spaceship. The airplane juxtaposed my minibus/motorcycle journey to the airport and the overall experiences of my past 6 weeks. The spaceship transported me through wormhole to a different universe. It was a shock to me when running (and warm) water came out of the tap in the airport bathroom, and I feel extremely distant and disconnected from all the other people walking by me in the terminal. I’m still sitting here quietly in a daze; the confusion is making it difficult for me to write this message to you all.

Anyways, that’s it for this dispatch. I think in a few weeks, after I’ve spent some time reflecting and processing, I’ll write one last message to you all. Thanks for keeping up with me the past 6 weeks in Cameroon, and thank you for all the kindness and wisdom that you all have given me. I am humbled by all of you. I truly appreciate it!

Cheers,

~Sirey Zhang

 

 

 

 

Have You Ever Seen The Rain? (Sirey’s Cameroon Dispatch #6)

Hello, Friends!

It’s been one of the rainiest weeks of my life. It has also been one of the happiest weeks of my life.

I will keep this week’s edition short compared to Tolstoy’s War and Peace that I wrote for all last week.

The work in the clinic is going well. I’m learning the most from the night shifts especially, as that is when the more serious cases come in. I also enjoy the late night dance parties that me and Boris (a medical student) have when there are no patients in the hospital.

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Boris and I doing our usual shenanigans

The research has been fascinating this week. Dr. Sinda is traveling to refugee camps in southern Chad in a month to work with HIV/AIDS patients in UNHCR settlements. Most of the displaced persons there are fleeing long-term political, ethic, and religious conflict the Central African Republic. Because of this, she gave me the past week to research the current HIV/AIDS situation for the refugees in southern Chad. It’s made me realize the added challenges of healthcare delivery for people who are forcibly removed from their homes by violence, often sexual violence. The research has even given me the opportunity to meet and listen to the experiences of former Central African Republican refugees who have settled into the area of Cameroon near me.

One issue that we’ve had the past is a lack of water. Although it’s been the rainiest week of my life, the communal tap nearby has been dry for over a week. A few days ago, the other students and I had to go on a foot trek to fetch water at a nearby river. I wasn’t told that we had to cross the small river. I also wasn’t wearing my sandals. In summary, I got my socks and shoes wet and had to carry heavy water back to the clinic. However, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. The rain was pouring heavily on the way back, and we all made jokes and laughed at each other all the way home.

Because of the hard work that we endured while carrying water, Dr. Sinda gave us all a day off. It was coincidentally the only sunny day during the week. We went down to the seaside and ate some fish.

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The colorful fishing boats of Limbe

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Grilled fish with chili sauce (a must) and cassava

Today, I went into the police headquarters of the region to obtain my exit visa. I was feeling brave, so I asked my supervisor if it would be okay if I went by myself. He agreed, but let me know that I should call him if I ran into any trouble. It was daunting to face the bureaucracy alone, but within a few hours, I left the large building triumphant with the proper stamps and signatures in my flimsy emergency passport. I learned that one must be forceful and resolute when dealing with a bureaucracy like the one in Cameroon. I thankfully ended up paying the amount that I was expecting.

Early in the morning tomorrow, I will be travelling to the remote village of Bamengui in western Cameroon for the last leg of my research with Boris and Dr. Sinda. It will be a long journey, primarily on motorcycle, as many of the roads are difficult to pass, especially in the rainy season. There will be some police checkpoints on the way, and it’ll be a trial run for the new stamps in my passport before I head back to the states next week.

Keep in touch for my next update! I wish all of you the best.

Cheers,

~Sirey Zhang

It’s Tough to Process (Sirey’s Cameroon Dispatch #5)

Hello, Friends!

This week has been a rollercoaster. I’ve faced difficult challenges and I’ve received unbelievable love. As I’m looking back on the past week and writing about it, I’m finding everything that has happened very difficult to process; it may take me weeks, even months, to fully process and accept the surreal nature of this week. This missive will be longer than my past missives, as so much has happened to me, but this missive will mainly just contain a narration of events with little reflection, as I’m still not sure what to think.

I’m still conducting my research on childhood vaccinations, but I’m also shadowing and assisting within my skill and experience capacity in Dr. Sinda’s hospital, which is right next door to her home, where I am staying. Dr. Sinda is an infectious disease specialist, and she built the health facility herself, utilizing her resources to offer free services to women and children in the community.

One late evening, during the night shift, a young girl with pneumonia came into the clinic.  She came in with her grandmother, an older woman, asking for some cheap drugs for us to quickly prescribe. Dr. Sinda asked the grandmother if the child was immunized against pneumonia, and the grandmother said yes.  This could only mean that the vaccine that the young girl received was improperly stored in a cold chain; the vaccine that she was given was ineffective.

Upon examination of the young girl, Dr. Sinda came to realize that the pneumonia was severe. Her breathing was hoarse and fast. Her temperature was rising. She was weak and helpless. Dr. Sinda told the grandmother that a simple prescription would not do anything for the girl. In order for the girl to stay alive, she would have to remain in the clinic overnight under intensive care.

The grandmother refused the recommendation from Dr. Sinda, believing that intensive overnight care would be inconvenient for her and would not do anything for the child. All she wanted were some simple antibiotics. Dr. Sinda, being experienced, simply shook her head and turned away to treat another patient.

I, being idealistic and young, continued urging the old woman, telling her that the child would die if she refused care. The old woman stamped her feet and yelled at me, claiming that ‘Jesus Christ will not allow my child to die.’ I was without words.

The old lady, unable to get what she came for, hastily left with the child. I watched from the front door of the hospital as the old woman took the child away, knowing that the young, innocent girl was most likely going to die.

Simply put, I learned that you cannot help a person who is not willing to accept your help.

Next, I traveled to Yaoundé, the capitol city of Cameroon, over the weekend to visit the US Embassy for my emergency passport. After a 10-hour journey that passed through the beautiful, lush jungles of central Cameroon, I made it into the city.

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My right buttock has been asleep for two hours in this photo.

Yaoundé is beautiful and huge, with rolling green hills surrounding all sides of the city. Blaise, my supervisor, and I stayed with a friend of his. His home lay within the Muslim quarter of the city, an urban area teeming with life and excitement. Within the mazes of its streets, Halal butchers worked on the side of the road, yelling out their daily specials, and tailors showed off the colorful and flashy garbs that they put in hard work to create.

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The beautiful alleyways of Yaoundé

The Muslim quarter, however, straddles upon the sprawling slums of the city. Filled with temporary-looking structures built out of wood and sheet metal, it is a stark reminder of what life is like for many of the residents.

My visit to the US Embassy, however, was the most appalling experience. The embassy was located in the nicest part of the city, near the Turkish, French, and Saudi Arabian embassies. The hilltop neighborhood was filled with large, gated houses, surrounded by foreboding walls laced with electrified barbed wire. Fancy balconies on the houses looked over the houses onto the growing slums below. Behind the embassies was a large luxury golf course. The sight was nauseating. This neighborhood resembled the ones that I have seen elsewhere in places like Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam, Lusaka, and Cape Town, and highlights the extreme inequality that society harbors.

The embassy was a massive fortress made of granite. Tight security surrounded the compound, and I went through several levels of security screening before I entered. The consulate services were quick to process my information, and the printing of an emergency passport took only two hours. As I was waiting, I had the opportunity to speak with many of the Cameroonians in line for a visa to the United States. They were also eager to speak to me, as I was the only US citizen in the consular section that day.

I heard the stories of many Cameroonians hoping for a visa to study or to see long-lost family members who emigrated from the country. However, only one-fifth of the people that I conversed with received what they came to the embassy for. Over the span of my two hours there, I heard the microphone voice behind the glass window apologizing to person after person that a visa could not be granted to them that day.

A mere five-minute interview at the consulate section set the course of these people’s lives. I watched each of the rejected individuals quietly from the corner attempting to keep a straight face as they gathered their documents and walked away from the window.

My collection of challenging and even ugly moments culminated with my journey back home to my host family from the capitol. It was mid-afternoon by the time we left the city, and our journey back to Limbe consisted of a packed bus, two motorcycles in heavy Douala congestion, and a packed car.

Being stopped and harassed by police was what rubbed salt in the wound of our tiring journey. Cameroon is home to many random roadside police checkpoints that seek to find any excuse possible to squeeze bribe money out of travelers when something seems out of place. Upon asking for our documents, I showed them my flimsy new emergency passport and the police documents that acted as my visa. They refused the documents, stating that there was no visa in my emergency passport. Despite having the right documents and following the right procedures, Blaise and I bickered for almost half an hour with the officers who would not accept my documents, claiming that they were fake. Even as a veteran human rights worker who dealt with the police every day, Blaise found it challenging to talk to them. After around thirty minutes, the police gave up on us and let us go without paying a bribe. I was agitated and frustrated. I’m going to the local immigration office in a few days to get an exit visa stamped in my temporary passport. I hope that it’ll put an end to these issues.

It was past midnight when I finally made it back to my home in Limbe. My host family stayed up, however, waiting for me to come back, and I arrived with smiling faces and a bucket of warm water that they heated for me to shower. It was my first warm shower in a month.

Despite all the frustrating and ugly experiences that I have had this week, I have had an equal share of beautiful experiences. I love living with a host family. In the daytime, I collect data in the field and shadow Dr. Sindas’s work, and in the nighttime, I spend time and play with the kids before bed. I have the opportunity to practice and speak French in the house, and I come home each evening to an incredible home-cooked Cameroonian meal. The kids even cook breakfast for me every morning.

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One of the many delicious meals that I have had here.

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The Atlantic Ocean, just a short walk away from my home.

This whirlwind of a week leads up to now, where I’m writing my weekly update to all of you. I’ve only been able to recite my week’s events to you, as I’m finding it nearly impossible to reflect on this surreal week. Like I said above, it will take time for me to accept these experiences, but I will undoubtedly mature greatly from them.

One of my best friends from home wrote me an incredible, supportive email that uncannily responded to all my challenges this week perfectly. I am thankful that I am blessed with people like her in my life who support me and keep me on the right track. This week has been difficult, but I know that it will inevitably be part of a repertoire of challenging experiences that I will accumulate over my global health career. Thanks to my friend’s amazing words, I know that I will always do what I can to not allow these frustrating moments to deter me from my greater goals.

I have less than two weeks left here. Thankfully, I won’t be travelling anywhere far anymore that requires going through a police checkpoint. I’m just going to lay low, do my research, and enjoy my time left with my temporary family.

Thanks again for all of your support and kindness. I love and admire you all. I’m humbled by each and every one of you.

Cheers,

~Sirey Zhang

 

I Guess It’s Life (Sirey’s Cameroon Dispatch #4)

Hello, Friends!

Yet again, I am excited to share with all of you another week of my time here in Cameroon. Thankfully, I didn’t get sick this week and I’ve been able to diversify my diet from bread, cheese, and bananas that I’ve been relying on for survival these past few days.

I’ve continued to eat the delicious spaghetti omelet, but I’ve discovered yet another true love of mine (some say that I fall in love too easily, but I personally think it just means that I always look for the best in things). My taste buds were thrilled to mingle with a deep-fried dough ball made with white beans. The fluffy, crumbly texture of the dough ball harmonized with chili sauce; the result was a symphony so beautiful that it belonged in the great concert halls of Vienna, impressing even a near-deaf Beethoven.

My week began with a nighttime power outage, which resulted in the depletion of the batteries in my headlamp. I’ll have to go searching for some more! I am also sad to announce that I have finished all 8 books that I have brought with me in the span of a month. I guess that’s a beautiful by-product of living with limited web connectivity. I’ll have to go searching for some more books as well.

The low of my week was having a break-in in my apartment one night and having some items stolen. My backpack was taken from the couch in the living room, which included my camera, passport, immunization card, research notebook, among others. While this has been an emotional red-zone experience, I have been blown away with kindness from my neighbors and the larger community around me. Although it has shaken my sense of security in my home, my friends and mentors here in Cameroon and in the US have shown unbelievable support towards me. My neighbors put in work to fix my door and make it more secure than it was, and the US Embassy in Yaoundé was so helpful and attentive in giving me information.

Thankfully, I’ve purchased insurance that covers all these stolen items. I will have to take a 7-hour squeeze in public transportation to the capital to obtain an emergency passport. According to the Embassy, I won’t be able to get a full replacement passport because the time I have left here isn’t enough time for a full passport to be processed and sent over, especially since it is peak travel season. After some long thinking, I decided that I would like to stay in Cameroon for the rest of my time and finish my work here; however, I have come to realize that this is not a possibility.

The costs for traveling to the capital for getting a new emergency passport, the cost of an emergency passport, the cost of obtaining a new vaccination card, and the costs of obtaining the correct legal paperwork for my losses in a timely manner have added up immensely and have eaten out of a sizeable chunk of my budget– I simply just can’t afford staying here anymore. The State Department also advised me against unnecessary travelling with an emergency passport in Cameroon, where roadside checkpoints are frequent and severe.

After talking with my parents (who were worried sick), the Dickey Center, my local supervisors, and the US Embassy, I have decided to cut my trip short by a few weeks. Thankfully, all the airline change fees are covered by my travel insurance. Also, I will still be able to travel to all the areas planned for my research with the time that I have left, even if I am a bit more rushed. This means that I will still be able to complete the planned research that I came to Cameroon intending to do. I will just write my report for the organization once I get home.

To be quite honest, deep down in my heart, I feel ashamed. I came to this country with an objective to complete research that could have the potential to improve the health of children. Through the time that I have spent here, I have had incredible learning experiences and I have received unbelievable kindness from the people around me. It’s embarrassing to me that an incident like this would end up jeopardizing and sabotaging all that I hoped to accomplish here. It’s embarrassing to me that because of this, I will end up returning home earlier than planned. I am grateful for the support on this matter that Mr. Dufford, my incredible high school teacher, has given me, but I am still struggling to come to terms with this.

Anne and Dr. Adams, two of my amazing mentors at Dartmouth, taught me to reflect upon this experience and look at the bigger picture. Anne told me to look at this incident through the lens of the societal structural violence that hurts poorer people and poorer countries, and how this structural violence manifests in “insidious ways” like my own experience. She also urged me to reflect on my presence in the community, as a privileged, western, lighter-skinned individual, amongst other things. Ultimately, I hold no bad feelings in my heart, as this shows me the extreme measures that some people take when in a difficult life situation. Dr. Adams helped me look at the big picture. I’m lucky, due to the privileges that I was born with and given, that the only true inconveniences I have as a result of this are some sleepless nights and the small trouble of traveling a few hours to obtain a new fancy blue book that lets me go to places around the world. In the grand scheme of things, I’m fortunate enough to be able to have experiences like these.

As for the field work, I have continued to have amazing interactions with local health facilities. I have also gained incredible insight into the perceptions towards vaccinations from mothers in the area through conversations with locals. I’m looking forward to sharing that with all of you. I haven’t taken too many photos this week, as I don’t have a camera anymore, but the few that I have to show picture the beautiful areas that I have the privilege of working in. I thought that I ought to share with you all.

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Rural Muea, Cameroon with rainy season clouds

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Rural Mile 16, Cameroon with even more rainy season clouds and a rainy season puddle

Tomorrow, I will be moving to Limbe to conduct research there. I will be living with Dr. Sinda, her daughter, and her mother in her home. It will be helpful because I think that I will have a better sense of security there. I am excited to also live with a Cameroonian family, as it will give me a better cultural experience than just living in an apartment. Dr. Sinda’s mom has already promised to teach me how to make some traditional Cameroonian dishes.

Thanks for reading yet another one of my weekly dispatches. While I’m devastated that things had to end up like this, I will be doing all that I can to make the most out of the time that I have left here. I plan on completing all the objectives that I have come here for. In a few months, this will all just be a funny story to look back upon.

Cheers,

~Sirey Zhang

The Backyard Trots (Sirey’s Cameroon Dispatch #3)

Hello, Friends!

It’s been a challenging and bumpy past week for me, but I’m excited to share with all of you another week of my exploits here in Cameroon. I’m still not frustrated by the basic lifestyle here; I’m adapting to it very well!

The start of this week was defined by the worst round of diarrhea that I have ever had in my entire life. I have a suspicion that my trip through all the levels of hell was initiated by a bad avocado, but I guess only God really knows. Regardless of the cause, I’ve been avoiding devilish avocados to prevent myself from making the same mistake again, despite how large and tasty avocados are around here.

Thankfully, Dr. Sinda, one of my mentors here, prescribed me some antibiotics and I’ve made a full recovery after that cosmic train wreck. I have a gut feeling (no pun intended) that I have an iron stomach now, but I’ve been afraid to test it out. Instead, I have eaten very little other than bread and bananas for a week.

After my biblical great flood, I decided to travel to Douala last weekend. Douala is the biggest city in Cameroon and it’s filled with lots of expats. The journey took two hours, but I was able to make it to a Chinese restaurant. I ordered a big bowl of beef noodles and it satisfied me to the brim. I was ready after that to get back to being at full productivity.

I have found a new love though: a local street food that is best described as a spaghetti omelet. It’s eggs mixed with peppers, garlic, onions, tomato, and spaghetti, then fried in a pan and topped off with hot sauce. It has suited me very well and satisfies many of the food groups. I’m sure that Michelle Obama would approve it under her health regimen.

My work is going great, and it’s filling up my days; each day has seem to have flown by this week, and I’m sure that it will continue to be that way. I now have a good description of my daily activities: I am spending two months researching the low rates of childhood immunization in rural Buea and Limbe, Cameroon by studying the beliefs and habits of mothers and the cold-chain and other immunization infrastructure in healthcare facilities.

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A happy, post-diarrhea Sirey doing work in the field!

I carry around an official document from the Cameroon Ministry of Public Health, or MINSANTE, that I show around as proof of my work. The document was very difficult to get, as me and my supervisors learned, due to a rather bloated bureaucracy and corruption. It runs rampant here, and it’s sad to see because it hinders the ambitions and efforts that many good people put in to do good work.

Some facilities that I have seen have very good cold-chain infrastructure and reliable power sources to keep their vaccines, but some hospitals don’t.

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An example of a health center with very good vaccine infrastructure

 It seems like many community health centers have a reliable supply of childhood vaccines but have challenges reaching families in the community. They also have trouble keeping a good record system for both facilities and families in the vaccines that are received and administered. I’m hoping to investigate this more, but I have found that many health facilities conduct vaccine outreach services as part of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Extended Program on Vaccinations (EPI). With support from groups such as GAVI, the Clinton Health Foundation, and USAID, they go door to door administering vaccines and spreading knowledge. I’m excited to learn more, however, as I have only done a fraction of the research that I hope to do.

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Equipment taken on community EPI trips

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My awesome support group in Cameroon! Left to right: Blaise, Me, Dr. Sinda, Victor, Dr. Sinda’s daughter, and two medical students that she’s mentoring!

As for me personally, the last week has been challenging. My days are packed with work, but the pace of work here is slower than it is back in the States. Americans seem to love to work and all the stress that comes with it, and I’m learning to take some steps back to look at the big picture a bit more.

Most importantly, however, I miss all of my friends (all of you) back home in Denver and at Dartmouth. My Dickey Center Project Supervisor, Casey, talked with me about the possibility of getting lonely while working abroad in the field, and that feeling has set in a lot. It’s hard living alone in a brand new place, and every challenge of living in a new environment here feels like an uphill battle. I can’t break into random song or dance, or tell the same silly jokes. But alas, I keep going, because nobody said that following your dreams and doing what you love was free of its challenges.

I’m loving this place more and more each day. I’m looking forward to next week, when I can write to you all again and share more of my lessons!

Cheers,

~Sirey Zhang

 

 

Bucket Showering (Sirey’s Cameroon Dispatch #2)

Hello, Friends!

Oh boy, what a week it has been! There’s been a few bumps along the way for me in my first week here, but I’m having a blast whilst chasing my dreams.

My arrival into Cameroon was marked with a delayed plane flight, and as I am typing this, I am reminded of a vivid memory of sitting in a warm plane on the Charles De Gaulle tarmac for an hour. As I stepped out of the plane in Douala, the grubby humidity immediately settled onto my skin. I’m now getting use to the feeling of never being dry. As all the hip young people say, “sticky and clammy is the new dry!” It’s wet season here, and the heavy rain turns on and off around here like a random faucet.

Needless to say, my first few hours were marked with unanticipated excitement. I know I was worried about living near an active volcano, but I’m now more worried about the driving. The driving here is insane! I thought I was prepared for it from my time in Kenya, but the traffic entropy in Cameroon is exponentially higher than it is in Kenya.

On the drive from the airport to my new home, we were stopped three times by police officers at checkpoints. They scrutinized our vehicle in all ways imaginable to squeeze some bribe money out of us, but Blaise, my project supervisor, had a few sly tricks up his sleeve as a veteran human rights worker. He sheepishly apologized to me for having corruption as one of the first experiences that I had in the country.

My new home has some strikingly different living conditions from those of back in the States. I would describe it as ‘charmingly rustic.’ One of the first things that I did when I arrived home was grabbing a broom from the kitchen to dramatically whack a cockroach that was enjoying its life on the corner of the wall nearest to my bed. Cockroaches are surprisingly hard to kill.

I’ve had a few more cockroach sightings since the first one, but I haven’t been able to lethally destroy them. I may have also seen a giant spider or a regular-sized mouse a few times, but I hope it’s just my eyes playing tricks on me. Fingers crossed!

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A view of my neighborhood (my house/apartment is on the very left)

I have a nice little gas stove where I cook my weekday dinners (mainly pasta and local veggies) and I usually have some bananas and peanuts for lunch. My house has no running water, and I fetch the non-drinking water from the well once every few days and store it in a large drum container. This was challenging for me at first, but I now know how to schedule an important part of my life around a squatting toilet that doesn’t flush with a handle.

With the water issue, I am forgoing conventional showers and I now opt instead for a Sirey’s World Famous Bucket Shower during the evenings before I go to bed. I’ve become very good at my water management now; I use about 6-7 liters of water per day! (2 liters for drinking, 2 liters for bucket showering, 1 liter for cooking, etc.) It is striking to me however, that I have consistent LTE service on my cell phone in this little town while running water does not exist. This is the complete opposite of Dartmouth/Hanover. I was worried about drinking the tap water in my previous email, but turns out there’s no tap water to drink in the first place!

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Where I sleep! (Sorry the bed isn’t made!)

As for the people in the community, they are incredible. I am blown away (Except for one of the neighbor’s roosters that promptly begins his calls at 4am). The residents of the area of Buea that I live in are incredibly friendly. My home is overshadowed by the MASSIVE Mt. Cameroon, an active volcano that rises about 13,000 feet above the town. If the clouds fade away on a clear day, the view always blow me away.

I’m acquainted with the public transportation system here now. Tiny yellow vehicles that locals call ‘okadas’ zoom up and down the main street, picking up and dropping off passengers. The small cars jam as many people as possible (I’ve seen as many as 7 people, including a hefty payload of a few chairs and some chickens). You walk up, signal the driver, request an approximate destination, quickly negotiate a price (usually 150-200XAF or about $0.15), and they’ll zoom you away!

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Okada in the foreground and Mt. Cameroon in the background (It looks bigger in person)

As for the work, it’s starting slowly but it’s picking up. I’ve met with local tribal leaders and with local ministers of health to receive permission to work in the community. I’ve been inspired already by my Cameroonian project managers, Blaise and Bobet, and I’ve learned a lot already about community health solutions and NGO work. I’m working in the field with two Cameroonians, Diane, and Victor. Diane is a local student who is aspiring to attend a public health course program in Europe. She’s a veteran at community health work and I’ll have lots to learn! Victor is a former teacher converted to a public health worker; he is a veteran as well! We start our work soon with Dr. Sinda, a doctor in the seaside town of Limbe who runs her own community health clinic. We’ll be using lots of her resources and guidance to study the sources of low childhood immunizations in the area to formulate solutions.  I’ll keep you all updated in detail as it starts to pick up a bit more!

Anyways, that’s it for now. I’m loving my new life here and I’m thrilled about the challenges! Keep in tune for another weekly musing about my time!

Yours truly,

~Sirey Zhang