June 21st, 2016 by | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

During the last seven months of my Peace Corps service, I am featuring photographs and stories of several persons with disabilities living in Cameroon. All the photos are part of a series called “Persons with Disabilities of Cameroon.” The goal of presenting photographs and their stories is to create better awareness about the plights that persons with disabilities face in a developing country. When I return to the US, I hope to exhibit this series in a gallery and publish a book to educate others about persons with disabilities living in developing countries as this topic is so rarely discussed in the media.

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Damian, a young adult who was born in 1992 with double club feet, tells a story of perseverance and living positively.

“I was born in the health center.  My parents were surprised because they have never seen this case in the family.  And then they never gave up on me.  The nurse was trying to fix the legs while she was not an expert.  She tied the legs with bandage.  The whole time I was crying because I was in pain because of the bandage she tied.  When I got up the next day, they had to untie it because I was crying a lot.  So when they untied it, they saw my legs were like bent.  So they had to take me to another hospital called Kumbo Shisong Hospital.  So the doctors could not do anything because of the scars.  So there was nothing they could do.  They just sent me back home.  My father was advised to sue the nurse who bandaged me in court.  My father said it was a weak of God that allowed me to grow up like that.  They never knew I would walk.  So, one day, my mom was heading to the farm when I was one year and five months.  She surprising saw me trying to walk.  So, in the old day, she stayed at home trying to make me walk because she thought I would never work because I would be crippling.  She was so happy.  So at five years, I started primary school.  It was not easy because I could not buy shoes from the market because they were not designed to fit my feat.  They were expensive to make and my mother could not afford it.”

He went to school with no shoes.

“I completed class 7 and my parents fully supported me.  They never gave up.  After class 7, I continued to secondary school with the shoe problem.”

He still had no shoes.

“My mother carried me to school.  In form 2, I tried some shoes I could wear.  I finally found shoes I could wear from the market and finally started wearing shoes.  Thought at first it was painful to put shoes on until I discovered the soft shoes and I’m fine with that.  During my secondary school, I’ve gone to so many hospitals but they could not correct the feet because of the scars that the bandage gave.  So I learned to live like that.  But one greatest challenge I have is that I don’t have the ability to stand on my own.  I must support myself when I stand.  It was not easy for me to walk around because children mock me.  So I was always at home until my mom gave me the courage to forget about what the children were saying.  So I go to the field and play football and I learned to live like that.  So now I am happy to have a position to live like other children regardless of disability.  When I finished secondary school, there was no money to continue.  I had to work for two years to raise money to pay for my university.  So now I’m in university studying accounting.  I worked in documentation.  I have passion for computer.”

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June 20th, 2016 by | Tags: | No Comments »

In most parts of the US, people often criticize parents for not looking after their own children.  Children are often prohibited from walking alone from their home to the town, park, or to school because parents fear that children will get hurt or be kidnapped or parents will be criticized for allowing their children to be independent.  If a child crosses the street on his or her own, the child is punished severely.  Last year, a couple was accused of being neglectful parents for allowing their children to walk home alone from a park.  The children were taken in custody by police officers.  Recently, many people have been accusing the parents of a boy who was killed by an alligator who snatched him and drowned him under water for not watching him and also the parents of the boy who walked through a fence at a zoo and got caught with a gorilla for not watching him too.

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A Cameroonian friend told me that there is a saying in Cameroon, “The child is only yours when you are pregnant with the child.”  In Cameroon, children roam freely everywhere in the city and village.  They walk to school on their own or take a taxi or moto bike without any supervision.  Parents often ask their children to go to the market on their own to buy food or basic necessity.  When parents work at the market and bring their little kids, they allow their kids to run and play.  Other store vendors will look after them by picking them up and holding them or playing with them.  One time, when I was buying food from a vendor, she handed me her baby and asked me to hold her so that she could assist me.  There is a strong level of trust between strangers to look after the children.  When children want to visit friends, they freely leave the home without permission from the parents and walk on their own to other homes.  When other children visit other homes, whichever adults are present take on the responsibility to look after the children without any hesitation.  Moreover, children of all ages look after each other and their own safety.  I’ve seen children holding each other’s hands and older children carrying little children.

Babysitters are rare and often limited to upper middle class and wealthy families where one spouse is working and the other is in school and if there is a time when both are not available, they will hire a babysitter.  However, for everyone else, neighbors look after the children.  For example, a little boy who may have a mother who works at the market will be looked after by everyone at the market while he roams around.

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Cameroon truly has a communal culture where everyone takes a responsibility to help each other by looking after each other without any questions, especially children.  It is very rare to hear one criticizing another for not being responsible for their own children.  All in all, when a child is seen walking alone to a store, instead of accusing the parents for being neglectful, the people who see the child alone take on the duty without questions to watch the child.

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June 19th, 2016 by | Tags: | No Comments »

In Cameroon, they have their own unique set of manners.  While one manner may appear polite in the US, it can be impolite in Cameroon and vice versa.  Also, certain body movements can mean differently in Cameroon, and Cameroonians may say certain phrases differently. I would like to share examples of how certain manners in Cameroon are different from the US.

Do not cross your legs in Cameroon or you’ll be seen as a prostitute if you’re a female or ultra mancho if you’re a male.  In the US, crossing legs is acceptable and is sometimes a formal way of sitting down.

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Eat fish, couscous and other various food with hands.  Cameroonians are actually very good about making sure they wash their hands prior to eating.  In the US, while there are certain foods that we do eat with our hands such as pizzas and sandwiches, there are certain dishes such as fish that we only eat with forks and knives.

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When inviting people out for a meal, you must pay for everyone who you invite.  In the US, we pay for our own meals or split the bill.

Shake hands when greeting, even when already knowing the person and in informal settings.  In the US, we normally only shake hands when we meet new people or in formal settings such as when seeing a person for an important meeting.

When waving by folding hands down in Cameroon, it means come here.  In the US, it means bye bye.

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When you say you are sorry, you say “Ashia!” even if you’re an English speaker.  In the US, the word “Ashia” does not exist and we just simply say, “I’m sorry.”

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June 12th, 2016 by | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

During the last seven months of my Peace Corps service, I am featuring photographs and stories of several persons with disabilities living in Cameroon. All the photos are part of a series called “Persons with Disabilities of Cameroon.” The goal of presenting photographs and their stories is to create better awareness about the plights that persons with disabilities face in a developing country. When I return to the US, I hope to exhibit this series in a gallery and publish a book to educate others about persons with disabilities living in developing countries as this topic is so rarely discussed in the media.

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Feldinad, an elder in his 80’s has been living most of his life with hearing loss.  He told me that one morning when he was eight years old, he woke up feeling that his ears were all blocked.  He said he also had fever.  When he got up, he went to a hospital in town.  The doctors used devices to blow into his ears everyday for six months but it provided no results.  However, he continued to go to school and completed primary school and then went onto training in construction.  He couldn’t go to secondary school because of his struggles to hear.  He has been working for private companies and NGOs in construction.  He said that they have been offering him jobs because he has been able to demonstrate to them that he does good work although he believe that he still gets less work than people without disabilities.  He also has been married and has eight children.

When observing Feldinad, he is still able to communicate through listening and spoken language.  However, when he communicates, people have to sit next to him and speak loudly into his ears.  When he communicates with people, he places his hands behinds his ears and curves his hands around the outer ear so that he can hear his best.

“I have problems with the ears.  When I am talking, I can’t hear well.  If I put my hand like that I can hear a bit,” he said.

He does not have hearing aids, but he said that “If I have hearing aids, I could hear people better.”

When I asked him what are his biggest challenges, he said that he wants to work for the government in construction but they will not accept his applications because he cannot hear well.  He also said that he would like to be able to buy machines so that he can be self-employed but has no money because he has not been able to work as many hours as persons without disabilities.

Then I asked him if he ever feels lonely because of his difficulties to communicate with others due to hearing loss.  He said, “When I am with people and I try to discuss with them, I am not isolated.  It is because they help me understand what they are saying.”

 

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June 1st, 2016 by | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Alex and I, being foodies, signed up for a cooking class at Avli, a restaurant that also has a hotel where we stayed for four nights in Rethymnon, Crete.  The cooking class was one of the highlights of our trip to Crete. Katerina, the owner of the hotel, gave us a private cooking lesson. She was so good that I asked her if she has a book, which she unfortunately doesn’t. She taught us about the history of food in Crete, how the culture, geography and economics influenced the cuisine and how to cook 12 different dishes. She has truly not only taught us how to make the dishes she showed us but also she inspired us to explore in creating new dishes with limited ingredients

Katerina first explained to us that in order to eat a well-balanced meal, all we need is bread drizzled with olive oil, tomatoes, olives, and goat and sheep cheese and also a small glass of raki.  This simple plate of food will make us feel full.  She explained that even a poor person living in Crete can still eat a very healthy meal because of what the geography has to offer in terms of growing crops and maintaining livestock.  I shared with her that I read an article online about how even though Greece is facing an economic crises, many people are not facing starvation because they’re still able to grow just enough good food and raise just enough livestock on the farm.  She said that is indeed true.  We also learned that goat cheese and sheep cheese are common in Crete because there is no space for cows on the island.  We also learned that olive oil is a huge staple in Crete not only because olives are so abundant in the country but also because it provides good nutrients for the heart.  We learned that there is a belief that olive oil contributes to the longevity of Cretans.  Throughout the cooking class, we learned that olive oil is used religiously in Cretan cooking.

Katerina then proceeded to show us how to make two different dishes using the same ingredients which were bread, tomatoes, cheese, and olive oil.  First we learned to make a bruschetta which compromised of bread with mashed tomatoes mixed with olive oil on top of bread with cheese and olives.  Then we learned to make a tomato salad which compromised of cheese, bread crumbs and olive oil mixed together to look like a salad dressing and then it was mixed with chopped tomatoes and olives.  In spite of same ingredients, the taste of each dish was different.  That was the intention of learning about making these two dishes.  Then we made a caprese salad to learn other ways to create dishes with tomatoes, cheese and olive oil.

We learned to make various other cold dishes such as potato salad with greek yogurt, olive oil and herbs, a salad with potatoes, hard boiled eggs, zucchini, and tomatoes, salad made of mashed fava beans, salad with mixed beans,and tzatziki.

As Alex and I were learning to how to make different simple dishes using same ingredients while also enjoying variety of tastes, we both discussed that we had wished to learn how to make them prior to joining the Peace Corps so that we could teach people in our communities in Cameroon how to make simple well-balanced diet meals with limited number of ingredients.  From our personal experience in living in Cameroon and eating with Cameroonians, we often find that many eat almost same dishes everyday.  However, they could learn how to make different dishes using the same ingredients.  Also, in Cameroon, they do not use vegetables to their fullest potential as carbohydrate is their staple of their diet and therefore, we could have taught them how to make variety of simple appetizing dishes using vegetables with hopes to encourage them to eat more vegetables.

Then we learned to make hot dishes such as stuffed mushrooms, smoked pork mixed with grape syrup, olive oil and mushrooms, goat mixed with onions, olive oil, goat butter, and herbs.  Then for desert, we were treated with greek yogurt.

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Click here to sign up for the cooking class at Avli.

 

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