July 27th, 2015 by | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Last May, I was in Ngaoundere, Adamawa for a week to attend a training on how to work with people living with HIV/AIDS.  Right after the conference, I took a one vacation day to enjoy Adamawa and spend time with Alex.  Just right by Ngaoundere, there is a beautiful resort called Ranch De Ngaoundaba and many Peace Corps Volunteers raved about the place saying that it’s a wonderful place to relax and see the beautiful landscapes of Adamawa.

Alex and I both spent a lovely time there as we were able to really enjoy seeing and appreciating the beautiful scenery that Adamawa has to offer.  Adamawa does really have beautiful rolling hills and mountains like Tuscany and Provence.  We took a short hike up on a big hill where we were able to get a stunning view of a lake near the resort.

Alex and I both also spent a few hours rowing a boat on the magnificent lake.  There were hundreds of white birds by the lake and they were flying around us.  Alex brought his binoculars so that he could see the birds up close.

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The resort offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with a fixed menu.  Alex and I both enjoyed a wonderful steak with mushrooms and cream sauce and french fries.  It was so delicious that we felt like we were eating a wonderful home cooked meal.  Adamawa is known for its beef as a large number of cows are raised there.

Tourists can spend the night at the resort for 10,000 CFA a night for a simple bedroom with a full size bed and hot water.  The rooms also have mosquito nets, a very rare find in hotels in Cameroon.  While the resort offers boat rides on the lake and trail paths for hiking, it also offers horseback riding, archery, and many wonderful resting spots to enjoy reading a good book or simply relaxing.

To get to Ngaoundere where Ranch De Ngaoundaba is located, tourists will need to take an overnight train from Douala or Yaounde to Ngaoundere.  Then once the tourists arrive in Ngaoundere, they need to ask the driver to be taken to car for Dibi.  The ride costs 600 CFA and is about 30 minutes from the town center.  Once they arrive in Dibi, they need to ask for a bike to the ranch which is a quick five minutes drive and costs 300 CFA per person.  It’s important to note that the price of rides can vary as negotiating is involved.

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July 26th, 2015 by | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Last March, after having been in Peace Corps service for six months and not having had a vacation, I decided I very much needed a break from work to relax.  Alex and I travelled to the Southwest region to see Twin Crater Lakes located by a little village named Bangam for two days where we saw two very beautiful lakes nestled in the mountains.  This is a little known tourist site that has shown me that Cameroon is a treasure trove filled with many natural beauty spots that are not known to many people around the world.  Alex and I were the only tourists at the time of exploring the lakes.  This destination is so relaxing that it does not require anyone to have a strong physical strength.  While one could hike for two to four hours from the hotel in Bangam where all tourists stay to the lakes, Alex and I opted to hire a bike driver and take a moto bike directly to the lakes so that we could maximize our time at the lakes.  Alex and I both spent several hours resting by the lake and eating snacks, which we brought with us.  The beautiful scenery has totally blown me away as I felt like I was inside a fairy tale movie.

On our way back to Bamenda, we stopped by Ekom Waterfalls located in the Littorial region, about an hour and half from Bangam.  I was once again reminded that Cameroon has endless opportunities see as a tourist.  This waterfall is surrounded by stunning greeneries.  This spot has many stairs and so one would need to be prepared to have a lot of energy to climb up and down many steps.  However, the workout is a worthwhile to see the waterfalls.

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Tourists can get to Bangam by taking a bus that travels to and from Douala and Bamenda and asking the driver to be dropped off in Melong.  Alex and I both took Vatican Express from Bamenda leaving at 10 AM.  Once the tourists have arrived in Melong, they need to find a bike driver and ask the driver to be taken to the spot where there are bike drivers who will drive to Bangam.  It should not cost more than 200 to 300 CFA to be driven from the bus stop to the bike spot for Bangam.  The bike ride from Melong to Bangam is about an hour to an hour and half and it should cost no more than 2,500 CFA for one person or 4,000 CFA total for two people.

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Bangam has one hotel called Prestige Hotel.  A regular room costs 10,000 CFA per night.  A large room with a water heater for the shower costs 20,000 CFA per night.  Alex and I opted for the large room but the water heater didn’t work and so, they reimbursed us some money.  There is also a little restaurant inside the hotel with a small selection of food.  They take about an hour to cook the meal.

Some Peace Corps Volunteers have camped by the lakes instead of staying in the hotel, but they did certainly need to bring their own camping gear.

There is a fee to enter the lakes and that is 2,000 CFA.  There is also a fee for photographing which is additional 2,000 CFA.

To get to Ekom Waterfalls, the tourists will need to head back to Melong and then look for a driver who is willing to drive them to Ekom Waterfalls.  The drive is about 20 minutes from Ekom Waterfalls.  For a private driver and round trip between Melong and Ekom Waterfalls, it costs 10,000 CFA.  The price also includes 2 hours wait time.

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July 21st, 2015 by | Tags: , | No Comments »

Americans with Disability Act went into effect exactly 25 years ago, on July 26, 1990. In honor of ADA’s 25th birthday, I would like to share the differences in disability rights between my home country, United States, and Cameroon. It’s important to note that while the United States was the first country in the world to enact disability laws, the United States continue to be one of the fewest countries in the world to have laws that protect persons with disability and enforce the laws. As Cameroonians with disability will tell me on regular basis, the United States is a model for other countries on how to provide persons with disability with equal access.  While Cameroon does have disability laws, which was enacted in 2010, they exist only on paper.  They are not enforced.

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In the United States, everywhere we go, there are many visual aids giving us awareness that persons with disability do exist and they deserve live a fulfilling life.  At every parking lot, there is always at least one or a few handicap signs informing the population that those parking spaces are reserved for people with mobility disability or any kind of disability that prevent them from walking long distance.  Many doors to the stores and public buildings open automatically when it detects a person is by the door so that people who use the wheelchair or crutches do not have to struggle to open the door.  The public bathrooms have at least one stall that is big enough to fit a wheelchair.  The same big stalls for wheelchair users also have bars to help wheelchair users get in and out of the wheelchair safely.  It’s also for elders with weaker legs to help them stand up without falling down.  Many buildings have strobe lights so that deaf people can know that the fire alarm is going off as many can’t hear the sirens.  Buildings that have stairs also have a ramp so that those with mobility disability can access the buildings.  All buildings that have more than one floor have at least one elevator so that people with mobility disability can access to other floors.  Many theaters will have signs stating that they have headphones for hard of hearing so that they can hear the movie or play clearly.

Hilda Bih enters in a building with a help of two men as the building is not wheelchair accessible.

Hilda Bih enters in a building with a help of two men as the building is not wheelchair accessible.

All of these visual aids showing the importance of accessibility for persons with disability are very rare in Cameroon.  Some banks in Bamenda where I am posted have ramps but almost all other places do not have ramps.  I have not spotted one parking lot in Bamenda or Yaounde that has spaces reserved for wheelchair users.  No public bathrooms has a stall big enough to fit a wheelchair or a bar. No buildings has a strobe light.  I don’t think there is even a fire alarm in almost all buildings.  I have not seen one elevator in any buildings with more than one floor except for the Peace Corps Cameroon headquarter in Yaounde.  Because I have not been to a theater in Cameroon as they do not exist anywhere except for probably in Douala, I cannot say if they do provide headphones for hard of hearing or not.

As I have mentioned in the previous blog posts, another major difference is education.  The United States’ ADA ensures that all children with disability have access to education.  Most public schools are equipped with resources to ensure that children with disability can learn along with peers without disability and reach to their fullest potential.  This is not the case in Cameroon.  Almost no regular schools are equipped with resources which is one of the reasons why only 2% of Cameroonians have gone to school.

While 55.8% of persons with disability aged between 16 and 64 years are employed in the United States, most persons with disability in Cameroon do not have a job.  In fact, majority of persons with disability in Cameroon are the poorest of the poor.  ADA ensures that workplaces do not discriminate persons with disability by not refusing to hire them due to stigma.

While Cameroon may be so far behind in providing equal access to persons with disability, there are a number of strong persons with disability who are advocating tirelessly for improved rights.

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July 8th, 2015 by | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

I have been reading a new book called, “In Defense of a Liberal Education” by Fareed Zakria.  As evident from the title, the book discusses eloquently the importance of people acquiring liberal arts education.  The author spoke frequently about how humanities can truly prepare us for all kinds of jobs including jobs in computer programing, creating websites and apps, medical research and building bridges.  Examples include how the psychology courses at Harvard University influenced the way Mark Zuckerberg design Facebook and calligraphy courses at Reed College influenced Steve Jobs to create the most beautiful and best selling products.

When people ask me “What did you study in college?” and I respond, “Photography,” I often get blank stares or surprises.  They then ask me, “But you’re not  doing photography full-time.  How did you get to where you are today?”  Or if I get asked, “Where did you go to college?” and when I respond, “Savannah College of Art and Design,” people then say, “Whoa!  But you have nothing to do with art today.”

Photography and art are still very integral to my life today.  My fine arts education at SCAD has actually led me to be a Peace Corps Volunteer today.  When I was in college, while I did learn how to operate a camera, form compositions, and manipulate images with Adobe Photoshop, I took an extensive number of art history courses including History of Photography, Renaissance and Baroque Architecture, Survey of Western Art History, 20th Century Art History and Treasures of Provence.  It was these courses that taught me how to think critically about how the landscapes influence the culture and human’s life and culture itself impacts human’s life.  I also learned how art, in particular photography, can be a powerful weapon to change the world.  It was the great photographers, Dorothea Lange, Lewis Hines and Eugene Smith. who inspired me to take on the path of pursuing a career in humanitarian work.  Dorethea Lange worked with Farm Security Administration and documented the Great Depression.  Her photographs helped people better understand the suffering that humans were facing.  As her photographs continue to be shown today, people are reminded that we do not want this event in history to be repeated.  Lewis Hines was the one who helped end child labor laws as he documented children working in factories and presented his photographs to the government.  Eugene Smith documented humans suffering from mercury poisoning in Japan and helped end the use of mercury.

As a result of my education in art history courses and also other liberal arts courses such as Introduction to Anthropology, African American Literature, and Native American History, I learned how to implement my interests in studying social issues and cultural differences in my photography work.  In all of my photography courses whether or not it focused on learning how to use Adobe Photoshop, how to photograph black and white or how to use the dark room equipment, I still explored my interests.  For example, in my course that focused on learning how to use Adobe Photoshop, I explored the high demands of teachers’ jobs for little pay.  In my black and white photography course, I explored the school dances, an American culture phenomenon.

Me during my sophomore year in college with my photographs.

Me during my sophomore year in college with my photographs.

Then also I studied abroad in various countries and spent a great amount of time traveling overseas during my school breaks.  It was the time when I learned that my camera is a tool to learn about the life of the locals.  It was used to document their life and the landscape.  My photographs became my tool to educate the Americans at home about the life outside of their country.

My studies then led me to become interested in pursuing a career in working with people foreign countries and solving issues.  This is how the idea of becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer evolved.

An artist is not always someone who spends every hour painting.  An artist can be someone who explores various global issues by developing artwork that depict the plights of human’s life in a developing country.  Do not underestimate the power of liberal arts education, especially fine arts, as it can truly lead people to take on jobs that are in the greatest need.

Furthermore, photography is still a very important instrument in my Peace Corps service.  It’s a tool that allows me to complete Peace Corps’ third goal which is to educate the Americans about the host country.  As evident from my blog, my photographs give Americans a window to view the life of people in Cameroon.  It also allows me to complete Peace Corps’ second goal which is to educate the host country nationals about the United States and American culture.  I brought my photographs of my life in America with me to Cameroon to show Cameroonians how the Americans live their life.  Photography also works with Peace Corps’ first goal which is to promote peace and friendship.  My camera allows me to make connections with the locals.  When I photograph them, I get to know their story and the issues they face on daily basis.  I use the newfound knowledge to create projects that would help improve their life.

Me photographing the lilies on a lake in Cameroon.

Me photographing the lilies on a lake in Cameroon. Photo Credit: Alex Buttgenbach

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July 4th, 2015 by | Tags: , | No Comments »

Because today is 4th of July, United States’ Independence Day, I decided to observe it in Cameroon by celebrating Peace Corps’ second goal which is to teach the host country nationals about the American culture.  I invited my Cameroonian work partners and also a Peace Corps staff member who lives in Bamenda to my home to teach them about 4th of July.  I made homemade cheeseburgers and mac and cheese, the two most popular American dishes that are not eaten regularly by Cameroonians.  I also included chips, which are very hard to find in Cameroon as they are also not part of the Cameroonian culture.  Because cheese is not part of the Cameroonian diet, it was the first time for a couple of them to eat cheese.  Some said they did not like the Swiss cheese that was part of the hamburger when they first tried it but after a few bites, they enjoyed it more.  However, they did love the mac and cheese which means they do really like the cheddar cheese.  A couple enjoyed the hamburgers so much that they took a second one home with them to eat later.

As I didn’t want to teach the Cameroonians only about food, I shared facts with them about the United States.  I created a poster with a list of facts about the US, and we had an interesting discussion.  They were all very shocked to learn that there were only 2.5 million people when the US first became independent in 1776 and that Alaska was purchased from Russia.

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