September 29th, 2016 by | Tags: | No Comments »

hildabih

Social media has the power to make connections happen much further than simply corresponding with others through the internet.  Social media can often shape one person’s life.  It shaped my Peace Corps experience.  A couple months before I left for Cameroon two years ago, as I was scrolling down my newsfeed, I came across a post by Mobility International USA featuring a video of a woman with disability who happen to come from Cameroon and was visiting the US for Young African Leadership Institute (YALI) as a Mandela Washington Fellow.  Because Cameroon was the first word that caught my eyes, I immediately wrote a comment asking to get in touch with her.  I wanted to get in touch with her only because I wanted to learn more about Cameroon and the situation of persons with disabilities in the country.  Within a couple days, I was in touch with Hilda Bih.

In the first e-mail response, she wrote, “I work as a journalist in Cameroon, and with a group of women and girls with disabilities in the North West Region.  We are still struggling to set it up to represent and empower women with disabilities.  It’s called North West Forum for Women and I’m sure your experience will be very helpful to us.  I have a few Peace Corps friends in Bamenda and it will be amazing if ever you choose to be posted there.”

We continued to correspond for the next several weeks.  She checked on me to see how I was doing in preparing for the move to Cameroon.  In another e-mail, she wrote, “I hope you are doing well and getting ready for your trip to Cameroon. I join you in hoping and praying that you will be posted to Bamenda, your help will be much appreciated, but I guess your office will decide where you are needed most.”

Hilda was then featured on NPR a few weeks later sharing her story of growing up with a disability in Cameroon and struggling to go to school.  Her story on NPR, along with my correspondence with her and also, Ruth, my counterpart who I happened to connect via e-mail too prior to my two-year service, motivated me to express my interest in being posted in the Northwest.

Here I am now in Bamenda, Cameroon.  I have been very fortunate to have a wonderful program manager at Peace Corps who went above and beyond my request.  On my second day in Cameroon, I only requested to be in the region of Northwest so that I could have opportunities to do secondary projects with Hilda and other persons with disabilities.  However, I have been placed right in the heart of Bamenda working directly with persons with disabilities including Hilda and also Ruth.

20160926_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8075

In the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to speak regularly on one of Hilda’s weekly radio programs, Reaching Out to Persons with Disabilities, at CRTV (Cameroon Radio Television – Cameroon’s national radio program).  We’ve spoken about various issues in the disability community in Cameroon including poverty, education, water access, transportation, employment, health, and legal rights.

Moreover, Hilda recently invited me to speak on another program called “Women on the Move.” It’s a weekly program featuring and interviewing one woman. I talked about my two-year Peace Corps service, my living with disability, and which woman served as my role model for women’s rights, which I of course named my maternal grandmother. It was a moment that had me really reflecting deeply about my life in the past two years.

20160926_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8082

Share!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Print this page

September 29th, 2016 by | Tags: | No Comments »

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_7076

While still living in the same country, moving from a village to a town or city can still be a cultural shock for many people.  In Cameroon, living in a village is so different from living in a town or city.  I interviewed a young man, Cyrille, who is from a village named Yang and moved to Buea to study at University of Buea.  Cyrille shares the differences of living in Yang and Buea and the challenges he faced when moving to Buea.  Thank you to Peace Corps Volunteer Katy Shawkey who assisted with the interview by introducing me to Cyrille and writing the answers to my questions.

Tell me about growing up in Yang (Njinikom subdivision), village life (i.e. Food, school, health, free time, etc)?

First of all growing up in the village was hard. For me especially, where I only knew my mom who is the only one who has been like my mom and my father. So, like going to school here, I went to government school.  Government had made primary education free. It was free but it was still difficult to afford it because just 1,500 CFA was the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) fee, and affording that at that time was still very difficult. However education wise, I still managed to survive, though it was hard, I survived. I did not do all my primary education here. Half here (class 1-3).  Then I had to go to Southwest, in another village to finish. I had to skip class 4, continued class 5,6,7 and was done. Came back and started secondary still with the help of my mom, but this time at least my brother, Horatio, came in. So it was like the 2 of them who took me into secondary school. Getting food too was another problem. But my mom exceptionally, has always been the hardest worker. So we’ve never lacked food, like the basics. It’s been hard, but as hardworking as she is, we have never lacked food in our house. Although the food is just basically village food.  With my free time, I would go to the farm with mom.  We’ll do some farm work. Till together, plant together, and harvest together. Transportation, the same, together. Then also just part of my free time for leisure, I would go play football and maybe just take a walk around because I’m not good at visiting people.  I would play around with my friends, play football together. So basically that’s what I did with my free time. On holidays, I would go to the Southwest with my brothers, work with them and that’s also how I got money for my school fees and other school needs. That was the period between, during secondary school.

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_6957

Mountains in Njinikom

Why and how did you decided to move to Buea?

So with the “why” first, I decided to go to Buea. It’s first of all a childhood decision, a thing I’ve always looked up to. Because to us, the so-called Anglophone, Buea has been the only university. That is the university that we of the anglophone region most likely went to. Equally because I loved to have a university education. That’s also a reason that motivated me to go to Buea. I think that covers everything for why, because I have no other special reasons for going to Buea. Then how I got to Buea. Getting to Buea was also hard. It was hard because, first of all I was unable to rent a house and it was very difficult for me to get to Buea.  I first of all left village to Muenge with my brother. It was getting close to the start of school. And at that time, I was still not sure of having accommodation in Buea. So finally when I had my fees, my school fees, I went to Buea from Muenge. It’s a short distance because they are all in the same division. So I reached Buea on the 13th of October 2014. So with the help of my cousin, whom I had hoped to live with him without question, he directed me on how to pay my fees and it was paid. So from there I moved down to Limbe, still because I had no accommodation in Buea. In Limbe I was with one of my elder brothers, stayed with him for two weeks while still attending school in Buea. Then after the 2 weeks I had to stay with another guy for two weeks in Buea.

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_6983

A home in Yang

How was the transition between village life and city life?

I’m sorry but Buea is not even a city.  As I was already saying, being in Buea, let me first of all put it in, like normally away from home, so it’s not easy.  It’s not been easy.  I think its still not going to be easy.  In terms of accommodation in Buea, you have to pay your rent out, like I have not survived through rent, I’ve survived through like living with people, from one person to another and then…certainly I’m missing my place and I always want to get back, and I do not hesitate when I have the least time to…like whenever I’m free, I’m home. Whenever I’m free, I come back.

What are the differences between living in village versus Buea?

Yeah so normally, getting food, like getting accommodations too, it’s a difficult thing because Buea is one of those towns in Cameroon where life is expensive. So everything is hard to get if you’re not a native, if you’re not rich enough, you can be going poor in Buea. So, like home, everything is readily available, there is food there is everything. What you need, we buy. We buy just things you can buy like oils and little things like spice, and like every other thing like food stuff, it’s there. So like in Buea, everything is bought.   You’re not farming down there.  It’s all money.  For the first year that I had and half of the second year, I didn’t really have like food problems in Buea because I had one woman and she helps me when I’d talk to her. When there is no food, she can have and give.  The worst thing of it all,  is that all that difficulty would result in me being like worried and disturbing me in the head and all that.   Worrying about money makes it hard to focus on studies and other things.  Then also living in an environment where you are not really, which does not really suit you, also affected me.  The heat and then the specific house which I was living in, and the distance there from school sometimes you miss classes.  Sometimes you miss out on unannounced tests, and sometimes you go late and other things because of the distance.  So, if I have to compare between the village and Buea, Buea has its advantages, like you’ve got all the schools there, the higher institutions, which I am out for.  [Buea is] more expensive than the village to live in, like more open than the village.  There’s another difference, Buea is not only a town.  It’s also in a different region. The culture of the Southwest is very different from the culture of the Northwest. So the Southwest is almost like a cultureless people, I mean they do have but like it doesn’t sum up to even, not even a quarter of what I have here. So, it’s different, it got its own things, and then the village is very conservative and Buea is more open, then apart from those few difficulties, I get going in Buea.

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_6978

Cyrille’s family in their home in Yang

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_6997

Cyrille takes a bath outside in a stream in his village

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_7035

A female farmer

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_7044

Clothes are washed by hand and dried on a clothesline outside

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_7039

A female farmer walks down an unpaved road

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_7062

Rainbow was sighted in Njinikom Subdvision

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_7068

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_7069

Secondary School in Njinikom Subdivision

20160830_peace-corps_cameroon_njinikom_6974

 

Share!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Print this page

September 27th, 2016 by | Tags: , , , | 2 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.

20160926_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8061

Hilda Bih is one of the very few women with disabilities who live in upper middle class in Cameroon.  In spite of having a successful career as a radio journalist and Washington Mandela Fellow and having greater financial means than most women with disabilities, she still faces barriers.

“I have Muscular Dystrophy and I only got the diagnosis a year ago. It was first noticed when I was about four years old and was not able to figure out what the problem was. My parents only noticed that I was losing mobility as time went by but we had no answers from hospitals and other places. My parents noticed I was having trouble walking and holding things. I grew up becoming weaker and it got harder to walk. At a certain point people had to be carrying me to school. I started using a wheelchair at the age of about 14 years old. I have been on the wheelchair ever since. I consider myself quadriplegic because I have lost almost all use of my limbs.”

“I got the diagnosis when I had the chance to attend a conference organized by U.S. based organization known as the Speak Foundation which assists people with Muscular Dystrophy in 2015. During the conference, they provided genetic testing kits for those who have never had the diagnosis. And the results confirmed that I have it. I have been suspecting it because I have done personal research on the Internet and by reading books prior to it.”

20160926_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8066

“One of the main barriers is still pretty much accessibility and getting around. Because as you notice the infrastructure is not properly adapted which means I am cut off from going to lots of places. Many buildings have staircases and elevators are practically almost non existent.  Accessibility is an issue.”

“As you noticed, I am not married. I think the principle reason is because in my country and context, women with disabilities are still considered liabilities. Such that it is hard for men to consider a woman with disability as potential wise or partners. People look at me and what they say is not that I am a successful, hardworking and beautiful and intelligent women. They see me as more of a woman with disability. So that makes it difficult to establish relationships and live a more fulfilling life as a woman.”

“And another thing is even through I am successful in my career, I still feel that I sometimes have to live below standard because the cost of living as a woman with disability is way higher. Since there is no support from the state, I have to fend for myself to meet all of the needs I have as a woman with disability. “

Share!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Print this page

September 25th, 2016 by | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Hilda Bih invited me to her home to teach me how to make peanut butter soup, a Cameroonian dish, which is actually known as groundnut soup.  Peanuts, which is also known as groundnuts, are very commonly found in Cameroon.  Unlike in the US, they’re not used as spreads but instead they’re used in different ways such as sauces for pastas, meats and vegetables and as soups.  Hilda Bih and her personal assistant showed me how to prepare it in their home without electricity.  They normally have electricity, but like anywhere in Cameroon, it can go out from time to time and so, lights just so happened to be out and we had to prepare it in the dark.  The soup was very delicious, and it does have the good peanut butter taste that all Americans love to have on their bread or crackers.  Adding chicken to the soup really made it even more filling.  This recipe makes enough soup for four to six people.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of ground peanuts or peanut butter
  • 4 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 cup of ground ginger
  • 1 cup of chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup of chopped onions
  • 1 cup of variety of chopped greens such as celery, parsley and water leaves
  • 1/4 cup of shredded dry crayfish (other shredded dry fish can be used)
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 1 pound chicken

Direction:

  1. Cook the chicken if it has not yet been cooked.
  2. Grind the peanuts if they’re not ground.
  3. Ground the ginger if it’s not grounded.
  4. Cut the tomatoes, onions, and greens into small pieces.
  5. Put the oil into the pot and turn the stove on to medium heat.
  6. Put in chopped onions.
  7. Put in chopped tomatoes and stir the tomatoes and onions with oil.
  8. Put in chopped greens and stir the vegetables with the oil.
  9. Pour in 1 cup of chicken stock and stir.
  10. Pour in the ground peanuts into the pot with the vegetables and chicken stock and stir.
  11. Pour in the rest of the chicken stock and stir.
  12. Put in the chicken into the soup mix and stir.
  13. Pour in a few tablespoons of water if the consistency is too thick.
  14. Pour in the dry crayfish.
  15. Let the pot sit boiling for about five minutes.
  16. Stir for a couple of minutes after boiling.
  17. Serve and eat the chicken with your fingers, which is customary in Cameroon.

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_7940

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_7946

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_7966

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_7975

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_7978

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_7982

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_7994

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8002

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8009

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8015

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8024

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8030

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8032

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8036

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8040

20160925_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_8045

Share!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Print this page

September 18th, 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.

20160917_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_7811

This is a very dark but powerful and real story about a woman named Helen who became disabled from gender-based violence. Her stepson cut her arms with machetes because she said “no” to his requests for sex and reported him to the fon of her village.

“I am a disabled woman today because my husband died. Before he died, he shared his property among us. I was the last wife of five wives. Our husband shared us land. I constructed on my own land before he died. After two years he died, my stepson, the child of the second wife, 37 year old man was in Sangmalima, a village in Center region, and came to my village, Awing. As he came back, he came in my compound. So he said before I continue to live in my own compound, I must be his wife. Before I use any of my husband’s property I must be his wife or else ‘I will kill you and your children.’  After he said that, he was doing all possible things to have a sexual relationship with me. He will try his best to force me to have sex with him. I refused the first day and ran to the palace and complained to the fon of Awing that my stepson is coming and forcing me to have sex with me. When the fon called him to the palace and asked him, he refused and said he did not do anything like that. Then the fon said to him, ‘We know she’s your father’s wife but you don’t have to force her to be a wife because you don’t force a woman to be a wife.’  But he did not obey the fon and kept coming after me. I went back to complain to the fon. The fon said I should go to the police station and give a complaint to the police. Even though I took the complaint to the police, he kept coming after me. He set my farm on fire to burned me and my children in the house. The police came and saw everything. But he doesn’t stop coming.  On the 19th of December 2013, he came and hid in my compound on top of a tree and watched my children leaving for school. I was alone at home. He jumped down from the tree into the house and told me, ‘since you refused to be my wife and you have exposed me, I will cut your head and put in my bag.’ When he came to attack me, he had a machete, dagger, and a bag. ‘If I am able to kill you, I will be able to kill all your children. And everything my father gave you.’ As he was speaking to me, he was cutting me at the same time. Because I was protecting my neck from the machete, that’s how I got injuries on my hands,” Helen holds her arms up and waves her arms across her face.

20160917_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_7842

“He was cutting me and I was shouting, ‘Jesus I am dying alone.’ Nobody was around to help me. When I fell down and unconscious and bleeding, he thought I was dead. He took my phone and left. When I gained conscious, I was lucky to find myself among people. At the technical school where my children attended, one of the teachers came to me using first aid box from the school but it was enough because of the bleeding. Bleeding was very persistent. He went to the police station to make a call for emergency. One of my daughters went to the palace and told the fon, ‘My mother has been butchered”. I was lying there with one of my daughter. As I was lying, I died. My soul came out of my body and flowed to our compound. Then my soul entered my compound and met my father and presented myself to my father, ‘I am presenting to you myself how my stepson has violated me.’

Then my father said to me, ‘Go back and meet your children.  You are abandoning them who?’

I was standing and still looking at my father, ‘Do you know how much pain I am feeling?’

And my father turned and told my mother, ‘Close the door and don’t allow her to enter.’

Then he said to me, ‘Go back.’  My soul flowed back into my body.

I got up. I see people crying. I said, ‘Why are you crying.’

They said, ‘We see you dying.’

I said, ‘Did you see my father.’

They said ‘No.’ Then I was thirsty. One of the children give me some small water to drink. They put some water in my mouth. So after that the police come with a vehicle and took me to the Awing health center. That’s when they stitched me to stop the bleeding They believed if they didn’t stitch me, I would die. After that, they transferred me to the People’s Clinic Ngomngaham in Bamenda. I was taken to operation and properly treated. I stayed at the hospital for three to four months. I then had plaster for one year. The bones are still not yet joined. That’s why I still have bandages on my arms.”

“What happened to the stepson?” I asked her.

“He’s now in prison in Upstation. But his family is against me and thinks I’m lying.”

20160917_peace-corps_cameroon_bamenda_7823

Share!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Print this page