It was cold and many leaves have already fallen off when Alex and I traveled to Stowe, Vermont in mid-November. The scenery was so beautiful that made waking up 5:30 AM in the morning and standing outside in the cold a worthwhile to see a beautiful sunrise over the mountains. As we drove through the state, the vast openness was clear. On the rolling green hills, farms were spotted from there and there. Vermont was a place where we can enjoy good local organic food. Right before Alex and I took off to Montreal, we stopped at Michael’s on the Hill to take a three and half hour cooking class called “A Taste of Vermont.” The name is quite self-explanatory.
Michael, the chef and owner of the fine restaurant, Michael’s on the Hill, greeted us in his restaurant with warm handshakes. He hailed from Switzerland, has received accolades including being Vermont’s first “Chef of the Year” and been featured as a chef on television and in publications. When I asked him why he chose to live in Vermont of all places, he said it’s because he appreciated the culture and mindset of people in Vermont. Michael ushered us into the kitchen of the restaurant where he had all the ingredients laid out on a table. Not all ingredients were local due to the season but many of them were local. For example, he said that the chicken and eggs came from a farm located down the road from the restaurant.
In this class, we learned how to cook butternut squash soup with bacon and cheddar cheese, skillet free-range chicken with apple cider sauce and mashed potatoes and maple crème brûlée. Vermont cuisine is not without apple cider, cheddar cheese and maple syrup! The main takeaway from the class is that all of these dishes may appear to be complex to make but they are actually simple. The simplest dishes are often the best and tastiest dishes. When we say simple, we mean that the number of ingredients is small. For example, maple crème brûlée consisted of only vanilla, eggs, cream and of course maple syrup. However, the process of making the dishes can appear complex because one has to make sure that each step is done correctly and in a correct order. If one step is done incorrectly, the dish can become messed up. Michael also showed us different cutting techniques that would allow us to cut various ingredients with ease.
After cooking eat dish, Alex and I enjoyed eating them in the lovely dining room of the restaurant with Michael. Each dish tasted so appetizing and fresh. They matched well with the cold weather of Vermont as every one of them was warm, allowing us to warm up our bodies. Alex and I left the cooking class feeling full and with memories of how Vermont truly tastes.
Alex and I did have a moment of worrying whether or not the Canadian border would be backed up with heavy traffic due to the US election result as the Canadian immigration website crashed on the night of the US election day. However, fortunately, the Canadian border crossing by road was smooth and quick. There was no traffic. Once we crossed the border, we immediately noticed changes in the landscape. Road signs were in metric system instead of English system. For example, in the US, we saw “60” as the speed limit on the highway we took to the border. Once in Canada, we saw “100” as the speed limit. All signs were also in French. It was an opportunity for us to test our French skills after not being in a French speaking country for a couple of weeks.
We arrived in Montreal late in the afternoon and spent our couple days in the city touring and eating traditional Quebecois food such as grilled cheese with duck confiture, poutine, and crepes. We strolled through the McGill University campus and Mont Royal park. Montreal is a cosmopolitan city that is rich in cultural experience opportunities. Our one and only full day in Montreal was unfortunately on a Monday and thus, almost all museums were closed this day. We were disappointed not to be able to take advantage of the cultural scene. On our last night in Montreal, we were treated to a lovely dinner at Restaurant Bonaparte with a cousin of my grandmother’s and her significant other who were coincidentally in Montreal at the same time. While we enjoyed scallops, gingerbread toast, grilled duck and lamp chops, we also enjoyed an enormous desert soufflé.
Because this trip to Montreal was my third visit and many people raved about Quebec City, saying that it’s a more exciting city, Alex and I decided to leave Montreal early in the morning after spending two nights in the city. I have never been to Quebec City and so, I wanted to have as much time as possible to see the enchanting city. While Montreal as have a feeling of being in Europe, I felt much more so in Quebec City, in particular in the Vieux-Quebec. It is a charming town with old architecture resembling northern France and cobblestones. For the two days we spent in Quebec City, Alex and I packed our days with many activities including visiting Citadel, Musée de la Civilization, and Musée des Beaux-Arts, having an afternoon tea at Chateau Frontenac, shopping and eating. We filled our tummies with wonderful local cuisine. We tasted old Canadian food at Aux Anciens Canadiens, new Canadian food at La Buche, and local Quebec food at a restaurant visited by Anthony Bourdain, L’Affair est Ketchup. At L’Affair est Ketchup, we enjoyed an unusual dish that was totally new to my palette, guinea fowl foie, and also a mozerella salad, both which were local to Quebec. We also spent sometime walking around the city at night enjoying the beautiful lights that were lit up everywhere.
After spending two nights in Quebec City, we took a long eight hour drive down to Toronto to visit my father’s family which includes my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Alex who has not traveled to Canada since he was four years old until this trip, got a taste of a Canadian life by stopping at Second Cup, Canadian’s version of Starkbucks, and Tim Hortons, Canadian’s version of Dunkin Donuts.
Alex and I spent our four days in Toronto with our family. It was our time to share stories with them about our time in Cameroon and answer questions they had about Cameroon. We were asked various interesting questions ranging from, “Did you wear uniforms like those in the military?” “Did you live near Boko Haram?” “How did you go to the bathroom and bath?” “How did you travel to see each other?” “What was healthcare like in Cameroon?” “What kind of arts and culture did Cameroon have?”
In spite of our busy schedule seeing many of my family and catching up with them, Alex and I managed to squeeze in a few touristy activities which included visiting the Royal Ontario Museum, Queens Street and CN Tower although we didn’t go to the top due to the cloudy weather. Toronto is a very large cosmopolitan city with many rich cultural activities and diverse cuisine. Alex and I enjoyed a taste of Greek food in Greek town and sushi pizza at one of many sushi restaurants.
Alex and I finished off our road trip by stopping at Niagara Falls for one night where we saw a beautiful sight of a rainbow over the falls and then in Lenox, a small traditional New England town in western Massachusetts. When arriving in Lenox, we were treated to a snow wonderland scene. The entire town was covered in snow and the scenery was charming as it could be. We wondered through the streets of the town, visiting shops and galleries. We stopped at a local cafe, Spoon, for a delicious lunch.
Alex woke up at 5:30 AM on our last morning of the road trip to view the beautiful sunrise at Olivia’s Peakview, a scenic spot in Lenox. After spending sometime in the cold outside, we ate a lovely homemade breakfast, which included carrot cake, spinach quiche, and almond flour pancakes at Brook Farm, where spent a night in Lenox. We left Lenox early in the afternoon and were fortunate not to hit any traffic on the day before Thanksgiving.
After returning to the US after a week in Canada, I still felt strongly to remain in the US and work with fellow Americans to fight to uphold our rights as human beings of differences. Even though I do have family in Canada and Canada is just as beautiful as the US, America is still my home. I recently completed two years of public service serving my country and it is my duty to continue to serve the country where I was born and raised to ensure that I see the world I wish to see.
Places to Eat in Montreal:
Restaurant Bonaparte || Located in Vieux-Montreal. Fabulous selection of traditional Quebecois food. Taste their desert soufflé.
Taverne Gaspar || Located in Vieux-Montreal. Delicious grilled cheese with duck confit.
Muru Crepes || Located by Vieux-Montreal. Great selection of crepes, a must-to-eat dish in Quebec.
Places to Eat in Quebec City:
Aux Anciens Canadiens || Located in Vieux-Quebec. Delicious traditional Canadian dishes. Taste their salmon in puff pastry shell and maple pie.
La Buche || Located in Vieux-Quebec. New Canadian dishes. Taste their salmon and maple whisky.
L’Affair est Ketchup || Anthony Bourdain visited the restaurant. A local and hole in the wall restaurant. Taste their mozzarella salad and guinea fowl foie.
Chateau Frontenac || Enjoy an afternoon tea with a bowl of poutine and hot chocolate.
Paillard || Taste their caramel spread on a brioche or croissant.
Places to Eat in Toronto:
Sushi Inn || Located in Yorkville. Taste their sushi pizza.
Pantheon || Located in Greek town. Delicious Greek food. Taste their hot combo which comes with spanakotiropita, grilled sausage, dolmoadakia, grilled calamari and grilled octopus.
Places to Eat in Lenox:
Spoon || Located in town center. Delicious brunch food. Taste their blueberry muffin and cheese BLT sandwich.
The Bookstore and Get Lit Wine Bar || Located in town center. A bookstore that serves wine.
Where to Stay:
Airbnb || Montreal || A very modern, simple and clean studio located near Vieux-Montreal.
Airbnb || Quebec City || A very cosy, modern and clean studio located near Vieux-Quebec.
Hampton Inn & Suites || Niagara Falls || A nice three-star hotel located on the US side of Niagara Falls.
Brook Farm || Lenox || A very cosy traditional New England inn located two minutes drive from the town center. Includes delicious homemade breakfast.
As Alex and I both said on the plane heading back to the States from Cameroon, we would be going on many more new adventures. And we are going on many new adventures. The day after the election day, we left for a two weeks road trip traveling throughout New England and southeastern Canada to explore the beautiful North America.
I stayed up for the most of the night on the election night feeling physically ill knowing that a man who incited discrimination towards Jews, women and persons with disabilities, all of those identities that make who I am, has won the US presidential election. It was hard for me to get out of the bed in the morning and leave for the road trip as I was feeling so worried about what I could possibly see in America and the whole world for the next four years. Family and friends told me that I could just use my Canadian passport, which I have because my father is a Canadian, and move to Canada. I told them, “No, America is my home.” I was born and raised in the US.
Every time I leave the US, I learn far more about my homeland than I do while living in the US. Every time I go abroad, I gain greater appreciation about my country. My foreign friends teach me that the US is a role model for so many countries around the world. When I post something about the US election or US current events on Facebook, friends from Italy, the UK, Australia, and Cameroon voice their opinions and show me that they depend on our decisions in the US. The US shows the world how to give rights to persons with disabilities. The US shows what it means to be creative and innovate products that are well loved by people around the world. The US shows how the government functions well even though it may not be as perfect as Americans would wish to see. Thus, it’s important for me to stay home and fight to ensure that the principles and values of America remains intact and we, Americans, continue to be a role model for others around the world.
Going on the road trip turns out to be a very much needed adventure. It was a time to reflect the differences of my life in Cameroon versus in the US and to appreciate the beauty that the North America has to offer to me.
As Alex and I took off from Boston, I marveled at the beautiful paved roads that were free of potholes and beautifully painted with lines. While there are many paved roads in Cameroon, there are also many unpaved roads, making travel time much longer. Alex and I arrived in North Conway in two and half hours. If the entire road was not maintained or not paved, it would have taken us probably about five hours or more.
Alex and I arrived in North Conway in the evening and had a lovely dinner at Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing where we enjoyed pulled pork and meatloaf bread. We then crashed to bed at the lovely inn, Kearsarge Inn, which included a fireplace that kept us warm throughout the night.
When in North Conway, Alex and I hiked on two different trails, Black Cap Mountain and Diana’s Baths. As we hiked on the Black Cap Mountain trail, we walked through the woods filled with fallen leaves for about 20 minutes and then we climbed up on several rocks. Once we reached to the top of a mountain, we were offered with a picturesque view of North Conway. It was a view of mountains and evergreen trees. When I choose the next destination to travel, I often refrain from choosing the US just because it is my homeland and I want to see a place that is different from my own world. However, when I go to another part of the US I have not seen such as the North Conway, I am reminded that the US is a vast land with variety of geographical features and I still have so much more to learn about my own country.
Diana’s Bath is short and easy trail in the woods. After walking for about 20 minutes, we are offered with a charming view of the waterfalls and rocks. It’s a beautiful quiet area that is so far removed from the noise and chaos of streets.
After spending two nights in North Conway, we drove through the White Mountain Forest National Park, a very scenic route, to reach Stowe. We made a stop on the way at a micro-brewery, Schilling Beer, in a little traditional New England town named Littleton. Alex and I shared a must-to-eat pizza when in New England, pizza with maple syrup, cheese, chicken, bacon, and spinach. When traveling near or in Vermont, one must taste maple syrup, a speciality of Vermont.
Shortly after arriving in Stowe, Alex and I craved for more food and visited a lovely local micro-brewery, Idletyme Brewing, which served very good local food. Alex and I shared a platter of local Vermont cheese and apple crisp.
When traveling to destinations that are known for their sceneries, it is a must to wake up early in the morning to see the sunrise to capture beautiful images. Alex and I woke up at 5:30 AM in the morning to see a picturesque sunrise by the Von Trapp Lodge, a hotel founded by the family of Sound of Music. Alex and I didn’t stay there due to the high cost. We stayed a lovely little traditional New England inn called, Timberholm Inn, which has a few small rooms at a budget price. Poor Alex was very cold while I was enjoying photographing outside and thus, he stayed in the car for a good duration of my photography time. We then went to the Von Trapp Lodge for good hot drinks and to continue to admire the beautiful scenery.
Alex and I then went back to Timberholm Inn for a good homemade breakfast, which consisted of pancakes, sausages, pumpkin bread, and maple roasted apples. For the rest of the day, we toured throughout Stowe, visiting Ben and Jerry’s factory, Von Trapp Brewery, and Glenn Moss Trail. The following morning, Alex and I took a cooking class at Michael’s on the Hill with chef Michael. Then we headed off to Canada.
Places to Eat in North Conway:
Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing || Known for their local craft beers. Delicious pulled pork and meat loaf.
Stairway Cafe || Located in town center. Fabulous blueberry pancakes and turkey sausages and other breakfast food.
Delaney’s || Variety of American dishes and big selection of sushi.
Schilling Beer || Located in Littleton making a good stop on the way to Stowe from North Conway. Delicious pizza with maple sauce, bacon, chicken, spinach and cheese.
Places to Eat in Stowe:
Idletyme Brewing || Great selection of beer. Delicious local apple crisp and Vermont cheeses.
Von Trapp Brewery || Fabulous selection of beer. Delicious soft pretzels and sausages. Great view of the countryside of Stowe.
Paths to Hike in North Conway:
Black Cap Mountain || A two and half mile path that takes one to the top of a mountain offering beautiful overlook of North Conway.
Diana’s Bath || An easy path with many beautiful waterfalls.
Paths to Hike in Stowe:
Glenn Moss Trail || A short hike to a beautiful big waterfall.
Von Trapp Lodge || Not a trail but a great spot to sit and watch the beautiful sunrise.
Where to Stay:
Kearsarge Inn || North Conway, NH || Two minute walk from the town center. A lovely traditional New England Inn. Breakfast is not served.
Timberholm Inn || Stowe, VT || Two minute drive from the town center. A lovely traditional New England Inn. Delicious homemade breakfast.
Dear Peace Corps and Cameroon,
Thank you for the most incredible two years filled with treasures and happiness in spite of experiencing teary and challenging moments. It’s a chapter in my life that will always be retold again and again for years to come.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer – My service will still go on for years to come as I will continue to educate my fellow Americans about Cameroon and also Cameroonians about the USA.
Cameroon 2014 – 2016
Peace Corps was a living dream. The regular activities of Cameroon is now a memory. It’s so surreal that I lived a life riding a motorcycle through the chaotic streets of no traffic lights and through the lush green mountainous countryside. I was surrounded by people walking with big buckets and baskets on top of their head as if they’re not worried that they will fall of and people walking with babies on their back with pagnes wrapped around. I shopped for clothes by picking out fabric and taking them to a tailor. Wearing pagnes was part of my life as that is what most people around me wore too. I bought my food at outdoor markets. I was called “White Man” many times and have been proposed too many times to count. I fell in love with a fellow volunteer and took gateway trips with him in packed bush taxis. I worked with persons with disabilities and together, we changed lives. While for some time during my service, two years seemed so long and never ending, but those two years of my life also went by in a flash. I’m constantly pinching myself and asking, “Did the past two years happen in a real life or in a dream?”
On Thursday afternoon, on my last day in Cameroon, right before the closing ceremony also known as “Gong Out,” I sat in the office of Peace Corps Deputy Director. The Deputy Director and I sat on the sofa chairs.
“I’ve been asking myself this week, ‘Where did time go?'” I said to the Deputy Director.
She asked me, “So what do you think? If you had only one minute to sum up your service, what would you say?”
“This would be like an elevator speech?” I asked.
I was silent for a second trying to process my thoughts about the last two years. Then I uttered, “Wow” out of my mouth.
“It was a living dream,” I added. “I have learned as much as I have taught people. I feel that I have checked unintentionally everything off of all experiences a Peace Corps Volunteer could experience. I was assaulted and medevaced to the US. I lost a work partner. I was in the hospital for six nights for food poisoning. I fell in love with a Peace Corps Volunteer. I completed big successful projects. The U.S. Embassy saw my work and I met with the Deputy Chief of Mission and U.S. Ambassador.”
“When you’ve had the lowest of the lows, you’ve also had the highest of the highs,” she said.
The conversation continued and we reflected on my two years of service.
Sitting in the office made me feel like I was reflecting on a very long dream I had while sleeping the night before. It was also a moment when I felt like I had just stepped outside of a wardrobe like in the Chronicles of Narnia.
I then praised Peace Corps Cameroon’s incredible support throughout my two years of service to the Deputy Director. I told her that my service has been successful not only because of the great support I received from my community, but also because of the great support I received from Peace Corps Cameroon staff members. I shared with her that two years ago, when I was in training, I remember very well when I sat in a small room with the Country Director at the training center. I shared with the Country Director at the time that I was nervous about whether or not I would make it through the two years of service because I had been denied to join the Peace Corps few years before due to my disabilities and I faced doubts from family and friends about my ability to serve as a person with disabilities. The Country Director said to me, “You will do well. You will see yourself through the two years of service.” His comments boosted my confidence. I further explained to the Deputy Director that two years ago, my number one reason that I was nervous about joining the Peace Corps was being able to serve well as a person with disabilities. When I was first starting my Peace Corps service, I felt a huge tremendous pressure to do well because so many parents of children with disabilities were following me closely and if I had failed, I could be shutting the doors to children with disabilities who may aspire to join the Peace Corps. I wasn’t doing Peace Corps for only myself and my community. I was also doing it for children with disabilities too so that I could open up more doors for them.
I did it. And I feel very proud of completing the service.
The moment the airplane took off and was no longer touching the ground of Cameroon, I totally lost the control of my eyes and shed many tears while Alex continually wiped them off my eyes. It was a moment that really hit me and made me realize that this two year chapter of life has really come to an end.
“We’ll be starting a new chapter and going on many new adventures together,” said Alex.
“Yes, we will,” I said. We then reflected on our two incredible years together in Cameroon and then discussed our plans for the next year which includes traveling to Israel and nearby countries and taking road trips throughout the US and Canada.