Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Stegner and Kushner: All American Authors

Book Report:

A book of reflection, 'Crossing to Safety' by Wallace Stegner, is not usually my cup of tea. In this case, I was won over by the overwhelming attention to detail, not the boring kind, but the ones that matter, and that make a story 'real'. Not for the action-adventure fans, but great for someone looking to slow down and take a deeper look at life.

'Angels in America: Millenium Approaches and Peristroika' by Tony Kushner appeared on my bookshelf (as they often do when friends come visiting- they disappear as well). I remember about fifteen years ago when the plays made it to Broadway in succession, and caused an enormous stir. I pretty much ignored it at the time, but upon hearing that HBO had made it into a movie just recently, I decided to see what it was all about. The stir, even now, is justified. Rarely does a play bring one issue so close to even those who weren't there or previously had difficulty imagining being effected by AIDS. Believe it or not, I found a copy of the HBO movie here in Cameroon (strange coincidence) and was able to watch it shortly after reading it- excellent (special recognition to Mary Louise Parker, who nailed her part). If you're not into plays, at least rent the movie.

The End

WARNING TO READER: there are several posts that will be out of order, but its been hectic these last few months. Eventually, they'll all make it. I promise.

I'm just finishing up my movie (yes, I've put together a 30 minute video/photo montage of my experiences here in Cameroon), and as Vanessa Williams sings on the soundtrack, "Its a long way home". Indeed.

I suppose its never an easy thing to do- picking up and moving, and goodness knows I should be really good at it by now, but its still a painful, stress-inducing and anxiety-producing process. Packing, throwing away, closing up and saying goodbye while planning the next chapter brings on a wide range of emotions. I've been through them all. Unfortunately, this all has the negative side effect of preventing peaceful sleep. I'll do that on the way back.

Only a few days until I leave my house, my friends, my home for the last two years. Maybe forever. The people here like to ask me when I'm coming back. My standard response is, "in a few years, when I find the means". Rather vague, but I really can't say otherwise.

For now, a few more days of closing up, a few more evenings of eating and drinking with friends, and a few more mixed emotions. It is a long way home, but I'm on my way.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Visit to Ngonga

Just a couple weeks before my departure from Edéa, I realized that with all the time I've spent with my postmate, Will, that I had only been to his village of Ngonga to help him move in -over a year ago. I decided my last small trip from Edéa would be to visit him for a few days. The day after returning from Kellé-Bitchoka for the first mass, Will called to let me know he was in town and that I should meet him to go out to his village. We met at the bar across from my office (where I spend entirely too much time) and had a beer (which was bought by a friend from the market). This was quickly followed by another beer (bought by the woman who runs the bar, and wanted to thank me for a photo I took of her and her granddaughter).

Eventually, we made it to the "bus station" where we sat for a bit longer waiting for the van to leave - we lucked out and it left before it was full, so we were rather comfortable. Upon arrival, we were met and informed that the weekly football (um, soccer) game was about to start. During the cooler part of the year, there are leagues which pit the young men of small villages against neighboring villages. This was a friendly match- not one that counted towards the regional championship. EVERYONE from both villages was there, and we were greeted by the folks from Ngonga. It was kinda like a small-town T-ball game in the US with folks selling food, watching the game, and cheering on their sons and brothers. Either of these teams could whoop any high school team in the US without trying too hard (these guys were 15-19 years old), but it was the home team that prevailed by a score of 3-1.

We skipped the partying at the local night club (a guy built an empty shed-like structure onto the front of his house and bought some really loud speakers) so that we could get up early the next morning and go hunting in the jungle. Note: animal lovers may want to skip the next paragraph or two...

At 7:00am we met Will's friend and local bush meat hunter for a tour of the jungle next to the village, sliding down hills, crossing streams and visiting his traps. Machete in hand, and camera in bag, we were ready for anything. Coming upon the first of his traps, Ben showed us how to bend over a sapling tree, attach wire, dig a small hole, and set a trap for whatever small animal happened by. The "spring" trap, once stepped on, wrapped the (usually) hind foot with the wire circle and flung him up to hang until he died of exhaustion, maggots, or the hunter's machete, whichever came first.

Soon after starting, we came on a wide stream that was a bit too deep for my not-really-waterproof boots, so Will and I sat down to rest and wait for Ben to check the couple of traps on the other side and continue. He came back with a big smile on his face, and an african porcupine in his hands. He put it in his backpack (he had already killed it and let the blood) and we continued. Not too long afterwards, Ben pointed out the movement through the trees. It turned out to be a jungle rat (about five times larger than the New York variety, but clearly in the same family) caught in another of his traps. This time I took photos of the before, during and after. That too went into the backpack. A bit more hiking and appreciating the beauty of the spoiled forest followed (even here, the woods had been thoroughly harvested about fifty years ago, but were making a good comeback). Having hiked through a similar jungle in Korup with Cathy, I was weary of the biting ants, and they found all three of us too. We stopped to pick them out of our pants, underwear and just about everywhere else as they bit us. It was then that we noticed a third trap had done its deed, this time with the reclusive and scaled pangolin. Unfortunately, it had been there for a couple of days and was already rotting (we had smelled it long before). Ben salvaged the tail (which didn't have visible maggots and which is the best-tasting part) and put that too into his backpack. We headed out of the jungle, having done quite a day's work. It was 11am. That afternoon, we slept and that evening, we had porcupine for dinner. It was delicious.

I wanted to hike to a waterfall that was nearby the following morning, but the rainy season was in full gear and it hadn't stopped raining for almost 18 hours, so we cancelled. We bought our would-be guide breakfast of beignets and bouilée (hot, sweetened starch water). It didn't stop raining for another six hours. I said my goodbyes and headed back to Edéa.

By chance, the driver was the younger brother of my friend Sylvie, so he drove nice and slow on the muddy roads. When we were about halfway there, we came across a bridge under construction. They had made a temporary route down into and then back out of the ravine the bridge was being constructed to pass over. A logging truck, full of freshly cut wood, had slid down faster than the cab was driving, causing a jacknife and blocking the road. Considering myself lucky once again (and swearing that it was the last of my taking chances in this country), I got out with the driver, evaluated the situation, and we started filling in the side of the road with large rocks and then dirt to widen the road to allow us to pass. It worked. I went to sleep soon after getting back, with muddy clothes, large numbers of bug bites and a few photos as souvenirs of my trip.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Five books- three and a half worth reading...

'Underworld' by Don DeLillo
One of the largest books I inherited (and thus intimidating) was 'Underworld' by Don DeLillo. I had heard mixed reviews, but my friend Sean in Philly convinced me to read it. Although I enjoyed it, it is one of those 'good' books which could have been a 'great' book with a bit of editing. A couple too many major characters and a couple too many storylines made it more difficult than necessary to keep track of what was going on all the time. I ended up following in my head the storylines I enjoyed and more or less glossing over those I didn't. It all worked out in the end, but it could've been so much more...

'Doctor Zhivago' by Boris Pasternak
An epic classic in every sense of the word, 'Doctor Zhivago' by Boris Pasternak tells the untold tales from the struggle inside the Russian Revolution. The book is roughly divided into three parts: before the war, Zhivago in the war, and Zhivago after the war. I thought the first and third parts were excellent, but the wartime drama just didn't appeal. Overall, I can see why its considered a great work of literature, if only for the sense of pain and endurance that is conveyed -its no wonder this book is still banned in Russia.

'East of Eden' by John Steinbeck
If every book were as wonderfully written, solidly ground, and imaginatively constructed as John Steinbeck's, 'East of Eden', I don't know that I would ever own a television or go to the movies again. This is the yardstick against which other novels should be placed, since its difficult to imagine one reaching much higher. A must read. Special thanks to my good friend Frankie for shipping this large tome over here- it was worth it!

'Sacred Journey of a Peaceful Warrior' by Dan Millman
I figured a little breezy reading would be nice after a couple of classics, so I picked up the second book by Dan Millman, 'Sacred Journey of a Peaceful Warrior'. I didn't much care for the style of the first, and the second wasn't much better. Imagine Jimmy Buffet writing a 'zen' novel, and you've about got it. There was one quote that I was able to retain, '...you can't worry about crossing the street if you're still only halfway to the corner'.

'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay' by Dan Chabon
A Pulitzer Prize winner, 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay' by Dan Chabon, was fantastic. At once both entertaining and informative, the book paints the picture of two young men in pre-war and wartime New York City mixing in themes such as comic books, jewish immigration and homosexuality. I heartily recommend it.

Monday, July 18, 2005

A view on development

The following short essay was written by a good friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Jeanah Lacey. I thought you might enjoy it.

Rectifying the White Man’s Burden
by Jeanah Lacey
RPCV Babadjou, Cameroon

Take up the White Man’s Burden
The savage wars of peace
Fill full the mouth of famine
And bid the sickness cease.

And when your goal is nearest
The end for other’s sought
Watch sloth and heathen folly
Bring all your hope to naught.

– Rudyard Kipling

Perhaps it seems offensive to begin a discussion on sustainability by invoking memories of past arrogance. However, I believe that history—particularly its darkest moments—should not be glazed over, but examined. Because when one truly weighs one’s motivations for joining the Peace Corps, somewhere in there lays Kipling’s idea that we have the capacity to assuage wars, heal the sick, and spawn change based on an antidote we call development.

The thoughts that I’m about to share with you are not all my own. They come from two years of discussions over shared beers with my fellow PCVs. Mostly we would end these conversations feeling unsatisfied because there seemed no clean answer to the issues we were encountering in our daily lives as volunteers. My aim here is not to discourage, but instead to help you avoid the undertow of helplessness that can sometimes envelope the volunteer. As one of my colleagues often says, “Development takes decades; we only have two years.”

When talking about sustainable development, I think that it is important to first view it at the macro level. One cannot determine what is sustainable without first having an understanding of development. There are scores of books about development and even more definitions. One that I like, comes from Joseph E. Stiglitz’s book, Globalization and its Discontents: “Development is the transforming of societies, improving the lives of the poor and enabling everyone access to success, health, and education.” I like this definition because it most correlates with the grass-roots approach that Peace Corps advances. Our job is to help others help themselves; this is a simple, yet daunting task. For the most part, we are posted in smaller villages so that we have the opportunity to really understand poverty – its mentality, its hang-ups, its challenges. This is the core of the Peace Corps experience and if you leave here with nothing more than that, you have succeeded because the process of acculturation catapults you – almost involuntarily—into the global community. Your worldview will never be the same.

So that is the good news. No matter what your experience, whether it is good, bad or ugly, you will get something out of the Peace Corps that no other experience can offer. But to most of us, myself included, this doesn’t seem enough. We want to leave legacies and herein lies the relevance of sustainability. During a training session my colleague and I came up with the following definition:

“Sustainable development involves activities that can be maintained long-term with available resources. Further, sustainable projects must: 1) fill a need express by the community, 2) involve the participation of host country nationals (HCNs) from the planning stage to the project’s completion, and 3) involve community leaders who are willing to contribute resources such as raw materials, labor, or money.”

Now this may sound like a simple undertaking, but it isn’t and most of the fault lies in our American drive for deliverables. Americans often make lists of daily activities and check them off as proof of our usefulness. We are an active people and because of this, it is difficult not to simply role-up-our-sleeves and do it ourselves. But when we do this, not only are we not doing our job (e.g. transferring technical skills to HCNs), but also we are causing damage to the communities we are trying to help.

At this juncture of your sojourn in Africa, you may be confused by my last point. How can building a well or paving a road hurt my community? They need that well. They need that road. And this may be true. When I first got here, the economist in me believed that the major obstacle in development was a lack of investment in public goods such as roads, education, and available health care. I still believe this, but I’ve also learned that governments, even in poor countries, are perfectly capable of building their own infrastructure. They don’t because we give them an incentive not to; we do it for them.

But let me take this phenomena one level down; let’s bring the discussion back to you and your legacy to your community. When you plan a project, providing all needed materials and money, you are teaching your community that they are inept. You are imparting to them a legacy of helplessness.

In the opening poem, Kipling ascribed failure in these “savage wars of peace” due to “sloth and heathen folly.” I’ve heard many volunteers make similar comments; I am as guilt as the rest. And it’s tempting because it is true. Africans can be lazy and their priorities seem strange to us. However, the answer to the riddle of the said “white man’s burden” lies in the last verse of Kipling’s poem. I wonder if he even grasped the significance of his own words. He states, almost sorrowfully, that in spite of all your efforts and goodwill, the savage will inevitably “bring all your hopes to naught.” What Kipling failed to see was that in the end, development cannot be successful unless their hopes become our priority. We, as development works, need to learn to lose our egotism and let community heads lead. Only then, will developing countries have a vested interest in their own development and this development will be sustainable.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

South Province Meeting and the accident

Not technically a part of the south province (the closest border is about 40km away), Will and I had been annexed a while back, becoming members of the "Dirty South". There are many reasons we call ourselves that, and most of the connotations that come to mind are probably true, at least in part.

Every three months or so is a provincial meeting, and my (and several others') last meeting was to be held in Ambam, next to the Gabonese and Equatorial Guinea border. I left early Friday morning from Edéa and arrived without much difficulty late that afternoon. After arriving, we sat around catching up and drinking (the south province is REALLY good at the latter). I decided that with a long night ahead, I'd stick with Gold Bond and Pamplemousse (Gold Bond is really cheap whiskey sold in small plastic bags called sachets). I wasn't involved in dinner (it was well underway by the time I got there), but the folks who were did an amazing job, and we gorged ourselves on homemade burritos eaten by candlelight. It appeared for a while as though Jen's house (our lovely hostess) was the only one in town without electricity (even her neighbors had it), but soon everyone else's was out as well.

Well, what do you do when the electricity goes out at your house and there's lots of volunteers around??? The answer: find a bar that has a generator to provide you with music and cold drinks. Several drinks later, dancing broke out, and a good time was had by all. During this time, I got to know another ex-pat who lived across from Jen named Mathias, a nice Italian guy who also spoke good french and english. He's there working with some french NGO that I still don't know the name of... Anyway, he offered to take whoever wanted to go on an excursion to see a waterfall the next morning. I was interested until I heard that it was about two hours each way from Ambam. I politely declined, while several of the women showed interest. Somehow, we all made it back to Jen's house, found a place on the floor, and more or less fell asleep.

The next morning, Nicki's alarm went off early, waking most of us up. This was the call to go see the waterfall for those interested- except it was raining outside. Everyone who was interested decided it best not to go in the rain, so we more or less went back to sleep. A couple of hours later, the rain had stopped (it wasn't a heavy rain) and Mathias showed up at the front door with his pickup truck half full of Cameroonian friends of his looking for interested parties for a newer, closer excursion to hike up a small mountain. I thought it sounded like fun (potentially more fun than the drinking and butchering of pigs and ducks that would be roasted for dinner), so I climbed in.

The trip out turned out to be much further than advertised, including about 45 minutes on a dirt road of questionable quality. We arrived safely, however, found the local chief to ask permission, engaged the obligatory guide, and started up the mountain. It was quite a steep climb with many surfaces of almost sheer rock, but we all made up. For some reason (perhaps because I had neglected to shower that morning), the bugs (mut-muts) were quite heavy around my head, which was more than a little annoying. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful view, being the only rock to exceed the treeline for miles around. Nothing but rainforest. On the way back down, we even picked a couple of wild pineapples (much smaller and sweeter than their commercial cousins) for a snack. We made it back to the truck (a four-door pickup), thanked our guides, and headed back to Ambam. Everything was great for a while, and we were going back just as we had come. After a while though, a dark and ominous cloud began to come closer and closer, so we sped up to try and make it to the paved road before it came down hard. We didn't make it.

We stopped the truck to let in a couple of guys who were hanging out in the back inside and the dog who had been with us the whole time. Then, with the raining pouring down, we continued on, rather carefully, I thought. We came to a decline in the road, and for reasons I can't completely understand, we lost control, slid on the now muddy road, and the truck began to turn over. I think it turned over at least twice, but I'm also fairly sure I blacked out temporarily, so I don't really know. The next thing I know, I'm looking out the window on my left (I was sitting just behind the driver) and realize I'm upside-down and the window is broken. I see Mathias outside already brushing himself off and try to call him over to open the door. I guess he didn't hear me, and a terrible sense of claustrophobia was overcoming me, so I couldn't wait any longer. I grabbed the heel of my shoe and carried my foot out the window, which was luckily followed by my leg, then my head, shoulders and the rest of my body. The rain was still falling.

Once I was out, I turned around to help others out, but a woman I didn't notice before told me to go sit down. I figured I should take her advice, so I made my way to the side of the road. It was then that I started to take inventory of my situation. I was clearly bleeding, but not profusely) in several places, and I was having trouble breathing, with a sharp pain on my left side. After everyone else was out, it was clear that I and one of the women with us were the only ones obviously injured.

As luck would have it (good, in this case), there were two cars that had come down the road since our accident, one of them being a taxi. I carefully picked myself up and walked down to the taxi which (after a stop to let some mommies in the back seat out) arrived at a medical clinic not far away. I walked in, sat down and started discussing what happened and where it hurt. After a couple of minutes, they decided that they couldn't help me, and sent me on my way to the provincial hospital in Ebolowa. I was very lucky again, and the taxi was still there since one of the nurses was going to take it home and he was waiting. I convinced the nurse that I needed to leave immediately, and got back in the taxi, still bleeding. We arrived (still with the other woman) at the hospital emergency area. I walked in, the nurses looked at me strangely and asked me to sit down in the front room. I was told I needed to buy a carnet before they would look at me (a small notebook where they write all the nurses' and doctors' notes). Again, luckily I had a bunch of money with me (having already paid for our taxi) and got it out of my pocket.

The nurse then started writing down all my essentials, blood type, height, weight (which we guessed since she didn't want my muddy shoes on her scale, and I couldn't take off my own shoes) in the notebook. At that point, the doctor sat down and we did our little interview about what happened and where it hurt. He wrote a laundry list of things to buy at the hospital's pharmacy when I told him that I was not going to receive any injections or serious medicine before consulting Peace Corps doctors. After a little insistence, we called in a girl with a cell phone outside (at her call box) who came with her 2000 phone directory. We looked up the US Embassy number, and called (I didn't have my phone with me since I left it a Jen's house and hadn't memorized any of the numbers). I reached the marine on duty and told him the situation and that he should call the Peace Corps medical officer on duty. The woman who came in with me then took the list, went to the pharmacy and bought what I needed, which included gauze pads and iodine solution (yes, in Africa you have to buy your own gauze at the hospital).

After tending to the convict writhing on the floor supervised by two gendarmes with shotguns (apparently he ticked off some other prisoners and they beat him to within an inch of his life- he was in bad shape), the nurses finally came with their rusty bowl and started picking out pieces of glass, cleaning up and bandaging my surface wounds.

Just as that was finishing, Mathias came in. I don't know how he got from the truck to the hospital, but he was there with a Cameroonian friend who had his own car. Mathias was great and made sure I got something to eat and even went to buy a shirt and sweatshirt for me, since I was still wet from the rain and the shirt had already been half cut off of me. He had spoken to Peace Corps and Jen back in Ambam and I thought I might stay in Ebolowa that night since no one was coming to get me and folks were coming up from the meeting to make sure I was alright.

After an hour or so, we learned that there was a mixup in communication and that no one was coming up from Ambam. So, wanting to get to Yaoundé anyway, I took a taxi to the bus station where I got a bus to Yaoundé. Seeing I was in lots of pain, the folks kindly gave me "shotgun", which is by far the best seat in the bus.

Eventually, after a few more hours, I made it back to Peace Corps headquarters in Yaoundé, where the doctor was waiting for me. Since there was no one else around (including volunteers), she decided that it would be best if I stayed at her place for the weekend. I can't tell you how greatful I am to her for taking me in, feeding me and healing my wounds over the next couple of days.

Monday morning, we finally made it to the hospital for x-rays (there's only attending doctors on duty on the weekends, so tests and other things generally have to wait unless its a serious emergency). After a number of painful manipulations, its was discovered that I had two broken ribs, which nicely explained my pain, trouble breathing and all the rest...

There's nothing you can do for broken ribs but take pain medicine and wait it out. So, that's what I've been doing...

Arrival of Seema

Several close friends of mine threatened to come visit me here in Cameroon at one time or another over my two-year visit. In the end, outside of my parents and brother (who will be arriving soon), only one did, Seema. This was not just the planets aligning just right, but the result of considerable effort on her part (with lots of coercing on mine). Since she's just finishing her medical residency, Seema wanted to work in a local hospital, and the Hôpital District d'Edéa was only too happy to agree.

I went Tuesday night to meet Seema at the airport. She was coming off a several week camping safari around southern africa, so she arrived via Nairobi on Kenya Airways. Her flight arrived on time, and after getting her bags, she came out to find me. It was really wonderful to see her, and the whole way back to Edéa, we did our best to catch up on the important stuff.

Wednesday morning, we headed over to the hospital, where we met the Medicin Chef (chief of staff) who was overjoyed to meet Seema. He personally took us on a tour of the entire hospital after his brief interview with Seema to find out where she was interested in helping out. I REALLY hate hospitals, so I hung out mostly in the hallways, while Seema went in to see the patients. Throughout the entire hospital, there were only two modern pieces of equipment: a blood spinner and an ultrasound machine. I'd been there before, but without the complete tour. Its not pretty, and even Seema, who's worked in hospitals in India, Bangladesh, and central america said that its as bad as she's seen anywhere. She started work on Thursday morning. Friday, I left for the weekend to go to the south province meeting while she went to pick up her sister at the airport followed by a relaxing weekend at the beach.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

La Fête de Mariage

A couple of weeks after the funeral of the son of one bank member and friend was the wedding of the son of another. Mama Yem has long ago taken me in, hosting my welcoming dinner not long after my arrival, and giving me a big hug everytime she comes into the bank. She also happens to have two attractive daughters of marrying age, but I think Mama's been pretty good about not pressuring me to take one of the off her hands.

So it was that I was invited to the wedding. The week before the ceremony, Mama asked me if I'd like to be a ceremonial member of the family, by asking me to wear the fabric chosen for family members for the occasion. Its actually a great tradition where men and women of the family all wear the same pattern in whatever configuration they choose (blouse, dress, shirt or bou-bou). It certainly makes it easy to identify who's who in the photos. It was a nice honor, and I took it seriously, having a nice long-sleeved shirt made by my favorite tailor.

Weddings here are usually all-day affairs. This one started at 10am, and I finally made it home at 4am the following morning. The son opted (against his mother's wishes) for a civil ceremony (at city hall) rather than a religious one. Perhaps this was because he wanted this to be his first wife of many (there's a box on the marriage certificate here that you check for polygamists). The ceremony was brief and was followed by pictures. This was followed by two small receptions: one at Mama's home, and the other at her estranged husband's home- of course there was food and drink at each. Mama's house, with its cement floor and wood plank walls was dressed up with palm fronds built into a temporary covered porch and all the furniture was outside. The loveseat for the married couple was covered in a white sheet, and their path from the "road" was covered with tiny red flowers - it was really well done.

I returned home to take a nap at about 4pm. After a bit of a rest, I left for part two of the evening which was being held in the multifunction (gym, dance, auditorium, etc.) hall of the largest high school in town with my gift in tow. I decided on giving cutlery (including some nice steak knives), since no new family can have too much of that, packaged in a nice wicker tray. According to the schedule, I was a half-hour late. According to the way things panned out, I was two hours early.

Just as things were about to get started, virtually my entire table was promoted to one of the three tables on the stage- the other two being for the bride and groom and immediate family and the groom's employer. I suppose its one of those benefits of being in the family...

The standard speeches were followed by a massive buffet dinner (including goat, snake and monkey) which was followed by even more standard speeches. Afterwards was the giving of the gifts which consisted of a long line of guests with their gift in hand who gave their gift and received a couple of hugs and words of thanks in return. Gifts were followed by dancing, more specifically the first dance of the married couple. After that, the brothers and sisters of the bride and groom were called out to dance and partners assigned to them. Once again, I was included in this, and was assigned the wife of the groom's employer as my partner. So, there I was, dancing with a women I'd never met to Cameroonian music in front of an audience of about 300 people. I'm going to have a hard time being shy after returning from this country...

I danced quite a bit until the cake finally came out around 2:30am (yes, most people were still there). I finally threw in the towel and got a ride back home at almost 4am.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Night the Lights went out in Edéa

One of the fun things about living in a developing country is the loss of electricity that can happen at any moment for any length of time. When it happens at night, you normally stay where you are for a few minutes, and it usually comes back on. Sometimes, however, it lasts a lot longer than that (especially during the dry season, since virtually all power here is hydroelectrically generated).

Recently, the power went off for a whole day and night. It was an occasion which caused changes in habits, but not frustrations. An opportunity to do things differently and do different things. I'm assuming I wouldn't be so laid back about it back in New York.

After cooking my dinner in the waning light of day and eating by candlelight, I decided to go for a walk. I took a small flashlight, just in case, and headed out. The moment I stepped out of my house, I couldn't help but notice the stars. So many of them. I could see planets, galaxies, and every constellation on view this close to the equator. My walk, in a large circle, allowed me to keep looking up and see in all directions. As has been observed innumerable times, its very humbling- reflection on a universal scale.

Fête de Travail (Labor Day)

May Day is a big deal in just about every country but the US. Here, its a day off work that has the added bonus of parading through town in your new t-shirt (provided by your employer for the occasion) followed by hours of drinking and eating (also sponsored by your employer). This year, for the first time ever, our bank decided to be a part of the festivities. We figured it would be good marketing and a good way to reward the employees and members of the various boards for their hard work.

Since everything in this country starts late, the 9am parade eventually got off the ground at 10:30am. We were something like 85th in line, so we enjoyed the first part of the parade before lining up ourselves. Since Edea's not all that huge, the parade route was less than a half-mile long, with the reviewing stand almost at the end. In the reviewing stand were all the important folks, such as the Prefet, Sous-prefet, mayor, police commissioner and others. Everyone likes to try and impress these folks, so we did our best to march in three straight lines in front of them, holding our signs and proudly displaying our shirts.

As soon as it was over, we high-tailed it over to the bar across from our bank (our traditional watering hole) for a few beers and sandwiches. A fun day bringing a good team even closer together.