Tuesday, June 7, 2011


“What should I say when people ask if you are happy there?”  My parents have been visiting the past week and this was the first question my dad asked me.  This past week I’ve been thinking a lot about that question as well as similar questions I receive from current Peace Corps Volunteers, asking why I decided to come back.   I usually tell the current Peace Corps Volunteers you will understand after you return to the United States and experience the void.   Indeed, some of the Peace Corps Volunteers I served with have contacted me and told me they are living vicariously through me and wish to return.  My dad’s question took me by surprise and I never gave him an adequate answer, primarily because I don’t think I would use the word happy to describe how I generally feel about living and working here.  If its not happiness, why did I and others want to come back?  Malidona Some, an African writer living in America said, “Every Westerner who visits my village leaves with one thing, and that is the experience of the intensity of human connection and attention.  It is not the magic, the ritual of ceremonies that are done, but an awareness of the human connection that they take away.  That is what makes them long to return again, because that is what they don’t get here.”  And I agree, it is a sense of connection, completeness, fulfillment, wholeness that I searched for in other countries and states after I returned from Cameroon and never found until I came back a couple of months ago.  In Cameroon there is little separation between my public and private life.  I work at my house and people knock on my doors at all hours of the day.  They see me when I first roll out of bed and right before I fall asleep.  Because I am white it is impossible to be anonymous and hide, people know when I sleep, shop, work, eat, travel. They see me and are getting to know me, all of me.  My research colleagues here are some of my closest friends, I hang out at their house, know their families, and they know mine.  Cameroon is a very religious society and it is easy to talk to anyone about matters of faith.  When I return from a trip to Bamenda people say, “Thank God for your safe journey.”  Sometimes I wish I had more privacy, but I know that I if I did, life would be monotonous and the connections with my surroundings wouldn’t be as real or complete.  Due to the various challenges living and working here requires all of my mind, body, and soul thus bringing the serenity I yearn for and have experienced nowhere else. 

I realized months ago, that the actual developed and tested audio program may make little difference, but I believe living here and working with Cameroonians to develop the audio program does make a difference.  A couple of weeks ago Dr. Okwen and I facilitated a workshop about designing and disseminating effective health interventions.  We used our project as a template to increase the capacity 20 community development and media professionals on how to do formative research and then use the media to disseminate their results.  I heard some of the participants say that they will use the skills they developed to address other issues in their communities such as injection safety, hospital waste disposal, birth certificate registration, and education.  It was probably the most fulfilling thing I have done so far as I was able to use my knowledge and experience to increase the capacity of local health workers to design their own health interventions.  So am I happy here?  Not always.  But I do feel fulfilled and complete.      

Some of the knowledge development participants