Bucket Love

As predicted, my bucket did become my best friend while battling food poisoning this week.

I’m not sure what exactly caused it, but I’d venture a guess at the dinner I had the night before sickness struck. Power was out, my homestay mother was sick (with what I now know to be malaria) and my homestay father was working late. To make up for it, he brought me two beignets and some yogurt. I was starving and managed to make the food do a disappearing act in mere minutes. Either the yogurt was off or someone had some nasty hands on my beignets, because by the time I woke up the next morning my stomach was twisting, my head was on fire, and my lymph nodes were swelling. Something was being battled inside of me, and I was going to be cause in the crossfire.

I slept most of the day away, between trips to the bathroom, and luckily was as good as new the next day. In a few acts that manage to prove that I work with the best people in the universe, by the time I had returned the next day I had received a get-well card, several phone calls from my higher-ups, and two visitors to my bedside. Peace Corps people have each other’s backs.

This week we’ve been talking about the oh-so-taboo S-E-X in classes, focusing in on reproductive education and HIV/AIDs counseling and prevention. We’ve played Sex Jeopardy (with matching innuendo-filled team names), done male and female condom demonstrations, and talked about how exactly babies are made. This had been my favorite section so far, and I’m pretty sure that come post-time I’ll be focusing in on the business of bonin’. Doing something involving responsible sex education in the states has always been an interest to me, and in Cameroon that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the level of education the people here have versus the people back home. I’ll be speaking to people with next to no knowledge on how pregnancy occurs, how STIs are transmitted, and what exactly it means to have HIV. Sometimes those people have already had babies, a venereal disease or been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. My work here could have a direct impact on the people I’m talking to.

Some of the stats here are pretty disturbing with regards to female health. Less than 10% of the population uses contraceptive correctly and consistently. Almost a quarter of girls will get pregnant before the age of 19. The population has an HIV/AIDS rate of 5.5%. A quarter of the women have had breast ironing. Of women in Cameroon, 80% have had “massage” post-partum, where hot water is poured on their breasts and stomach to hopefully reduce the stretched skin back to pre-pregnancy size. “Casual prostitution” is becoming increasingly popular, where women trade various services (like moto-rides) or things (like sachets of whisky or new clothes) for sex with several different partners. Some places marry their women off before their first period. Others require that a girl has had a baby before marrying to prove she’s fertile.

Cuddle farm may have to wait.


2 thoughts on “Bucket Love

  1. We were really scared when you mentioned on Facebook that you had been sick, then were not reachable by email. I am so glad to hear of the kindness of your friends and neighbors. I can’t imagine what it was like 50 years ago when Peace Corps was in its infancy and people had to wait for the mail for news of their loved ones! I think of you and how different your daily life must be many times every day. Whenever we use indoor plumbing for dishes or laundry or, of course, the toilet, we can’t help but imagine you with your bucket. It has made us much more mindful of the water we waste (and hopefully more conservative).

    Your reports of the local beliefs and practices are fascinating and horrifying. I read about breast ironing in my World History class and I was dumbfounded. The hot water “massage” sounds equally disturbing. The people there obviously need new information. You will be an excellent, forthright, and compassionate instructor. I am so proud of you for pursuing this area of public health! We love you and miss you terribly. P.S. Olive says woof.

  2. We are sooo enjoying reading your blog. The women in my class at St. Pat’s are beginning to expect a tale every week when we meet. Your “sleep over” story was delightful and led us into a discussion about differences in cultures and expectations we hold in our minds. Clearly, your host dad is a good fit for your personality. Consider having your “bucket” bronzed when you return to the U.S. It could be a lovely flower vase, a garden statue water feature, a fireside wood basket, a planter etc etc. We’ve been wondering what your daily menu might be. Who does the cooking? How old are the children in your household? I take it you are in a training program at the moment…will you stay in Cameroon or be sent elsewhere? Much love, Granny

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