Archive for January, 2007

Letters Home from the Peace Corps Project

January 30th, 2007 by admin

Letters Home from the Peace Corps
Peace Corps Writers has agreed to edit a collection of Peace Corps letters to be published as part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. We are happy to say we will be advised in this project by Andrew Carroll, editor of the best selling books of “war letters,” featuring the extraordinary correspondence of American soldiers from many eras. Andrew Carroll is the Executive Director of the American Poetry & Literacy Project, a nonprofit organization he co-founded with the late Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky, which distributes free books throughout the country to promote literacy.

Letters Home From Peace Corps will be one way for Peace Corps Writers to preserve the history of the Peace Corps. We believe that personal correspondence offers a valuable insight into the experience we all shared. Letters and emails to family and friends are treasured documents that we must save. Your letters home tell a story, and with this book, we hope to preserve your story — as expressed in your own words — for posterity, and we ask you to share them with us.

While we prefer to see previously unpublished material, letters and/or emails that have already appeared in local newspapers, self-published books, and/or family web sites are all acceptable.
Selecting your letters for submission
In selecting a letter (or email) to be considered for publication in the book, we ask that you choose it thus: Would a reader find the letter intriguing? . . . Dramatic? . . . Humorous? Historic? Insightful? If you can answer yes to one of these questions, send it.

We will select the very best letters that tell the story — through the eyes of PCVs and Staff — of the Peace Corps since its beginnings in 1961.

Your letters can be about any aspect of the Peace Corps experience: Making the Decision to Join, Training, Peace Corps Service, Friends, HCNs, Family Visits, After the Peace Corps, Life as an RPCV, Returning to the Host Country.

Send us no more than three of your best letters or emails. Select the letter(s) that mean the most to you; that tell a story you want to tell.
Mailing us your correspondence for the first round of selection by June 1, 2007.
For letter(s):
o Send a legible photocopy or typed transcript. If we have trouble reading your handwriting, your letter will not be considered for publication.
o Please do not send original letters. We cannot return anything sent to us.
o Send to:
Marian Haley Beil
4 Lodge Pole Road
Pittsford, New York 14534
For email:
o Send your emails to:
o Please put in the subject line:
Letters Home From the Peace Corps
Please include for either letters or emails:
o Information about yourself or the PCV/RPCV or staff member who wrote the letter (e.g., where and when he or she served, and any other important personal and/or background information),
o Your phone number.
o Your email address.
o Your mailing address.

Do not send a query asking if we are interested in your correspondence. If your letters (or emails) are Peace Corps-related and meet the criteria described above, you should assume that we are interested in reading them and considering them for publication in Letters Home From the Peace Corps.

We look forward to hearing from you.
Marian Haley Beil
John Coyne
Editors: Letters Home From the Peace Corps

Next Stop, My Calling – Meeting My Destiny on the Bus

January 17th, 2007 by admin

A fortune teller said a bus would play an important part in my future. It did, but not in the way I’d imagined.

Next Stop, My Calling – Meeting My Destiny on the Bus

September 21, 2006
Author: Sarah Paige

During my last week of high school I was thinking less about my future than I was about spending time with my friends. Our mothers had a graduation party for us, an afternoon tea with sandwiches and a lot of questions like, “What will you major in?” and “What do you want to do after college?” My answer to both: “I don’t know.” Then our mothers revealed they had invited a psychic to tell our fortunes at this turning point in our lives.
Isabel, the psychic, had arms full of bangle bracelets that clacked together as she took a turn with each of us, holding our hands to tell our future. My friend Lisa was told that a tall man was in her future, which wound up being true of her 6-foot-2 husband. Angela, it was predicted, would spend time in the South, which came true when she attended law school at the University of Virginia. When my turn finally came, Isabel took my hand, paused for a moment and reported flatly, “I see you … on a bus.”

As my new fate got a few giggles from the other girls, I was picturing the disgusting bus stations I had only seen in the movies, full of sad and lonely souls who would rather be anywhere else. A bus is supposed to be the conduit to bigger and better things, the unfortunate but necessary inconvenience you endure to get to your destination. But Isabel had made it sound like the bus was the destination. Is that all? My friends get to be Southern belles and marry tall Prince Charmings and all I get is a lousy bus?

My mind raced. What kind of bus would it be? Local? Cross-country? A public bus? A school bus? A tour bus? Where would I be going? Could it be some sort of figurative or metaphorical bus? Would it please just hurry up and come get me so that I could stop dreading spending time in a smelly, uncomfortable bus? Isabel couldn’t answer any questions about my bus, but told me to be aware of opportunities in my future, and for years I was constantly on the lookout for an attachment to anything that remotely resembled a bus. Eventually, I got caught up with more constructive activities. I finished school, got married and started a teaching career, none of which were apparently significant enough to warrant a mention in Isabel’s psychic reading.

Years later, I found myself thinking of Isabel and her prediction. It happened late one night toward the end of a two-year stint working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon. I was heading home to my host village, riding over a treacherous road, on a bus of course. The road was typical of West Africa—unpaved, unlit, narrow and full of holes from six months of torrential rains. The bus was also typical—a 1980s Toyota van with added benches to squeeze in 15 adult passengers, not counting chickens, goats and several children under the age of 2. This particular bus had GOD LOVE painted in large red letters on the side of it, and I was hoping that might provide some protection as we reeled blindly in the dark around a downhill curve with no guardrails. Since Isabel’s vision had just re-entered my mind, I was sure that meant my life was flashing before my eyes. Had Isabel been predicting my untimely death? Was the opportunity she told me to be aware of the opportunity to die in a fiery bus crash in a foreign country?

I survived, of course, but I began to think again about the significance of that bus, and how many loose ends I would have left if that bus ride had been my last. Most troubling to me was that I was still unsure of what to do with the rest of my life. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an actor. I grew up taking acting classes and performing and dancing in front of any audience that happened to be sitting still. When I got to high school however, I went through a phase of thinking that acting was frivolous and I was embarrassed to do it.

On the bus that night, I thought about all the people I had met in Cameroon. For most of them, their lives had been decided for them by a class system and arranged marriages. Women only recently started working away from their homes and family farms. I am extremely lucky to have choices in my life, and I should not waste my opportunities. I noticed that in Cameroon people took much-needed relaxing breaks by forming groups where they gathered, drank fermented corn beer and acted out ancient stories. Even on terrifying bus rides, most of the passengers were telling jokes and entertaining each other. Whether it is for escape or introspection, entertainment and those who provide it are valuable.

After that bus ride, I finally understood that pursuing my dreams was not frivolous but rather a privilege. It cannot have been a coincidence that this thought came to me during a bus trip. I knew then I would become an actor. Since returning from Cameroon four years ago, I have spent the time studying acting, and I moved to New York City in order to make it a career. I have performed in theater, films and television. I have gotten a late start compared to my counterparts, and as the odds have it, I will probably never be a famous movie star. But that is OK because I love every minute of what I am doing. To me, that is the definition of success.

As far as my destiny with buses, my experience so far has been occasionally dangerous and, yes, sometimes sticky and smelly. But without it, I might never have had the courage to take such a big chance in changing my career. Now in Manhattan, I use public transportation daily, and I am always open to what I might see on a bus.

Paige lives in New York City.

Kamtok (Cameroon Pidgin)

January 5th, 2007 by bobebill

Kamtok (Cameroon Pidgin)
(more can be found at the website, but a partial text is below)

written by Loreto Todd
(with help from Martin Jumbam and Herbert Wamey)

Kamtok is the pidginised English of Cameroon. This English-related language has been a lingua franca in the country since at least the 1880s. The 35-year period since 1966 has seen dramatic changes in the attitude of speakers towards the language. Speakers have always recognised the usefulness of the language but, in early writings, it was frequently referred to as “Bad English”, “Broken English” and “Bush English”. Today, due mainly to its extended use in Churches and on Radio and Television, it is becoming known as Kamtok from Cameroon Talk, and is taking its place as a recognised medium of interaction.

It is difficult to distinguish between a widely-used pidgin and a creole. The sociological differentiation, often cited, is that a creole is a mother tongue whereas a pidgin is not. However, this distinction is overly simplistic in West Africa where multilingualism is the norm and where the same language can, at any one time, be a mother tongue, a language of wider communication and a first, second, third, fourth or foreign language. This is the case with Kamtok. It is acquired by many in infancy at the same time as their other mother tongue(s) and spoken at a similar speed and with similar flexibility. Many, including clergymen, traders, travellers, gendarmes, soldiers and prisoners utilise it as the most viable means of communication in a country with two official languages, French and English, and a minimum of two hundred mutually unintelligible vernaculars. Other people, including immigrants and expatriates, learn it with varying degrees of proficiency and a few, albeit a diminishing number, still refuse to speak it because they believe it incapable of civilised discourse.

Kamtok is spoken, in some form, by at least half of the population so it would be overly simplistic to suggest that it could be described in a few pages. What I can do is offer some generalisations with examples, all drawn from live speech unless otherwise indicated. I should just like to emphasise, however, that there are many varieties of Kamtok including:

· Grafi Kamtok, the variety used in the grassfields and often referred to as ‘Grafi Talk’

· liturgical Kamtok. This variety has been used by the Catholic church for three quarters of a century

· francophone Kamtok. This variety is now used mainly in towns such as Douala and Yaoundé and
by francophones talking to anglophones who do not speak French

· Limbe Kamtok. This variety is spoken mainly in the southwest coastal area around the port that used
to be called Victoria and is now Limbe.

· Bororo Kamtok. This variety is spoken by the Bororo cattle traders, many of whom travel through
Nigeria and Cameroon.


Kamtok has an eight-term set of personal pronouns:
a, mi ‘I’ mi ‘me’
yu ‘you (singular)”
i ‘he, she. it’ i, -am ‘him, her, it’
wi ‘we, us’
una, wuna ‘you (plural)’
dem ‘they’ dem, -am ‘them’

Some people use a pronominal set that occasionally reflects sex:
A bin si i. ‘I saw he/she/it.’
Hu? ‘Who?’
Shi, di wuman pikin. ‘Her, the girl.’
and case:
Dei no sabi laik ohs. ‘They don’t really like us.’

Usually, plural is not marked:
ma pikin ‘my child/children’

To avoid ambiguity, however, plurality can be carried by a modifier:
dat tu man pikin ‘those two boys’
wuman boku ‘several women/wives’

Importing Foreign Entrepreneurs to Set Cameroon on a Business Path

January 5th, 2007 by admin

Here is an interesting article from another news blog set up by a Cameroonian. There are many other articles of interest at the site that you might find worth reading.

Importing Foreign Entrepreneurs to Set Cameroon on a Business Path
By Ernest L. Molua

Cameroon is in dire straits. The President of the Republic, Mr Paul Biya, in his most recent public pronouncement, challenged his countrymen to rise-up from inertia (inaction) and embrace patriotism, like the Asians. He implicitly implied that Cameroonians, perhaps lack the vision, determination and will to overcome obstacles, except in football. Cameroon needs a thriving business class to catalyse development. The business climate is riddled with obstacles that serve as impediment to indigenous entrepreneurialism, yet few foreigners as far as China seem to have the magic wand to braze the odds. If Cameroonians cannot do it, then lets import foreigners to do it, after all America, Canada, Australia, Germany currently have schemes and programmes to import skilled able-bodied labourers. There must be policy in place to import and properly manage foreign entrepreneurs who will take the lead for Cameroonians to follow.

The Chinese are doing it in frying puff-balls in Cameroon, as a lucrative enterprise and not for mere subsistence. They took the lead. All of a sudden, Cameroonians are now increasingly frying ‘puff-balls’ or ‘puff-puff’ in every street corner. While the Nigerians, Ghanaians and Beninese are exploiting the coastline reaping revenue of about 5 million FCFA per day in fish sales, Cameroonians are caressing beer bottles, harboring tons of concubines and harvesting poverty while sitting on the complaining bench.

Time to Bring in Foreign Job Creating Firms

However, we will need to import job-creating foreign entrepreneurs. The Cameroonian tragedy is that foreign derived investments are very low. The country receives less than 1% of global investments. That is too low to facilitate ‘sustainable’ development and growth. We will need to clean our business environment to cajole the Sony Erickson, Ford, BMW, Ikea, Pfizer, Microsoft, etc. to set up factories and plants in Cameroon, to gainfully employ our people. There is shortage of job creating private domestic and foreign firms in the country. The result is that about 40% of households in the country cannot find formal gainful employment, and continue to live on hand-outs and external assistance from the lone breadwinner in the extended family. And they either pest the breadwinner to death or push him to loot state treasury.

This economic reality is particularly saddening since Cameroon is a treasure trove. Huge deposits of natural resources and agrarian produce, but the problem is that we export raw materials and we import the finished product. With the result that Cameroon gets poorer and the nations north of us get richer. We need to add value to our agriculture products, and if we cannot do it ourselves, let’s bring in foreign risk-bearing entrepreneurs to undertake the transformation.

There is need for strategies to speed up development and growth, by creating an environment that will attract more international investments, since Cameroonians themselves are cash-strapped to create businesses or inherently lack the entrepreneurial will and acumen. The sign for foreign investment is domestic investment. If domestic businessmen do not seem to believe in investing in their own country, it becomes difficult for foreign investment to flow in. We therefore need to promote domestic investments, regional trade within Africa, with growth and development strategies having specific focus on creating jobs and wealth in order to break the cycle of poverty.

There are several obstacles that stand in the way of foreign investment coming into the Cameroon. The first is afro-pessimism – the belief that the entire continent is corrupt and riddled with inefficiencies. This is incorrect. There are countries like South Africa, Tunisia, Morocco and Tanzania that have maintained an admirable record of good government and good governance.

There are some positives in the outlook for the continent. The International Monetary Fund in its world economic outlook said while the global economic trend has not been consistent, 2005 recorded the highest economic growth in the history of trading. The African continent recorded growth that was, on average around 3%-5%. The continent’s GDP rose to 5.1% of the global GDP. Interestingly, Cameroon, Angola, Mozambique and Botswana have shown high growth rates.

On the other hand, states such as Zimbabwe and the Ivory Coast have recorded negative growth, largely due to political instability. It is important for the African continent to develop its own strategies for development and growth. We must be careful of importing eurocentric strategies for the continent. We also have to be careful of one size fits all strategies. What may work in Johannesburg may not work in Douala or Kinshasa. However, we must thoroughly examine and imbibe the best strategies that may do the greatest good to us.

There are many similarities between strategies for running successful businesses and successful countries. The strategies for attracting investment into a company through good governance and subsequent growth can be applied to the process of building a country set to attract investment. The country’s success levels will be enhanced by improved corporate governance. The corporate sector is a critical driver of growth in any country. With the best intentions in the world, Government is not a good creator of employment and wealth.

Sustainable Business Establishments

On a purely business level, there is a great need to produce business strategies that will result in organisations that are sustainable in the medium to long term. A lot of businesses are created in such a way that they are only sustainable in the short term, because they are based on short term goals and strategies. Some businesses are structured in such a way that they can only survive for twelve months or less. A lot of failures are due to limited understanding of the product/service, the markets and the competition.

On the other hand, talent and good leadership are increasingly becoming key to sustainable businesses. While in the past, there was much emphasis on assets, there is an increasing focus on people as the core of every successful organisation. Modern business calls for proprietors and managers who are willing to bring in new thinking and create new ways of doing things. Cameroonians can quickly learn and be pushed onto the right path if there are more opportunities to work shoulder-to- shoulder and eye-ball to eye-ball with foreign entrepreneurs. Let’s open the floodgates for Pakistani, Indian, Lebanese, Turk and South African Boers and Afrikaners entrepreneurs to come and nurture our timid businessmen and teach Cameroonians to take risk.


January 3rd, 2007 by admin

Earlier today I received a call from Peace Corps Regional Director for Africa Henry McKoy letting me know that Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter has selected James Ham to be the next Peace Corps Country Director for Cameroon. All staff and many volunteers know James from the times he served as Acting CD in Cameroon in 2004, 2005 and 2006. James is an RPCV/Guinea, was the Country Desk Officer for Cameroon for several years, and has recently been serving as a roving CD in the Africa Region. Below, please see James’ more detailed bio.

James plans to come out to Cameroon sometime in January so that he and his wife Sharoya can get their three boys into school in Yaounde. James and I will work together until the end of February when I will complete my five years as Country Director. This will help ensure a very smooth transition.

From the four years that James and I have already worked together, I know that he loves Cameroon and has been very excited about the possibility of becoming the Country Director here. Whereas Nina and I will be sad to leave Cameroon, we’ll be glad to know that my old office will be occupied by someone who couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the country or Peace Corps.

Regards to all and best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season.

Robert L. Strauss
Country Director
Peace Corps/Cameroon
BP 215
Yaounde, Cameroon
Tel: 237-220-25-34

James T. Ham
Country Director Designate
Peace Corps Cameroon

James T. Ham is newly selected Country Director for Peace Corps Cameroon. Just prior to this appointment he served as Country Desk Officer for the Peace Corps Africa Region. He was responsible for the Peace Corps programs in Benin, Cameroon and Burkina Faso. He has served in this position for two years. Among the duties that he has participated in include: the closure and suspension of Peace Corps Gabon and Chad, CD Selection Panels, PCMO selection panels, APCD selection Panels and also served as the Office of Special Services Duty Officer. On three different occasions served as the Country Director for Peace Corps Cameroon. (June – September 2004, July 2005 and March – May 2006). Other activities include co facilitated the Southern Africa Diversity workshop in Mozambique in 2004.

Prior to becoming Country Desk Officer in the Africa Region, James Ham served as the Country Desk Assistant for the nations of Ghana, Guinea, Togo and the Ivory Coast. He assisted with the evacuation of the Volunteers in the Ivory Coast and served on the State Department Task Force during this evacuation process.

Other positions served at the Peace Corps include those of Staging Director, Co-Chair Black History Month committee, member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance Committee, Women’s Month Committee. Mr. Ham was selected by the Director to serve as Co- Chair of the 2005 Combined Federal Campaign for Peace Corps. The Campaign raised over 127% of its $86,000 goal.

Mr. Ham is veteran of the United States Navy. Currently he holds a Bachelor of Arts in Middle Grades Education from North Carolina Central University and in December 2005 received his Master of Arts degree in International Education from American University.

An educator for over ten years teaching in urban, rural and international settings, he is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer where he served as a teacher in Guinea (96-98). Mr. Ham speaks French fluently and was selected to participate in the International Career Advancement Program in Aspen, Colorado in 2004.

James is married to Sharoya Ham and has three sons, Jeremiah 8, Myles 5 and Malachi 3.

Cameroon corruption hinders Aids fight

January 3rd, 2007 by admin

Cameroon corruption hinders Aids fight
By Jenny Cuffe
BBC World Service, Cameroon

In Cameroon alone, the Global Fund and World Bank have allocated more than $133m (£68m) to stem the tide of HIV/Aids. But with corruption endemic, are the millions being spent on combating the disease being used effectively?
Latest figures show that 5% of Cameroon’s population are infected with HIV/Aids, and there are plans to ensure they all have access to anti-retroviral drugs and cheaper treatment.

Both the Global Fund and a local NGO, the Scouts Association, have recently given money or testing kits to a hospital in Abomngbang in the rural east of the country so that it can provide free screening.

But when Serge Tchapdar went along, he was told he would have to pay – and he tells me his friends were also asked to do so.

And four members of staff – including the one in charge of the unit – say the hospital did not give any free tests.

The hospital’s director, Dr Jean-Paul Kengue, says the tests were done for free – but the records he shows me as proof do not show this.


The tests are indicative of the problem in Cameroon. Tackling Aids cannot happen until a cure is found for Cameroon’s second deadly virus – corruption.

The policies and strategies are to help the poorest, and now we have to work on the effectiveness of our policies
Urbain Olanguena
Cameroon’s public health minister

The government says it has put more than $4.5m (£2.3m) into the fight against Aids; resulting in treatment at specialist centres for 25,500 patients, the cost of anti-retrovirals falling to $5 from $13, and pregnant women, children and the very poor getting them free.

Roffine tells a different story.

“I am really suffering, because for the past four years I have been sick from HIV,” she says.

“My parents discovered I was HIV-positive and they threw me out. I can’t pay rent. I can’t afford payment for my treatment.

“I don’t have any work. I can’t do anything for myself. I do everything to get drugs. At times I beg.”

Roffine attends one of Yaounde’s HIV clinics where she is entitled to free anti-retrovirals.

But after giving her the first month’s supply, the pharmacist told her she would have to pay for any more – because her clinic did not receive enough money to buy the drugs it needed from the national supplier Cename, and the only way to get more was to charge.

It is a familiar story throughout Cameroon – patients complaining they are not getting the free or subsidised drugs they are entitled to.

Urbain Olanguena, the Cameroon’s minister of public health, says Roffine’s case is an isolated incident due to structural problems.

“It doesn’t question the global system that today permits Cameroon to give drugs free of charge to people with no money,” he adds.

“But if they need treatment they must get it free of charge… the policies and strategies are to help the poorest, and now we have to work on the effectiveness of our policies and ensure the implementation of these policies.”


The $133m coming into Cameroon from the World Bank and the Global Fund has dwarfed the government’s annual spending on HIV/Aids.

To distribute the funds, the minister has devised an elaborate system, co-ordinated by the National Aids Control Committee.

The committee passes money to Provincial Technical Groups, who then divide it between 48 private and several thousand non-governmental organisations (NGOs). At the bottom are the local committees, groups of volunteers who develop their own plans.

This system is wide open to abuse.

Halidou Demba of international NGO Action Aid says local committee presidents and treasurers sometimes misuse the money to buy food grains, stock them in their houses and sell them when food prices are very high in their local market.

Effectively, there is a hierarchy of individuals and organisations all giving money to the man above and taking from the man below.

The individual sums may be small, but multiply them across the country and you’re talking millions of dollars.


The complete absence of written records makes proving corruption extremely difficult, and until recently the subject has been taboo in government circles. But in the New Bell Prison in Douala, three former civil servants are now awaiting trial, accused of embezzling $700,000 that should have been used for the fight against Aids.

Damaris Mounlom, who runs an NGO for women’s health and development, blew the whistle on the financial irregularities in the Provincial Technical Group, where the accused worked.

“When we went to the field we found that every local committee have spent the money in the corruption,” she says.

“The people responsible came to see them and said, ‘Give me 200,000 because I am here, I have spent the petrol. I must teach you how to protect yourself. Give me 200,000.’ – and so on.”

But when Mrs Mounlom blew the whistle, she found herself blacklisted by the health ministry, and has now been removed from the National Aids Strategy Committee.

And corruption means donors are now asking whether there is sufficient return for their investment.

Francois Mkounga, who oversees the World Bank’s HIV project – a loan of $50m (£25m) – says they are trying to improve the situation, but there is only so much they can do.

“If the civil society is not providing good information on what is being done on the field it will be very difficult to address those issues of corruption,” he explains.

“There will be always allegations, but no way to address specific issues.

“We need to have a clear view of the mechanism being put in place by people dealing with corruption… we discuss with the government and try to get the government to understand where things are not working well.

“It’s a challenge every day.”

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/12/22 17:49:06 GMT