Archive for August, 2012

En partant (Friday, 2012 August 24)

August 24th, 2012

En partant is something like "in leaving", used to describe the context of an action, like "In leaving Cameroon, I stopped and visited my host family in Bafia". I found some random crap I wrote after we got home from the bar. I originally intended to clean it up and post it as a full blog post but I think it’s kind of nice in its abbreviated scatteredness. Here it is:


I’m in Bafia right now, drunk as I normally am. Got home with Astride, who was an annoying disruption in stage but is now a valuable ally, having demonstrated her value as a Volunteer-monger.

Being here in the Alemi’s house is nice to an extent but also a little weird — there are echoes of that same strange terror that came from being here two years ago, thousands of miles from home.

I’m here with Boris, of course; that changes things to some extent.

Power’s out.

Nobody’s hitting on me, to my everlasting disappointment.

I’m no longer a volunteer, so I didn’t wear my moto helmet, but I brushed my teeth and took my Doxy, so one for one?


Pharmacie (Tuesday, 2012 August 21)

August 21st, 2012

America is wonderful. I can eat salad every day and root beer every night. My Internet connection is ten times (!) faster than what I had in village. Last night I had some sake. It wasn’t as good as I remembered it. (Maybe it was just a shitty sake.)

But perhaps not all is roses in the Land of the Free. Lately I’ve been trying to sort out my last Peace-Corps-related medical crap, which is as usual complicated and tedious. Here’s the essential backstory, from a Moroccan volunteer’s blog: we are fully covered during service, and after service Peace Corps gives us a month of After Corps insurance, and on our last week of service we go through medical exams to tell the difference. Only, you’re doing these exams on your way out of the country, so how can Peace Corps continue to treat you? For that we have the notorious Form 127C, yet-another Peace Corps-specific thing. Form 127C is officially the "Authorization for Payment of Medical/Dental Services". You can think of it as a purchase order, granting the holder the ability to seek pre-authorized treatment which Peace Corps will pick up the bill for, sort of like a medical blank check. I received two such 127Cs, one for my "terminal malaria prophylaxis", which is the last prophylaxis I will have to take in order to hopefully flush the last of the malaria from my system, and one for my positive tuberculosis test.

The official party line regarding form 127C is that 127C is only to be used for evaluation, not treatment. If you became ill as a result of service, 127C lets you get a diagnosis and a treatment plan, but to actually follow the treatment you get to file a Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA) claim. However, both of my 127Cs are written "to include the cost of medication".

Even using the 127C is kind of a mess too. Which doctors take it? How do they use it? Remember that we’re talking about the cooperation of three different agencies here.

  • Peace Corps, i.e. the United States Federal Government.
  • This weird AfterCorps insurance thing.
  • The medical providers themselves.

The AfterCorps web site says that in order to use the 127C you have to find a doctor in their network, or more precisely networks, because they’re affiliated with ChoiceCare in most of the U.S. but they’re PHCS which is now called Multiplan in New York and New Jersey. Those doctors still won’t know what to do with the 127C, but maybe they’ll accept your AfterCorps insurance "card", which is really a folded-over sheet of paper, and maybe they’ll try to bill Peace Corps for your co-pay, or however it’s supposed to work. Honestly, I’m still not sure that’s right.

But then you have these prescriptions for these medications. I went to two different pharmacies looking for Primaquine 15 mg (the "terminal prophylaxis" thing) and neither one could find it in that dosage. But I lucked out with the nice gentleman at the Rite Aid at the Junction, who was nice enough to look it up online and apparently the 26.3 mg tablet that all the pharmacies have available only contain the 15 mg of Primaquine that I needed, plus phosphate salts or something. Look, I’m not a scientist. But I got stuck because my "insurance" didn’t go through, and indeed, the AfterCorps affiliate BeneScript that fills prescriptions didn’t even have me on file. And the pharmacist was not taking a 127C form.

So today I called AfterCorps/Peace Corps and got a friendly lady to explain all this to me. The 127C thing is not affiliated with insurance. The 127C works for prescriptions on a "pay and claim" basis, meaning I don’t try to get it covered under any insurance; I just buy the medicine and get it reimbursed later. This will be all kinds of fun with the 6-month course of medicine for TB. The doctor’s visit is also not affiliated with insurance, but we give them insurance information with the hope that they try to bill Multiplan, who will then pass the buck onto Peace Corps. It’s all very complicated. The question of why BeneScript doesn’t know who I am at all is concerning but it is a question for a later time.

This is a fire hydrant in Prague.

This is a church at a square in Prague called Náměstí míru. The Use-It map promised us hot dogs at this square, but we couldn’t find them.

Swiss money is pretty! [Edit: it’s actually Czech money.]

Aggressive dog in Geneva wants a piece of your goose.

Not depicted: there’s no "open container" law in Europe.

New universal condiment.


Victory lap (Saturday, 2012 August 18)

August 19th, 2012

I’m writing this from a plane again, a flight from Venice to New York marking the last leg of my trip back home, a 12-day romp that has seen me in Prague, Geneva (hi Jenny Wang!), Interlaken, Venice, and even a day trip to Florence. It has been a lot of fun, a first-world travel experience with all that goes along with it. It ends unambiguously now on this Delta flight to JFK, where the summer heat and delicate language negotiations have been replaced with clear and unapologetic American English and the corresponding American-intensity air conditioning (none of this European pussy-footing around). Certain challenges are over, or at least in remission, but new ones, like the fact that I’m shivering and can’t seem to stop talking in Volunteer Camfranglais, are just beginning.

I can’t seem to shake the feeling that my experiences and my hard-earned wisdom are worth something, so here are some highlights from my trip.

  • Prague was a lot of fun, not least due to the amazing efforts of Use It, which is apparently a bunch of groups in a bunch of European cities that publish free "travel advice for young travelers". They created a great map/highlights reel that became the tour guide. I feel like I saw all the most fun things in Prague after four days, but there’s still a ton of stuff more in that map that would probably keep me entertained for even longer if I wanted. I don’t know if you’re reading this, but you guys rock. (Anyone want to help me do one for New York?)
  • Czech is hard! But the people in Prague were super sweet.
  • I brought a lot of cash. Based on certain back-of-the-envelope calculations trying to accommodate for prices of meals and museums and so forth, I brought roughly $500 USD turned into CZK, CHF, and EUR, for three-and-a-half or four days in each country. I worried that this wouldn’t be enough for Switzerland or Italy, but in the end I had way more currency than I needed in the Czech Republic (used the rest to pay for my hotel room). Even in the other two countries it turned out I had more money than I needed; I’m such a cheapskate that when I see ordinary, "budget" restaurants that seem unfairly expensive, I just go to supermarkets to eat cheaper. Not to say I was thrifty — train tickets in Switzerland and Italy are expensive, but at least you can buy them with a credit card.
  • The Swiss railway (SBB/CFF/FFS) has a weird pricing scheme where all the prices they quote on their site are for holders of a "half-fare" card, which you can buy (as of this writing) at 110 CHF. You have to do a certain amount of rail travel (i.e. 220 CHF) for this to make sense financially. So you’ll be paying twice all the prices on their site. Thanks guys..
  • Interlaken is very, very beautiful, and their local beer, Rugenbrau, is unbelievable. The Holter Kunn (spelling?) funicular is great and they have an "after work" special — at 4:55, you pay a 15 CHF round trip, with a drink at the top.
  • Geneva is expensive and lame and is apparently unworthy of a Use It. Skip!
  • Venice is kind of like a weird theme park and it’s hard to believe that real people actually live there. Florence has a "garden" but it’s up a really, really steep hill. If you take first class on TrenItalia they will even give you a glass of wine!

A couple of people have mentioned that thank God, they can finally stop following this blog. I wouldn’t be so sure; I still have a few things left to post, not least of which is the final chapters of the fiction.


Mur (Thursday, 2012 August 2)

August 3rd, 2012

Here I am now in Yaoundé, at the case for what is probably the last time. I’ve spent the entire week juggling administrivia and Boris, who helped me down from post, and although I haven’t learned any Czech, written the last one or two installments of the fiction, found former Volunteer of my village Dinah Peck (or possibly Diana Peck?), nor seen all the Yaoundé-based people I wanted to see, I’ve still gotten to see some of my favorite Volunteers, weighed myself (around 190 lbs., making my weight gain about 15 lbs.), drank sufficiently, and performed a certain number of medical tests. I’m sure you will all be pleased to know that my stool sample was negative, my weight gain is not the result of a thyroid problem, my blood tests were fine, I’m still HIV negative, and my TB test was positive. It’s been, in short, a pretty fun and relaxing week, and I keep waking up after sleeping too much after going to bed too late with the sensation that I just had a terribly meaningful dream that helped me center and come to terms with my Peace Corps Experience.

Tomorrow I cease to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, and start being Another White Guy in Cameroon. (Although I guess you never really stop being a Volunteer.) The next three days will require a bit of finesse as I bounce from place to place. The current plan is: Friday night at maybe Claude’s, Saturday night in Bafia, Sunday night maybe with Yaya or whoever manages to get a hotel room here in Yaoundé, and then Monday it’s time to go.

One of the traditions here in Peace Corps Cameroon is that COS-ing volunteers sign this wall in the living room. Putting your name, village, years of service, and program are all pretty standard. Lately a lot of people have been adding quotes or jokes. J-Veld and Lindsey D. have this tag-team thing going on, but "Why did the fungi leave the party?/ Because there wasn’t mush-room" is lame in just the right way that I’m OK with it.

Of course, the whole thing is somewhat silly because every few years the wall fills up and they have to repaint it. And anyhow Peace Corps Cameroon is trying to move its office and thus the case. In the end, the whole thing is utterly and absolutely provisoire, and perhaps reflects a deeper, maybe somewhat depressing truth about service, along the lines that you get to fill a role for two years here, but I just don’t believe that an impact has been made. But maybe that’s just a limited form of cynicism that will go away bien tôt — certain Cameroonians have said that their previous interactions with former Peace Corps Volunteers have made them what they are, even if they were not the best students, and that perhaps the impacts of your presence or absence are yet to really be felt.

Allison decided to eschew any pretense of wisdom, and drew a hippo as a reference to a humorous and somewhat dangerous experience she had kayaking down a river and ending up face-to-face with a hippo (one of the more dangerous animals on this continent). She, thinking like me, decided to write it on a bookcase, figuring that it is slightly less likely to be painted over and might even end up being transported to a new case, providing her a better shot at Peace Corps immortality.

As for me, I spent a good long time trying to figure out how to take these biting and depressing insights about the ceaseless parade of warm bodies and shape it into a twelve-to-twenty word sound bite. As with many things, I decided that the most profound way I could express myself was with a quote, namely: "There are no sweeter words than this: Nothing lasts forever.." Out of deference to the cheerful optimism of my fellows, and perhaps a sense of perverseness, I decided to write it "hidden" under a blackboard that’s hanging on another bookcase. I feel like perhaps I could have done better with the whole thing, but all in all I’m a little pleased with the result.

[Edit: I don’t appear to have any pictures of it. But I did take a picture of the thing I wrote down in honor of Jenny Wang, so you get a picture of that.]

Here are the names of some of the gone-but-not-forgotten, including Henry, Austin, Timothy, and Lindsay C.

Some cute pictures of Volunteers relishing their rare time together.

Our gonging-out, which is a ceremony where Admin says "Thanks" and "Good-bye" to those volunteers who have proudly served their countries. Honored Directress Lahoma is already gone — early COS, ha ha — and the new one, Jackie something or other, seems pretty sharp and quite on top of things.

I’m, of course, sitting next to Queen Cristina, and we’re both wearing our Bamiléké outfits. (Mine was a present from the Batié Mayor’s Office. I don’t know where hers came from.) Here I was responding to Francis’s saying that I was a "notable"; I was clarifying that they just gave me the clothes, specifically that I had found a notable in a dark alley in Bafoussam and decided that I could make better use of the outfit.

Volunteers who are all COSing together, meaning doing the same medical stuff and ceasing to be Volunteers on the same day, get to gong out together. Here are the rest of the people from our COS group.

The new Honored Directress.

COSing means you get the coveted Peace Corps Cameroon pin, which depicts the American and Cameroonian flags and the Peace Corps logo. (You can just barely see it near my shoulder.)

I was supported by Claude and Boris, depicted here with Jake.

Family photo! The Peace Corps sign is taken off the main admin building, and we think the orientation is quite stylish.


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