Work Life

So some of you are probably wondering what I’m doing in Cameroon? Thanks to generous CIDA funding I’m doing a Legal Internship. But what does that really mean?

My job is pretty varied. My main role is a Legal Associate for YOP, which stands for  Youth Outreach Programme. YOP is a Cameroonian NGO which has been in existence for over 20 years. They basically do a lot of programs and training for youth on a number of different topics including life skills and entrepreneurship with the goal to “empower Youth to recognize their own development”.

One of my roles is that is to facilitate sessions on leadership, women’s rights, etc, at the Women’s Empowerment Centre. These basically last an hour every Monday. The women are so nice. They range from ages 14-35(this is an educated guess). These women are so inspiring and kind. The first day one of them stood up and “thank you for coming”. I sometimes ask them really hard questions, for instance “What are Human Rights?” and they come up with better ideas then I ever would have. Or maybe this is just a reflection on my intellectual abilities…

Another thing I personally do is run training sessions for Youth about Human Rights. By Youth this definition ranges from anyone age 6-30. It’s a bit awkward trying to teach about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when the people you are teaching are older than you.

I also work with Justice and Peace Commission, which is a YOP partner. Justice and Peace is a Catholic based organization based out of the Archdiocese of Bamenda at the Catholic University. Laura Anytola Tufon is the coordinator and she an incredible inspiration to me. She just recently came back from America where she won an award for her fight against child trafficking. The website for this is located at www.justiceandpeacebamenda.org.

Justice and Peace does a ton of really cool programs. One that I’m involved in is Access to Justice, which is kind of like Legal Aid. I work with numerous other Barrister’s who met clients. Basically anyone can just make an appointment and show up. Then the Barrister will help represent them, Pro-Bono.

What I find interesting about this program is that because it isn’t technically Legal Aid, the barrister’s are a bit more, well, shall I say creative about finding solutions. I think in Canada we would call it such tools as Mediation, Arbitration, which we talk a lot about but I rarely see being used. For example if a client comes in about a land dispute with his brother we will call his brother to come and visit us. Maybe have them both in the same room. Maybe send the brother a letter. Lots of solutions and rarely do we go to court. However I think it’s really helpful.

Most of the cases so far involve land disputes, family matters, custody, inheritance and other things like that.

A lawyer my old firm, told me once that the Family Court is one tool to use in a divorce, but sometimes it doesn’t produce the best results. He compared to “a scalpel, when sometimes you just need a band-aid”.  I think watching these methods have made me more aware that just because a person enters a lawyer’s office, doesn’t mean the legal option is the best one.  However the legal system still has a role to play, although it doesn’t have to be the only role.

Also what’s cool about Justice and Peace is during these “Access to Justice” sessions they encourage reconciliation. So if a husband wants to divorce his wife they will try to see if there’s some other way to get through the issue. Reading over numerous case files that sometimes is what happens. It’s also less adversarial then the Legal System in Canada. For instance the Barrister will sometimes just call up the relative and see if they can work out a solution. It’s inspiring.

That’s just two projects I’m involved in now. Other ones I’m involved in are Human Rights Training, making sure prisoners are being treated fairly, and education about Child Trafficking. More on these another day I need to met with a client! 

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Wedding Crashing… Bamenda Style

I recently asked my Cameroonian friend Ngi what Cameroonians do for fun. Anyone who knows me will remember this is a big priority in my life. He responded “We go to weddings”. He couldn’t have been more accurate.

Happily another co-worker invited me along to another wedding this weekend. It was for a couple that the man was born in Cameroon, moved to Germany, came home and met a Cameroonian women and decided to get married. Her name is Tulise and the man was her cousin. So I am so incredibly excited about this. Everyone has told me the food is amazing and I am thrilled.

The wedding was a “Court-wedding” rather than a “Church-wedding”. It’s similar to Canada where the bride and groom go to the courthouse and get a judge to marry them. It’s really common for people’s first weddings, and then a few years later when they save more money they will have a “Church-wedding” which is a more elaborate event which I would find out later in the evening.

The wedding was at 2 and the actual reception was at 3. We arrived in the Hotel for the reception and it was very brightly decorated. Tulise ran up to us with the invitations and stated “Sorry, I was at another wedding and left that to come here”.

Arriving there was a box of snacks at our table which consisted of a piece of beef, some potato like things that were sweet, like pink potato chips. I was kind of disappointed at first, I mean this was the food we’ve been hearing so much about? Come on! Thankfully I found out it was just a snack to hold us over. Praise the Lord!

I originally kind of felt a bit awkward at the wedding. I felt bad that we didn’t know these people. Who were we to Wedding Crash? However I was so mistaken. The bride and groom and groom’s father were thrilled to welcome us. They were probably the most gorgeous couple ever, not to mention incredible dancers.

Okay so the most amazing thing about the wedding reception was not the dancing, or the open bar, but was the FOOD. It was an all you can eat buffet, with every African food imaginable. This includes …….. jemab jema, ewoke, fish, spaghetti, pork.

It was so good. As my Cape Breton relatives say when food or drinks are offered “Fill your boots” and did I ever. 

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Cameroon Fitness

 

Sadly one of my Cameroonian friends recently had this exchange with me:

Phil: Dana… your belly.

Dana: Yes?

Phil: It’s so big.

TIME TO HIT THE GYM. Cameroonian style.

My German friend Elena always goes to “Sport”. Sport is Pigdin for basically anything which is exercise.  So gratiously she invites me to come along.

The gym has a carpeted floor, consists of two excerise bikes, some weights, and some abs equipment. But hey. It’s substance not style. I can get fit.

Anyways a big part of the gym is that they watch workout videos. So I spent an hour sweating to “Hip-Hop Abs” and “Walk your way to Skinny”.

Hopefully this pays off.

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Limbe and Beyond

This weekend I travelled with some Cameroon friends and German volunteers to the beach town of Limbe.

I can’t believe I’m still alive.

To start out we had to get “The bus”. The name of the bus company is the “Vatican Express” to which my Catholic relatives would probably be really happy about. Now this bus is more like one of those 12 seat vans that I think they outlawed in Canada not that long ago. However instead of 12 seats there are 30, and instead of 30 people there are about 45 cramped into this “mode of transportation”.

Oh and did I forget to mention that all our luggage is piled on top of the “van”. Also included in this luggage was a goat. A real life goat, just shoved on top of the van. I felt so sorry for the poor goat. You could also hear the goat bahhing when they put him on top of the van, I think they tied him to the luggage parts. I feel PETA needs to get their priorities straight for these things, forget about the seal hunt and focus on what matters. These poor African goats. Also they had to get the goat down, I heard him moaning so I closed my window. When the goat finally was carried down there were goat prints everywhere.

Needless to say the ride was an experience. We left at 8:30 and arrived at 6pm which was supposed to be a “6 hour ride”.  The bus broke down at one point. Everyone just casually walked off the bus and hung around for the next 45 minutes or so while people tried to fix the bus. My German friend commented to me “imagine if this was Germany, people would be flipping out. Everyone’s just so calm here.” Even the poor goat seemed alright about the situation.

We stopped once at a market where you could get anything to chicken legs to pineapple to beer to fried fish. I tried my luck at some fruit and Coke Cola and  really felt I was living on the edge.

Also there were about 10-15 checkpoints where the driver of the bus paid a fee to various checkpoints. People would run out when we stopped with every kind of food imaginable. Basically I had ten snacks while on this journey. I guess that made it more pleasant.

I was never so glad when we got off the bus. The goat was driven off in a car, hopefully on to a better life.

The first night we went to a Peace Corp party with some German volunteers who lived near Limbe. The party was a very organized event, with there being tons of food and numerous speeches and a program. I think it was in honour of a volunteer who had spent two years working in a village, and became very close to the chef. The chef presented him with a hat and told him if he ever wore the hat people would recognize him as the chef’s son. It was really moving and touching.

The next few days were spent on the beaches of Limbe. They were beautiful. Being from the beautiful warm tropic island of Nova Scotia, it’s so rare to swim in warm ocean water. The waves were as high as they were in Inverness but the water was so nice. I looked out on the Ocean and thought my home is across this vast majestic body of water and just kind of realized how far I was from home and everyone. I had a flash back to two years ago when I was in Ghana and felt the same thing, I never dreamed I would be back to Africa, but here I was.

Life always surprises you.

Limbe was a beautiful little ocean community, but it was so hot. It made me a bit homesick for Bamenda and the mountains. As much as I adore the ocean. We spent the evening on the waterfront eating seafood and watching all the little fishing boats on the shore.

As much as my new favourite food, the Spaghetti omelet. Check it out. It tastes as amazing as it sounds. To all my Canadian friends the first thing I’m cooking when I’m home.

It was a great weekend and made some amazing new friends, but I’m happy to be back to my Bamenda life.

 

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First Day in the Village

Note: I wrote this blog entry sometime in October, after my village life experience. Here it is a bit late, but better late than never right?

I just got back from spending the last while living with a village chief, his 5 wives, and 40 kids (although I didn’t see 40, I’d say max 20 at one time. This is a summary of my first day at the village, with more to follow.

The first day I arrived I was greeted by my foster brother tintin. Tilton was the son of the chief, who had helped organized the entire thing.

The reason these whole experience was arranged was because Tilton originally been a Youth Outreach Programme participant a number of years ago, so he was familiar with our volunteers and staff. Also his Dad was a traditional ruler of the Pinyin Tribe.

After taking about a half hour cab ride from where I live (Bamenda) to Santa where my tribe was located. I was pretty tired. Tilton showed up on his bike and helped me with my ever trusty backpack.

The ride to his village was about a half an hour all up the mountain. It was a bit terrifying. At one point we went over two wooden planks which passed for a bridge. Thought we were going to topple over but praise the Lord, did not!

When we arrived Tilton grabbed my bag, and ushered me to the “Palace”. The Palace was a white building with brown pyramid structure ceiling.  All together with a bunch of rooms.

I entered the chief’s chambers, which were basically a couple chairs, with animal skins on the the wall behind him. There was the chief, who was dressed in a baseball cap, a tee-shirt with a blazer over it, and khaki pants.

The two men with him were a “technician” and an “electrician” (I think… didn’t really hear them). They said welcome and proceeded to take out a bottle of Red wine. The meal was a traditional meal of Achoo, which is grinded up Coco Yams with some sort of sauce.

The chief spoke a little English, just basically enough to tell me “It’s okay” when I kept thanking him profusely. The other two really didn’t, they spoke the dialect which I couldn’t understand at all. The other two men left and the chief and I continued to polish off the bottle of wine. May I mention it was roughly 9am in the morning. God love Cameroon.

I know from previous experience that when a guest arrives, it’s tradition to break out wine and drink it. It’s happened to me on a few occasions. I guess it’s a really nice version of the “ancient law of hospitality”.  If anyone has ever studied this, which goes back probably pre-biblical times it’s a rule that states if someone visits your house, you have to give them food and drink and can’t attack them.  To do otherwise is to bring harm on your self, which is similar to the rule of not being a kin-slayer, etc. The only reason I know about this rule is that my best friend and roommate in Law School beautiful Sara Gardezi,  had a book which mentioned this.

I really enjoy the bottle of wine with the chief. Then Tilton comes back and tells me my bags are in my room and he’s going to take me on a tour of the village. I thank the chief profusely and he says again  “It’s okay” and Tilton and I head out the door.

The village is beautiful. It’s basically a circle road which there are numerous houses and farms. Tilton and I spent the next 2 hours on this (which is exhausting)  greeting his cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, pa’s (I don’t know if everyone is related or it’s a matter of speech). Tilton is super nice but I don’t think he really understands my English, his response to everything is “Yesssss.” (As my friend Maura pointed out later “You could say, I’m here to steal all your money, and he would just be like Yesssss). But he is great company. He shows me leeks, tomatoes, cows, his farm and things in between.

At one point we met his relatives? (Would love to see a family tree to get a handle on his situation… I’ll believe it when I see it) who invite us in to their bar. The Bar is a shack filled with bottles of Coca Cola, Top(which is a Cameroonian soft drink, it’s like sugary Carbonated Pineapple Juice) and a television which is playing Nigerian music videos.

The man asked me if I want to try Palm Wine. I say sure. Palm wine is wine that comes from the Palm tree. It tastes like super cheap white wine mixed with 7 up and a weird after taste. You can also buy 20 litres for the equivalent of $4.00 CDN dollars. It’s served in Gas containers. Has dangerous written all over it.  The man talks a lot, I assume he’s a few litres of Palm wine in, asking me how the chief is, and that it is nice that the Prince(who is Tilton) is showing me around, talking about a Peace Corp volunteer who lived here a few years ago, and that we should all have dinner and discuss. I agree as I sip my Palm wine. Eventually Tilton says it’s time to leave as we track back to the village.

Tilton says he has to go do some work around the compound when we get back. There is a store on the compound which sells mostly everything, so I sit there very content drinking Coca Cola and eating biscuits while watching Nigerian soap operas. There are about 4 chairs in the store along with around 15 children. The children who are under 5 years old are not wearing pants. I was told in the village there is really no point. I mean with the expensive costs of diapers it’s just better for them to go commando I suppose. As a result of this I was reluctant to pick up and children and put them on my lap for good reason.

We come back and he tells me his Mom has prepared dinner for me. It is again Achoo. I sit with the Mom while she prepares the sauce. She speaks the dialogue and not much English so there’s a slight communication barrier, so I just keep saying “thank you” over and over again. Tliton has an 8 year old sister who is probably the smartest child I have ever met. During the week in the village she cooked more than I’ve probably cooked in my entire life.

After eating the8 year old kid tells me I can go back to the store and hang out with Tilton, or go watch movies with the chief.  I decided to go to the store.

At the store most of the kids sat around watching Nigerian soap operas, and people from the villages stopped by to drink Palm Wine.

 That was my first day in the village, but I have more to add about the rest of it! 

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Trip to Bamenda

The trip to Bamenda, Cameroon was a bit exhausting to say the least.  We flew from Halifax to Toronto, Toronto to Istanbul, Istanbul to Cameroon, and then a 7 hour drive to where we were staying.

The drive to Bamenda was surprisingly really nice and refreshing. I got to see the African countryside go by. Our driver was the Executive Director of our organization, Omar, who not only was extremely nice but and fantastic taste in music. There was everything from “Ghetto Superstar”, to “Summer of 69”. We went off the road slightly into a corn field but the only injury was an avocado that fell on my head. Overall great trip with good tunes and a scenic tour of the beautiful African country side.

After the 7 hour drive to Bamenda, we arrived at our destination. I was terrified to see what our living arrangements would be. Surprisingly the place we lived in was huge and stunningly beautiful. It has a gorgeous garden over and overlooks the entire city. My executive director, Omar, tried for a long time to get us stable living conditions without any success. His uncle was renovating his house, and Omar asked him if we could live in the apartment in the house before he revoated, and he agreed. My room in Cameroon is bigger than the one I left behind in Halifax

Cameroon was chosen as a case study due to its complicated legal system, incorporating French, English, and multiple traditional law elements. Cameroon has a unique colonial and post-colonial history, which is reflected in its legal system. As an example of a mixed jurisdiction country, with a history of German, and then simultaneous both French and British colonial.

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Training at Coady

The first three weeks of my placement were spent at the Coady International Institute in the beautiful Antigonish, Nova Scotia, also the home of Saint Francis Xavier University.

I went to St. F.X. for undergraduate degree in Political Science and psychology before I attended Law school. The years spent here were the best of my life. I made my lifelong friends, learned the “art” of an all nighter which was fueled by numerous Redbull, did volunteer work in Cuba/Mexico during Spring Break and somehow still received my X-ring. X just has this spirit of community, and radiates this feeling of hope and optimism where “anything is possible”. Having so many memories at this place, it feels like I’m coming home.

I do miss my Halifax life. I was there this weekend and got to see a lot of my amazing friends. It made me realize what I was giving up and it made me feel nostalgic and sad. But when one door closes another opens, so I keep telling myself.  As my roommate and best friend Geraldine said “Halifax isn’t going anywhere”.

However closest friends are moving on to bigger and better things. Some are graduating school, completing articles, and moving to new countries and different regions of Canada. Some have left already and I miss them. I guess all I can say is that I am blessed to have known such amazing people in Halifax and have such wonderful memories of this city.

The other interns in the Youth in Development program are amazing. There’s a diverse backgrounds among the interns, from LLMs to Masters in Communications to Planning. People come from places as diverse from New York to London to Entfield. I’m proud to be part of such a fascinating group of people. I’m learning from them every day.

During orientation we had a number of sessions. Since there was so many I think I will focus on a few highlights where the message really stuck with me and summarize them below.

One interesting session was “Asset Based Community Development”. It’s a theory of International Development which focuses on a community’s strengths and assets, rather than needs and weakness. It encourages developing self worth and ownership among community members compared to other models.  For example rather than focusing on a community’s lack of employment opportunities, when engaging in Asset Based Community Development, the focus would be on the community’s strong family and social connections. Then use these strengths to mobilize development, for instance could the community come together to start a co-op? Could we use these social ties to create some sort of entrepreneurial company to provide jobs? There’s a link to it on this website at http://coady.stfx.ca/.

In Gender and Development I learned this simple message: “Health=Development”. To put it another way, all the same indicators of health within a community, such as infrastructure, proper nutrition, education systems, etc. are the same indicators of development. I found this paradigm shift extremely useful.

We also had sessions on microfinance, livelihoods, Cross Cultural Communication, Communications, and numerous more to count. The method that everything is taught at Coady is through the Adult Education Method. Anyone who took the Nova Scotia Bar Course should be familiar with this method. It involves learning something, then forming into groups to talk about it or reflect on it, then going back to the main group to talk about what we’ve learned.

Adam Bata-Clay, is the program coordinator. He has worked with Indigenous groups in Australia, and has been involved development work all over the world, the last place being Kenya. His kindness and and talent in facilitation makes the whole program at Coady so much fun.

One of the best classes was Advocacy. We learned about non-violent resistance and how it can fuel social movements. We learned that non-violent regime changes are more successful than violent ones, because it leaves exiting infrastructure and knowledge of the previous regime in place. Rather than having to start from scratch the new regime is about to continue on day to day life which enables it to be successful.

At my table I sat with other Coady students, who included a government worker from Brazil, a professor from Egypt, and an NGO worker from India. Getting to learn from these people from all over the world has been truly inspirational. I look forward to what is about to come!

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Introduction

As some of you might already know, I was selected to be a Youth In Partnership Intern through the Coady International Institute, funded by Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). My title is a “Legal and Research Associate” and I will be placed with an NGO called the Youth Outreach Program (YOP). This is located in Bamenda, Cameroon, where I will be placed for the next 6 months.

Youth Outreach Programme (YOP) Cameroon is committed to working with young people to fight poverty and inequality. YOP has reached out to more than 10,000 young people in its endeavour to increase the standard of living and improve the quality of life among youths, especially those in rural areas. YOP also aims to increase participation and influence of young people within mainstream society and governance. The mission of YOP is to empower young people with the skills they need to make informed decisions, thereby creating a better society where youths are healthy, responsible and actively involved in the development process.

As working as a Legal Research and Support Associate I will be conducting legal research for the organization, research children’s and women’s legal issues, learn and teach about Cameroon’s judicial system, promote legal options to marginalized groups, create guides on how people can utilize the Judicial system to access their rights, and promote access to Justice.

As part of our contract, us Youth Associates have to write a blog detailing our experiences. I’ll try to update it as much as I can, with hopefully some insights about life in Cameroon and my experiences here.  Please feel free to write any comments or drop me a line at dana_macsween@hotmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you and updating everyone back in Canada about my experiences.  Oh and I’m also terrified and excited to be starting a completely new life in a completely new culture! Wish me luck! J

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