10 work days left! Let the countdown begin (I hope it’s been obvious that the work situation here has not been the best part of my experience…). This also means less than two more weeks before I leave Bamenda and head to the savanna’s and mountains of the Extreme North. This has me frantically trying to get a budget together for the rest of the trip (I arrived in Cameroon with just under $2,000 to get me through the summer) for living expenses in Bamenda, transport for the trip and to the airport, lodging and making sure I come home baring gifts…oy. Oh, and that phone bill back home..and the gym membership they wouldn’t suspend while I’m like 10,000 miles away. Awesome. It’s tight.
Since being in Cameroon I have become incredibly cheap. INCREDIBLY cheap. If I can’t barter the price of a pair of shoes down to 3,000CFA (roughly $6) I won’t buy them. Pretty much nothing here has a set price–unless you’re shopping in one of the White People Grocery Stores (that have more familiar items and price tags, all slightly higher than what you may pay if you’d bargained well…but they’re convenient) or the craft markets (where prices are also jacked up a bit). I’ve gotten used to paying $3 for a sweater, I got a pair of (almost) brand new birkenstock’s for $6 and have managed to spend at least $100 on material at the market (but it’s SOOO gorgeous). I think I’m going to have sticker shock going home.
Things here aren’t actually as cheap as I was expecting, though (more on the more expensive things in a minute). Some things are dirt cheap though…I paid $96 for two months of rent (even though I moved out after one month…the money went to fund a project for youth development so I wasn’t going to argue). Oh, which reminds me…I moved. Again. I was getting a little exhausted having to essentially act as house mother or have mice and bugs so I relocated to my friend Courtney’s house. It’s also nice to be living with another mid-late 20 something lady…we watch bootleg DVD’s and drink tea and have girl talk. It’s great. I digress. So rent is cheap, but I’ve seen electrical and water bills and they’re just about as much as you’d pay in the States. So is internet the internet’s been running me approximately $50 per month–for “unlimited” usage. Basically all that means is I can upload/download as much as I’d like. Most of the international volunteers pay about $20/month but have strict limits on how many kb’s they can use. So, thank you MTN for helping me provide a photo-story of my trip. Which also reminds me…I’ve been able to post pic’s to facebook, but haven’t yet figured out an effective way to upload them to the blog (iphoto links directly to facebook and actually uploads quite quickly…not so wordpress).
I don’t know if I’d mentioned previously, but essentially anything worth buying here is used…save the obvious exceptions (as in I’m obviously not going to buy leftover food, though occasionally that’s what you’re served…coughcough Azam pizza on a hungover sunday = huge dissapointment). I’ve been informed, but am still working on locating the proof, that used clothing is Cameroon’s primary import. If you go to town or the market that may be proof enough…the streets are all lined with stalls selling used clothing from…well, I don’t really know where but I’m going to guess all over Europe. There are some great finds to be had. I got a pair of Diesel jeans for $7, aforementioned birkie’s and have picked up a few other pieces of western clothing and shoes. I’ve spent way more money, however, on having clothes made.
Material at the market generally comes in 6 yard pieces, ranging in price from $5 for the lower quality pieces to about $15 for the best quality. And the material is all amazing. I’m obsessed. I’m coming home with a lot of it. A whole lot. Some of it will be in the form of skirts, dresses and blouses. I’ve been using Titus the tailor for all my tailoring needs. He’s worked with pretty much all of the Peace Corps people in Bamenda for at least the past 6 years (there’s a plaque on the wall of his workshop from the PC in 2004 for his assistance) and he’s really good. I’ve taken in a few photos or drawings of dresses I’d like copied and they’ve all come out perfectly (see my 4th of July stars and stripes dress). He charges, in general, 1,500CFA for a skirt ($3) and 2,500 for a dress ($5). Take that anthropologie and you’re “exotic” print dresses for 200 bones. I’ve already had three dresses and a skirt made and am currently waiting on three skirts, two dresses, a blouse, some small makeup bags (surprise! girlfriends, you’re getting one!), a few hand bags and a quilt. Yes, a quilt. And I am so excited about it. Titus is more than anything a quilter. He makes beautifully quilted bags, aprons and the like and his quilts are famous gifts for volunteers returning home. Basically it’s a patchwork of various materials (he’s using scraps from some of my dresses in mine) and it’s gorgeous. He charges 30,000 (~60 bucks) per quilt…which includes the material for the patchwork. I’ll be picking up my last order on the 23rd and am beyond excited to see how it’s all turned out–if my previous items are any indication it’ll all be gorgeous. I will definitely miss the made-to-order clothing, especially when it really only costs about $7 to $10 in total for a dress.
Food is also cheap…as long as you buy from the market and prepare it yourself (see previous post on food). Restaurant’s, however, are a different story. Some places have great food (but a horribly limited variety) for really cheap: Gracey’s cafe serves salad and chips for 900 CFA ($1.75 or so) and Bob the fish guy will sell you a delicious grilled fish with carrot-onion salad and green spices for between 700 and 900 CFA. However, the most western restaurants (translate, a little more variety) don’t really have anything for less than 3,000CFA. Needless to say, I try not to eat out all that often (because, you know, I also like eating something that isn’t fried or cabbage every now and again). Drinks, other than beer, are another story all together. A bottle of water is often times the same price as a beer (in the range of 400CFA-1000CFA depending on the time and location). And soda, particularly diet soda? Prohibitively pricey (like $4 for a 1 ltr bottle). Thankfully, we’ve got a water filter and I haven’t had problems with tap water (in small quantities, at restaurants) so that helps keep a bit of cash in the pocket.
Thinking about the other costs associated with general day to day activities…transport. I take a taxi or motorbike pretty much everywhere unless I walk. And sometimes I feel a hell of a lot less safe walking than on the back of a bike. To get anywhere within town costs 100CFA, 150 if you’re going slightly further. On a bike it’s a bit more expensive, but a lot more convenient because they’ll take you door to door. I know I’ve mentioned the taxi’s before…how it’s not uncommon to get 6 or 7 people in a small sedan, and worse if you’re traveling between towns or villages. I’ve been looking into other modes of transportation, however, in light of my big trip to the Extreme North. Transport is going to make up the bulk of my budget (the suggested budget being about 250,000CFA, or about 500). We’ll first bus to Younde (5,000) where we’ll pick up the train to head North. Thankfully, there are four of us traveling at the same time so we can book a 4 person couchette (at 20,000CFA each) and have a more comfortable ride. We’re thinking it’s a better idea to book the couchette rather than riding in, what we’ve been told, cramped and noisy “coach” conditions for a train ride of between 12 and 24 hours. Then it’s another 10 hour bus ride to Maroua and another 5,000 or so CFA. All things considered, it’s really not that much money…but when you’re living on a now very limited budget its a daunting prospect. I’m looking forward to haggling up north though, so I can make sure to come home with some of the famous leather goods up there.
Speaking of haggling/bartering. I’ve discovered that I’m actually pretty good at this. The basic rule is that if you ask a Cameroonian vendor how much they want for an item, the real price is about half of their initial asking. I always start really really low (ie they’re asking 7,000 I’ll offer 1,500) and usually I end up in the lower end or at the middle. I’ve gotta say, I’m going to miss haggling over the last 50 cents or dollar to get what I want for a price I want to pay. And paying a lot less for some nice little items.
But in less than one month (28 days…Andrew, you’re counting!) it’s back to reality, that phone bill and looking at a $170 sticker on a pair of diesels.