MY 7 STEPS BEFORE TAKING OFF TO CAMEROON« Back
By Julia Jodlowska
'I have plenty of time, a drive to accomplish something meaningful and no idea what to do next with my life.' Those were my persistent feelings during the final year in high school. Everybody but me got a clearly defined career path. Hence, the recurring question: 'so which university do you apply to?' I made up a short answer to stop every conversation at this very moment: 'I do not apply at all. I am volunteering in Africa.' It worked out; people were so shocked that they did not ask any further question. I just did not predict a tiny detail. After having repeated it countless times, I got used to this sentence so much that I have made up my mind. I was going to Africa to help people and live the adventure of my life! If not now, when?
Here I list steps I undertook after making this particular choice in May 2011. Please, bear in mind that my story is quite unusual and those are the exact steps I have undertaken.
1. Choose an organization wisely
There is incredibly many of them! Hint --> check out the home page of www.travelwithmission.com if you do not believe me. People say that lack of choices is worse than excess and perhaps that is true. However, at that very moment I was overwhelmed with the variety and once more I had no idea what to do. I knew two things: I like my life, so I wanted this to be as safe as possible and I wanted to go as soon as possible. There's a will, there's a way. I was asking everyone around and someone suggested choosing a very specific, international organization. Ta-dam! Since then, I knew whom I was going with!
2. Contact the receiving organization and ask about opportunities
Better to ask the way than go astray. Someone else provided me with contact details to the person, whose life was volunteering in Africa and who just had been on holidays in Poland. How lucky am I? Soon we had arranged a meeting. I was assured that if I am only willing to help, then there is a place for me. I had a chance to ask a few important questions e.g. what would I do, where would I stay and most important: will mosquitoes eat me entirely? I received a couple of satisfactory answers dispelling my doubts. It was not that obvious in view of my limited assets i.e. I had two hands and I was speaking English. This meant that I was assigned to be a perfect English teacher! I was asked where I would like to go. The person, who I was talking to, was working in Cameroon, which is a fairly safe country in the middle Africa. After having googled where Cameroon actually is, I have decided that this is the perfect place for me! We stayed in touch. Whenever I had a question, I would write it down and later sent her in a list form, so not to bother her every single day.
3. Buy the ticket
I asked my contact person, when she goes back to Cameroon. It was in about two-three months. I have booked my tickets to Yaoundé for the exact same date. It is always better to have a native speaker around. The less stress the better! Buying tickets was a milestone. It was the first tangible confirmation of my soon-to-be adventure.
4. International Certificate of Vaccination and Prophylaxis
A small, yellow super important passport! To be checked at the customs border. Firstly, I have checked what vaccines are strictly required to enter Cameroon and which ones are recommended. Then I went to the national best tropical diseases center and I have had all of them (safety always first!). I got my yellow passport with appropriate stamps. I have also made there an appointment with a specialist in tropical diseases. He has explained me, how to keep off diseases while in Africa. He has provided me with a few worthwhile clichés.
5. Collect rare items
There are some details, which can make life easier, while in Africa. One of them is Mugga repellent for mosquitos and other insects that should be ordered in advance. I also ordered some Malarone (in case of malaria), but they did not reach prior my departure. From my experience, those are the only things that one might actually need.
6. Learn as much as possible
Another poorly available basic was an English guide. What a holy grail that was! I was a little bit disappointed that the only available version was not updated for some ten years or so. Later I found out that there was no need but that is another long story. As I was waiting for the guide to come from New Zealand (seriously? One guide available and it comes from New Zealand?!), I have read everything available on the Internet concerning Cameroon. Well, there was not so much available, so in the meantime I intended to learn how to teach. In this matter, I did not succeed. Poor kids, they had to exhibit forbearance (luckily, Africans are masters in patience). I talked to all my friends who had been to Africa and I became a member to all available forums that had word 'Cameroon' in the headline to learn from experience of others. Either way, I was not prepared for what Cameroon surprised me with.
Three months later I was at the airport with two suitcases, out of which one is entirely filled with hermetically packed meat (a gift for my hosts). Questions started to arise. Can I handle it? What if I cannot bear seeing heartaches of others? How will I talk with them, since I do not speak French? And the most burning one: am I allowed to carry so much meat? I was grateful that I was not going alone because my companion patiently answered all those. Good buddy! Well, I was not going to save the World (although I wished I could), so there was no need to be stressed by anything. What was going to happen, it happened.
My time in Cameroon is over. I came back in December 2011 and if ever have a chance I would repeat it unconditionally. My advice to all people going to volunteer anywhere in the World: relax, enjoy, do your best and live the adventure.
Written by Julia Jodlowska
Julia is a multi-lingual optimist, who believes that everything is the matter of the motivation. She loves traveling, learning about new cultures and taking photos, although she does it far too seldom.