Sunday, August 26, 2007
I’m sitting in bed writing the night before our swearing-in ceremony where we officially become volunteers and no longer trainees. It feels to me long overdue and while I’m not nervous, the anxiety is sure to come. After the ceremony tomorrow we pack, celebrate, try to get some rest, and the next morning pile all of our belongings into bush taxis and take off. Our belongings, while big and bulky to begin with, have grown since we’ve gotten here. In addition to our two big bags and carry-ons, we now have a bike, a footlocker, a water filter, a mosquito net, a bicycle helmet, and a motorcycle helmet. Thus piling our belongings into a bush taxi and taking off will be a little harder than it sounds. We’ll see how it goes. Plenty before me have figured it out, so I’m sure I’ll be fine.
These last few days have been great as we’ve been experiencing the luxuries in life – fine dining and warm showers. We had to take a trip on Sunday to Yaoundé, the capital, to receive our moving-in allowance and transfer the money to our post. Why couldn’t they just wire the money to our post? We didn’t ask too many questions, as we knew that warm showers and fine dining were in our future in Yaoundé. The Peace Corps transit house has plenty of beds, a hot water heater for each of its three showers, a great collection of DVDs to watch, and a kitchen with appliances and utensils to make just about anything you can’t elsewhere. The kitchen wasn’t really used much as Yaoundé has one of the best selections of restaurants in Cameroon. Some people went for cheeseburgers and french fries, others for Chinese, and some for sushi, but 3 friends and I went to an Indian restaurant. We went all out. We split samosas, fried cheese, and hummus as appetizers, all had entrees, and had a milkshake for dessert. There was, quite randomly, a kiddie park (some type of cross between an amusement park and a playground) right outside so we couldn’t resist getting cotton candy before we left as well. After walking around town for a little bit, we found a boulangerie with Italian gelatti and we filled our already stuffed stomachs just a little bit more. Back at the transit house that night we had pizza delivered. It was literally impossible to wipe the smiles off of our faces. It’s amazing how much we take for granted in a society of instant gratification, but it felt really nice to indulge in those comforts from back home for a solid 24 hours. And while I spent a lot of money by Cameroonian standards, it worked out to about 30 US Dollars.
Can money buy happiness? It bought one day’s worth in Yaoundé. I’ll get back to the goal at hand soon. Sometimes it just feels good to act like an American.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
I can see it now – the end of training and the beginning of my 2 years of service. All 36 of us are ready to go – even the 5 or so that haven’t yet reached their French level. While our tolerance for all the assignments, classes, and schedules is diminishing, we’re not taking for granted the fact that we’re only together for a little while longer and all get along great. Last weekend a few people organized a night of Mexican food. We had salsa, guacamole, refried beans, fajita meat, and homemade tortillas. We’ve gotten together a few times to watch movies on people’s laptops. We celebrated somebody’s birthday last night by going out to a nightclub (Boîte de Nuit in French translates literally to Night Box). And tonight I organized a night of Italian food. We had spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce (we were going to have pesto too, but the blending didn’t quite work out) and fresh baguettes to dip in garlic and olive oil. We also made makeshift s’mores in a frying pan and banana bread.
Even though training is dragging on and, on one level, I’m sick of being here, I am kind of proud of where I’ve come. The biggest achievement is my language proficiency. Being able to communicate just about anything I want in French is really empowering. While I can’t understand people who speak fast and/or mumble, I’ve come a long way, and I’ll get there soon. As small business trainees we were all assigned companies to work with in town. I’ve already given my store written reports in French on an overview of their business functions, the need to write out specific goals and action plans, the need for accounting books and how to use them, and marketing strategies. I also just finished with my cross-cultural presentation, which was 25 minutes all in French, on how to prepare Bâton de Manioc, a gummy cassava side dish wrapped in banana leaves.
For a while, life was pretty normal. Now I’m back to feeling all these different emotions at once – proud, frustrated, happy, sad, excited, nervous, ready, and scared. I also feel like my life has a purpose and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here at the same time too.
One thing I’m looking forward to is down time. I hear we’ll have a lot of it. Getting my meditation/spiritual practice back in order is high on my priority list. I think that will help a lot with getting my emotions straightened out. I know there will be hard times in the next two years, but having a better focus will help me get through them.
So that’s where I’m at this week. I hope everyone’s in good health and happiness back home.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Last Saturday was my host brother’s 8th birthday party. He had been looking forward to it and my family had been planning it for a while. My host mom had asked me 2 weeks prior if I would make guacamole and mashed potatoes and gravy. Those were the American (and Mexican) foods we made a while ago for one of my fellow trainee’s birthday party. I was under the impression that she really liked them, so I was a little surprised that on the day of the party, her response to how much guacamole I should make was “enough for the Americans that will be coming.” Maybe Africans are better than us at pretending to like exotic foods that don’t end up tasting so great, I remember thinking to myself. Then I thought, Ca va aller (It’ll be okay). It was the time for a birthday party, not for worrying about whether my African family likes American food.
It was quite literally, the time for the party, 3 o’clock, but no one was there save the people doing the preparations. It was something to remind me that I’m not completely integrated yet. Their sense of time here is completely different. My friend that helped me make the American food and I decided to sit and wait. An hour and a half later, people started to pile in. That’s where, as an American, things felt socially awkward. At Cameroonian parties, you put all the chairs against the walls so that everyone can sit in a big circle. The circle’s too big to have one conversation with everyone, but you can’t really mingle either. The other thing that’s awkward – the word awkward doesn’t exist in French, so you can’t explain how awkward you feel.
Once the festivities actually began, though, it was quite fun. My host dad’s sister acted as master of ceremonies using a remote control as a microphone. It started by my host brother offering some words of welcome to his guests and was followed by a karaoke performance by his younger cousin (the MCs daughter). Apparently she had been preparing all week. After she finished, having danced but not sung, her mom made her start over from the beginning. I was shocked and kind of wanted to rescue her, but she actually gave a much better performance the second time around. Next there were competitions. Some were dancing competitions; there was arm wrestling, and musical chairs, too. After that there was more dancing. They start ‘em young here.
By 8 or 9 o’clock, the party had changed from being mostly kids to mostly adults. It was a lot more like parties in the states – essentially eating, drinking, and talking. Overall, I had a great day, I learned a little about the culture, and even the Africans ate the guacamole.
(sorry...I had some pictures I was going to post, but the internet cafe is having problems)
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
The bedroom window from my homestay house: This is the view I see every morning that reminds me I am in Africa
Love is in the air at my host brother's birthday party (I'll tell you a little about it next week)