Wednesday, July 2, 2008

All in the family

On a coupé l’eau, Ma tells me. They cut off the water.

That makes five days now without the water. Which means you won’t be flushing that fancy ceramic toilet either. Mmmmm. Some days in my Cameroonian family feel a little more Cinderella step-childish than others.

But in an effort to do what I can as a member of my host family, I was determined to volunteer my able-bodied cleaning services. It’s Sunday, and I have a little break from the training-on-training-with-a-side-of-training schedule. Ma promptly had me on bathroom-scrub duty. Specifically, that fancy ceramic un-flushing toilet. Mmmmmm. No problem. But it’s always a little trickier when you’re cleaning somebody else’s toilet with their unfamiliar cleaning implements, according to their standards… and no running water. I like the home-stay environment, but it has its challenges. (Hallelujah after initially drafting this I discovered there is a well in the neighborhood and I am now happily hauling buckets of water down the street!)

Among the homestay challenges though, is my odd undefined role as that goofy large albino child. Par example, I was fixing my eggs for breakfast this morning, when Ma takes the knife from me in mid-stroke, and proceeds to show me how cut a tomato. “Ma,” I piped up like the kid who never could keep her mouth shut, “there’s more than one way to cut a tomato.” She acquiesced with “OK, Kata, coupe la comme aux Etats-Unis.” “OK, Kata, (add it to my list of nicknames here.) Cut it the American way.”

Since, (believe it or not, Older Sisters!), I am an adult, I do actually know how to fight off starvation (Cook food and eat it.) and disease (Maintain basic hygiene.) In our home-stays, though, we’re in an interesting spot between a child, with much still to learn, and an honored adult guest, who is served first at meals. On the days that I am a child, I learn how to cut the tomato, and I do the smelly toilet chores. My family laughs when I tell them I don’t know how to kill a chicken, or how to wash my clothes in a bucket. I am friendly… but ignorant.

On the days that I am an honored adult guest, I explain that chickens in the United States are sold in uniformly pre-wrapped containers in supermarkets, and that I wash my clothes with the push of a few buttons. Or I gently tell Ma that I have in fact lived on my own (and am still living to prove it was not a disaster), preparing my own food, for eight years now. It’s not that I don’t know how to cook eggs, or beans, or vegetables damn it, but I just don’t want to blow up her stove or make a mess in her kitchen! As tasty as her eggs are, I tell her, I like to cook my eggs without that gratuitous cup of oil. (…making that many less butt squeezie exercises I’ll have to do later!)

So as with everything in Peace Corps and life, it’s a balance: kid vs. adult, doing chores vs. finishing my Peace Corps homework. As part of that balance, now that I’ve cleaned that toilet, you better believe I don’t want to use it til the water comes back on, (and with it, flush-ability)! Good thing there’s a field not too far from home which I’m headed off to now…!!! :)

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