Monday, January 18, 2010

How to Embarrass Your Sister in Africa:

An Empirically Tested Approach

Note: Below content is inappropriate for the prudish. I am showing my Peace Corps best here.

For as long as I can remember, my older sister Barrett has specialized in my embarrassment. Starting as children, she would careen through stop signs while steering the neighbors’ tandem bicycle, leaving me not only mortified as cars braked and honked, but also in fear of my life. As we’ve grown, she’s perfected the art of my embarrassment, and I must say, she can do it like no other. In December, it was time to import this unique talent to the African continent, and so I compiled a brief list of ways to embarrass your younger sister. Rest assured, all of these have been tested and proven effective:

  1. Decide and proclaim to everyone within earshot that you’re going to marry the exuberant young European man you’ve just met on the beach who frolicks around wearing nothing but a speedo.
  2. Join the singer of the evening at your hotel and throw in a little dance for good measure.
  3. Go for a walk in the capital city. When you get harassed by horny young men and I attempt to tell them off, do not start laughing so hard that you are unable to walk, therefore only worsening the harassment. This only erodes my credibility, and encourages more horny harassment.
  4. Break into loud song while riding in an overcrowded bush taxi. If your driver has already made you fear for your life multiple times “Keep Two Eyes on the Road," by the Rolling Stones, is an appropriate selection. Ask the other passengers in the vehicle, “Are you with me?!”
  5. Engage in conversation with strangers in the fabric shop. Encourage the stranger-woman that it would be a terrific idea for me to marry her son, while stranger-woman approvingly sizes me up and down, grabs my butt a few times in casual conversation, and gives me her phone number so we can set up a time for me to meet her son.
  6. Don your borrowed bike helmet, (for use in the absence of a full-fledged motorcycle helmet), before you leave the house. Exit the house, walk a block down the street, all the while wearing your helmet, and proceed to flag down a moto-taxi. Let there be no doubt to any passers-by that you are in fact seeking a moto and believe in protecting oneself against the imminent threat of head injuries and brain damage.

But I guess we truly haven’t evolved that much past ages 7 and 10, because the greatest sources of both embarrassment and humor on Barrett’s trip came from age-old bathroom humor. I hope potential future employers are not reading this. If you would like to one day give me a job, maybe you should just stop reading this now.

My favorite is the bus story. Now for any of you who have traveled aboard a Cameroonian vehicle, you know the rule. Open windows allow for the passage of air, deadly diseases, and all other sorts of misfortunes. So those windows get locked up tight, much to the distress of the sweating and awkward foreigners who happen to be in any such vehicle. When Shawn was visiting, a woman, traveling with her baby, literally asked us if she could trade places with us when her window was stuck in an open position. Her plea, “I don’t want to lose my baby.” Because gentle breezes from open windows are known as the number one baby-killer in Africa.

So Barrett and I had been traveling literally non-stop for a day. The overnight train had arrived late, from the train we’d jumped directly on a bus, and a solid 24 hours after beginning this trek, we are still some hours away from our destination of Maroua. So Sis, at that point, if you need to find a little humor at my expense, could I really deny you?? And as you can imagine, the windows to our bus, as it careens over pot-holed roads through the darkness, are sealed tight.

Well, Cameroon brings out the best my gastro-intestinal system has to offer the world. For the sake of my fellow travelers, I’d tried to keep my gastric distress to myself for the previous 24 hours. But sometimes enough is enough. We’re sitting quietly in the back row of the bus, when unwittingly, I come to realize I’ve violated the public air space with some terrible form of pollution. My sister catches a whiff of this violation and immediately looks at me, “You didn’t..?!!”


Barrett starts chortling, in between trying to find some readily available object to use as a gas mask. Now my sister’s French is not bad and unfortunately for me in this instance, continually improving, but thank goodness she didn’t know the word for fart. (She learned.) So she decides to announce to all our friends on the bus, “Ma soeur! Ma soeur a passé le gaz! Pooooweeeeeee!!!!” I am hitting her to try to make her be quiet, but she takes much glee in persisting in this noisy announcement/exercise of her limited French vocabulary. A slight murmur spreads through the bus. Even though the night is pitch black, I wish I had somewhere to hide.

Apparently, my contribution to the atmosphere does not go unnoticed by our Cameroonian compatriots, and someone obligingly pulls out a bottle of perfume to give a spray, for the sake of humanity. The perfume, however, is so potent, that I feel ready to choke. Increased murmuring spreads throughout the bus, while I continue to try to silence Barrett’s gleeful exclamations.

And then lo and behold, a miracle occurs. Someone opens a window! Hallelujah! We are liberated. So that my friends, you can add to your list of coping strategies for those pained cross-country voyages. Albeit at some cost in the form of personal humiliation.

I could regal you further with stories of my sister’s own contributions to the Cameroonian ozone… but let’s just say that some things must run in the family, and eventually, she had a some defining moments herself. I’d like to think I handled it with slightly more grace than she did, but hey, I get plenty of chances to practice my French vocabulary in that realm.

Of course, :) for your viewing enjoyment, here’s a bit of photo-documentary from her time here.

Climbing on rocks when we went to the beach at Kribi. I am the Little Mermaid.

We had a really good visit with my old homestay family from training. Ma was so happy to see us, and as always, prepared amazing food.

Whatever is going on in this picture, I have no idea, but it so perfectly expresses the personalities of everyone in my homestay family. Throw in my random whitey sister just for good measure.

Playing in the elephant tracks at Waza National Park.

Sis looking poetic, with very small giraffes in the background.

We went out for bilbil, the local millet beer, with my co-workers from the MC2. Here’s Catherine:

Bava, our accountant, told me there was some tradition about drinking from the same calabash.

Scaring small children: always fun.

And some traditions will never die :)

Like with Mom, I was so grateful that she took the time and effort to come see me, and share a bit of Africa… even at the expense of a bit of my dignity. :) Love you, Sis!


Sportsblogger said...

This is perfect. And perfectly Kate. Gonna have to start reading this blog more often.

Allen said...

I don't think forcing you through street intersections on a bike should be counted as embarrassment, that's just cruel.

david said...

You two look so much like your parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents!

Enjoyed the air pollution story.