Sunday, July 11, 2010

I will miss

I leave Mokolo in only four days! Since my mama always taught me the value of pro and con lists, I couldn’t help but start noting all the little things I might (or might not!) miss when I leave Cameroon, for better and for worse…

I will miss:
• Random debates that break out among strangers in the middle of a shared taxi ride across town. And even when a consensus is reached, someone says, “Well now we’ve started arguing, we might as well keep arguing until we get to our destination!”
• Being able to lose my cool with somebody and then be best friends two seconds later.
• Wearing the same shirt a few days in a row. And wearing the same three ugly pairs of pants for two years straight.
• Wearing ridiculously loud pagne ensembles, with poofy sleeves, and being told I am beautiful, as opposed to, say, a freak.
• The freedom of my schedule: taking a nap, or a run… or a drink, on a weekday at 11am! Waking up with no alarm, working from home, and going in to an office specifically when I am needed, not just to punch time. Setting my own priorities.
• Gratuitous nose picking.
• 1$ beers. 20 cent whiskey sachets.
• Having time to read good books!
• Designing my own clothes, frumpy as they might be, and having them custom tailored by my tailors who tell me I need to turn black before I leave Africa. And that I am the perfect size. In general the ability to make commentary on anyone and everyone’s bodies that would be completely inappropriate in America.
• Being more than just a tourist in a foreign community.
• Having to wash my hair only once a week cause I live in a desert :)
• Pinching cute kids’ cheeks, spanking cute kids’ butts, patting cute kids’ heads. We’re not supposed to touch strangers’ children in America? That will be so weird!
• Dudes wearing complete ensembles of neon pink, or lime green, or banana yellow… Could be pajamas, could be fine formal wear!
• Finding satisfaction in limited options.
• Baby goats: as cute as they are ubiquitous!
• Random things that just wouldn’t happen in America, for example, getting a knock on my door from a stranger who tells me he is building an airplane, and could I call my friends in my country who own factories and tell them?
• The generosity of Cameroonians—knowing that whomever I’m sitting next to on a bus is going to share with me whatever little food he buys off the side of the road. Or that if I happen to visit a friend near meal-time I’m automatically invited to join them for whatever’s cooking.
• My Cameroonian friends of the last two years who’ve seen me rant, laugh, cry, teach, debate, and grow.
• Being a part of the Peace Corps community here, with an instant friend and open door in almost every city in this country. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer in general.

I won’t miss:
• Having to justify at every turn why I am not married, why I don’t want to marry, and specifically why I don’t want to marry you, your son, your brother, or your cousin.
• Having to poop in the backyard of my shared compound cause the water is out… again.
• Unidentifiable bug bites in places that shouldn’t be bitten.
• Having to answer whether I am Madame or Mademoiselle, and explain that I do not like being called Mademoiselle because I am a professional, not a twelve-year-old.
• Getting beeped—called and hung up on for any number of reasons (to say hello, to say yes, to say “I don’t have any phone credit, call me back!”)
• Washing anything that needs to get washed in this house: my dishes, my laundry, myself, while sitting on a stool in the bathroom using the one spigot in the house. Oh washing machines, I will just sit and spectate as you do your glorious work!
• Loooooong meetings where I don’t understand what’s going on in Mafa, Kapsiki or 95% of Fulfulde
• Not being able to sit cross-legged for fear of offending someone—it shows a lack of respect. The best equivalent I can think of in the States would be to rip out a big old burp in the middle of a meeting. Not so tasteful.
• Missing my friends and family in the U.S. and feeling disconnected in general, from phone calls, internet, news, and my culture.

As I’ve added to my lists, I’ve realized how many things that I either love or that drive me crazy about this country are really two sides to the same coin.

• I will miss my neighbor’s freshly prepared, delicious, cheap beans for breakfast every morning. Sitting under the trees on the side of our dirt road eating them together with my other neighbors. I have to cook my own beans in America?
• I won’t miss biting down on a rock in my neighbor’s freshly prepared, delicious, cheap beans.
• I’ll miss the ease of conversation. Asking “how’s your house, how’s your family, how’s your work?” in Fulfulde is enough to have the neighbors thinking I’m a social genius. Sweet.
• I won’t miss the boredom of so many conversations that never go beyond asking “how’s your house, how’s your family, how’s your work?” Deep.
• I’ll miss cheap transport!! 20 cents to take a motorcycle across town!
• I won’t miss fearing for my life almost every time I get on a motorcycle! I ride a motorcycle every day.
• I’ll miss African time: making it work for me when I can’t get my sleepy bum in gear to be punctual.
• I won’t miss African time: waiting indefinitely on others so that by the time a meeting finally starts I’m already exhausted.
• I’ll miss being invited to an event just because I’m the foreigner in town. Popularity made easy.
• I won’t miss the unwanted attention that comes from being different, the foreigner in town. I can’t wait to silently slip into anonymity as I walk down the streets, SURROUNDED by nassaras!!
• I’ll miss feeling connected to nature: the excitement that comes from the first rains of the year, or walking out my front door and within five minutes being surrounded with NOTHING but fields, green, the sun, and the breeze.
• I won’t miss too much nature: like when you’d really like a paved road or a little electricity.
• I’ll miss trippy-sweet mefloquine dreams! (Mefloquine is the Peace Corps-provided malaria prophylaxis with undetermined long-term mental side effects. While at the same time it kind of scares me, I kinda like the crazy dreams it gives us. Just a little imagination on steroids to keep you entertained in the African bush.)
• I won’t miss malaria. :) Did I mention I got it pretty bad?
• I’ll miss bargaining: the feeling of a personal connection created and the satisfaction when you’ve been going at it for ten minutes and you know you’ve finally gotten the best price. Especially when the Cameroonians ask you, “Where did you learn to bargain like that?!”
• I won’t miss bargaining: having to spend ten minutes to get a reasonable price when I am cranky and not in the mood, and just want to breeze in and out. Ha, the luxury!
• I’ll miss when running out in the bush, the adorable four-year old girl with a huge smile that follows me when I pass her hut. She makes fake athletic-y grunting noises in between giggles, until she collapses into laughter about fifty feet later… every time.
• I won’t miss when running out in the bush, fearing getting bitten by dogs that might be rabid. Cameroonians are mostly terrified of dogs. Here, I kind of am too!

Upon their return, I’ve heard several people say that living in Africa feels somehow more “real.” I think of the example of running out in the bush. Adorable little girls chase me, but so do might-be-rabid dogs. I go on a footpath out towards Nigeria. It’s peaceful and calm and sparsely populated, with occasional huts dotting the rocky landscape. When there are people, their reactions to me can be hilarious! (especially on market day, when they’re drunk on bilbil.) One old lady stood in the middle of the path, arms wide open and hugged me before I could pass, then did a little dance to celebrate! Another drunk old man was sitting on a rock with some friends. He had a big stick and made like he was going to whack me in the knees. I was truly scared and had no idea what he was up to! He leaned towards me brandishing his stick as I passed, but then drunkenly teetered off the rock and fell on the ground. His friends loved it, and I just sang out, “I’m too fast for youuuuuuuuu!” and ran past. In between the drunken elderly, so many people smile, wave, and give me a hearty “du courage,” like “good luck! take heart!” Nobody’s ever told me that in America. In contrast, when I think of running in the States, I think of concrete, cars, and the impersonal sliver of a curb of Johnston Street, Lafayette that I’ll be allotted as drivers wiz past. No dewy grasses and Cameroonians hoeing their fields with babies on their backs, stopping to wipe their brows and smile at me as I pass. No scary dogs but also no laughter and courage. Everything in Africa seems notched up, like increasing the brightness on a screen of emotions. America will be easy, convenient, and luxurious in so many ways. But the reality of emotions—from boredom and frustration, to excitement and solidarity—in Africa offer a whole different type of richness that I will miss.


Nana said...

LOVED hearing your pro/con list! Come see us in Austin when you get a chance. :)
Sue Anne M (Kristen's mom)

SD said...

Kate, you're a brilliant writer. It's SO inspiring to read your posts. Good luck with what comes next! Did I hear a visit to Thailand? (oui oui oui!). Wish you all the very best. Sylvie