Monday, August 31, 2015

The Breaking of the Fellowship

Three weeks ago now, after 10 weeks of training, the other trainees and I FINALLY had our big swearing in ceremony at the Ambassadors office.  Weeks and weeks of language courses, host family integration, lesson planning, teaching in a model school, grading and report cards, cultural projects language presentations, ... The morning of, we all dressed up in the matching "Pagne" (Cameroonian fabric) that Ryan and I had been sent into Yaoundé to pick out, and hopped on a bus to the ambassador's house with all of our trainers.  When we arrived, the lawn was covered in chairs, and there was a veranda set up with flags and a podium.  The "swearing in ceremony" was much as you might expect a college graduation to go.  There were lots of important people that we didn't know giving important speeches about the good work Peace Corps does in Cameroon, and the importance of educating the youth etc.  Three volunteers were asked to give speeches in the three languages that some of us were directed to learn (I was only instructed to learn french, but there were many trainees that had to learn Pidgin and Fufulde as well, I have to admit I am a bit jealous of them...), and the speeches were all AMAZING. Even the ones I couldn't understand.  All of us had our moment of glory as our name was called and we were asked to stand and wave at everyone assembled.

After the ceremony, we were whisked back onto the bus and sent straight back to Ebolowa (after a quick stop at the Peace Corps office in Yaoundé).  That night, we, the new volunteers, rented rooms at a hotel in Ebolowa and spent our last night together swimming in the pool and laughing our nerves away.  

Early the next morning, we left from the training center one last time, with lots of tears and frantic goodbyes.  Those of us heading to the West and East loaded onto a van together, and we set off.  After two hours of driving, we dropped the Easterners off at a bus stop to fend for themselves and the rest of us continued West.  We made it into Bafoussam, and separated out further.  I and three others spent the night in Bafoussam.  The next morning we were supposed to meet our community hosts (the person in charge of introducing us around the community and helping us get settled in our new lives), my host, however, never showed up.  Luckily Cristina's (the girl who lives just 20 minutes away by moto-taxi) host let me tag along with them.  We bought the important things in Bafoussam (real Cameroonian coffee and ... nothing else), and then loaded all of our suitcases, trunks, and backpacks into her host's tiny car, and headed to village.  We stopped in Bangangte, the nearest bigger town to me, to check on Cristina's bed (which wasn't ready), and to buy the two of us enough to get us through the night (bread, avocados, eggs, fake cheese called laughing cow or vache qui rit, and wine... only the essentials clearly).  After, we headed to Cristina's house, which wasn't ready for her yet as it had no lights, no locks, and no source of water or latrine, and on the way had a surprise visit to the Chief of Cristina's village (after a full day of heavy lifting, sweating, and still in the clothes from the day before, we were not exactly Chief presentable, but we had no choice...).  He's a very round man that looks like he belogns in the movie The Godfather, with a raspy voice that belongs to a '20s jazz singer.  I think this man has been at some level of intoxication since he turned 17.  But for all that he's a very impressive man.  He stopped the tradition that men must sleep with their father's secondary wives after their death (scary tradition really... they don't have to sleep with the wife that was their birth mother, but still). and is apparently a strong voice for female equality, despite his 4 wives (I'm told he didn't really want more than one wife, but it's necessary for the Chief to have at least four in order to be considered a strong and capable chief).  He was incredibly friendly and informal with us, and incredibly welcoming.  

After our brief meeting with the chief, we dropped some things off at Cristina's house and took a look around, and then headed, FINALLY, to my house.  I got my keys from the Guard and he ran down the street to get us some candles since the electricity had been cut that morning (the landlord's son in yaounde had forgotten to pay the bill for some months...) and Cristina and I set ourselves up and made some dinner.  That first night, splitting a box of Cameroonian wine by candle light, there was a sense of newfound freedom and possibility that'd been missing since we first stepped foot in Philadelphia to start training, so many months ago.  That first night was wonderful.

Since that first night, the magic and mysticism has been slightly reduced, as real world problems seep in (like actually organizing electricity after two weeks of darkness, or figuring out how to mend a broken fridge after the electricity finally started working, or living with a toilet that doesn't flush at all).  Every time something seems to start working, there's something else that falls apart.  I never realized how many things you have in a house that can go wrong! All that being said, I'm definitely living the life of "posh corps".  I have the potential for running water and a shower (maybe even HEATED running water from a shower if I can ever figure out how to get the water heater going), I almost always have electricity (even if most of the lightbulbs are out and I don't yet have the tools to replace them), a paved road, and I have PLENTY of bed and floor space for hosting people.  

So much has changed in the last three weeks, but so much is still the same (kind of my repeated mantra... everything here is a paradox!). I miss desperately miss those I'd grown close to during training and, now with time to actually sit and think, I desperately miss my friends and family at home.  I'm constantly meeting people here, but in a sense I feel more lonely.  Yet some how I am very much at peace where I am.   My new favorite understanding of this country is 

"Cameroon, where nothing works, but everything works out." 

And so far so good.  There have been hard moments, and I imagine they're only going to get harder for a little while, but eventually everything will work itself out, and life in Cameroon will continue on as it always has. 

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