I'm trying to make blogging a regular thing, so although I may not be able to write a couple times a week, I'm hoping that I'll be able to post a couple things every time I post! (hence the dates on the posts to give an idea of when the events took place).
This past weekend was a long and very interesting weekend of people and cultural experiences after a tough week of missing home. Friday was an odd day of death and marriage proposals, and then Saturday consisted of two funerals, lots of beers, and lots of new friends.
I spend the morning at my school CES Bamena for a faculty meeting before the start of school. It was supposed to start at 9, but like everything in Cameroon, was a few hours behind. We did start at 10:30, so it could actually have been a lot worse. The hard part of the meeting was that it lasted until 3:00 pm! No stop for lunch, no break of any kind. Regular meals are a luxury here, so most people really only eat one or two meals a day and then, if they are able, they eat small things during the day. There are no regular meal times and there are no foods that are specific to certain times of day (hence why beer time is all the time!). So after a very long and somewhat unproductive meeting, I finally got home around 4. In the middle of my meeting the Chief of the village had called me to let me know that the refrigerator repairman that he had found for me was at my house... which was unfortunate as I wouldn't be home for a while... so I called him back once I got home and the Chief said he would send the boy back (this repairman is 15 years old). This poor boy had already come over to my house twice in the previous week to try and fix my refrigerator, and, just like in the US, each time the poor boy had the wrong part or the wrong tools (it's been 4 weeks now and we've had 5 visits and still no working fridge). So he was coming for the third time, and the chief was sending him back. I waited for an hour and half, and when he didn't arrive I decided I had misunderstood the Chief on the phone (which happens ALL the time), and headed into le Centre de Bamena (essentially the town center which consists of a couple bars, small shack stores/ houses, a giant church, a local hospital, and the statue of a goat) to buy tomatoes and a couple other things I'd been missing around the house... and that I would hopefully be able to store in my newly repaired fridge (what optimism! :)).
On my way into town, I stopped by to see my neighbors across the street. Mama Clementine had lost her husband (I think... I'm not entirely clear on who all is related to who and how as everyone calls anyone they've had a long chat with a brother, sister, mother, or father), and the body had arrived from Yaoundé that day, along with all the relatives in the world. I swear there were upwards of 80 people at this tiny hut house. I said hello to the people I knew, and Ma Clementine took me by the hand into their parlor room and showed me the beautifully embalmed body of her husband. And then cheerily and with lots of laughter at my attempts at the local language, she introduced me to all the other relatives, who had been horribly confused by the random "mekat" (white in the language bamena). It is a very strange thing to walk across the street to say hello to your friends and then suddenly be shown a dead body. I had no idea how to respond, especially since everyone seemed so cheery and content, preparing food for everyone, cleaning, catching up on the gossip from Douala and Yaoundé... My first instinct would have been to hug everyone I knew in the room and tell them to be strong and that I would be thinking about them in the weeks to come, but that seemed VERY out of place here. So I looked solemnly at the body, muttered my condolences and a small prayer, then smiled at everyone I met. Eventually I was able to extricate myself from the hoard of relatives trying to shake my hand and tell me about their experiences with every other "mekat" they've met, and continue on my way to the center of town (about a mile or 2 walk from my house).
I made it the rest of the way without anything notable happening. I stopped by one of the boutiques to chat with the Mama that I'm building a rapport with and bought some tomatoes, peppers, bread, and lightbulbs. I said hello to some of the other vendors I know in the area and stopped by another Mama's store just to say hello as it's her husband that takes care of my house, and ran into one of the other teachers at my school, Duclo (or Elias... I have a lot of trouble figuring out which first name I'm supposed to call people by... they tend to give me two first names and two last names and I never know which names to use :P). I've decided that evenings from 16-17 are the best time to go for a walk through town. If the weather is nice, the mountains are BEAUTIFUL, and the sun is so strong and clear here. It really is gorgeous.
(I'll add a photo of the goat statue as soon as I get one!)
After chatting with Duclo for a moment, I turned to head back home. As I was passing one of my favorite bars in town, the Noble Bar, I heard people calling me over by my preferred address that's not my name: Ngozo. It's a term of respect and in some way has something to do both with the being a Queen/ Princess of the region and with termite hierarchy... there's some analogy there that I couldn't really understand. Regardless! It's a term of respect for someone coming into the area and becoming someone important and respected in the community... I think... again it's all just things I've kinda gleaned from a bunch of very different and difficult to understand explanations. :)
Anyway, three women at the bar were calling me over and I went over to say hello (out of character for me as usually when people call at me from bars I smile, wave, and continue on my way unless I know them). They asked me the usual questions and we talked for a while about my language skills and my ability to teach english here. There were three sisters and their brother, all of whom live in different parts of Cameroon. They had me sit down and bought me a beer and we continued to chat. Of course the brother eventually turned things towards my marital status (I wear a wedding ring in the attempt to "eviter" these conversations... it doesn't make them happen any less, but it does mean they leave me alone eventually, unlike my postmate Cristina who gets hounded relentlessly and without stop) and I explained that I was very happily married and that my husband would be coming to visit me around New Years. I've discovered sometimes stretching the truth is necessary in this area.
The sisters quickly noticed that their brother was deranging (a french word meaning
bothering/annoying/etc... a bit stronger than the english word) and told me to finish my beer so we could head out. They were staying with their uncle, who is one of the Notables of the village and lives just up the street from me. On the walk, they told me they were in town for another funeral: the funeral of their little sister. This girl was 21 years old and died in child birth. The body, as well as the relatives, had all just arrived in town and were preparing for the funeral the next day. They invited me into their house and, again, showed me the body. This one was a lot harder. It's one thing to see an old man who had a full life and lived a lot longer than most Cameroonians, but it's quite another thing to see a girl younger than myself who died giving birth to a child who didn't make it either. She wore a beautiful white dress and looked like she could have been 16. Yet there were still smiles all around. The relatives were proud of how beautiful she was and that they were able to to afford to give her the beautiful dress and rosary twined through her hands. This time I didn't restrain myself from hugging the three sisters. I wanted to cry so badly, but felt that it would be a very odd and somewhat inappropriate at the moment.
After a few minutes, we went back outside and sat on their front lawn, talking to the other relatives and watching the sun begin to set, acting for all the world as though this were a cheery family reunion, and that I'd known all of them for years. Eventually I left with promises that I would come back the next day for the funeral. I tried to explain that I had already promised the family across the street that I would be there for their funeral and burial, but I told them I would come as soon as I could.
Eventually I finally made it back to my house, to discover that the poor refrigerator repairboy had been waiting and searching for me for about two hours. Oops! I invited him in and he tinkered with the fridge only to, of course, discover that he was still missing something. So we called the chief and arranged for the chief to come by and discuss with the boy when to come back. An hour later, the Chief finally arrived and the boy went home. The chief came in and I, as always, offered him some tea or coffee, which he refused. We then sat on my couch chatting and catching up after a week or so of not seeing each other. And that's when the chief decided to tell me he was falling in love with me. I don't know why I was surprised. I think it may be a right of passage for each male that I come into contact with here to eventually slip in that they want to marry me. This is not me being vain, this is the people here seeing me as a way up in the world. Regardless of whether or not I stay in Cameroon, being married to a white would be a mark of respect and wealth. The fact that the Chief already had four wives and fourteen children didn't mean anything, as four wives is a very small number for most chiefs. His father, for example, had 26 wives and 57 kids. In all fairness, the Chief does know me more than most men who propose, and, unlike most men, I think he does genuinely like me (and not only for my skin color). Of course, I laughed it off and brought up my "husband" and we continued talking like nothing had happened. Eventually he left and I made dinner and watched a movie before going to bed.
That day was one of the most emotionally intense days since my arrival here. Especially with the knowledge that I had two funerals and a trip to the market planned for the next day.