Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Roads Go Ever On

7 November 2015

It has been a long time since my last post, so for that I am sorry.  I've been struggling a lot lately with the idea of what I should talk about this time through.  I feel as though the frustrations and rhythm  of my day to day life have been expressed in my last couple of posts, and what I have left unsaid I can't yet find the words to describe.

The month of October has flown by and we have arrived in the exciting month of November, which is usually one of my favorite times of year.  I always look forward to the changing colors of the trees, the complete dispersal of the Alabama heat, and the beginning of snowfall in Minnesota. Here, however, I have none of the things that indicate the coming of the holidays or even the shifting of the seasons.  I'm told that we are quickly approaching the dry season, but there seems little evidence to support this.  Without time changes, the sun continues to set, as it has since my arrival in May, around 6:30-7 pm every night, and rises every morning around 5:30-6 am.  The temperature is getting slightly warmer with rain every two out of three days instead of every day, but the cool breeze persists (and is often stronger) even on the sun-only days, and no matter what I'm still obliged (thankfully!) to bring a sweater with me wherever I go.  I'm not meaning to complain about the weather! I am very very lucky to be stationed in a region of Cameroon that allows me to wear sweaters and jeans comfortably for the majority of the year, but I am finding it hard to wrap my head around the idea that we are heading into November, when the sunshine and breeze remind me of an April at the beach.

Weather and a lack of deciduous trees aside, life in Cameroon is starting to fall into ... not a rhythm really as everything is too unstable or unorganized for that, but a habit perhaps?
On Mondays and Tuesdays, I wake up around 6 - 6:30 to exercise before work, then I go into school and teach two two-hour classes, before heading home, stopping by to say hello to my neighbors and sit and chat with them for a little while.  Once home, I usually eat a very late lunch (generally around 3-4 pm) and futz around with one thing or another until around 5:30-6 when I make dinner and watch a movie.  After the movie I tend to read for a while and then go to bed.
 On Wednesdays, I spend the morning catching up on work and around 2-3 I go into Bangante to go to the market.  After market-ing, I have a beer with Cristina and some colleagues who live in Bangante, and then head home to make myself dinner and go to bed.
 On Thursdays I have school early, so I wake up and head straight there to teach, before getting home around noon and exercising or doing work until 2 or 3, at which point I either head into the Centre Bamena to see people, or I find a project in my house to work on.
On Fridays, I tend to head to either Bafoussam or Bafang (the two bigger cities near me) to go to the bank and have a meal or a drink with the other volunteers in the area.  I often meet with volunteers to discuss a project that we're working on together or get advice about a project I'd like to do in my village. Sometimes I stay the night, but mostly I come home to sleep in my own bed.
The weekends vary depending on what is happening in village and in my own life.  Sometimes I take Saturday to rest and breathe, or to catch up on my socializing in village. Sundays I usually have my neighborhood children come help me wash my clothes and clean my house, and we all watch a movie and do arts and crafts together afterwards.

My refrigerator is still broken, and my package is still stuck in Douala, but I finally feel like my house is really my home, and my neighbors notice when I am gone for more than a day.  I have a family who has adopted me into their lives, and expect me to stop by after school everyday, and to attend their family meetings.  They feed me whenever they can, and if I'm ever in need of produce, they are more than happy to give me whatever I need from their farm (their main source of income).  The family consists of the Papa, le chef du cartiere Monsieur Bellesse (maybe?), his wife Mama Clementine (or Ma Clem), their sister in law, Mama Anne, and all the children: Sylvia, Nelson, Tchikinya, and Adora (those are the children living at the house anyway).

 Sylvia braiding Mama Anne's hair

 Mama Clementine in her Market day best!

Adora hoping for some bread.

Tchikinya thrilled to be the center of attention

and Mama Anne now "camera ready", and everyone else. 

This is the family that often gets me through the week and makes a lot of my frustrations worth it.  They laugh with me, they laugh at me, and they support me. They are my village support system. 

Yet despite their support, they could not seem to understand the idea of Halloween.  How do you explain the day that the dead are permitted to walk the earth, that is then celebrated in the United States by children dressing up as pirates and princesses and storm troupers collecting candy from their neighbors? I tried, but mostly I got many dark looks at the idea that we make light of such an ungodly and terrifying eve.  Most of the people I know in village are both very religious and very superstitious, and for most of them, the ancestors are part of everything.  They are in the insects that crawl through the house, the sacred trees found in most family complexes, and the very air we breathe. Not to say that they worship any of this things, but the ancestors are a modem of communication to God.  For Cameroonians, at least in my village, the ancestors are always around, listening if you please them, and ignoring you if you offend them. So when I presented the idea that there is one night a year that spirits supposedly descend upon us and terrorize us (and that we dress up in costumes and carve pumpkins and eat candy till we are sick to commemorate this), I was met with polite smiles and confused nods... the most evident sign that you are so incorrect that they don't even know how to argue with you on this point.  It's the same look I give to them when they try to tell me that drinking piss will get rid of my pimples.  Euff. Horrifying.  :P 

So to celebrate Halloween, I headed to my friend KC's house in Bafang.  He and his postmate Rebecca (who is also wonderfully and amazingly from Alabama!) were throwing a party for all of the volunteers around us.  The party was themed Bollyween, since KC has a very strong connection to the Bollywood culture.  Most of the volunteers found sari's or other Indian-style clothes, as they are sold everywhere here, and much of the more modern style here can be very similar in appearance, and we all got together and danced the night away to Bollywood music.  It was so much fun, and such a strange experience.  With upwards of thirty American volunteers in one small house, the outside world of Cameroon quickly disappeared, and we were all given a sense that this was a typical Halloween party back in the US.  

It was both amazing and difficult.  Amazing to feel so comfortable again and have so many people understand everything I said, but difficult as the whole thing was so discordant with my life at the moment.  It was a wonderful break from the infuriating moments of Cameroon, but a jarring break from my day to day life here.  Returning to my village the next day left me with one of the hardest moments of my life in Cameroon. After a night of heartfelt conversations and understanding, I was exhausted, and both mentally and physically ill from the disjointed-ness of the 48 hour span.  I couldn't quite put together the world of the Halloween party with the world of Bamena.  They don't seem to fit, and, surprisingly, this disjointedness caused a day of mental unrest and exhaustion.  I missed horribly being surrounded by Americans who understood me and where I am coming from, who understand and share the frustrations of life here without belittling them, and who were able to validate my opinions and beliefs without trying to convert me to a religion or change how I think about life and the people in it.  It was very hard to go back to school after that weekend, but it helped me understand a bit why the Peace Corps tries to prevent volunteers from spending all their weekends away from post.  It's hard to want to stay solitary in village, when KC and Becca, and their houses with sinks and running water, a boulangerie that always sells snickers and twixt, a boutique that makes hamburgers, and free internet, are only a 45 minute car ride away.  And I must admit, that, since my bank is in Bafang, I tend to head over there every few weeks.  But every time I'm away from my village for more than a night, it always feels good to get back "home".  My bed all to myself, my couch wonderfully cushioned, my kitchen always stocked with fruits and vegetables and honey, and most importantly my neighbors, always welcome me home with such enthusiasm and security that it is hard to stay away too long, even with the temptation of snickers.  

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