Tuesday, September 25, 2007

It's a good thing you can do hard things


The first month has come to an end. I'll tell you what, it hasn't exactly been a picnic. Actually this has probably been the second hardest time of my life that I have ever had to weather through. The honeymoon period has come to an end and all of those things that I at first found so charming and wonderful have turned annoying and inhibiting. The culture, the language, and most of all the feeling of isolation has been difficult. It is not easy, I have found, being different. I feel like I can't leave my house without being constantly harassed or just stared at. People constantly want something from me, or think that because I am white I can some how magically fix their problems, which is a lot of pressure!! Over the last month I have wondered why in the world I would have ever willing decided to leave the United States, or the developed world in general to come to a place where I don't speak the language, people behave towards eachother so strangely and I live alone with lizards, cockroaches and spiders.

After one whine session to my mom, I got ready for bed and realized how slow time seemed to be going. How my two years here seemed to stretch out into an eternity. I then realized how it was the end of september but the weather wasn't changing and I was again saddened as I realized that I would miss the changing of the seasons as I was used to. I also realized that perhaps that is a reason while time seems to crawl, because the way I gauge the passage of time is through season change. That night I looked out my window and the moon was really full and it painted all of the sugar cane, corn and trees in my backyard silver. My first thought is that it looked like a frost of the first dusting of snow and for a second I felt chilly winter air come through the window. I smile and this made me feel a lot better.

Living here has made me realize just how much our culture effects everything about the way we think, behave, and interpret the world around us.Especially as I try to work, I see how Cameroonians view time very differently than me. I think in the U.S. we see time as some kind of enemy that we have to constantly be on our guard against. We try to trick time, manipulate it so that it is lengthened or shortened to fit our needs. Here in Cameroon time is like an old companion that has been around so long you almost forget that they are there. But that you just hang out with and let it do its thing. There really isn't a concept of something not going fast enough, everthing just goes the pace that it goes. I think that in the zworkplace this has been part of my frustration as I try to make timelines, action plans and schedules. I just don't think they translate in the same way.

Another interesting observation. I have noticed that when talking about Cameroonians about their culture they always refer to it as "African" and not specifically Cameroonian. My counterpart says "this is how it is done in Africa" or "this is the African hospitality" but very rarely have I heard people talk about themselves or their culture in the context of just Cameroonian. Although I often do hear people saying mean things about the Nigerians, most people refer to all of the rest of Africa as their brother or sisters and there is definetly this sense of connection or pan-africanism in the way that they identify themselves, as Africans before Cameroonians.

So I have learned that trying to get immersed in another culture is very difficult. I am not sure that I will ever fully integrate or feel like a part of the people in my village. I feel like there is this constant wall between me and them. Like I will always be this outsider who is to be treated differently. But, when I walk to work in the mornings and I pass an older woman on the street I can say "Bonjour Maman" or "Bonjour la mere" (Good morning mother) and she will reply "Bonjour ma fille" (Good Morning my daughter, or my girl) as is custom, and then I feel a little bit apart of the larger family that seems to connect everyone else but leave me out.

So it is definetly difficult. But when I wonder how effective I can ever be or what the crap I am doing here living in conditions that are just plain hard I think of what my sister Ariel says to me. Whenever I would whine that "this paper I am writing is HARD" or something is hard she always says back "Well its a good thing you can do hard things."