Thursday, May 8, 2008

Random Thoughts

Often I get frustrated with life here in Cameroon. Yet, there are so many good things and moments that make up for the frustrations. Here are some.

The Best Of….

The Bush Taxi Rides
As much as I whine about the cramped, bumpy and loud bush taxis some of my best stories come from these rides.
Luckily for me bush taxi rides are never as excruciating as for some volunteers who live en brouse. Kekem is situated conveniently on one of Cameroon’s biggest and busiest highways. After the main highways were built people moved to be close to them; for the economic opportunities but also security. Kekem as a town didn’t exist until the main highway was built.
Outside the window of the taxis there is always a lot of activity going on. You can see houses and people going about their daily lives. Children with the water on their heads and old women with the hoe across their shoulders as they come back from the fields. Wherever the car stops people run up to the windows and try to sell their goods. Some policeman will create a stop with a two-by-four with nails sticking out of it in order to stop cars and get money, but the entrepreneurs are benefiting from the situation too. That is what they sit and as car stops the sell them there products. Fruits, peanuts, and baton de manioc are always common. This trip I had someone come up to my window trying to sell two dead monkeys! I said “non, merci”.
If the bus isn’t full when leaving it will stop on the side of the road to pick up people who are coming out of the little villages to travel to the bigger towns to sell their goods. During my last trip to Yaounde the car stopped and picked up this old woman. She was wearing an old worn Kaba (a mumu type dress) and the conductor had to help her up into the bus because her knees didn’t seem to bend very well anymore. She didn’t speak a word of French so she would speak in her local language and someone else who understood would translate for the driver. Like much of the older generations this signifies that she lives way out au village and hasn’t had any formal education. She was traveling to a bigger city to sell her various crops. She sat diagonally from me and I noticed her hands. They were huge and callused, almost as if her skin was 2 inches thick all around.
Halfway through the trip the car stops in a town so that the passengers can stretch their legs and get something to eat. I got out and just bought some water then got back into the bus. I was feeling tired and grumpy and didn’t want to deal with the vendors yelling at me to buy their goods. A little after me came the old woman. She hobbled back to the bus and then had a young guy help her get back into her seat. I was sitting and waiting when I felt the old woman’s hand on my shoulder. I turned around and she was offering me her roasted plantain. I accepted and smiled at her trying to say thank you. She said something that I didn’t understand. But the whole rest of the trip my heart just felt full and grateful that this old woman who, in the material sense, has nothing would share with my what she has. She was welcoming me and although we don’t have much in common, for a while we shared and car and a plantain. It was the best tasting plantain I have ever had.

…Runner up in Best of Bush Taxi
I traveled up to Bamenda to help out with an In-Service Training and on the way up I sat next to the cutest little girl. At first she was kind of scared of me, but her mom forced her to shake my hand and say hello so that she wouldn’t be scared anymore. Towards the end of the trip the little girl takes my hand and puts a 50 CFA piece in it. This is the equivalent of maybe 10 cents. I said thanks, but that she should keep it. She turned away shyly and said something to her mom. Her mom laughed then told me that the girl wants me to have the money. She said that the little girl noticed that in the car everyone had a brother or sister but me. That I was all alone and therefore needed it. We laughed and I tried to give the money back but the little girl wouldn’t have it. So I took it.

Pick up lines
There is a large central market in Yaounde that I went to with a fellow volunteer the other day. Kind of a long story (he tried to sell me to a guy for 150 goats) but I heard the BEST pick-up line yet:
"Our child could be the next Barak Obama"
How good is that? I laughed so hard! How clever! But I still didn’t give him my number (he wasn’t willing to pay the 150 goats)

Ouaiii!” Pronounced: Waaaayh. = Depending on how the sound is made—high or low—its an exclamation of disbelief like “oh my goodness!”or of frustration like “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Je dit que….”= I said that… the que at the end is pronouced like “kay” at the end you have to lower your voice a couple of octaves to get the whole effect. People say this when they are going to repeat something you may not have understood the first time or they something want to put extra emphasize on.
“Ooh…Aisha.” =Oh, I’m sorry! Hang in there!
Tu es malade?!” =Are you sick? /Real Translation: Are you crazy? People say this to anyone who does something that they don’t really like or agree with. Mostly between young people.
Petit! Viens!” (see #6 below)
“ Waikay!” I believe this is a Bassa phrase. It is when someone hears something they think is crazy or something startling happens. It is astonishment. Similar to “Ouaiiii” Example: “Waikay!! You don’t eat piment in the United States!?!”
Tu m’as gardé quoi?” =What did you keep for me? When you travel you are supposed to “garde” or get something for the people who are close to you. So when you get back from traveling people will ask you this. Which can make the newcomer feel very awkward. I finally found the perfect response “Est-ce que je ne suffis pas?”=Am I not enough?
I’ve made it!
The other day was a milestone for me. Everytime I walk down the street I hear someone say “Look! La Blanche!” I get called “la blanche” or the white. But the other day I walked down the street searching for a pineapple, when I heard some say to their friends, “Regardez! Notre blanche!” or Look! Our white! I went from The White to Our White!! Hopefully by the time I will leave I will be “Autumn”, but it is really hard to pronouce so I’ll settle for Brown.

A couple of things I love about Cameroon(ians)

If there is music, you dance. Sometimes this means that you are sitting in a bar with some of your Cameroonian friends and some music that they like starts playing and they randomly get up and start dancing. It isn’t awkward though. Whenever you sit in a bar there is someone up dancing, even if it’s by themselves. Nobody stares because it’s just normal.
You never eat a meal alone. When I first got here people would come over to my house and ask “What did you cook?” I would tell them and then they would expect “their part”. It made me feel uncomfortable, because I would just make enough for me and eat it. Now I realize that if you cook, you cook a lot and you give some to whoever happens by. That no meal should be so small that it just feeds one.
Everyone has “ma part” (their part). If there is extra you give it to someone else. I learned this principle when seeing a man returning from the fields with a bunch of sugar cane on his back and as he walked someone would say “where is my part?” and he would stop and give some. He probably did that just until “his part” was left. Sharing is necessary. My neighbor will often come over with a plate of food and tell me that it is “my part”.
Children are, in a way, everyone’s children. Sometimes when riding in a bus the person next to you will just put their child on your lap. When this happens, there is no annoyance involved. People just play and talk with the child as if it was their own, even if its for the entire 2hr ride.
Everyone falls into one of the following the categories of “Mon frere, ma soeur, mon pere, or ma mere.” At first I thought that it was based upon age, and it is to some extent, but it is also a sign of respect. If you are called “my mother” or “my father” it is more respectful then “little sister” for example. Sometimes an old man will call a toddler “my father”. But I always like it when strangers say Hi to me by calling me “my sister” or “the mother”.
Petit! Viens!” Little! Come here! All young children are at the mercy of adults. It is like some unwritten law that children have to do whatever an adult tells them. So you will often here that phrase “Petit! Viens!” Then the child will come and do what the adult tells them. Often then the adult will give 100 CFA or something. I have even gotten to the point where if I want something but don’t feel like going to get it I can just yell at some petit to do it. The other day I had some of my students come over to “mow” my grass. (they use a machete) and I just told them to do it and they did. But, I did let them take my sugar cane when they left so they were happy.
Koki, Mangoes, and the omelet shack. My favorite foods here. Koki is black-eyed pea type beans smashed up, mixed with a thick palm oil and piment then put into a leaf and boiled so that it has the consistency of tofu. Delicious with boiled green bananas! Mangoes here are AMAZING! If I am depressed, eating a mango makes me forget all of my worries for all of three minutes as the juice runs down my elbows. There are a lot of little boutiques that have a table and chair set out and then a mama will make omelets for people. There is one by my house and she makes a wicked good bean omelet.
Putting the “Fun” into “Funeral”. Death is something that is viewed differently. In many ways it is out in the open. And funerals are huge celebrations! Well at least the ones that happen years after the actual deaths. There is no party like a funeral though. They go for days and the eating and dancing doesn’t stop!
Pagne. This is the brightly colored and patterned cloth and everyone buys and makes their different outfits with. I’ve become addicted to the stuff! I love buying some, and then taking it to a tailor who will make whatever you want out of it.
Holding Hands. When you are walking down the street with a friend you often hold hands. When I first arrived I remember seeing grown men walking and holding hands and I found it extremely odd. Now as I hold hands with friends when talking with them or walking I realize how much we have made hand-holding solely romantic or boyfriend-girlfriend oriented in the U.S. Holding hands is friendly and should be practiced as such.