Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The grand'ole'blog'post

(To whom it may concern…mom and dad):
This is the big’ole spring and summer blog. The oldest post is at the bottom of the entire entry (April), and moves upwards towards the most recent (July).


It’s the last day in July. Where has this summer, the corn on the cob, lakes, bonfires, outdoor concerts, hangovers, and skimpy dresses gone? Well? Back home. Here, summer is rain, sweet corn is the grainy field corn we feed to large animals in America, fresh water gives you Schistosomiasis if you swim in it (a diseases caused by a kind of worm that gets into the bloodstream and causes bloody urine, and eventual kidney and/or liver failure), the closest thing to a bonfire is in my backyard where someone is burning their trash, any outdoor concerts seem to be put on by drums and the neighbor boys at 5am, hangovers…well, they’re still here, and dresses are tents of thick material (inside which one could hide an entire pregnancy).
Today has been the most beautiful day of this Cameroonian July…seems she decided to sneak one in there before August got it’s paws all over it. Earlier today, as I was marveling at the blue sky through my bedroom window, I moved my focus beyond my billowing lace curtains, and onto one of my neighbors peeing in my lawn. Ah yes, the birds chirping, Louis Armstrong rasping from my computer, fluffy clouds, the smell of earth, and a women urinating a few feet from my bedroom window. In fact, our eyes met. To tell you the truth, I ducked. Instinct. Then my brain kicked in and I remembered: T.I.(f’in)A.*
*For those of you who might have forgot: This Is (fuckin’) Africa.
I was sitting with my friend, Celine, who not so coyly suggested I buy her a beer (I was wondering why she was accompanying me to buy tomatoes and avocados), when someone told me that my sister was around. This means there is another white person in the area. They assume we all know each other because most of the time we do, but in this instance I did not know this Norwegian visitor. She met her husband while at school in South Africa, a man who is from Mbengwi but moved to live with her in Norway. They have 2 kids who were, as was the mother, coming to Mbengwi for their first time. Gilbert, her husband from Mbengwi, called his friend who lives here still, Ras. Ras is his taken name, after his religion, Rastafarian (he later informed me that he is a Rastafarian Jehovah’s Witness. He did not seem to notice the glaring paradox). After leaving the bar, we all went to Ras’s place. He is a fairly successful musician, who has four houses throughout Cameroon, and is a single dad. This is quite unusual, especially as the mother is still alive and living in Cameroon….in fact, the first time I’ve encountered it here.
I was in Yaounde for a week, and on the bus ride down there was a group of women who decided to sing church songs…for 5 straight hours. No joke…I would not kid about something that horrendously annoying. I was having fantasies about turning around and rapping an entire Eminem album in their faces, and/or telling them that they are selfish human beings, terrible singers, and should get out and walk the rest of the way so that they can think about their actions. Extreme, you say? I ask you to sit in a tiny bus with people sitting on top of you for 7 hours, and then have the woman who is singing/squawking at the top of her lungs (for 5 of those hours) sit directly behind you. Oh, and she is clapping her (apparently) Hulk-like hands so close that the air she’s displacing is rustling your neck hair. Ah, just another life lessons in non-violence.
I brushed my teeth with anti-fungal cream by accident. The Peace Corps nurse says I’ll be fine, but my mouth is numb aaand I’ve used my fingernails as a shovel inside my mouth.
7. 6.10
Well, I’m back in Cameroon from America. I am sure of this for a few reasons:
I have diarrhea.
I spent an hour this evening pulling maggots out of my cat’s leg. (I spent the next 4 days pulling the other 20 out…and there are still more).
After four 25-year-olds ate sandwiches comprised of scrambled eggs, a few cut-up pieces of 4th-of-July-party-hot dogs, and ketchup…. someone used the phrase “that was amazing” genuinely.
I had to brush my hair with a fork (again).
Nearly 50 strange men and 20 strange women have asked me for my phone number.
I watched an entire season of “Chuck” all the way through with interest…kindled by complete boredom (oh my god, who are those writers?).
It’s 7:20 and I’m starting to get irritated that I cannot watch Jeopardy.
I pulled out 4 recent American magazines from my luggage and all 4 of the sociable PC volunteers in the room did not talk (lest it pertained to one of the articles) for –honestly - 2 hours.
I heard my cat crying really loud, and when I went to check on him I discovered it was a baby goat outside of my kitchen window that had lost his mother.
There was a white person in the airport and I knew him. The lady at the phone store, who kindly gave me a ride during a rain storm, asked me if I know this white person named Mary who lives in Bamenda. I do.
After talking for a few minutes on the phone, my friend (who was in the midst of a 7 hour bus ride) casually mentioned to me that she has typhoid (“but is fine”). She is the 6th person I know who currently has typhoid.
There are mice in my ceiling.
I filled up my cat’s “litter box” with a fresh batch of dirt from my yard…a loathed procedure that has to be done in accordance with the rain (as it is rainy season). It is especially irritating, as I now have to dig up the dirt with my bare hands because my gardening gloves and my hoe are locked in a room…one of two which I locked before I left for America, hid the keys, and then returned from the land of the free (and cheese) only to realize I had actually hid them from myself…I am truly locked out of half of my house.

My friend Rose Mary is here, cleaning my floors. Can you imagine someone coming over to hang out with you and then they just start cleaning your floors? All the while I’m sitting here typing nonsense. The only reason I allow this dynamic is that she really needs money to pay her school fees and I don’t want to just hand it to her.
I got a kitten. His name is Miaka, which is a loose translation in my village dialect for “ashia”, which is Pidgin for “sorry”, “thank you”, “it’s a pity”, and “hello”. Either way, we’re obsessed with each other. When I had to leave him with my friend Tim for the week I was in Yaounde…well…I dreamt about him almost every night. It’s my suspicion that he was dreaming about my beautiful, fat ass as well.
Ok, things that have happened which are worth mentioning:
As most of you know, after rob and I fell apart, I was a heart broken little lady…which lead to my friends rallying around me…aka I’ve had visitors in my village on rotation. It’s been amazing. During the course of one of these visits, Thryn and I decided to try and find the waterfalls that are listed in my Cameroon guide book (Abbi falls), and so we got our rain coats, moto helmets, and water bottles ready and prepped to find the thing. I called my best friend here, Augustan, to make sure they were flowing (during the dry season, which we just finished, some waterfalls stop flowing because of the lack of water) and he told me they were and that…well, let me tell you the exact conversation: “Augustan, how?” “No, Fine” “I want to go to the Abbi falls, are they flowing?” “Yes. You people should come here and take me with you” “Ok, we dey come” “I am waiting”.
The falls are huge. Absolutely huge. How everyone failed to mention them seems quite beyond me… and then I remember that I’m in Cameroon and the nonsensical makes sense.
The power is out today because Cameroon exports it to Gabon on some Sunday’s. It will come back on around dark…which makes it hard to write this, my reports…watch Gossip Girl on my laptop. Ha. Believe what you’re hearing kids, I’m board enough to be watching the vapid and strangely captivating show that is played on (I believe?) the CW. Good.
Yesterday was Labor Day…which is not celebrated with camping trips, cheep beer, potato salad, and yard games (dammit). Here…we…march. Barf. I was told to arrive at 8:30am on the main street in Bamenda. So there I was, 8:28, waiting. I should know better by now. Ok, here is the part where I start complaining about people being late…and those of you who know me well will start rolling your eyes. Alright, I know, I know…I’m not the most punctual person…but hear me out with this one. So I arrive at 8:28, expecting the other members of my NGO to be there, but they arrive at 9:30 instead. This is when the march itself was supposed to begin. So we go and stand on the street around 10…under the rude eye of equatorial’ish, African sun. At 1pm we started marching. By then I was ready to take my clothes off, pour my limited supply of water over my head, and then roundhouse kick everyone square in the jaw. After the march we went to my NGO’s office for a “party”. This party included nearly 5 straight hours of praising God, reading passages about work from the bible, regaling everyone with stories of prophecy some of us were feeling in our hearts right at that very moment, aaaand then eating some fish….before telling more stories of miracles and God’s will, our fear of God, and our holy mission. Right up my ally.

I returned home after my inter-service training in the West.
Sat down at my friends’ palm wine store and I debriefed him on my travels. A million people approached me and asked me where I’ve been…while nearly all of them knew where I was and why I was there, but that doesn’t make difference in their musings about me leaving them and going back to America, dying, disappearing. I chatted with one of the men who came to greet me – we went through the whole rigmarole – and then he told me that my voice sounds like a trumpet. He proceeded to howl out a few trumpet notes before turning to me with his conclusion that the cause of this musical inflection in my voice was “that thing” I’ve put in my nose (…my nose ring). I told him sure. Bull’s eye. Then one of the town drunks came to sit with me and the nice, old lady who was enjoying a glass of fresh-from-the-tree-wine with me. He told me that he is the father of everyone in the world and that if he has to “ease himself” (pee) he always does it away from the ladies. Bull’s eye. So then I decided to walk to the hospital to great everyone and tell them I had returned (if you don’t do this after being away people act very slighted). On my way there I got a call from my NGO telling me that a motorbike would be in Mbengwi to pick me up and take me to Bamenda for a meeting. I told them that I had plans (I was suppose to pick up my new kitten and I had to talk with the nurse at the hospital about work) and they told me to cancel. So next thing I know I’m zipping down the dirt road from Mbengwi, getting slapped in the face of my helmet with rain, donning a traditional African dress with matching head wrap for a solid 45 minutes. Bull’s eye. I worked for two hours with my coworker (named Little…her son is Treasure) before I caught some random car full of fat women back to my village after the driver shouted “Mbengwi” at me out the window as I was buzzing by him on a moto. It’s not really hitch-hiking if there are other strangers in the car with you…right? It’s safer than it sounds mom…take a deep breath.
When I finally returned to my house I made some Mac’n’Cheese, poured myself a glass of wine from a box, sat on my new, dapper couches, turned on an episode of “Chuck”, and tried to forget that my relationship of 4 months (and was more intense in my mind than it was in his….apparently) just fell apart and that I’m completely alone –and completely surrounded - in this tiny, African village. Bull’s eye.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March has really come into itself this year...

But if we’re to review…I spent 4 full days in the bush…it’s what we call it when we drive 4 hours in a car filled to the brim with men (and my fat, white girl boxedwine-gut), and then trek for 3 more hours , winding around hills and terrifying bends to the middle of g.d. nowhere. Honestly, I can say…I’ve never been so scared in my life. Imagine, if you can for a smidge, winding around the top of a mountain on the very worst road you’ve ever been on. Ever. It’s made of rocks the size of butt cheeks and when you look down, out the window, you can’t see the road…just death…the spiral down the mountain of morbidity. And they drive like nincompoops through these traps filled with possibility.
Anyway, we went deep into the bush. Four 45 year old Cameroonian men and I. We smooshed in the car together, hiked together, peed in the woods (well, not together…but you get it…side note, when they have to pee…which they do anywhere, even on the side of the busy street…they say “Excuse me, I need to ease myself”…so poignant), ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, worked at the health centers, drank beers at night, and then went to sleep…together…in different hospital beds, in different places…every day and night. It was quite, well, graphic. At one point, they told a story about this white nun that came and shoved a huge...well, let's just say the story made ME blush. And in another beautiful turn of events, the head doctor had to have asked me 30 times if I was “feeling heat” (pidgin for “are you horny”?), was commenting on my chest and my moms’, and telling me repeatedly that I was going to have at least one of his children. I had to sit him down and tell him that he couldn’t say things like that because they make me feel small, and that in the states he could face jail time for using that sort of language with a coworker. Anyway, the trip itself was amazing besides the small snafus.
I was part of a 3 person team to put on this 2 day seminar about women in the media. Courtney and I gave a nearly 3 hour presentation on top of our hosting duties. Period.
I walked into an a-typical mini store (think southern-gas-station-esk) in order to buy myself a delicious coke-a-cola classic, and the young gentleman who was tending the establishment asked me for my name. I told him “Ingrid”, and asked him “and what is your own name?” (as they say here). His reply took me a little off guard. Yulenut. I asked him to repeat it…he had to be messing with me right back. Yulenut. Ok, I don’t think I’m getting it. Yulenut. This couldn’t be the silly gift from god that I thought it was…so I repeated it back to him, thinking he would correct me. No. “So your name is You’ll nut” “Yes”. Awesome. Sorry to be crude, but that is just too easy. Yulenut.
All of us volunteers have moments where we’re walking around, doing daily things, and the fact that we’re in Africa, and that we’ll be here for 2 full years, smacks you right in the gut. [As I’m writing this my neighbor, who officially thinks my name is “Maybe” has just come over…in the pouring rain…to offer me cooked leaves. Normally, yes please…but for the moment “my belly done flop”...Pidgin for I’m full]
I dozed off, but was awaken by a large beetle falling onto my bare forearm. I flicked that turd, and then chased him into a hurt locker to die-by-sandal-squash. So I’ll tell you. I went to the big mango (puns! …ok, the metropolis village of Bamenda) for Tuesday and Wednesday. I was finally going to get some furniture, with the help of my NGO, on Wednesday…but Tuesday I was there to shop around the store fronts’ dirt lawn’s. After waltzing around all day I found myself at dinner with my friend from Michigan…Courtney (who, ironically, went to James Madison), a girl I know’s boyfriend, his Cameroonian coworker, and some random dude from New Zealand he met at the main market the day before. We had a hoot of an evening. The cusp, icing, cherry of the evening came when Charlie (N.Z. man) looked at Denise (Cameroonian lady) and said…are you related to an Emmanuel? And she said “yes, that’s my brother”, to which the NZ’lander replied, “yea, you look just like him, and I’ve been living with him for a week”. Small world. Denise was wondering why her brother wasn’t answering her calls, and it turns out it was because a whiteman was squatting at his place. Also, the NZman had just come from living with the Pigmies for a few weeks, where he contracted Malaria and was treated by a traditional medicine man.
My good guy friend is having a pig roast this weekend and a whole bunch of our crew are traveling up to the North West to celebrate. I hope cockroaches don’t eat my face when I concede to take the last sliver of room on the floor by the bug/mice layer. Life is funny, and fat, and dusty, and apparently…with the new season…rainy.
There is a soundtrack to everything here. More so than in my old life. Strip malls and Applebee’s don’t exactly evoke Ben Harper, Passion Pit, Miles Davis, a drum, a rhythm, a feeling inside your whole body that wants to reflect the outside. I have been brought to tears more than once by the combination of my ipod and our windings through the African mountains in an old Corola. Life here is slow, it meanders, laundry is an event, but there is still a steady rhythm, and somebody will always join you for a bowl of rice, a beer, a dance, or…on some occasions, they will join you to do nothing. They come to visit you and then just sit there. At first, this is like a first date, where you feel as though you need to inquire about the other person’s favorite pass time…but then you realize that life is more like the 2nd year of dating here…were silence is ok, you can do dishes while the other person sits staring at the empty, dirty wall in the other room, and you can always sit down and comfortably hold hands (but I hate holding hands all the time…in any context, so this customary practice is quite irking for me…but, alas, grin and bear it…these people love a good, sweaty hand hold).
It’s funny, because you think you’re going to come here and be alone in your Western ways…but then you meet a million different people who have come from the other side of the world, know what Seinfeld is, miss cheese as much as you do, and know what you’ve been going through…and some even know what you’re about to go through, depending on how long they’ve been here. I never thought we would find so many excuses to get together. Diner is a big one. Some people will travel 20 hours to come and have a communal dinner with friends…or at least people who they trained with for 3 months and kinda liked enough to bull shit with, get drunk, play games, make up dances, talk about what we’re all going through. We all became so friendly so quickly…you can’t deny the bond we’re all sharing…the mentality that is streaming through all of us is so similar that you can form a substantial relationship with someone you would never – in a million years – be friends with back at home. But there is undoubtedly something inside all of us, no matter its source, and it brings us all together to roast a pig, eat fish at a bar, travel through a torturous 20 hours just to see a knowing smile.
I love receiving American products (made in China) in the mail, but it is as if each one has something which is making a mockery of me. Iced Tea, for example. The rubber gloves my aunt sent me have instructed me not to wash them in the dishwasher. Yea, noted.
I traveled to Kumbo this weekend for Patrick’s pig roast. He slaughtered the thing himself, sliced its throat. He and his Cameroonian cohorts cooked it in a mud-brick stove in the back of his compound and the first piece we all passed around and ate was the little guy’s snout. His skin was crunchy and seasoned…biting into it was reminiscent of biting into a tostito chip…a welcomed sensation. After we devoured every last piece of the swine, we cleared his inedible bits off the table to make room for flip cup with palm wine (for those of you who are unfamiliar with flip cup: it is a drinking game that is played just as it sounds…by consuming all the cup’s containings, setting it on the edge of the table, and trying to flip it over onto its lid). The Cameroonians loved it, and the game ended with a gaggle of drunks slipping around on the then covered-in-palm-wine floor. The trouble with drinking palm wine that quickly is this: once the “white stuff” (Pidgin for palm wine) is in your system…well…it continues to ferment…so if you’re not mindful, you can go from stone cold sober to drunkity drunk drunk. I (luckily) played only one round of the game, and so was able to escape this folly which a few of my buddies stumbled into.
On top of pig snout and skin, I’ve added a few more strange dishes to my stomach’s repertoire this week. First, I bought some portabella mushrooms (no, they’re not the strange thing) from the market in Bamenda and brought them home to Mbengwi with a huge smile on my face (mushrooms are only in season for about 2 weeks a year, which is torturous, as they are one of my favorite foods). Upon arriving home, I prepared a marinade of EVOO (expensive and hard to come by here), garlic, onions, tomato, salt, and black pepper. With great anticipation and salivation, I opened the plastic bag filled with mushrooms…only to discover it was moving. Maggots. A whole mess of those dick heads. I can best describe my response to this discovery by evoking one of those scenes in a movie where the individual throws his fists straight up into the air and yells “NOOOOOOOOOO” as the camera quickly pans up and away from him…and it seems like his “NOOOOOO” is echoing worldwide. Yea, well, let’s just say I staved off my urge to gag, cleaned as many of those little buggers off as I could, marinated, pan fried, and consumed. OK, you know what’s coming: there was no possible way to find all of them in the folds of the mushroom…aaaaaaaaaaand I added cooked maggot to my repertoire. This might make a few of you cringe, but the reality is that they actually cook and eat maggots here…they even sell them as a snack in some villages. Anyway, the next strange food I willingly consumed…and enjoyed…was salted and fried termites. On our 4 hour van ride back from Kumbo, Kevin and I decided to purchase a sandwich bag full of the little insects, offered to us by a small boy through the window at one of our 30 second road side slowdowns (where you’re bombarded by women and children shoving fruits, nuts, bugs, root, cooked rat or fish, corn, huckleberry leaves, cabbage, and other snacks/produce in your face through your open window). Anyway, the termites tasted a bit woody, and their wings got stuck in your teeth, but they were actually quite pallet pleasing. This could be because I expected that they would taste like locus…which I like the crunchy texture of, but not the taste…but these tiny little termites didn’t taste like anything I’ve had before, and they certainly wouldn’t be something I would turn down if I were offered them again. They would be good in an omelet (honest). Kevin and I were taking pictures of ourselves eating them as the 4row van of Cameroonians behind us watched and munched on their own bags. They were laughing at us a bit, but the fact that we were eating them earned us some street cred…while the picture taking reeled us back to the title of silly, ignorant white people. Ce la vie.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I still don't have furniture.

I just went to the Momo Divisions monthly divisional health meeting…there was nobody there. I went an hour late intentionally because last month the meeting was late getting going by 2 hours and 45 mins. And then…cringe…the meetings last 6 hours. That is a lot of meandering around a hospital “seminar” room in mini-circles with a bunch of Cameroonians for 2 hours and 45 mins, making small talk and then exchanging phone numbers…only to be followed by listening to them talk about this same thing for an hour, another thing for another hour…and so on…until you realize you’ve been in this room for 9 hours and you have no idea what has been established…aaand you may or may not accidentally shove your thumb in your eye.
At the beginning of every meeting here the “ledger” reads the “minuets” from last meeting. That was a literal statement. For example: “minuet 1: the doctor greeted everyone” “minuet 2: the head nurse guided the attendees through a verse from John 9:12”…”minuet 42: Madam Qwui began her presentation about the Azem Health Center” “hour 3: without warning, the white girl threw her thumb into her left eye”…and then we all have to vote on what was said to be sure that it’s accurate. It takes all my might not to start sawin’ logs. This happens to all of us volunteers, no matter what region.
I was away from my village for – well – a while (10 days)…and this fact sure as hell did not escape the mentionings of every-damn-body I pass in Mbengwi. “You’ve been missing” “Mr. John was looking for you and I told him that you were missing” “You are back. You have not come to see me” “I’ve been looking for you for days, my wife has some really nice pears [avocados], but you’ve been missing”…

Today is women’s day. I don’t know what the hell that means either…only that I received 3 calls before 7am from 3 different men wishing me a “happy women’s day”. Thank you. I’ve asked many women what we will do today. They say we’ll march, eat chicken, and drink sweet drinks. Make mine a beer. But while we women might be enjoying our chicken, we will not be allowed the gizzard. By Cameroonian tradition, only the men can eat the gizzard. During our presentation at our Women in Media seminar, Courtney and I raised the issue of “nurture vs. nature”. When the gizzard argument was put into this paradigm, the women started by saying it was nature that determined that only men should eat the gizzard. Thhhhheeeeen, they started to think about it, and they concluded that it was culture and tradition which determined the issue. But somehow they still chalked culture up to something natural, inherent, part of their physical make up. So then we asked: if both a 2 year old boy and a 2 year old girl were sitting and eating parts of the chicken, what would prevent the little girl from eating the gizzard if the little boy didn’t yet know the tradition? And what would happen to the little girl’s health if she did eat it? This got through, and then they began thinking in the direction we hoped they would…that their obedience to men is constantly justified by both men and women using examples like “divine design” and “tradition”…when really, those are just tactics invented by, and utilized by men. But the truth is…if a woman did decide to deprive her husband of the gizzard in an act of defiance and empowerment, it’s more than likely he would evoke “tradition”, and teach her a physical lessons.

The passion I’ve always felt for the underprivileged has become faint. This might surprise…as I’m in a situation where help is needed around every corner. Exactly. There is no newspaper telling you where to focus your efforts, and there are 1 million NGO’s that are aimed at assisting orphans, women, and PLWH/A… and none that are organized enough to tell you where to start. I can’t decide if that burning passion is fading because the situation is intimidating, or if it’s more of the fact that all that there is to be passionate for is absolutely everywhere. Complete emersion in the land where you meet someone, anyone, and they start to tell you their problems, mention poverty, and sometimes outright ask you for help or money. It’s difficult to stand for an issue when every facet of life is an issue, a struggle, something worth a 40 year old man taking a shot in the dark and asking the random white girl to help him with his palm wine business, or the 30 year old mother of 2 who lives 8 hours away asking me for help finding a job in anything. I have no knowledge of palm wine production, and I’m not even technically employed…I can’t really help most people with…well, anything…unless they want to know something about health…in which case I would first consult my limited knowledge, and then undoubtedly reference one of the medical books the Peace Corps gave me.
And then there’s the “I love your country” problem. Anyone who has been immersed in Africa from abroad has encountered this. Situation: I climb on a motorbike. As we’re winding along the sad excuse for a paved road towards my house: “I want to come to your country”. “What country do you think I’m from?” “I don’t know, but I want to go there” “I’m from America. Why do you want to go there?” Standstill. Long pause. Me: “We have problems with poverty in my country as well, and it’s surely not as beautiful as Cameroon” “I don’t care, I love America” You could insert any western country in America’s place and they would still say they love it without discrimination [as I’m writing this two children with walking sticks just came and leered in my open window…they said good morning through their laughter…my bed is not made and there are a pair of shorts on it and they find my lifestyle funny…different…and I have to remind myself that I’m a foreigner no matter how long I’ve been an everyday occurrence]. Either way, I could fill 2 AIRBUS’s with the people who have asked me to take them back to America….I don’t even know their name, nor do they know mine…but they ask me to take them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fork., now what?

Spent the day counseling 4 people before and after their HIV tests. Who let me do this? I’m not qualified for this. But the weird part is I am more qualified than…well…almost everyone here. That sounds terrible…arrogant, western, and true. But there’s nothing like asking a grown man if he’s married (yes), has any kids (2), and why he is in to get an HIV test. Well, he’s almost surely cheating, especially because he’s a teacher. Male teachers here openly sleep with their young female students in exchange for good grades. No, I’m not making a generalization or assumption…this is common place. Yea, Christ, it’s true, and gross. Anyway, this man tells me he has not put himself at risk…ah-hem, ok sir, so if you’re positive what are you going to do? “Tell my wife”. That’s touching, isn’t it? Bag a bunch of 13-year-olds and your wife at the same time…but at least he is going to tell her he has given her HIV if it turns out he is positive. Anyway, my job is not to judge…or at least I’m supposed to hide my judgment. Also, I never thought that I would eat so much parsley. Yup, we eat parsley leaves with nearly everything, celery leaves and basil as well. Making eggs? Toss in the green stuff. Pasta sauce? Green stuff. Soup? Yea. And it’s gooooood. I’ve pooped 4 times in the last hour which makes me think I might have to wash it better.
We counseled and tested 14 people for HIV today and they were all negative. It was such a relief, as I’m dreading the day I have to tell someone they are positive.
Today is a bit hard because I’m thinking about what standing impact I’m going to have here and nothing is coming to mind. I keep telling myself that if I can just influence one young girl, who then can, in turn, become a leader in this community…then I’ve done my job. But finding this girl in a village of 7,000 is not exactly easy. She can’t be sleeping with her teacher. She can’t shout “whiteman” at me as I walk past. She needs to be committed to school, her sexual health, Mbengwi, and herself. And most importantly, she cannot let her voice be lost in the male dominated discourse.
I accidentally just ate a piece of bread with mayo spread all over it…for the third day in a row. Things are getting dicey. But you know those nights in Michigan, summertime, and it’s around 6:30? When it’s still warm but your upper lip won’t crack a sweat-stash, crickets, kids, and the tops to pots are clanking about, and being a part of it and utilizing it…feels so good? A Thursday night baseball game. A glass of red wine and you cook some dinner. In Michigan I would eat it outside, but here I eat it on my bed and wash my dishes outside. But everything else natural about those evenings are my every evenings here. At this particular 6:30 there is some boy with a naked 2 year old on his shoulders, walking and shouting outside my window, in the back of the compound, through the trash scattered everywhere on the ground, and the fucking beautiful feeling that is an African evening.
My feet smell and it sucks because I’m sitting cross legged. But I got some new sandals for these “fingas fo foot” (“toes” in Pidgin, hahahahah, yes, really) and the name of the brand is “Dongfang”. Yes, really. At the top of the sandal is printed “Feminine Fashion Explorer”…it is unclear why it’s there but I think it’s quite fitting, don’t you?
Just talked to mom. I told her that I was Rob’s wet nurse for 4 days straight. She told me what wet nurse really means. Seems I’ve had it wrong for some time now. Upon reflection, I’m sure every other time I’ve used that term it has been relatively and severely inappropriate. Apparently changing the patients clothes and providing water does not make one a wet nurse…oooonly breast milk can award that title. Good.
Everyone here stays up so late, despite the reality that they will surely be up before 5am. The world is a vampire, and here is no different. Who sang that amazing song? Surely someone who spent a hearty amount of time at a strip club. I stomped on the biggest ant I’ve ever seen today and, as I lifted my sandal, my first thought was “god, that’s one juicy ant”…and then laughed audibly and noticeably alone, as that’s just one silly phrase. But you’ve all had those moments. One of my favorites was when I first saw Ellen’s standup. I was in my basement, 18 years old, and was still awake on a Saturday at 3am’ish. I was laughing so hard about the part when she runs into the window and loses her eye that I had to burry my face in the leather couch to keep from waking my parents. Laughing that hard when you’re alone is striking…you think as much about the fact that you’re laughing alone as you do on the fact that you’re laughing. This also happens to me when I accentually put my hooded sweatshirts on backwards.
Youth Day is happening outside my window. There is a group of 4th graders(ish) in my front yard playing two little bongo drums and using an empty Faygo bottle as an accompanying instrument. There is a precession of teachers, students, and your everyday people walking towards something…something will happen at the place where they’re going and I suppose I should get dressed enough to join them, investigate, “experience the culture”. Sometimes this gets exhausting…always participating in everything lest you miss anything. You know when you’re on vacation and there is some famous museum, say, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and you go just because you feel like you should? And when you’re there, you can actually feel yourself not enjoying the voluntary activity, but you tour the entire museum anyway, hoping that the next exhibit is not, in fact, filled with more old, aviation attire, but is instead profiling that time half naked women flew fighter jets as part of a Led Zeppelin performance? Well, anyway, this daily vacation has plenty of “museums”, and a few of them turn out to be pretty fucking awesome, while the others are just filled with a hunk of old junk accompanied by lengthy explanations. I bought two used blankets from the main market yesterday. The main market takes place every 8 days. I searched far and wide for blankets sans a ridiculous pattern. You know how, maybe 4 times a year, a blue-jeaned-man brings out those huge rugs adorned with leopards, eagles, and nauseating floral prints? And he hangs them up at a corner gas station? Yea, that is what the new, packaged blankets are like here. Yes, lime green does look good with red and brown flowers, and I do want to cuddle up every night with the beak of an eagle under my chin. Used throws: One of them is a nice, scratchy and brown, and the other is fuzzy, blue, and too long for my bed. Ca-Caw.
I left my only hairbrush in Bamenda and, as I have yet to find hairbrushes for white people in my village, I have been using a fork. Yes, since I realized I didn’t have a brush, I have consciously taken 3 showers…knowing I was going to have to spend 10 mins running the utensil I ate breakfast with through my nappy hair. Imagine how you would feel at the moment you step out of the first shower (from a bucket mind you…more of a bath without the soaking), reach into your travel bag, and there is no brush. And so I tried just using my fingers, but I was on my way to the first day of work at the hospital and…well, I had to rewet and I knew what I had to do. TIA

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We're not in Kansas anymore.

Today. Well, let us see, shall we? Woke up to a knock on the door at Kortney’s apartment, the girl who comes to clean her kitchen and do her laundry. Bought phone credit from a woman who accepted my 5000CFA - the equivalent of $10 – and she told me I was her new best friend. Sure. Traveled for ½ hour across Bamenda with a woman, nearly 3 times the size of me, sitting on my right thigh. Got to the car park and piled into an atypical, tiny, 1980’s’ish, Toyota’esk vehicle…4 in the front, four in the back. Mind you, the car is, of course, a stick shift…so go ahead and think about that…with 4 people in the front. Let’s just say it’s better for women to sit in the “mini driver’s” seat, lest the men suffer through 4th gear. Ok, anyway, got to village. Went to some random woman who had rice in one thermos, beans in the other, and ate some lunch…you should know, it wasn’t spicy enough. Then I took a glass of fresh palm wine (essentially juice at this stage in its fermentation) with Augustan, who insisted, and then went home, changed, and walked to the hospital. I waited for the doctor for 40 mins, despite the fact that I had an appointment with him, and at one point approached the lab and asked the 6 workers who were sitting around in there about how they test for HIV at the center, how much it coasts, and when their next free testing day will be. Right as I was offering up my hand to assist in the (time/date unknown) testing day, a man came up to me and politely told me that in their culture, one doesn’t stand in the door way. I turned around and realized everyone was staring at me (more than usual, which is quite the plight) and I apologized to everyone. They nodded their heads in acceptance, and so I apologized to the lab techs I was talking with, and they nodded knowingly as well. So I sat down, because I didn’t know how else to continue to speak with these technicians…they hadn’t invited me in, and I didn’t think it would be very tactful just to take a step back beyond the doorway and proceed to shout the rest of my “white-man” questions through the frame. So the man who informed me of my folly (and don’t get my tone wrong, these pieces of information which I receive from randoms is absolutely welcomed…especially when they do it public, as it provides me an instant venue to genuinely apologize to those who were offended by my ignorance, flash a big smile, clasp my hands together and bow a bit…in the way that old Asian man would do, and use the phrase “I’m learning”. It works…and nobody looses. And this happens to me at least once a week…for example, last week, these women were bitching about me “chopping”, or eating, peanuts in the car and throwing the shells out the window. They didn’t think I could understand them but I could and so I turned around to ask what was wrong with me eating peanuts in the car, and added that I see people doing it all the time. She then informed me that those people eat roasted peanuts, not the kind you shell. Apparently, it was my hurling of the empty shells out the window which was, apparently, not only offending the (now suddenly) jovial women, but it was also putting me at risk of facing up to five years in prison. Same routine, thanking them, hand clasp, “I’m learning”, boom…no biggie.) Aaaaanyway, the man sits down next to me and we chat about his 2 wives and his 11 children…his brother died so he inherited one of his wives.
Ok, as I’m typing this, a young girl, 12’sh, walks by my window with a baby strapped to her back. She proceeds to go back to this tree behind my house, set the baby on the earthy ground, and climb the tree to retrieve the ripe avocados. I would love to go out and hold the baby while she does this, but I fear that she will look down, see some white man talking in some indiscernible accent, and fall out and crack her shaved, little head. TIA.
Anyway, I saw the doctor, who directed me to the woman who works with PLWH/A, Ma Bia (I shit you not), and we talked about teaching them how to purify water (she added that she herself, a nurse, wanted to learn how to purify water), nutrition, and how to create actions plans. I will assess their knowledge at the hospital, 8 days from now, when those who are positive are due back to acquire their anti retro virals.
As I was leaving the hospital, I was stopped by a woman who said a gendarme (state issued police man, aka a Francaphone) wanted to see me. You don’t blow this off. So I spent the monetary equivalent of a beer taking a moto out to the station and back…only so this man could make me give him my phone number…and then call me 10 mins later. Bleh.
Then I bought eggs and bread…walked home. And here I am, and now that that girl is gone…I’m off to investigate what magical fruit is apparently hidden in the innards of my backyard tree.

Woke myself up by sleepily rubbing my eye. Within a few seconds I was wide awake and splashing my old shower water in my eye…seems I still had some piedmont pepper on my fingers from cooking dinner last night. Pain. I was happy to discover that the electricity had returned, the 15 hour blackout wasn’t so bad but my phone was dead and I couldn’t call Dorrin to tell her that I wouldn’t be able to make it down to her place and back before dark…especially when there are no lights in the village anywhere. I’m going to be on a radio show on Thursday discussing public health, particularly amongst the youth. My friend, Comfort, does the show every Thursday with some guy. I could really knock this one out of the park or flop on my ass…any specific question might remain unanswered, as I am really not an expert in anything (except maybe beer).

Woke up to the alarm clock on my phone going off. I couldn’t find the damn thing anywhere. Finally, I followed the annoying alarm sound right into the bucket…which was full of dirty water from my foot washing session right before I put the tootsies in my relatively filthy bed. Woke up a few days ago to a goat tournament in my front lawn…two sets of male goats on their hind legs, rearing up, smashing their heads into one another’s. They ladies were circling around them, adding to the noise by letting out the most ridiculous blaaahhhhhhhs you’ve ever heard. They babies were chasing each other, mostly into the street where I feared the carnage could actually get bloody if a moto were to buzz around the corner. The radio show went fairly well…nothing like talking about masturbation and ejaculation for an hour the first time you’re ever on the radio. Sure. I have a little piece of a magazine add taped above my light switch: “You’re smile will last”. So far so good. My coworker is coming to get me in one hour so that we can go “on brusse” (“into the bush” if you will) and do some field work. This is not to imply that I will work in a field, as I imagined the first time I heard the term. After that he will drop me back off here and I will go to the hospital and try to meet with the PLWH/A, who are coming to get their ARV’s (anti retro virals). Tomorrow I want to go see about getting me a table and a couch. Just got back from a weekend in Sop and Kumbo with Rob. It was good, in fact, really good. He’s coming on Thursday. Yea, just living in an African village, dating a long haired, British man who lives 5 hours and a heavy coating in dust away…the usual. Ha, I just put my SIM card and my battery back in my phone…and it works just fine. Somebody call Verison and tell them to stop making shit phones that break if someone splashes you at the pool…the jig is up on them when there is a phone in Africa that can soak in a bucket of water all night, still wake you up in the morning at the right time, and comes back to life after 30 minutes of drying out.

Wednesday, 5:42pm: I am reading beat poetry, listening to the neighbor ramble in French through the walls. It’s sunset and it’s coming in my window, yellower here than I remember anywhere else I’ve lived. There is a slight breeze making the sheet I have hung in the frame move towards me, fall back. The fruit flies are mulling about around in the gusts, just out of my reach, intent on making me crazy. I feel content with the day, despite the absence of any “work”. But my whites are no longer brown, and my stove top is no longer coated in dried green leaves and tomatoes. I went to the bathroom, and every time I did, I did not want to honestly vomit…there has been an abundance of gagging in that tiny, tiled, rancid, brown stained room, until…today…post laundering and stove topping, I cleaned it…and was reminded of how it must feel to clean one of those outhouses after a 5daymusicfestival. No, I was not dealing with a gigantic basin filled to the toilet seat with feces, vomit, and maxed out tampons, but at least those cleaners have rubber gloves. I probably still have the last tenant’s poop under my fingernails. I walked ½ a mile to the market. These two children would not stop laughing at me. They sat, maybe 3 feet away from me, and watched me eat rice and beans. I drank the water and I’m sure I’ll regret it. I drank whiskey when I came home in hopes that it would kill whatever might be down there now…a mentality which I adopted on my Mexican spring break, where every cut and stomach ache was treated with tequila. Not a bad gamble when you’re going to get sick/lose a limb either way. I have taped quotes on my wall which seems and looks adolescent, but it’s nice to talk with somebody from my old life when I’m sitting, laying, thinking. The correlation between the last breeze and the onset of the Animal Collective song “Daffy Duck” on the ipod speakers just gave me a euphoric feeling. I will sear two huge handfuls of green beans for dinner, add onions and garlic. I watched the beginning of Beauty and the Beast today and wondered when people become middle aged enough to stop doing that. But for now I’m just wondering when my face will stop behaving like a pubescent, 14-year-old boy’s, and when I’ll finally have a hula hoop for my house.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


First meal at new house: avocado (“pear” in pidgin), tomato, on 2 slices of sweet bread, seasoned with some Italian and hickory spices (garlic salt is still packed somewhere in some suitcase/trunk/market bag), and ground nuts. Hawaiian punch made from a state-side packet and some filtered water that took some work to acquire. And a bitter cola nut to finish things off (nut which you eat for its caffeine).
First night at the new house: mattress on the floor, bug hut atop, new, stiff sheets inside with my two new, stiff leopard print pillows and my old, feather pillow and it’s familiar flannel pillowcase. Woke up a million times during the night, staving off the inevitable “shitty shitty’s” which I knew were eminent. That’s pidgin for exactly what it sounds like. I would love a nice A.P. (American Poop). Got up at 6 and had finally broken into a fever…body trying to fight whatever fecal situation/food poisoning/god only knows I’ve acquired this time. Calls for another acronym: T.I.A. (This Is Africa). Started to feel good enough to walk to the market around noon.
First items bought in the Mbengwi market: 3 “pears”, 4 tomatoes, 2 cucumbers, toilet paper, 2 loaves of sweet bread (not a huge fan, but it’s all they have), 2 boxes of matches, 100 CFA worth of ground nuts, 2 candles (for when the lights go out after dark, which the most surely will), credit for my phone, and a big blue bucket. I will use this bucket for everything. I immediately used it to flush the two toilets that are in my new apartment. There is no water hooked up yet so the only way to flush them is to pour a bucket full of water down it. Kinda works. I then filled it up again and left it outside, where it is now, warming for me to “shower” from it. I will also use it to wash my clothes, something I might take on tomorrow if I don’t move a few apartments down. The lock on my door is janky and I told my landlord he has to fix it or if something happens to me all the people in the US would blame him. This tactic, as I intended it, will make him work much faster…I’d give it about 2 weeks and a call every day from here on out until it happens. It’s really not that dangerous, I really just want to have the best locks, because why not? Update: the night I wrote this I became locked in my room. I flipped. Needless to say I have a bruise on my hand and my lock was fixed in the morning.
New apartment (for the moment): 2 bathrooms with indoor plumbing, yes, I agree, sounds impressive from what you were imagining. No. Nope. Each is about 2 by 4 feet. Literally. This would not be a problem if I didn’t also have to shower in each one of these (assuming the showerhead works…haven’t had water yet…so for now, bucket showering in a room that is so small….annnnnddd has an African toilet with what looks like baby leaches in it (I really do think that is what they are)…either way, not very contusive to washing the ankles or anything else that requires you to bend down. Well, and the bucket is on the ground…so I guess you’re pretty much eye to eye with a toilet for 50% of the bath. Either way, even in the last 20 hours which I’ve been here Mbengwi…the indoor toilets have come in quite handy, despite any other downfall. Better than walking around the house to a hole in the ground, as I had been doing when I lived at my host family’s house. 3 bedrooms…one will be a meditation (once I get bored enough to try it)/office/extension of the tiny lil’ kitchen, the other will be my room (with one of the bathrooms off it), and the other a guest room (for all of those who have told me they will come visit…at least until you discover how much the yellow fever shot costs….and other PCV’s…it’s the land of acronyms, but I’m sure you’re astute enough to put that one together).
I have ground nut stuck in my teeth but my hands are too dirty for me to put them anywhere near my mouth…and washing them would require some unpacking (and I don’t know where anything is at this point) and then a bit of a treck to find water. I am going to a compound after I finish with my bath (don’t worry, I took two Imodium) to continue on with the funeral which began yesterday (officially), for my supervisors husband/my pseudo host dad. There, they will drink palm wine (“white stuff” in pidgin), coming directly from the tree. Sweat…on the first day/hours it’s taped, and as it rapidly ferments it becomes rather bitter. Not a bad taste if you ask me, but not every white is of the same opinion. They call me “white man” here, and by call me I mean yell at me. Not as annoying as it sounds as long as you can laugh.
Mbengwi: my new village. After a bumpy, dusty, brain scrambling hour, you arrive in this quant, little village…tucked in the palm treed mountains, houses spread out, toilet paper available, rice and bean serving “mama’s” around every turn, tucked right in thrrrrr’ (as Nelly would say…sorry to all of you over 40….) I have already seen a youth center, the burial of an honored man, three men in a row walking, holding each other’s hands, a cockroach crawl out of my sink, the car park where I can hire a car to take me to Bamenda, the regional capital. When I finally got the key’s to my place, and opened it (about 6pm yesterday), a group of 7 of my Cameroonian guy friends walked in right behind me and plopped down a huge box of dried fish. They ate it on my little patio and spit the bones (the ones which they didn’t chew and swallow…not kidding) in my front lawn.
What I can hear: Celine Dion song playing outside. They love her. Love. 21 year old boys will blast it, assuming it is impressing you, as it is every other Cameroonian. All I can think of is Alma soccer camp (anyone ask Mary, Marisa, Emily, Callie or Biff what they think of when they hear her…I’ll bet you get a similar answer). Also, moto’s. Ton’s of motorcycle/vespa things buzzing along the main road out front. Banging, from the building which is being built across the street and probably, like many of the other building projects around here, will not get finished. The one down the street from me has so many plants growing it in I made a note to myself that I have to go through it. I’m imagining the secret garden but I suspect, like everything else here, it will not turn out the way I expect. Which means this place could turn out to be a Mecca, or a spider/rat filled death trap.