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.