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.