On being 21 and on becoming a palindromic age in less than one day

22-Oct-2012

 

I am writing this on my birthday eve, otherwise known as October 22nd to laypersons. Twenty-one is the age to be in the U.S., as many who read this know. It means that you are truly, truly, an adult. I guess that’s true. I’ve been 21 for a year and I guess I’m an adult, but I’m not a grown up. So what was it like being 21? Did it feel different? Short answer: Nahhh. Long answer: I guess I would have to reflect on the past year. So here goes…

 

My birthday last year was spent at university (the year before was spent in London). I remember that in the morning, I had to meet with a classmate at the library for a presentation, and then my friend Jess bought me a hot chocolate at Starbucks. We then went to her dorm, as my friend Cat insisted that I stop by. Waiting for me were two more friends, Alex and Morgan, and a chocolate cake containing and covered with M&Ms, my favorite candy. It was super delicious, along with pumpkin ice cream yummm. I was also given a replica of Bert the Farting Hippo from NCIS (look it up; it’s the best show). Later, I met up with Cat again, along with our friend Eva, and we took the metro to a Mat Kearney concert. I took many photos with the Happy F*cking Birthday camera that Jess gave me. After the concert (which was amazing), Cat and I returned to my dorm with our friend Melissa and shared wine from the winery of my friend Gretchen. Overall, it was a very satisfying birthday, I must say!

 

NOTE: Things mentioned above that don’t exist in Cameroon: Starbucks, M&Ms, pumpkin ice cream, metros, Happy F*cking Birthday cameras, and Mat Kearney. My birthday this year will most definitely be very different.

 

Anyway, the rest of my senior year was full of stress – job stress, school stress, internship stress, oh-god-I’m-graduating-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-stress, and maybe-I’m-joining-the-Peace-Corps? stress. Looking back, it went by quickly and I think that there are many things that I could have, would have, should have done, but I don’t mind. I spent time with my college friends, called other friends and family regularly, and tried not to take for granted the people in my life. Over this past summer, whilst completing the medical review and other necessary documents for the Peace Corps, I lived with my mother back in my hometown and volunteered at the HIV clinic at the hospital where I was born. Back to my roots. I also took advantage of my first flexible summer by visiting friends and family.

 

As you likely know, I left for the Peace Corps in mid-September. A little over one month later, I sit in my room writing this.

 

So, I guess 21 meant growing up, even if only a little bit. I think that sometimes age is a state of mind. How old or young you are can be measured by how old or young you feel. Often, it is not so easy to guess a person’s age without knowledge of his or her appearance. How do we measure maturity and scale or quantify personality? This is not easy to define. Maturity does not have to be relative. My fellow trainees have all had different experiences, and at times, I feel as though they have “done more” than me. But it is all subjective. You cannot compare experiences with a rubric or a scale. Our experiences can define us, but only in the way we let them. I have learned so much in my almost 22 years, and I look forward to my 23rd year of life bringing even more experiences.

 

[Author’s note: Birthday post coming soon!]

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La nourriture Camerounaise

21-Oct-2012

Today, I ate the most delicious beans. They were magical beans. My mother prepared red beans with some sort of tomato sauce, and it was the first time that I actually finished everything on my plate. Knowing that I will probably get fish and rice tomorrow, I savored these exceptional beans.

 

Fish, along with rice and other starches, are staples of my diet. There are probably tubers growing out of my ears, as I eat manioc, potatoes, and macabo several times a week. Pasta (most often spaghetti) is cooked and then mixed in palm oil with vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, green beans, onions, and garlic. When I am served fish, I always choose the tail over the head, so as to avoid the eyes, and spend the duration of dinner taking out the spine and checking for bones before I take each bite.

 

I have had couscous de maïs three times now. My tongue tells me that it tastes like absolutely nothing. I have watched my family eat fistfuls of couscous (yes, with their hands) and I just don’t understand the appeal. I hope that will change.

 

I often become sleepy during dinner. This could be because:

  1. I wake up before 6am every day.
  2. Starchy foods make me (and everyone) sleepy.
  3. I eat at a coffee table (un gueridon), which means I must hunch over when I eat.
  4. The smoke from my kitchen is getting to me.
  5. All of the above.

 

If I am in Bafia and want a sandwich for lunch, I go to sandwich lady. I have not yet heard anyone identify this woman’s actual name, and I feel as though she would not care if we called her sandwich lady, because she is making bank by setting up her stand outside the Bafia training center every day. Anyway, sandwich lady makes sandwiches with French bread, mayonnaise, avocados, onions, tomatoes, beans, and piment, if you’re into that (which I’m not; her beans are spicy enough). If I am in Bokito and want a sandwich for lunch, I must prepare it myself after walking to various booths and storefronts looking for food items. Sandwiches often consist of French bread, avocados, onions, tomatoes, eggs, and cheese similar to Laughing Cow cheese (I wish it tasted better, but hey, it’s the only cheese I have found).

 

When we have school in Bokito, we eat lunch at a restaurant owned by the family of one of the other trainees, as arranged by the Peace Corps. We are usually served legumes, beans, pasta or rice, fish (which I avoid for obvious reasons), cabbage, and fried plantains that I like to pretend are French fries.

 

I have heard that there is a delicious omelet/spaghetti shop near my house, so I definitely need to check that out soon. For now, I will continue to eat at the restaurant when there is school, and snack on dark chocolate, bananas, or oranges (they’re green here) between meals. Also, a Coca-Cola a (almost every) day keeps the I-really-miss-American-food away. Bring on the heart disease.

A play-by-play of what happens when it rains and I am dans ma maison

21-Oct-2012

  1. My brothers inform me that it is (indeed) raining. C’est vrai??
  2. My brothers shut the windows.
  3. One of my brothers turns off the television.
  4. My eldest younger brother, Guy, jumps up for no apparent reason.
  5. Guy sits back down and finishes eating.
  6. Alain and Justin run out of the house to retrieve the pots and benches.
  7. Guy leaves the room.
  8. Alain and Justin return.
  9. Guy Pascal climbs into his mother’s lap.
  10. Junior gets up to put his jacket on because it is apparently cold in the house (“Il fait froid!”).
  11. I smile because I enjoy the cool breeze.
  12. Guy comes out of his room wearing only shorts and holding an umbrella.
  13. Guy runs out of the house and returns to the doorway with his now wet clothes.
  14. Guy attempts to close his umbrella, while Junior watches, holding Guy’s clothes.
  15. Guy wrings out his clothes.
  16. Everyone says good night and goes to bed. Before 9pm.
  17. I brush my teeth in the rain.
  18. Upon returning to my room, I discover water dripping from my ceiling.
  19. I replace my wet backpack with my bucket.
  20. I lie in bed typing this while hoping that the ceiling drip does not develop into a full-fledged flood.
  21. I text my friend Kathleen, who assures me that she will notify the Coast Guard if I do not show up for school the next day.
  22. It continues to rain.

Two hours later, my ceiling continues to drip, but no Coast Guard alert has yet been issued.

Things I never fully appreciated until spending 4 weeks in Cameroon…

18-Oct-2012

 

–          Electricity

–          Baby goats

–          Puppies

–          The fact that bras make really great pockets (seriously)

–          Clocks, watches, other things that tell time

–          Running water

–          Bald people (washing all of this hair is not fun)

–          The snow and cold weather in general

–          Soap and hand sanitizer

–          Younger siblings (probably because I didn’t have any until now)

–          Insect repellent

–          Benadryl, Benadryl, and more Benadryl

–          Public transportation in the U.S. (I have yet to brave a moto taxi)

–          Alternatives to soap operas

–          Swimming pools

–          Showers. Actual showers.

–          Same goes for toilets

–          Machines. All kinds.

–          Mirrors. I don’t know what I look like, but I guess it’s better that way.

–          Every food available in the U.S. Everything. Including cake. (I think that food will be my next blog subject)

 

Also, mosquito nets serve multiple purposes:

–          Keeping the mosquitoes out, duh.

–          Keeping other insects out.

–          Keeping out the mice and other rodents.

–          Keeping me physically and mentally stable during the night.

I believe I can fly

14-Oct-2012

 

So this weekend has been quite eventful. For one, I can now cross “attend a Cameroonian party” off my Peace Corps bucket list, but more on that later. Saturday morning (the 13th), we woke up at the crack of dawn to go to Bafia for “Open Doors.” The language trainers set up seven stations in the training center for scenarios. I started in the hospital, where I had to explain to the doctor that I had indigestion and a fever, all in French. I went on to teach someone in my family how to prepare an American dish (macaroni and cheese), inquire at the bank about opening an account, and purchase a meal at a restaurant. I also had to negotiate prices with a vender at the market, file a complaint about a burglary in my house at the police station, which required me paying a small fee; and purchase a bus ticket at the station.

 

We returned to Bokito that afternoon, and after hanging out with the other health trainees for a while, I went to the supermarket to buy some laundry detergent and arrived home before curfew. Upon entering my house, I found about eight people all dressed in the same outfits listening to Cameroonian music blasting from a large speaker on the kitchen table. There were beer bottles all around (Mützig, because it is “winning” right now) and plates of food. My host mother ushered me into my bedroom, where we ate couscous together with my two young brothers and my cousin stopped by. Apparently, an association meeting was taking place in my living room and while my father is a member of said association, my mother is not. From what I gathered, it was a work-related association. I asked her why we were eating in my bedroom, as that was the first time she had ever spent more than a minute in my room, and she claimed that there were no available chairs or table space in the living room for our use. If you ask me, I think there was some exclusion going on. We ate couscous with legumes and drank Fanta. Couscous here has no real flavor. We finished eating and moved into the living room, where we watched some drunken grown-ups start to dance. A machine hooked up to the TV provided a large file of Cameroonian music for them to choose from and subsequently blast from the speaker. I danced with my brothers Junior and Guy Pascal and took photos of everyone in their matching pagnes. My mother stayed seated, singing quietly and moving her body with the music. She said that she was tired, but I think that she was just shy about showing off her dance moves because I know she likes to sing and dance. I think that she feels that she does not fit in with the group. Whenever I sat down next to her to take a rest, she would later say “Allons danser”, or “Let’s dance.” When we got up to dance, she and her husband did not dance together. Public display of affection is rare, even when a little drunk.

 

And then R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” came on. And it was magical. The only other American song that played was Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” Some of the men did indeed know who Billy Joel was (is), and said “Il est très bon!” I, of course, agreed.

 

Towards the end, some women came over with a baby and one of the women in the association took the baby and started breastfeeding the baby. Right there in the living room. No big deal. She might have had some beer and palm wine earlier on in the party, but I don’t remember.

 

Today (Sunday the 14th), I washed my clothes again. My hands hurt. After two hours of laundry, my host mother suggested that we go to the bar across the street and buy Coca-Colas with my money as a reward for our hard work. I said why not, and so we did. We ate couscous again for lunch. Couscous in Cameroon literally tastes like nothing. I cannot describe it. A woman I did not know joined us for lunch and she asked why I do not eat with my hands. I said that I prefer forks and spoons. What I wanted to say was that my hands are dirty (and so are yours!) but I refrained. Lessons are for later and for people whose names I actually know.

 

After lunch, my cousin Chimene took me to her English teacher’s house to get my hair braided. I was both excited and nervous. Thankfully, being an English teacher, Sabine speaks English so I was able to convey any concerns that I had (e.g., uhhh that really hurts my head…). We walked to her salon, which was located on the main road, across the street from the Texaco bar. I have no idea what the bar is actually called; there is just an old Texaco gas station sign standing tall outside of the building. Anyway, when we got to the salon, I sat down in the empty chair and Sabine began parting my hair. It was pain. How people do this regularly, I have no idea. It only took an hour, but I had a headache and neck ache afterward. Oh well, I think I look pretty awesome. I will post photos when I can.

 

And then I went to the training center and then returned home, where my brothers admired my new look. And that was my weekend. Voilà!

I bless the rains down in Africa

09-Oct-2012

At the present moment, I am concerned about the possibility of my room caving in because there is what sounds like a typhoon occurring outside of my house. I have never experienced such a loud or intense rainstorm before. There is also no electricity in Bokito right now (it is 5 minutes to 10pm), and I can see very little with my flashlight. I really hope that my house is not flooding right now. And there’s the thunder… WHOA WHOA WHOA it just keeps getting more intense. Ok my computer battery is dying so I’m going to go ahead and turn off my computer and scope out the possible flood situation. Cross your fingers!

We are family

08-Oct-2012

 

Today, I learned several things. For one, I learned that my two teenage brothers Justin and Alain are in fact my cousins, as they are the nephews of my mother (the sons of my mother’s brother); Guy, the twenty-year-old, is the cousin of my host mother (her aunt’s son). The two young boys who are five and three are the only biological children of my host parents. It has been almost two weeks and I am just now discovering this. C’est Afrique, I suppose. Super complicated, except not at all. In this collective culture, it is not uncommon for a family to take in the children of another, whether they are related or not. There are many reasons for this. My mother took in her cousin and two nephews so that they could attend the technical school in Bokito. Their biological parents might aid in the school costs, etc., but I do not know at this time. Adults do this to help out their friends and family, and they consider these children their children, and address them in that way. My female cousin Chimene is my sister, and my fellow trainees are also my brothers and sisters. This is the way of the Cameroonians.