Cutting tomatoes in the dark

I probably hate roosters. Every morning around 4:00am, I am awoken by an army of roosters, saluting the world with a cock-a-doodle-doo one after the other again and again and again. I guess that I have gotten used to them in a way; is it possible that I am becoming a morning person? I never thought that that would happen. I rise before 6:00am some days and always before 7:00am; there is no such thing as sleeping in when you have chores to do. Right now, it is only 9:00pm, early for sleeping by my typical American standard.

It has been a week since I arrived in Bokito and I am already settling in with my new family. It was SUPER AWKWARD the first two days or so, because while I don’t understand French, my family understands even less English. Additionally, I suddenly have five brothers. Thank goodness my 18-year-old female cousin comes around often, except I think she stays solely for the television in my house; telenovellas are très populaires in Cameroon. It seems that everyone in Bokito is related to everyone else. I am introduced to a new relative every day. My new best friend is my five-year-old brother, named Junior. He escorted me to and picked me up from “school” (training) the other day. During our walks, the village seems to ignore my presence and greets him instead with a “Bonjour, Junior!” Being acknowledged without fail during my walks to and from school is something that will take a while to get used to. In Washington, DC, I became accustomed to being invisible on the street. Now, I am a spectacle for schoolchildren and adults alike. “Bon soir, a blanche!” is the usual greeting, accompanied by a wide-eyed stare and a small wave from younger children. Apparently I am now a Golden Girl.

After his absence throughout this past weekend, I discovered that the eldest son is not actually related to my family at all. Many children and teenagers who reside in Bokito are from smaller villages nearby. In order for them to attend a certain school, like my “brother” Guy, who attends a technical school, they must stay with families in town. I believe that my host family considers Guy to be part of their family even though he goes home to see his real mother on the weekends. He and the two older boys, Justin and Alain, who are 16 and 13 years of age, are often found doing chores such as washing the dishes, doing laundry, and helping their two young brothers with bathing.

In the past week, I have attended Catholic mass with my host mother, learned how to do laundry by hand, and learned how to prepare a Cameroonian dinner. Catholic mass was in French of course, and lasted for two hours. I heard that Protestant services are three to four hours in length. I found Catholic mass in Cameroon to be very similar to mass in the U.S. While I did not understand much of the French, I was still able to recognize certain practices, such as the reading of the gospel, sharing of the peace, communion, saying of the creed, and making donations to the church for the community. There was a lot more singing, however. The priest gave new parishioners such as myself and a few other trainees a warm welcome, and the entire church sang a song for us!

Not only did I literally cut tomatoes in the dark (without cutting myself!), but I would like to think that I have learned to do a lot of things without the usual amenities. I bathe in a pit latrine with a bucket and one tin wall between me and the roosters. I have found myself in the presence of the largest cockroaches (les cafards) that I have ever seen. I have only laid eyes on one mouse, and I pray that I never see one in my bedroom ever again. When there is no electricity, the only thing in my household that changes is the ability to watch telenovellas. My mother continues preparing dinner, even when she cannot see the knife. Blackouts are so prevalent that my family rarely misses a beat. Still, I think that my brother Junior truly appreciated the small flashlight I gave him the other day. He takes it everywhere.

Junior and my 3-year-old brother Guy Pascal currently have colds and I have noticed that other PCTs have become sick as well. We are adjusting to new diets and lifestyles and some of us are doing better than others. I definitely need to drink more water because, as I say often, il fait chaud, and I do not want to become dehydrated. My host father owns a poissonerie, so I am consuming more fish along with a lot of palm oil and salt.

French class is frustrating, but I know that within the next few weeks, I will be able to understand a lot more than I do now. I am forced to practice my French all day, and I find myself translating my thoughts into French even when it is not necessary. It is exhausting! We are beginning cross-cultural and technical (health) training, and will soon receive our bicycles. I hope to see more of Bokito by bike. Some of the PCTs would like to bike to Bafia, but I am not sure if I am ready for such a long trip yet.

Tomorrow, we will travel to Bafia, where I can use a computer to add this post. There is no internet in Bokito. For now, I must go scare off the cockroaches who are exploring the items on my desk. I hope they haven’t done too much damage.

P.S. I would like to take this opportunity to wish my friend a very happy 23rd birthday. If you read this, you know who you are :).

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One thought on “Cutting tomatoes in the dark

  1. ahhhh I LOVE your blog…totally want to go to Cameroon now. Speaking of power outages…mine just came back! As you said…c’est Afrique! Hope your french is getting awesome!

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