SNAIL MAIL

How could I have been so inconsiderate as to deprive you people of the world of my address?? You could have been sending me letters and care packages this whole time! Silly me!

So here it is…

Sister Jaclyn Escudero

P.O. Box 21

Misaje, Donga-Mantung Division

Northwest Region

Cameroon

Africa

Air Mail/Par Avion

“Sister” is mainly for packages. There is a theory out there that people are less likely to try to open packages and steal from someone of God. If you steal from a nun/missionary/etc., you’re stealing from God, and you’ll probably go to hell. If you steal from anyone else, God will forgive you, so you’re good.

I also included “Africa” because as much as you might not like to admit it, you probably had never heard of Cameroon until now. And the USPS still has no idea where Cameroon is.

I look forward to receiving your letter! If you find my Hogwarts letter (I think it got lost in the mail 12 years ago), I’d appreciate if you would send that on to me, too. Write to me about your day, your life, your favorite foods, your love for me, anything. When I receive a letter, it doesn’t matter who it’s from, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Seriously.

I love photos, too! I like to decorate my house with photos, so if you include some photos, that would be awesome. Send photos of us or just photos that would remind me of you every time I look at my wall.

Write your address (legibly) so I can write back!

Psych-Out 2

Own-race bias:

Psychology’s Definition: Tendency for people to have difficulty identifying people of another race; the tendency for people to more accurately recognize faces of their own

My Definition: When you believe that individuals of a race other than your own, especially a race foreign to you, look alike, and thus, you have trouble telling people apart. You find it easy identifying physical differences between members of your own race or another race you are very familiar with.

My own personal bias is in favor of Caucasians and Southeast Asians. I grew up in a small town, exposed to many white people. I also was raised by my Chinese mother’s family. Because of where I was raised, I often have trouble identifying differences in South Asians, Latinos, and sometimes Africans.

How are white people biased? We tend to primarily use hair (style, color, length, etc.); non-white races often have the same hair color within their race.

Cameroonians are always changing their hair. Additionally, children must keep their heads shaved for school. Sometimes I can’t even tell the difference between boy and girl, which is funny because gender barriers are so strong here. Good thing I’m decent with names.

Cameroonians are biased, too. Many who are not exposed to westerners think all white people look alike, and that they must be related to one another. In the rare event that another white person is spotted in my village, my Cameroonian friends encourage me to go say hello; we must know each other. I refuse, and the white person does not approach me, either. As the only white person around, they only know me but don’t understand why I can’t remember every person I meet.

Walking to the football field with my nine-year-old neighbor Angela, we saw a boy running on the other side of the field. I could barely make out what he was wearing, let alone identify if it was even a boy we were seeing. Angela said, “That’s Joel!” I asked her how she knew it was her 11-year-old brother, and she just shrugged. She called his name and he turned and came over to us. I guess she just knows how her brother runs. Or has much better vision than I do. Probably both.

*More “Psych-Out”s to come! Hey, psychology is what I know… And yes, that is a reference to the (awesome) television show “Psych”. God, I miss television. And electricity.

Psych-Out 1

Remember how I studied psychology for four years at one of the best universities in the country? Yea, I had forgotten about that, too. There is a lot I don’t remember from all of those long lectures (I never could function properly before 10am), but some of it has stayed with me, mainly concepts in social psychology. So here’s a little lesson for those of you who have never studied psychology, and a refresher for those who have.

 

The Spotlight Effect:

Psychology’s Definition: Thinking that everyone is going to notice something about you; is paying attention

My definition: When you feel as though everyone is watching, but they’re really not. Examples in the U.S. include feeling watched when you’re crying in your car (watch Dane Cook’s “I Did My Best”), dancing in public, or just walking down the street. You wake up in the morning with a huge pimple on your chin. You can’t leave your house because EVERYONE WILL SEE YOU. And they will laugh. Really hard. On the inside.

 

So how does the spotlight effect translate to my situation? A white (well, I look all-white) American girl living in Africa? The reality is that it does not really translate. I actually am being watched and closely scrutinized. Everywhere I go, I am greeted by people I know, and often by people I do not know. Just today, four young children called out to me “Auntie Jaclyn! Auntie Jaclyn!” I knew the name of one of them, but not the names of the other three. Still, I smiled and greeted them as friends.

 

Living in a village of less than 4,000 people, though not including those who come into town every day for business, and a village without light, my fellow villagers become bored and have nothing to do but gossip or talk about the weather (news flash, it rains every day). I can finally appreciate the term “village gossip” because it has now become almost synonymous with “white man gossip”. I walk down the street or sit at a public event and am conscious that I have many eyes on me. Market day is probably the worst day of the week. Children (and adults) from neighboring villages stare and point, and sometimes yell out to me: “White man! Nassara!” Yes, I’m aware I have pale skin; I don’t need reminding.

 

So how do I deal? Well, one of the first things I did when I arrived in Misaje is hang curtains. I bought some plain blue fabric in Nkambe and within the week, had it tailored in Misaje and hung the curtains myself. I didn’t do a great job, but I did well enough to give myself some privacy. I have alone time in my house, which is fine, until I leave my house and am immediately swarmed with people asking if I was in the house. Um, obviously. “The whole time?” Yes…why do you even care??

 

Still, when I am not inside my house, I have to be careful what I wear, what I do and say, where I go, and who I associate with. I went to visit Ben in Nkambe for the Labour Day celebrations May 1st and when I returned, my friend said that he had seen me in Nkambe with my husband. “Not my husband.” “I thought he was your husband.” “He’s not my husband; he’s my brother.” “Oh. Well, I thought he was your husband.” “Not my husband.”

 

I own one pair of jeans in this country. I rarely wear them. When I do decide to put them on and sweat all day, everyone notices. “Auntie, ya dress is nice.” “WOW!” Um, I dress like this every day in the U.S. It’s just too hot here most days.

 

To be honest, it will take adjusting when I’m back in the U.S. and people don’t constantly stop me on the street. I might actually be early to meetings…

Dry Season vs. Rainy Season

Dry Season Rainy Season
Pros
  • Fewer insects
  • Clothes dry quickly
  • A permanent spray tan can have its perks, especially if you’re usually pasty white like me
  • WATER
  • Plants grow
  • Cooler temperatures
  • Windows down when driving
  • It’s socially acceptable to stay in my house when it’s raining
  • Humidity is good for the skin (I think?)
Cons
  • NO WATER
  • DUST. SO MUCH DUST.
  • Dusty car rides, sometimes involving hyperventilation
  • Constantly dirty
  • Dry skin
  • Cannot schedule anything
  • Trying to explain the U.S.’s four seasons to a Cameroonian
  • Less sunshine
  • Humidity
  • Clothes take forever to dry
  • Impassable roads (i.e., MUD)
  • Insects!
  • Hail storms
  • Unstable cell phone network during storms
  • Cannot schedule anything
  • Trying to explain the U.S.’s four seasons to a Cameroonian

This morning it rained. It doesn’t usually rain in the morning, but I was thankful for it. I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep.

When I arrived in Cameroon, rainy season was at its peak. During my first three months at post, between November and March, I learned how to live during the dry season. Now it’s back to rainy season, so I’ve compiled a list of pros and cons for each season. Note that I listed “WATER” as a pro during the rainy season. Unfortunately, this is only in the form of rain water. I have not had running water since January. There is some public water pipe problem that is too complicated for me to understand (or I just can’t be bothered to try), so I will not have running water until that problem is resolved. Until then, I must continue to collect rain water, to filter to drink and to use for dishwashing, laundry, and flushing my toilet. Collecting rain water, an idea that mortified me when I first read about it in another PCV’s account, has now become a fact of life. Welcome to Africa.

Not only is it rainy season, but it’s also the (summer) holiday between school terms AND Ramadan. No one can be bothered to do anything right now, except maybe play football. They’ll do that rain or shine. I sat at my friend’s house a few weeks ago, waiting for the rain to lessen because I had forgotten my umbrella. When I became tired of small talk, I got up and said I wanted to head home and make dinner. “But it’s raining!” She lent me her umbrella and I left. So many people have umbrellas but are still terrified to go out in the rain. I’m still trying to understand it. Laziness, maybe? I guess that makes me lazy, too, sometimes. Or I just know that no one else will show up to work early when there’s rain, so why should I bother doing so? Those who don’t own umbrellas tell me they don’t have money (yet they have five children), and so they show up more than an hour late to meetings because “there was too much rain!” Priorities.