Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The First Night

Today marks the end of first month at post and my first night alone. Kate successfully made it to her post long enough to stay the night today and now I am completely alone. It’s a bit strange, but definitely much needed alone time. Not that I minded Kate’s company, but I was not very productive. I’ve done more today that contribute to my role as an actual PCV than the past month combine. Incredible! If I keep up with this rate, I will be PCV of the year in no time! Or maybe not.

I have been moving forward as a PCV here over the past several days. The teacher whom I met on the street last Friday, Immanuel, invited me to a ceremony on Sunday. I had thought it was simply a meeting with people, not realizing it was a full-blown, true-to-form Cameroonian ceremony! At the end of the day, although no real work was arranged, I met a lot of people and saw villages near me that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and most of all, a real culture experience! Things take a while here, and I shouldn’t have expected that one meeting would lead to concrete plans for projects.

This interesting Sunday began with Immanuel picking me up at my house on his moto. He was all decked out in a suit. I was glad I at least put on a skirt when I finally realized we were going to a ceremony. After putting on my snowmobile style helmet and side saddling onto the back of moto, off we went! We climbed up many hills on dirt roads. I had thought my village is filled with pretty amazing views until I was more or less in a village on top of a mountain. As we were crossing through these pathways into quaint villages, the phrase, “living in the middle of no where,” took on a whole new meaning.

The ceremony was to celebrate the opening of a new community center funded by a rich man from that town. I must say, that little place on top of the mountain is much more developed than my town, which exists on one of the few pave roads in Cameroon. It all comes down to rich people actually willing to give back to the community, and not pocketing it all or feed into the mass corruption. Side note: Transparency International has consistently ranked Cameroon as one of the most corrupted countries in the world.

The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 10am. We arrived at quarter to 10 and there was not a single person there for the event. Typical. Immanuel and I then went to the market and had breakfast at an omelet shack. Through conversation, I was very impressed by Immanuel’s English considering he isn’t Anglophone and had learned it all from school and simply finding the chance to speak when he can. I also learned a funny coincidence through our chat. He is from a village where a RPCV, whom is a boss of a friend, whom I had emailed prior to arrival, was posted. As it turns out, he remembers this RPCV from 10 years ago very well! What a small world!

After breakfast, we went back to this community center and then waited at the little bar for another two hours. I shook a lot of hands with people whom I don’t really remember. The important folks didn’t arrive until 12:30 and it was 1pm before the ceremony even started. Another thing I didn’t realize was that the benefactor for this community school also built two brand new classrooms for Immanuel’s school. Immanuel is the director of that small school in addition to being a teacher. Since I am a guest of his, I had the honor of sitting in the “important seat”. It’s all fine and well until the ceremony was conducted in patoi (local language). It’s just like hearing a bunch of noises. I had no idea what was going on. I was forever grateful when they would turn the program to French for a short bit. Through that, I realized how much more French I know compare to a complete new language. I also was able to relate to Kate when I fail to translate for her when spending time with the Chinese people.

Aside from the language difficulty, the ceremony was really interesting! I loved the dancing and the singing that occurs in between every speech. Cameroonians have a great voice and are full of energy! There were groups of ladies who dressed in the same pagne signifying their community group. They all held branches of one type of tree and used it to celebrate and decorate. This was the first Cameroonian ceremony I’ve been where the Americans/Peace Corps aren’t involved in the planning, so this is the “real deal” so to speak. I loved it; even though it was somewhat painfully long to sit through, worsen by the language that I don’t understand.

In other community connection, yesterday, I capitalized on the fact neighbor kids like to hang out at my house. School had started, so they stopped by after school. I asked them what they learned to day, they said math. These boys are about 12, so I proceeded to quiz them on the timetable. Before too long, it turned into a math tutoring session. I successfully taught them the trick about multiples of 10 and 11. They were really excited to be quizzed and saw it as a game. Before they left, they asked, “can we come back for another lesson?” What 12 year-old American kids do you know that would voluntarily ask for math lessons? It was one of the more rewarding moments that I’ve had thus far, and I look forward to more. Oh, and explaining timetable rules in my bad French was interesting…

Today, I had an interesting conversation with my counterpart, Gabriel, about the community. He said to me, “people in this town don’t work. They drink and sit around, and only work a little.” I then think to myself, isn’t that a self-fulfilling prophecy if that’s how everyone thinks of his or her town? What improvement can possibly be made with that mentality? I then replied, “That’s a mentality. That can be changed.” He said, “That’s hard though.” No kidding. No one said getting a society out of poverty is easy task. That conversation frustrated but also motivated me. I don’t believe that everyone in this community likes to drink and not work. There may be only a few motivated ones, but that’s a perfectly good starting point. I just have to find those motivated few.

Funny thing of today: I went to buy a basket of potatoes today and after I paid, it began to pour. Here in Cameroon, when it rains, you stop and wait until it’s passes. I even become accustomed to that. Usually, when I forget my umbrella, I wait. But now it’s a habit. Today, I had my umbrella in my bag, but I still waited. The mama that I bought the potatoes from was so cute and she invited me to sit. I tried to talk to her, but turns out she only knows enough French to sell me those potatoes, and the rest is patoi. So we sat there together and wait for the rain pass. I tried to talk with body language, but then gave up soon after. It was cute. I thought of my grandmother who doesn’t speak Chinese. If there were a volunteer in her village, this is exactly what would’ve happen.

Another funny thing of today: The power was out for a good half an hour due to the heavy rain. Then it came back on just as I needed to go use the latrine. Why I trust the power to stay on, I don’t know. I didn’t bring my lantern and before you know it, I’m in squatting position and it is pitch black. You don’t realize how black darkness can be until you are in an African latrine on a rainy night while the power is out. There is not an ounce of light. Thankfully, 10 minutes passed and the light came back on. It would’ve been a very VERY long night if the power never came back. Yikes. Lesson learned: bring light to latrine at night, especially when the power is being fickle.

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