Saturday, October 4, 2008

Efficiency? Quoi?

Time flies when you are having fun! Can’t believe it’s already October! I continue to love my village, meeting new people every day, getting wonderful support from my Chinese and French friends, meanwhile learning to tame my temper with quirky Cameroonian behaviors.

The latest of my bad temper towards Cameroonians occurred a few days ago when I was at the bank attempting to withdraw cash. I don’t recall the last time I had put so much energy into getting $80 out of my checking account. Usually, it doesn’t ever phase me to drive-thru the ATM and withdraw the money with a nice little plastic VISA check card. The whole process takes 5 minutes and I do it on my way to things. Here though, taking $80 out took up my entire day.

I got to the bank at 2pm and it closes at 3. I though, an hour is plenty of time even if there is a line – WRONG. I got there and there was a line probably 15 people deep, which, in US standards, would still move relatively fast. However, not only is there only one cashier working, the system of “standing-in-line” apparently works very differently. I was not informed that it is okay to leave the line for 20 minutes or even longer, and then can still come back and reclaim your spot. The line was moving slow as it was, and at 2:45, at least 5 people somehow came in various spots of the line in front of me. At this point, I attempted to argue with guy who came right in front of me to “reclaim his spot”. Then I realize it’s useless to explain logic and try to correct this social norm. Instead, I turned around, outraged, and left the bank.

When there is a roomful of Cameroonians, it’s not too difficult to draw attention when the only white girl (I know I am Asian, but they think I am white) gets mad and leaves. I get a call 5 minutes later from a bank employee whom had opened my account for me (one that took 3 hours). He said to come back in the morning and go see him. I did just that, and this time, I got my money in 15 minutes. The guy filled out a form and then took me down to the vault and I got my money, just like that. I am pretty sure this smooth process occurred because a.) I am white/Asian, b.) I am with Peace Corps and they get plenty of PCVs who bank there and c.) I am American. While it was great for me that I cut through at least 30 people and got my money, it made me realized just how much the phrase “life is unfair” means in this country. It’s a sad reality.

My frustrations with Cameroonian ways of things usually seize to exist when I return to my village. Last night, I held a multi-national fête at my house. My French friends had found someone who will be gardening for me. So we decided to invite them for BBQ. At the party, there were 3 Cameroonians, 2 Americans, and 3 French. Good times. Cameroonians love to dance and will dance to any upbeat music. When you are with Cameroonians, there is no need for a dance club; my living room is a dance club!

Other great things about Cameroonians is that while they love to ask you if you’ve kept something for them from your trip, even if it’s to the provincial capital, they also love to share. Immanuel, the teacher who invited me to the ceremony a few weeks ago, stopped by my house yesterday and gave me a big bag of yam and prunes, just because.

In other news, my house is slowly turning into posh corps. This past week, I made several major purchases, including a HP printer! I am tired of sacrificing the superb designs/fonts of my Mac when printing out flyers or other materials on an old PC computer. This little dandy printer should increase my efficiency as a volunteer! While a printer is somewhat legit, the fridge, blender and coffee maker were definite luxury purchases. I bought a small fridge that’s much similar to the fridge I had in college, maybe slightly larger. When I fridge shopped in college, I simply went to Target, put one in the shopping cart, paid with my credit card, wheeled it to my car, loaded in the trunk, and went home. Here, I walked through a street that sells appliances. Open and check out various fridges, then haggle for the prices. When I finally found one that’s new and decently priced, I then had to plug it in, try it out first in the store. Then, I paid for the fridge, hired a guy who would wheeled the fridge to my Chinese friend’s house, and then had someone drive it to my village. Seriously? Seriously.


Getting used to life here is a process. Just when I feel like this life seems to be very comfortable as though I’ve been living it all along, things happen that are so foreign remind me that I am indeed new to this life. I may go through this next two years and still at the end of it find things that knock the wind out of me with its foreigness. On the other hand, there are definite perks about this life. Today, I sat in my living room and listened to an entire Beethoven sonata, with all of the movements. During this half an hour, I listened without distraction; I listened intently thinking of all the musical qualities I onced learned in music theory classes. The only other thing I was doing besides listening was drinking tea. I don't recall the last time I had the luxury of doing that. If I did, it was probably either high school or freshman year of college when I was listening so I could play better. Life here allows me to indulge such simple life pleasures.

2 comments:

Megan said...

Today, I sat in my living room and listened to an entire Beethoven sonata, with all of the movements. During this half an hour, I listened without distraction; I listened intently thinking of all the musical qualities I onced learned in music theory classes. The only other thing I was doing besides listening was drinking tea. = NICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm so glad you are able to keep music in your life :)

Sooooo ..... the trip is THIS JANUARY!!!! Currently in search of more details, but will let you know as soon as I get some and see if it is feasible for me to go.

MISS YOOOOU!!!!!

Siobhan in Cameroon said...

A fridge, a blender... and a printer!?! You are officially posh core ms. beverly hill. Just joking, you know i'm secretly jealous over the blender anyway.