Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Getting Out

Ever since the self-imposed 72-hour house arrest a while ago, getting out of the house has become increasingly more difficult. Then the acquisition of Internet has made leaving my house everyday a serious effort. There are just so many productive things I can be doing online that it takes a lot more to justify a trek into town. However, every time I made it out of the house and into town, I am always glad to be out. Just making the initial steps is a challenging task.

I spent much of last week out and about recruiting people in village to attend my business class. Many conversations were had and I've began to really feel my place in the village. I was initially quite nervous about Juliette leaving since she was such huge part of my support network here. But in fact, things have once again worked out perfectly. Having Juliette and Gregoire here in village was the best transition into my new life in Batié. I couldn't have asked for a better setup. Now that months have gone by and I can really carry my own weight without them around.

The improvement of French has really helped and I feel much more confident starting projects now that I can more clearly explain myself and understand the others. The increased interaction with villagers has left me finding myself in many surprising situations. Last week I learned that the new girl working at the bank has a mom who is a tailor, so we went together to have my dress made in the International Women's Day fabric. She was such a kind lady!

Yesterday I went to a neighborhood quite far away to advertise my business class and had some really great conversations with people while eating my beans and beignet. Those moments were small, but I felt infinitely more productive than teaching English. Explaining to villagers that their banana-selling is a small enterprise for 5 minutes makes me feel more productive than a week of English teaching.

Then today, I needed toilet papers and had absolutely no other reason to go into town because I did all my shopping yesterday but forgot the most essential item. I had planned on doing all my work at home for the day, so was annoyed at my forgetfulness. Finally at 2pm, I dragged myself out of the house and made my way into town. On the way, I shared a moto with a guy who was very respectfully calling me madame and paid for my ride. So nice! Then I walked by a bar and it seem as though there was a party going on. I stopped in to say hello to people, and before I knew it, I got roped into having a Coke while they drink their beers. People were really excited because some notable from our town had been appointed by President Biya as some governmental delegate, which supposedly means he'll be doing great things for the town. Whether or now he really will do something, I don't know, but people were proud and excited about this.

This group of people were mostly speaking in the the local language, but still attempted to include me in conversations. We discussed my origin; whether I am Chinese or American. Then we discussed Taiwan, how it is not really China and it is definitely not Thailand. I informed them that Bangkok is in Thailand not Taiwan and the English colonized Hong Kong not Taiwan. And that we speak Chinese on the island and not English. The villagers love when I explain how there are many local languages in the Chinese culture other than the official Mandarin Chinese, kind of like in Africa. They love that! People asked me where I learned my French. I've been asked that a lot recently. So it's obvious that I don't speak French Cameroonian style enough for them to realize I learned it here. Some guy even said I speak French better than them today, which I very seriously doubt is true.

I've really grown a love for the French language and have been fervously learning it through different methods. I've been recalling how I learned English just a decade ago and it's been really interesting seeing the comparison. The topic of conversation when one is 12 requires much less vocabulary than a 22-year old. I find myself trying to talk about the education system, business management, project finance in French and that is not easy. Where as when I was 12, we talked about what one is doing on weekends and who is having a crush on who. Those are infinitely easier vocabs. Also if you are 12 and going to school where everyone speaks English and you don't, you learn very very quickly because you do NOT want to be the weirdo that can't be understood. If you recall your middle school/junior high years, there is nothing worse than being different from the norm. But now that I am 22 and nothing but different from the people I am living among, speaking French can go both ways. I can speak the bare minimum I need to get by and then come home to English books, English movies/tv shows, etc. and never speaking French properly or I can go the other way and self-force immersion. Learning a lanugage when one is older takes substantially more energy and motivation. It's a really interesting process and I am still discovering things about acquiring languages everyday!

Anyhow, got off track a bit. But all in all, things are so much better now, almost near wonderful! I am once again having the "my life is so crazy and amazing" thoughts while I walk down the dirt road into town. That's a good sign!

2 comments:

Megan said...

Yay! You sound really positive in this entry! :) I started learning French TODAY! Spring break next week so time to chat!

ps the word verification below is hoare!

Don said...

Just came across your blog and was curious what is (are) the local language(s) you refer to where you live? Have you learned any?

When I was in PC/Togo years ago I also focused mainly on French at first, but picked up a very little of some of the local first languages. Wasn't until later in other parts of the region that I actually learned to speak any African languages. One interesting discovery later is that there are some (superficial) structural similarities between many West African and East Asian languages.

Good luck with your work!