Saturday, March 7, 2009

Roller Coaster

A while ago, Kate told me she misses going to amusement parks and riding roller coasters, and my response was, "isn't taking a car to Batié a wild roller coaster ride every time?" Today, I was reminded of that yet again. I have been in this country for 9 months now (wow!) and besides the first three months of living in the Peace Corps incubation, I have been taking the "public transportation" for 6 months now and luckily, knock on wood, nothing has happened. When you are on a roller coaster ride, the possibility of flying out of your seat is an illusion, the safety requirement are usually very strict and you are bound to be fine. Not when you ride a car here. You can so totally fly out of your seat.

This morning, after a visit to my Chinese family in Bafoussam, I returned to village with a blackboard given by the family, a roll of expensive conference paper I had bought before I was given a blackboard, the copies for the first week of my business class, and leftover birthday cake. I had help getting everything to the place where I could find a car to Batié. Cameroonians are champions at making the impossible possible. When you think no one else could possibly fit in the car, they find a way to squeeze the person in. When you think there is no way this car can run, it runs. When I thought how in the world are we going to get this blackboard in this car, they made it work, with half of it sticking out the trunck, nothing to tie it down. Then, we began the journey to Batié. The road from Baf to Batié ís especially hilly and when you have a crazy driver like I did today, which is often, there is nothing but counting yourself lucky when you actually make it to destination. The roads are paved, but only designed to have one lane for each direction. I wonder what Cameroonians would think of the 10 lane highway in all major metropolitan areas of the USA. Anyway, the drivers like to pass cars in front of them by more or less driving on the wrong side of the road. Maybe they have some sort of psychic ability, but as far as I could tell, you never know if there are cars coming from the other direction, especially with the turns and the hills. Luckily so far, no cars have been coming at too close of a distance.

During this wild ride, I thought of the all the ridiculous rules imposed upon us as Peace Corps volunteers, and wonder how riding in a car with this psycho driver isn't banned as one of the rules. As a kid, I was never a fan of authority. My mom can tell you because I like to reason and argue with her about everything. Nothing rile me up more than when she says, "because I say so". I despise power trips and meaningless authority. For this reason, I despise the gendarmes (national guard-esque people) that stop cars randomly to "check" on passengers/drivers. In the West, I have noticed that his problem is worse than elsewhere of the country I've visited, and it's significantly worse during the holidays. The people have a name for these gendarmes, they call them "mange-mille", literally translated as "eat-thousand"; reason being they ask the cab drivers for 1,000CFA (about $2) as bribe money every time they stop a car to "check". $2 may seem like nothing, that's 10 moto rides for me!

The new group of trainees will be arriving in June and PC admin. has been recruiting volunteers to help with stage. For me, I cringe at the idea because I wasn't much fan of this stage when it happened to me, much less going back voluntarily to help. I've been thinking why I am not keen on the idea and much of it has to do with all the "rules" they impose and the general inefficiency of the training program itself. Despite how I rationalize these rules, I don't understand them. During stage, there was the 7pm curfew and the reason was because staying out late is unsafe. But then there will be nights, about once a week, where these curfews were extended. So... how are these "special" nights safer than any other night? Besides, how is this properly preparing us for when we have to be out at night in our villages? I am quite sure it was more unsafe for me to walk around City of St. Louis at night than roaming around cornfields of Bangangté.

The curfew is the beginning of many many, a whole book full of rules. Can't go to Douala (the economic capital) because it's dangerous? Can't spend nights away from your village unless you take vacation (um, right. and let me clarify that as PCVs, we have 24 days of vacation a year, but that includes weekends. meaning: out of 365 days, we are only allow to spend nights away from villages 24 days. Meanwhile, PC admin gets BOTH the Cameroonian AND American holidays off, in addition to holidays...), can't take motos or ride your bike without helmets, can't refuse to take the malaria drug, can't travel out of your village the first three months and last three months of your service (meaning can't spend the night away from your village), can't this, can't that. What am I? 5 years old? Any good parents know that the more rules you impose, the more the kids want to rebel. When I am with volunteers of different country, I feel like the most uncool kid whose parents is totally psycho with all the rules. I never felt this way growing up because my parents were pretty darn cool. Now I know what it feels like. The training staff, who is Cameroonian, actually said to us once, "I just don't understand why Americans like to rebel so much and never follow rules." Now, here is a culture difference for you, we don't like to follow rules that don't make any sense. We have critical thinking skills, we don't do what we are told because you have more authority. This is not to say all Cameroonians lack critical thinking skills, but they do follow orders way better than I ever can.

And just a note on the general inefficiency of the training: the only thing I got out of the three months were hanging out with a wonderful group of people. I didn't learn too much technical skills since I just graduated from business school and everything except the Cameroonian context they taught us, I already knew. And the Cameroonian context they taught us still left me completely lost during my first few months in village. But what pushed me over the edge was all the language training. I didn't really learn French until I got to post, and have been doing a lot of self study. I have just very recently learned the participe présent tense of the French verb. How did I not learn this until now? I don't think one should be allowed to teach language unless one has had to consciously acquire another language other than the mother tongue(s).

Okay, end rant. I've gotten it out of my system. Thank you freedom of speech (for this, I am grateful to be a Taiwanese/American). And for those of you that actually read this whole thing, I love where I am and what I am doing, I just hate rules, and inefficiency. :)