Sunday, December 23, 2007


my friend muhammadu owns the bike i fell off of. but he's a student. an older one, of course. kadze, the dare-devil, operates the bike (an intra-town taxi) during the day. muhammadu pays kadze to do this. one problem, kadze is under-age and without a proper license to drive.

that's why muhammadu's bike was confiscated. well, that's the technicality. the real reason is that muhammadu was vulnerable and defenseless against the authority figures. whether or not his driver had a license. although that is, in an of itself, an issue of right/wrong.

why was muhammadu struggling over the decision to sell his bike? i think the bike represented his way out of school. a way to make a living without having to study. i was telling him he had to study. or do both. but, at the very least, not let the bike get in the way of his studies.

leaving wum

at Dreamland in Bamenda... nice cool ride up from Wum. rain been falling. last night and this afternoon. places are green and fresh. nice ride up. i’ve said this before, as much as i like a hot/dry climate, tropical weather is much more befitting to Wum. much more.

anywho... taking the overnight to Douala. was finally able to leave Wum and decided the sooner the better... besides, overnights are cooler. and safer to come into Douala at sunrise than sunset. and this way i’ll make jum'aa, insha’Allah.

OK... let me just wrap-up Wum issues. there are some things in life that when you pass through them make you wiser. almost overnight. you end up seeing things exactly for what they are. people, too. things and people unmasked. hierarchy in this country is an amazing, intriguing thing. someone acting like a god one day and showing deference to the point of indignity the next. the commissioners were singing a different tune yesterday... glad the SDO pulled weight. glad my APCD talked big. who knew that would come in handy one day?

anywho... the A1 (First Assistant and, in this case, acting SDO) heard me out. found the whole thing amusing, i think. said that i, in calling this a small thing that’s become way too big, didn’t understand how this country works. right. said he was sure that the US Embassy already knew and that the wouldn’t be surprised if he got a call from the Presidency (Cameroonian, of course) asking him what’s up. right. he agreed that the matter shouldn’t go any further. the Commish of Special Branch came in and explained himself. said nothing about taking this to court. SDO said if i didn’t want it, no court. and the matter, as far as he was concerned, was closed.

so today, Muhammadu and i went over to Special Branch and collected his ID. no problem. then i went over to Public Security and collected—no, picked up the original of my file, made 2 photocopies and kept one myself. it’s here with me going to Yaounde. no problem there, either. as for Muhammadu.... i don’t know. just don’t know. i worry ‘bout that kid. his family. his people. i worry.

last night he came over and we talked again. he surprised me by saying he was going to sell the bike. really, i was quite surprised... thought i’d gotten through to him. wrong. afraid i wasn’t surprised when, not even 10 minutes later, he said maybe he’d just pack the bike away for now, let this cool (esp. as i’d be away) and only give it back to the permanent driver later. yeah... whatever Muhammadu. do whatever you want. i give up. i give up.

i was saying that things like this somehow make you instantly wiser. check this:
  • Big Man... there will always be someone bigger than you. someone to go over your head to. someone you will have to give deference to. that’s when you’re doing wrong. but when you’re doing right... there’s no such thing as a...
  • Small Man. a man doing right cannot be gone over. does not have to give deference. except to God. and that’s the point. the hadith that God’s laws on right & wrong are his sanctuary. stay within their bounds and you are protected. stray. even just go grey. then you’re on your own. always someone bigger. always over your head. always giving deference.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

april fool: part 3

2 commissioners are angry. both flexing muscles. both going over each others’ heads. both refuse to speak to each other. and i’m somehow still involved. if Muhammadu didn’t own that bike. if they weren’t threatening to take this matter to court. i’d just pack my bags and leave. but my travel plans are already shot. so i call my Country Director (CD). he doesn’t answer. he’s not there. but he sends a message: “Your APCD will call.” (APCD = Associate Peace Corps Director). OK. fine. he does. we talk. he says “take this to the SDO.” the Senior Divisional Officer. take this over their heads? isn’t that what got us here in the first place? i’m not convinced. he’ll call the SDO. still not convinced. i ask my CD. he says trust me. i get confidence in my people. OK. fine. my APCD will call the SDO. i’ll get him his # tomorrow. Sufyan will pass by and leave it. he’s the acting SDO. the first assistant. the SDO meme (my APCD's country-man) is now the Governor of the South Province. but i’ll get his # too. he’s still, more-or-less, running the show here.

anywho... anywho. anywho. i pray that my APCD will finally put his money where his mouth is and pull some strings. i pray that this matter. will be small and forgotten by late tomorrow morning. insha’Allah. insha’Allah. insha’Allah.

regardless, this afforded me the opportunity to tell Muhammadu 2 things. 2 things i’ve been meaning to tell him for some time. not just him, but all his people. all his brothers, Ardu included. all his people.
  1. EDUCATION... without it you will never know your rights. you will always be ignorant. you will always be taken advantage of. you will always be intimidated. you’ll always end up bribing people. they’ll always ask for more. you’ll never go anywhere, get anywhere, be anything.
  2. RIGHT & WRONG... black and white. clear as day. big or small. if you do wrong, things will always go wrong. don’t believe otherwise. if you do right, things will always go right. always. don’t believe otherwise. again, if you do wrong you will always be taken advantage of. you will always be intimidated. you’ll always end up bribing people. they’ll always ask for more. you’ll never go anywhere, get anywhere, be anything.
...that’s it. i spoke my mind. took long enough, but i spoke my mind. i pray that i will continue to do so. in the meantime, i asked Muhammadu to keep the bike at home. not to use it. tomorrow morning he’ll come over. i hope to have called my APCD by then. and he, on his part, to have called the SDO. i hope to get a confirmation. from either/or, or both. then i hope to go down to Special Branch and get Muhammadu’s confiscated ID card. i hope they’ll forget this ever happened. i hope to forget this ever happened. i need to be at school by 10am. insha’Allah. insha’Allah. insha’Allah...

i want to get out of here by Thursday AM. i want to go to Douala. eat rice & fish at Ibrahim’s restaurant. drink a fruit smoothie or two. and yes, sweat. of course, sweat. then spend a few days at the Hilton. forget about Wum. insha’Allah.

they’re working on that rock. digging around it. we’ll see what they can do. that my rock. it’s been there since...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

april fool: part 2

i remember telling people that the most physically painful day of my life was the day i was medically evacuated. just last month. that has changed. that day is now the day i began, just began, to describe below. 4 hours later, i left for Bamenda. in terrible pain. every bump on that Wum-Bamenda road, i felt. i cursed. i cried. i prayed and prayed to pass out. to go into shock and pass out. pain. terrible pain. so much pain that i couldn’t even fear the consequences. that was too far off. down the road. a bad, bumpy bush-road, at that. i was focused on pain.

only 12 hours after i picked myself up off the ground and dusted myself off. only 12 hours after realizing that i’d broken something did i get some morphine. nothing else worked. only that killed the pain enough (enough... not all the way) to allow me to sleep.

it is now 10 days later. my left arm (my hand and elbow, to be exact) still hurts. i’m still popping pain killers. although not as strong or as comforting as morphine. i still have trouble falling asleep. and i have this cast, a full-arm cast (from just under my arm-pit to just below my fingers), that weighs a ton. like sleeping with a bag of bricks on top of you. my shoulder hurts. my fingers are still numb. everything takes twice as long with one hand and a cast. my neighbors are nice. they help me out. wash my clothes. clean my dishes. mop my floor. send me fufu. everyday. fufu. everyday. there is fufu in the kitchen now, as i write this.

but wait, it gets better. today, i gave 2 statements. 2 statements of what happened that particular day. one to the folks at Public Security. one to the folks @ Special Branch. why all the interest? i didn’t ask for an investigation. i didn’t report anything or anybody. i was just going to let this pass. it was all behind me. but now. now i’m in the middle of a mess. money was being chopped. people intimidated. bosses called. inquiries made. egos bruised. a mess. with me, my friend Muhammadu and this teenage dare-devil Kadze in the middle of it. but this is now way over our heads. bigger than us. yet we’re still in the middle of it.

april fool: part 1


in this town. on this hill. in the middle of this road... since the Germans first opened it. if not since the Lord first put it there. there has been this rock. right there. never moved. sometimes it’s been half-buried. sometimes only a small, small part is all you can see of it up above the road. but it’s there. and if you’re from this place. or if you’ve lived here a bit. or even just pass through on occasion, but use that road. then you know this rock. you know where it is.

now, why on one particular day. a bright, clear day. with this particular rock exposed a foot high, a foot wide and two feet long. with two clear and wide lanes to either side. without a vehicle or a person anywhere near this rock. why on this particular day, one particular teenage dare-devil moto-taxi decided to leave both the right side and the left side of the road wide open. decided to, quite cautiously and deliberately, drive this motorcycle (not his motorcycle) over this rock is beyond me. i don’t know???

i do know that i was sitting behind him. on my friend Muhammadu’s bike. taking all this in, in slow-motion. thinking, “he will soon shift. he will soon turn. he will soon stop. great! we’re air-borne.” then i am up on my feet. i am fine. i was wearing my helmet. but i cannot move my left arm. it hurts. it is broken. i know. what just happened? i don’t know??? was he sleeping? could it be? did he do this to hurt me? what in God’s name?...

i am pissed. he is there. writhing. clutching his head. should i go there? no... i am angry. i will beat him. i walk away. as always. i walk away. down the hill. toward where i was going. i run my errand. i must reach Bamenda now. then Yaounde for sure. i cannot believe this. i cannot believe this. my arm is broken. i just got back. i cannot believe this.

"na me dis" ?

na me dis = this is me; here i am; i am present.

one of my favorite expressions in pidgin english. the lingua franca of the northwest and southwest provinces in cameroon. na me dis speaks volumes... about identity, cross-culture, self-knowledge, confidence and presence. all major themes in this blog o!
...btw, that "o" is added to the end of many expressions in pidgin for emphasis or enthusiasm.

why dis?

self. processing. catharsis. expression. reflection. inspiration. lessons learned.

others. b/c i think there should be more peace corps volunteers... and more Muslim peace corps volunteers. and b/c i think people with a multi-cultural background make good peace corps volunteers. i’ve been asked by many prospective peace corps applicants about my experience abroad. so this is the story of my experience.

the world.
b/c i want to understand why i think and feel so differently (though not necessarily uniquely) about issues of Arab/Muslim identity in the US post-9/11. b/c i want to make sense of the world i am living in and the world within... Cameroon was, for me, a microcosm of Africa, of the Global South and of the world we live in.

b/c i owe the people i met in Cameroon and what they taught me much... this is my way—one way—of repaying that debt. b/c i want to tell people about one of the most important lessons i learned. about what helps keep us in the places that we don’t necessarily want to be. what sustains us. nourishes and nurtures us. family. friends. faith. and patience. much patience. we need to learn to live in the now. i need to teach myself that lesson again and again. how to live in the now.