Wednesday, February 27, 2008

is this peace corps?

did laundry this morning. that one light khaki cotton pair of pants is surprisingly tough to wash. sun was out bright, though, so at least everything (3 shirts, 3 pants) is fairly dry. after laundry i ate breakfast with the fam, bathed quickly and went to meet everyone for our “trip” to Mbouda. we ate well. i got Das’ rear-view mirrors made for the motorbike and i duplicated 2 keys for the main door.

got a chance to speak to Kristen for a bit today. we were caught in the rain waiting to meet everyone for the ride back. she’s really got a great outlook on being here and really doing something... she just gets work done, and well. really admire her.

anywho... we capped the day off at Robert’s birthday party. much food. ate a lot today, and i can’t help but feel a little guilty or at least self-conscious about that. also think about all the amenities we have in general. electricity, solid houses, beds, consumer goods, access to communication. all that.

i didn’t expect to be living this well, really. is this the peace corps experience? i know the answer to that question. it’s not about what you have, but what you make out of it. i still look forward to living simply.

i hear life is simpler in the North. and Diarou, who's from the north, tells me it is beautiful up there. need to get up there to visit and to work. Kristen and i also spoke of the possibility of moving on to another country here in Africa. i don’t know???... i want to be home too much. we’ll see after a year or 2.

oh... Diarou met dit ma mere PREGNANT! she looks it and that explains much.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


an excerpt from mama’s response to my letter about needing someone here who grew up/thought like me...

I understand your feelings about needing people around you who understand you and you understand them. Perhaps this is what they call “homesick,” being far from your home and longing for it. It is as the old Arab poets described weeping over the ruins of the departed and being separated from loved ones. However, travel is something desirable and though there is difficulty in being distant, there is also knowledge and awareness in it. As Imam Shafi’i said:

Neither the wise nor the cultured will at home
find comfort, so leave your lands and emigrate

Travel, you will find recompense for what you’ve left behind

Struggle, for the sweetness of life is in struggle

I have seen that stagnant water becomes impure

If it flows it is fresh, but if it doesn’t it is unhealthy

How could lions become fierce if they did not leave their territory?

Would an arrow hit its mark if it did not leave the bow?

If the sun stood still in the sky indefinitely

then Arabs and others alike would grow tired of it

Gold would be like dirt, strewn in its place

Incense lying on the ground just another kind of wood

Only when the former is scarce does it become dear to us

If the latter is scarce then it’s worth its weight in gold's not easy to translate Arabic poetry! :)

old blue eyes and lush green hills

i didn’t give my cross-cultural presentation today. we split up... most today, some Tuesday. me, Tuesday. did finish the write-up though. need to get it checked for content and translated with the help of our language trainers, Francois and Diarou.

Greg gave a great presentation on pets. very funny! Kristen’s on women and childbirth was great, too. she does everything well. we’re all sitting here in the back room of the bar in Babadjou. will be one of the last weekends we’ve got together. just a couple more Peace & Freedoms in this room.

on the ride back from the summer school in Santa we were listening to Frank Sinatra... surreal being moved by that and yet looking out onto the verdant hills and valleys of the Northwest province.

thought about my house to be and creating a garden around it. flowers and flowers... some veggie plots. probably b/c Rob’s presentation was about crops grown here in our area. i really need to get back into the field and among plants again.

the closest points to epiphanies i’ve gotten have been in the pee-shack at the summer school in among the maize. probably b/c i'm alone, the plants all around, quiet, and swaying in the wind. epiphanies at the pee-shack... what to say???

keep wondering when an epiphany will finally come. probably should stop looking for one. they will come in time. anywho... just want to get somewhere, feel comfortable, and be content about being there... and i’m sure plants will have much to do with that.

Monday, February 25, 2008

the fog of training

(i’d like to write in here more frequently!)
sometimes, through this heavy fog that is pre-service training, the sun shines and brightens my day. not for too long though. and that’s too bad. i never feel like i don’t want to be here, but i often feel like i’d rather be somewhere else.

de temps en temps, all this changes as something (anything) shines through the emotional and mental tribulations and makes me smile. the hills and valleys of infinite shades of green, a beautiful sunset and a soft breeze, all the children on my street screaming “bon soir Muh-ham-med!” simultaneously, and really connecting with another person. a good person. PCT, PCV or HCN... regardless of those titles.

i’ve received two letters from mama these past 2 days. bless her. the first spoke of dealing with people as people... regardless of culture or faith. she also included a poem about traveling. both matters being so very relevant and timely. the second letter i’ve yet to read. will do tonight.

much else to do. cross-cultural presentation tomorrow. exams to prepare. a lesson. clothes. “small-small catch monkee,” as the saying here goes... it’ll all get done, slowly but surely.

i’m getting excited about Wum. we had a session about settling in at post yesterday. heard much about the first few days and weeks of adjustment. down-time. lack of necessities. a little depression... they gave it to us straight. difficult, but worth it in the end.

i worry a little. about myself and the others... some of us have been down for a bit. but i understand, too... we didn’t come out here for a cup of tea. the sun seems to shine a little brighter and the air smell a little sweeter after the clouds and rain. and there are many clouds and much rain here in this part of Africa.

wum it is

Bruce, my young cameroonian neighbor, is leaving for Dschang tomorrow. i’ll be leaving for Wum in a few weeks. we exchanged addresses. good guy. not sure what my first impression of him was but he’s tre gentile. he'll be working on getting his diploma in Biochem @ Dschang. after that...???

same problem so many other university grads have in cameroon. very little job opportunity and the dream of getting abroad. sure that won’t be the last conversation of that type i’ll be having with a young cameroonian here... and it’s not the first. meme Oliver, meme Godwin...

OK, Bruce just invited me to his place for a bit... we looked at photos and ate prunes.

it’s Sunday and we just found out about posts on Friday. i must say that Wum was a surprise of sorts. i really expected the SW. i believe my APCD knew all along where i was going. he mentioned it at the CD’s house that night. suppose i could’ve just asked.

anywho... i wasn’t sure how to feel about the post. granted, i can’t judge before going. there’s supposed to be a mosque close to school and a large muslim community. those were my only requirements, so all is good.

-i shaved today! first time since getting here.
-did laundry all morning
-was listening to Kenny Rogers... and enjoying it! (reminded me of home).
-finished a long letter to Omar
-writing one to Rama
-copying a couple poems for Adam
-AND prepping my Form I lesson.

Friday, February 22, 2008


i barely made it home today. not only was it threatening to come down hard from the sky, but from my bowels as well. i was literally praying that the floodgates wouldn’t open before i made it back from the market. that walk along the dirt road and down the hill never seemed so long.

it took a combination of awesome physical and mental resoluteness to keep my sphincter clenched and still stride at a pace sufficient enough to get me home before the rain and other unmentionables soaked me. my dignity was at stake.

even with all that pressure, no pun intended, i greeted everyone along the route (the elderly and the youth alike); found time to kick a football back into play; and, finally, greeted then explained my rush to Mirabelle before i exploded into the bathroom...

all with a smile on my face and a little lightheartedness to boot. a testament to the power of positive thinking... and much sincere prayer!

a bunch of us are going to Dschang again tomorrow. i’m staying here. enjoying my Saturday. that day has never meant so much.

Bon nuit...



“That morning, two streams, four villages, three forests and three rivers away...” is the first sentence in Chapter 2 of Ferdinand Oyono’s The Old Man and the Medal.

note: i love the imagery in this quote. but, otherwise, i'm not sure why i decided to to make note of it in my journal. something about it must've resonated with both the cultural and ecological patterns i was noticing there. a colorful vernacular and endless hills and valleys of infinite shades of green...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

we laugh to keep from crying

شر البلية ما يضحك
“sharru al-baliyyatu ma yudhik.”

i cannot find a translation worthy of this proverb. yet nowhere has it been more true for me than here. there are so many things going wrong in this country. things that aren’t necessarily peculiar to it, but nonetheless disturbing... the treatment of women, the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS, the prejudice/tribalism, and the economic inequity, to name a few. all these things make people here laugh. embarrassed, fatalistic, nervous, involuntary laughter but laughter nonetheless. WHY?

we laugh at ourselves. we laugh with people, not at them. we laugh things off. we laugh to keep from crying... there it is! that’s the reason and the proverb’s translation. we laugh to keep from crying, but often when we should be crying. to a stranger this can seem like bitter, caustic, sardonic laughter. i’ve caught myself shaking my head in disgust on many occasions as people shook with laughter.

“you laugh when you should be crying,” i would think to myself. you laugh when you should be swearing to change things, to make them different. you laugh and i think to myself on some level you’re getting nowhere... you’re giving up and giving in to a miserable fate. but maybe i’m being too dramatic. and too harsh.

i just finished reading Oyono’s The Old Man and the Medal. the final scene finds everyone in the protagonist Meka’s hut roaring with laughter as they reconcile themselves to the indignities the white colonials subjected him and, in turn, all of the people around him to.

“The women, go to the river. The men to their work,” says Meka matter-of-factly, “we can’t do anything about what has happened. The whites will always be the whites...” and thus he accepts his and all his people’s fate.

we laugh to keep from crying. i understand that. we laugh because sometimes there is nothing else to do. at the worst of times, we laugh and that lifts our spirits a little. i suppose that’s human nature. part of our indomitability. at the worst of times we’ll always laugh to keep from crying.

but as we shake with that involuntary, vulnerable, tenuous laughter we should be making resolute oaths to ourselves to change things. to make them more moral, more just, more bearable and, somehow, less funny.

wa Allahu a3lam.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

grading quizzes... missing babadjou

it’s late and i just finished grading 60-some odd quizzes for Form II Bio. ahhh... Lord.

i keep going a week b/w entries. we had another Peace & Freedom tonight... in the car port of the staff house because the back room at the restaurant/bar was occupied. went well anywho... intimate space but not private. if that’s possible. we spoke of being overwhelmed, frustrated and pressed for time... how American of us! “so much to do, so little time.”

Form II (about 12-13 year olds) was a little rough today... our lead tech trainer was watching. not very much help in terms of constructive criticism. don’t know what to say??? i’ve got issues with pace and board work... as always. no discomfort up there at all... just a little unfocused, i think.

i miss slow Saturdays here in Babdjou. i may even miss Babadjou when we leave. and i surely will miss all my fellow trainees and friends. no matter, though... “we are together.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

all is well


we haven’t had mail for a couple of weeks. it’s getting to a lot of people... understandably. we’re sure there is mail. just not here yet. i’m all right, though. spoke to mama, omar and nunu from "the slum" (the volunteer co-house in Bamenda) while on site visit last week. all was well. happy to hear their voices. probably cost them a bunch. all worth it.

anyhow... i haven’t written home in a while. also need to write a few friends, past supervisors and professors. a lot piling up, though, with summer school training wrapping up... still strange to think this will be over soon. so much to do, yet somehow no stress. why? just feel like it will all come together one way or the other. my mind is on other matters... namely, my emotional and physical well-being as they relate to home and body-sickness.

we had our mental health and schistosomiasis / filaria sessions today with the PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer). interesting stuff.

i’m starting Ferdinand Oyono’s The Old Man and the Medal. one of our trainers, Vincent, was kind enough to bring me a copy. along with a book by Mongo Betti, Mission to Kala. both cameroonian authors.

also started teaching today. i did reptiles, of course. went well. well... just went, really. hard gauging student reaction and/or comprehension. still a cultural gap to be traversed there.

bon. ademain. bon nuit.

Monday, February 18, 2008

not wanting to be there

when i applied to the peace corps i wanted to go to morocco. that was my top choice. i figured it would be a perfect fit. i'm muslim and i speak arabic. had no problem learning french. morocco was all of that... plus, it had an environment assignment. which was also my first choice. as opposed to education, my second.

i’m setting all this up as a background to acknowledging something important that’s come up in the last few posts (longing for plants and my other side). yet another central theme in the blog. actually, the central theme in the blog... presence. and it’s opposite, of course... not wanting to be there.

there is a tone of sadness and loneliness that begins to creep into my journal entries and then seats itself in the two that i just referenced. was i sad and lonely? yes... to an extent. but much of this is normal for peace corps volunteers in training. a few weeks into training and i think many of us were struggling with questions like “what the hell am i doing here?”

in fact, one of our stage-mates decided to leave right around this time. both b/c of who he’d left behind back home and what he was facing in training. deciding to go home is called “ETing.” Early Termination. my issue wasn’t that i was seriously thinking about leaving. b/c i wasn’t. my issue was that i wasn’t thinking about why i didn’t want to be there.

before i get into all that let me say something about being positive and happy. b/c i think my stage-mates and i were just that. happy people having a hard time not being as positive as we usually were. adjusting to difficulties on personal, professional, cultural and physiological fronts... often all at once. or in the span of a single day. yet searching for epiphanies throughout.

“don’t try to make this perfect...” is what my peace corps recruiter back in the US told me, as i tried to negotiate with her on where i was being placed and what my assignment would be. i wanted to go to morocco as an environment volunteer, yet they were sending me to cameroon as a teacher. in hindsight, she was right. and though i didn’t protest at the time, i didn’t really internalize what that meant. not trying to make it perfect.

it’s not like i was unhappy with a post like cameroon or a teaching assignment. those were both high on my list. i love teaching. it’s in my blood. and cameroon was the perfect place for me. but i wasn’t at the place in my life where i could recognize either of those things. first, that i didn’t have to choose b/w education and the environment. teaching and plants. second, that life isn’t about control. it’s about presence.

a wise man once said, “if you could see into the future, you would pick the present.” in other words, we are exactly where we need to be. this was, and continues to be, my struggle. presence.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

my other side...


just got back from Peace & Freedom. i was nervous about what i wanted to talk about... the “other” side of me that’s feeling closeted here. let me clarify:

i've been overwhelmed by all that i've been feeling and thinking about for the past few weeks. about the fear of losing touch with the culture that’s more or less been placed on the back burner here, if you will. partly my fault. partly a desire to adjust and identify with my colleagues. partly the reality that i’m not in Muslim country, right-here / right-now. and that there isn't anyone here who can identify with that part of me.

i brought up my anxiety at Peace & Freedom. hadn’t really thought about it, so i rambled... not like me to share spontaneously like that. people were concerned. it was comforting to get support and empathy from everyone... whatever each respective individual could offer. all was appreciated. Greg especially... he can articulate emotions so eloquently. it sounds so clear and simple when he says it.

generally speaking, so many of us are going through the same emotional process: ups and downs, missing family and friends, feeling alone and misunderstood, struggling for motivation in hardship, etc. i admire these people so much. for their courage, fortitude and determination... just plain stubborn sometimes.

but a few of us have broken-down during Peace & Freedom, talking about all of this. someone said they felt like they were “killing themselves” b/c of how stubborn they were being. i can see how that's worrying especially when it comes to health. i've just been having digestive issues, but a couple of us have had more serious ailments.

i thanked Greg for sharing his experience last week and on other occasions. his description of the troubles i was feeling and how he handled it kept me going and helped me cope many a time. overall, there was a lot to say today... emotional, somber, yet somehow open-minded and hopeful. many more questions raised than answered, though... what to say?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

voice of america

voice of america (VOA) news is on the radio this Saturday morning. picked it up on 5.97 SW1 (shortwave). i won't comment on VOA programming, except to say that i miss NPR.

anywho... haven’t written here in a few days. mainly b/c my free time has gone to writing letters and reading. 4th of July party was nice... had a good time cooking with the crew and enjoying the food with the trainers. Kristen made the badges. she’s great. also washed most of the dishes.

anywho... it’s Saturday morning (i’ve mentioned that) and i’ve got a slow weekend ahead of me. just need to do some laundry, wash my floor, study French, and prepare a lesson. most of the crew is going on a hike today... up towards the knob. supposed to be very pretty country. i’m staying right here, though. i’m sure there’ll be other opportunities.

longing for plants

Dacryodes edulis – the prune
Canarium schweinfurthii - the tree by Ecole Publique
Cola acuminata – the kola nut

a few eclectic thoughts to jot down. the above scientific names belong to 3 trees native to the region. so many other ornamental and fruit trees i'm seeing here aren't native. the 3 trees above are the prune, a close relative, and the Kola nut. all with fruits that are edible or useful in some way. a local high school teacher here in babadjou – trained as an agronomist – helped me identify the scientific names.

today i took a walk with Mira, her friend Josiane and little Isma down the hill towards Josaine’s place and beyond. we walked along a stream (little waterfalls and all) and through much “bush”... palms, vines, trees, etc. Mira picked a few flowers and gave them to me. she said something about Kelly (the volunteer who stayed with the family before me) also liking flowers. i would’ve been content just taking pictures of them... now they’re in a bottle on my desk, in my room. sans problem, it was sweet of her.

anyhow... all this coupled with a short talk with Chris (an agroforestry PCV) this week have me longing for plants. i miss them. i feel like there’ll come a time when i’ll have to make this choice b/w education and plants... teaching and trees. if i can’t combine the two, that is. in all three cases (education, plants or both), where will i go?

Chris worked in ecuador for 3 years before coming here. he actually replaced John Clark (an old botany TA of mine from undergrad) out on the reserve where John collected plants for 2 years (and got a few named after him). all as peace corps volunteers. so the talk with Chris also got me thinking, for better or for worse, about how much i miss working with plants...

here’s an impossibility: i want to transfer to a place like Ecuador and live/work on a reserve like John! i’ll look into more possible ways of gratifying such botanical desires before too long, like working plants into my primary or secondary projects. for example, collaborating with an agroforestry PCV on a secondary project... yes!

anywho... final thought is that i found one of my last TO DO lists from back in the US. interesting looking at what i wanted to do/buy before i left... and what i didn’t. i miss home. have many letters i want to write home... to family and friends. but i’m going to yoga class with Kay now. hope it doesn’t rain. peace.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


we ended tech training today with a PCV-run session on sustainable development. seems our CD (Country Director) really stresses this point – that we are, indeed, here as development workers and should see ourselves as such. we went into development projects (our primary and secondary projects, that is) and how to accomplish things... or not if the time just isn’t right or “ripe.”

it was one of those meetings when ideas brainstormed are filtered and integrated into a definition or statement, usually all inclusive and very general. today we attempted to define sustainable development in our context. didn’t feel all that strongly about what we came up with. did feel very good about listening to PCVs talk about their experiences.

caught myself daydreaming about one of those moments... a grassy field, light breeze, talking to a cameroonian colleague about the work we were up to. no stress, just sharing ideas with each other. one of those moments that sustain, no pun intended. not an epiphany. just connecting. 2 years.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

highs and lows

we had another Peace & Freedom session this afternoon/evening. still not sure how i feel about that name. jacob read a great letter from his father. greg shared a few very eloquent thoughts about all the highs and lows he’s going through... all of us, really.

he reminded us that we knew this would be the case. that this would be tough. that’s how we’d change or know more about ourselves. and without the lows where are the highs? they always come as a pair... and they never seem that far apart, for better or for worse.

i need to start appreciating that. i need to start dealing with the lows in that sense. like right now, i have incredible gas. here we go again...

we are together

after school we all got together at the bar/restaurant by the peace corps staff house. we used the back room. robert kinda moderated a discussion group called Peace & Freedom. talk about anything and it all stays in the room. not so much as secrets – an opportunity to know “things” about other people – but to vent and share in whatever positive or negative feelings you have.

all-in-all it was fruitful. in regards to both de-stressing and brining us even closer together. it was more organic than structured. more free-flowing than formal. which was good. b/c i think it'll evolve into something. we talked about emotional roller-coasters, thinking about home and going back, family, significant others, coping with culture-shock... or lack thereof. coping, that is.

i said something about not wanting to think about home or things i dislike here... just not wanting to go there. jacob’s response was a metaphor about holding sand; the tighter you squeeze, the more you lose. just let it be. if the thought comes up, have it. deal with it.

we also talked about epiphanies... how we don’t have them. and if we do, they’re fleeting... as ludwig said, usually interrupted by someone blowing their nose on your shirt or shitting on your leg (both have happened!). Kay ended the session by reading a piece from oriah mountain dreamer, the Invitation. quite poignant. i think i’ll bring something to read next time.

Nous sommes ensamble, is how the cameroonian expression goes here. we are together.

peace & freedom

i need to step back a bit here and pick up on a thread i seem to have left behind. it's another running theme for me (for us, really) in cameroon. "peace and freedom" is what we called it. we being my stage-mates and i.

stage is french for training. what we were doing for the first 2-3 months in cameroon. stage-mates are the people you spend that time with. you become really close as you stumble together through muddy roads, irregular verbs, dirty latrines and awkward cross-cultural encounters. bonding. in the truest sense of the word.

we were blessed with a thoughtful, funny and relatively diverse group of a dozen trainees in babadjou. all of us were math/science teachers in training, headed for english-speaking or anglophone posts in the NW or SW provinces. there was about twice that many TEFL (teaching english as a foreign language) trainees in a larger university town on the other side of the West province, Dschang. theirs would be francophone posts, somewhere in the 8 french-speaking provinces of cameroon. see the Atlas of Cameroon.

as for peace and freedom... it started in babadjou. and basically stayed within that group. we met every week and we talked. i'll describe that in more detail through my journals. but it didn't end in babadjou. b/c we kept meeting and passing around journals (when we were'nt meeting) for others to share and write in. some of us are still engaging in peace and freedom today. almost 7 years later.

it's hard to describe what these sessions meant to us... so i won't. but it'll come up in my journals. they'll do a better job of capturing how i-we felt at the time. about training and service. about each other. and about peace and freedom. both as a process we engaged in and as goals we were seeking. "our own inner peace and freedom," as one of my stage-mates put it.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Isma'ilah is very interested in what i’m doing right now. she was the first person i saw when i got home today. had to smile when i saw her. must say that i’m doing a little better now than i was then.

i sat and watched Mirabelle roast coffee beans... they’re cooling off now. smell great. i’m starting to really enjoy passing time on this balcony. things are so quiet here in the compound now-a-days. Das and i are the only men around... and he’s at work most of the time.

not sure why i was so down this afternoon? has a lot to do with french, i think. just can’t get myself to focus/apply myself to studying it. i’ll do anything other than french right now. write here. read. letters. tech or cross-culture stuff... whatever!

what’s strange about today is how high i felt before the low. suppose that shouldn’t be too strange though... this isn’t anything new here or at home. just missing the support and comfort of... well, home.

just finished grinding the coffee with Das and Mirabelle. now i’m on an emotional high... maybe it’s the coffee aroma??? we’ve got a lot of coffee. looking forward to getting hooked on it. my forearm is killing me though.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


another pleasant afternoon here in babadjou. the sun is out, it's warm and there’s a gentle breeze rustling through the corn stalks and banana leaves. Isma’s going between me – on the porch, alone – and a few women – Mirabelle, Mme. Suzanne, etc. – sitting in the shade of the young papaya in front of the kitchen. my hands/arms hurt from doing laundry this morning. wringing out my clothes wrung out my muscles.

this is my first real day off. in hindsight, last weekend (with all the ceremony here) didn’t count as a holiday. this is the pace i couldn’t wait to live at as early as the trip from the airport in Yoaunde. i do, of course, have some work to do... French, tech, cross-culture. but peace and serenity come first. i’m to help Mirabelle prepare supper in about an hour... rice and peanut sauce. i’m afraid the dried fish i brought her back from the market will also end up in the sauce...

we’re all wearing a piece of fabric identical to a dress Valerie (Yoyo’s widow) is wearing. it’s to reflect/commemorate our common loss. more than anything, it keeps her and all the pain she is and will have to suffer through on my mind... it reflects that even though we may all be in this together, she bears the burden most significantly.

Friday, February 8, 2008


just finished writing another letter home. i need to get more out to the fam... rama, nowara, and the kids.

we drove out to bamenda today. relatively big city in the northwest province. forgot how long i’ve been out of the city for. bamenda actually feels more like a city than yaounde. that’s probably b/c we got an amazing view of it on our drive in, down from the surrounding foot-hills.

i took a couple of grand pictures. got me thinking about that dichotomous preference of mine in regards to living environment... big city or the bush. no small towns, please. babadjou is exactly that... maybe that’s why it’s been so rough getting comfortable here.

we’re really getting into the tech stuff in training now. they’re looking to place me in a GTTC (Government Teacher Training College). still not sure how i feel about that. we have our talks with our APCD tomorrow, possibly... can’t get to all of us.

i need to bring up a few issues with him. the living preference (although a GTTC may mean a “larger” town). wanting a mosque in town. hmmm... think that’s it. straight-forward enough, no? yes.

came back home (with all the relativity that should be accorded the term) earlier today... before 5pm. the sun was out and warm. beautiful afternoon. light shinning through my window and illuminating my mosquito-net covered bed inspiringly. took a photo (not sure how i feel about appreciating moments by “shooting” them???).

anywho... i was thinking that a day like today had epiphanous potential, if you will. gotta be happy about that. peu à peu = little-by-little. baby steps and i’ll get there. going out to enjoy dusk now.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

more on ritual and mourning

on 6/18/2001 i have 5 pages of notes in my journal on the rites and rituals surrounding Yoyo’s burial and mourning. they read like the notes of a participant-observer... one foot firmly planted in objectivity and the other swimming in subjectivity. or an outsider on the inside, so to speak. of all the things i noted during those few days, 3 or 4 things stand out:

-syncretism: a fluid, seamless blending of traditional religious practice with christian symbolism and song. there were also parallels to some muslim practice in both the mourning and burial, though i don't think people were aware of that. just something i noticed and noted. Cameroon is an astoundingly diverse country on many fronts, from its culture to its ecology. "Africa in miniature," as the saying goes. i was starting to experience that, first hand, in this blend of ritual i observed at my host-family's home that week.

-extremes in emotion: people really let loose while mourning. from wailing and flailing in sadness to dancing and singing with joy. two sides of the same coin, i suppose. every time a family member (especially female) arrived from out of town, they'd approach the house and begin to sob. then weep. then wail. some would flail their arms as they wailed and, at the extreme, fall to the ground. madame susanne, yoyo's mother, would often be the one to greet them. also sobbing and weeping. every time a close family member arrived. i'd never seen such regularly repeated sincere expressions of intense emotion.

-restrictions on immediate family: those closest to the deceased had, what seemed to me, many restrictions to abide by. Das, yoyo's brother, couldn't leave the grounds or bathe for the entire week. yoyo's mother and wife – the widow, that is – also couldn't bathe. they slept on the floor outside of the house. in the storeroom near the outdoor kitchen, in this case. for the widow, sleeping on the floor, not bathing, and only eating raw food applies for as long as 9 weeks. though this is only a symbolic remnant of what used to be a much more difficult experience of 9 months of suffering after her husband's death.

all this was an early and intense exposure for me to cameroonian culture. at least this particular aspect of the culture, for this particular part of the country... and for this family. a family i was quickly, but clumsily, learning to become a part of. they couldn't have been more hospitable or considerate in that regard. especially during such a difficult time for them.

which brings me to my last point. it seems counter-intuitive that a family opens its doors to so many people at a time when they would seem to need the most privacy. 7 days of food and festival – full of sadness and joy – punctuated – just a couple of times a day – with a few intimate moments of "down-time," when the family ate together or sat with close friends and relatives.

communal cultures are about support. and in this vulnerable time for the family, the people who came (friends, relatives, neighbors, etc.) were there to support them. they were there for other reasons, as well. to pay their respects. to help bury the body. to join in the rituals... the feasting or praying. but all of this brings support.

ironically, it also means that the family needs more support in attending to all the people who've come to support. to help with all the food and drink. all the ritual and protocol. all the cleaning. so little sleeping. i suppose healing doesn't truly begin until all the rituals cease and people begin to deal with the loss as it affects them in their daily lives.

a poem by emily dickinson comes to mind. the bustle in a house:

The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth, -

The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.

a few good maps

so where in the world is cameroon? or yaounde, douala, bamenda, babadjou and wum? all names of places that have come up in past posts. all very good questions. a friend suggested that i post a map up here to help situate readers. definitely.

there are a few good maps at the Atlas of Cameroon (on Wikimedia Commons).

two things are worth noting as you browse the maps. first, i didn't really know where i was – geographically, at least – at this point in my journey. it was still too early. besides, maps weren't readily available and, if there were any, Babadjou didn't appear on them. it was too small.

that said, and this is the second point worth noting to help with the maps, i did learn that i was in the West province. in an administrative division called Bamboutos. not far from the capital of that division, Mbouda. the next town over from Babadjou. and very close to the border with the Northwest province.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

kola brings peace

met our neighbor Caroline’s father today. an intelligent, well-spoken man. chief of port police in Douala. asked me why i was being so introverted as we sat there amongst the men paying their respects at the house. needless to say, i felt like a fish out of water during the whole thing.

the good man basically lectured me on being more proactive about picking up french and learning cameroonian culture. something i really needed to hear, given how i was fairing on both. he said i should inquire into something once, retain it, and then not ask about it again.

like the kola nut he was given to share. according to him (and Chinua Achebe was certainly mentioned over the course of explaining this to me), in Nigeria they say “whoever brings kola, brings peace.”

kola nuts have many pieces and they’re meant to be shared. since you cannot eat your enemy’s offering, if you share kola, you are expressing your satisfaction with the people in whose company you’re in. thus, if you bring kola, you bring peace.

Monday, February 4, 2008

rituals, protocol, drums and sleep

they’re still drumming in the salon down the hall. it’s 10:15pm on Sunday night. didn’t get any studying done this weekend. or laundry. no excuse but things have been a little hectic around the compound this weekend. we buried Yoyo yesterday. the rituals never seem to end. feel bad for Das and the family. it’ll be a week total that they mourn and keep accepting visitors.

today Madame Susan shaved her head. Das and the rest of the family (don’t know who exactly) will also be shaving soon. all this is also taking place over at Tonya’s place, too. her host-father (Francois’ dad) passed away the night before last. PC’s been making a lot of visits to both our homes. the CD will be here tomorrow and i expect he’ll be at Francois’ place... not sure about here, though.

Tonya was saying that she doesn’t know why people seem so worried about her mental or emotional state. i feel the same way. i’m especially vexed when they (PC staff) express their condolences to me in front of my host-family... especially because they’ve neglected to pay a family member present the same respect on 2 occasions. alas... it seems we make up a lot of the protocol as we go along here.

the family’s been very patient with me in that respect. only one major faux pas on my part so far... attempting to sit in Das’ stool (a traditional chair reserved for the man of the house) twice!! ...that got a few laughs from everyone in the room :)

i’ve been debating whether to talk about this whole mourning/funeral experience for my 5-10 minute peer-teaching topic on Tuesday. so much observed and so much to say, but so many gaps in my comprehension.

and on maybe the only positively productive note for this weekend, i wrote a letter to Omar and finished mama’s letter. Omar’s is all about the smells here. i think he’ll enjoy it. so many people to write to... the drumming is starting again. it puts me to sleep nicely. no bad dreams thus far.

mourning morning


dreams were not a problem last night. hope i can say the same tomorrow morning. men are still outside with Das. women are drumming in the house where Yoyo’s body lays... Petit says they’ll be doing so until ~1am. all is well. i will sleep. just hope i don’t dream.

Mirabelle was kind/considerate enough to make dinner. Das was kind enough to step away form his duties to eat with us. they keep the house open during mourning for 7 days here. he won’t be able to wash for that week. they’ll bury the body tomorrow morning as all the family come in from Douala. the house will be busy these next few days.

Jean, Sylvie and the crew came to pay their respects earlier. as did many of the trainees. i know Jean has my best interest at heart but i feel uncomfortable when they show up to make sure all is well... like my well-being takes precedence over everything else going on in the family. alas... no complaints. glad someone’s looking out.

can’t wait until i hear from the fam. gotta send them something, too... just not motivated b/c i know it’ll be ages before they get it, reply and i get their reply. so much i want to say, though. lights went out. i wrote this entry by flashlight.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Yoyo is dead.

couldn’t finish writing a letter to mom. so much to say that i can’t possibly say it, but i tried and just rambled... not sure what i’m going to do with the letter now. suppose letter writing won’t necessarily come as easy as i expected... much like french.

i’m struggling with french. maybe Petit Prince speaks too much english? maybe i’m not trying hard enough? maybe it’ll come with time? i’m studying a little... just tough devoting all my time to work on french with everything else: tech reading, health reading, family time, “chores,” etc. time management... it never ends.

anyhow... enough about that. after 2 or 3 days battling with serious gas issues i had to walk out of our general training meeting today. Japhet found me ½ way down the main-road ––– wait, people are crying and wailing outside...

Das’ older brother Yoyo is dead.

my “issues” (physical, emotional, whatever...) seem trivial. Yoyo’s body is lying where I saw him last this afternoon. he seems much more peaceful now than when he was alive. Petit says he had heart issues. he arrived this morning from Douala and left to the hospital only ~4 hours ago.

Das is together. he showed me a picture of the 2 of them. and one of Yoyo’s little baby. it’s quiet outside now. the men are probably still in with the body. not sure where the women are. feel bad for Petit... he’s got an exam tomorrow. i took my mefloquine today. not looking forward to my dreams.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

meeting my host family

je suis fatigue. i’ll be short. the drive from Yaounde to Babadjou was a bit long. great group though... the math/science trainees i'll be spending the next couple of months with. it rained as we entered the town. a good omen/blessing in cameroon.

met our respective families at the chief’s reception hall. after some confusion, i understood that Narcisse (aka Das) Tschaffou, his wife (Mirabelle/Sameera) and their 20 month old daughter (Isma'ila) were to be my host family. Jean-Pierre (Das’ nephew, aka Petit Prince) and Susan (Das’ mother) rounded off the family.

the presence of a few friends confused me (relatives???) but that was cleared up at dinner when the family, minus Susan (she eats alone in the kitchen), sat for dinner... rice, fish stew, potatoes, and potato purée.

they’ve got much in the garden in the way of food stuffs, a pig, 2 geese and a compound with 3 buildings. i’m staying in the largest (a white house) with Petit Prince and the geese. accommodations are quite good, actually... electricity, but no running water. petit and i drew water from the well at their neighbors across the street.

seems like i can wash with untreated water OK. boiled my filter’s candles but the seal b/w them and the filter isn’t water tight... will have to ask the PC staff about it tomorrow. bon nuit, je suis fatigue.

oh... Das and i are the same age.

Friday, February 1, 2008

no smile :(

i’m not unhappy, but i’m not smiling either. i wasn’t smiling towards the end of my stay in the US and now no smiles here??? a friend said i should just force myself to smile and be happy, then it would come! :)

we went to get our ID’s at the station today. Syria all over again. files everywhere, fingerprint stains on the wall, and that faint smell of sewage in the streets... even the condescending civil servants. went to jum’aa with Omaru. nice man. no english. me no french. khutba was short. mosque small. i’m itching to get out and explore.

we’re leaving for Babadjou in the morning. was nervous about it at some point today but no longer. survival french class today was rough. just couldn’t keep up. any confidence i had about picking up the language quickly was diffused, quickly.

feeling OK now, though. i’m just not down with how prolonged this whole process has been... 2 days staging, 5 days here, and now homestay. i know i’ve got so much more to learn but i’m itching to get in the classroom and teach. i’m uplifted just thinking about it.