With Out Release
September 24, 2007

Thinking about what I’ve given up
In the choices I have made
In the lies and honesty I have shed on others
The emotions that have turned inside me for so long with out a release
That they mélange together, feels like a ball of tape
That has been rolling on the ground, picking up the sweetness and bitterness of everything…
I’m just absorbing
My reality, my dreams, my nightmares, my reality
I’m beautifully breaking down
So that I can build myself up again, into someone who I wish I was
Somehow every road I take tends to have a little darkness on it
But I thank god for the lightness that you bring into my life in those moments

 

I told my friend Sarah back in training that I had a strange dream the night before. I was worried about living here, and not feeling at home ever again. I was struggling with all the emotions that come attached to adaptation and integration into a completely different world. In my dream, I walked into a store where I found all these things that one would find in America. My eyes were captivated by the American candies and gum that prevailed! I had found a comfort that I yearned for. I was so happy and remember feeling at such ease, saying to my friend in the store with me, “Well, now I know that I can find everything I need right here. Now I know that I can live here.”

In Yaounde a few weeks ago, I paraded around the big city with joy of a small child at Christmas time, continuously indulging in the gifts that were reminiscent of back home, such as pizza and cheeseburgers with ketchup. My friends and I giggled with out stopping for most of the first day, as we ate ice cream and cotton candy; it was a Peace Corps Volunteers’ paradise. As I walked around the city, we stopped in wherever we were intrigued to go, just to explore and discover. When we saw the pain au chocolates and croissants in one window, we decided that we had to walk into one boulangerie in particular. As we stepped inside, I started to feel that the entire situation was familiar to me. I was feeling partly high from the hummus and milkshake we had had earlier in the day, but I started to feel a different sort of joy as I looked around and saw an array of American candy bars and gum. Everything froze for a moment as the dream came back to me, and I must have stared around for a few minutes, just astounded at the message of emotions that both the dream and the reoccurrence of those feelings in my present reality. My friends laughed when I told them, but seeing those American candy bars established a profound feeling of comfort for me, and the dream that came true established a sense of confidence in everything that I was doing. I thought to myself, “Well, now I know that I can find everything I need right here. Now I know that I can live here.”

I have been told that deja vue is what tells a person that they are doing what they are supposed to do in life. I can agree with this, as I cannot see any other explanation for these random emotions and experiences that feel somehow deeply rooted to my being. I am continuously amazed by subtle connections and occurrences that remind me that I have chosen the right path, however difficult and challenging it may become. That was the last straw to my lack of comfort, and ever since I have only been continuously reminded by unexplainable happenings that perhaps could only be understood by myself. What’s most important is the feeling…that I have everything I need here, that I will be quite all right living here.

Pure life…this kind of life cannot be captured in pictures or words. Because when people become fascinated with pictures and words, they wind up forgetting the language of the world.
-The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Besides experimental cooking and hanging out with Tim, in addition to my teaching 8 hours at the lycee for the moment (my schedule is not fully determined yet at the lycee, and the girls centre classes do not start until October 1st), I would like to investigate further the possibility for study abroad for Cameroonians. I am going to contact someone at the Embassy to discuss what determines that a Cameroonian can study in the states, what holds them back, what helps them, etc. etc. as well as other issues, the principal issues seeming to be obtaining a Visa from the Cameroonian government and money. I cannot imagine being told that I would not be able to study abroad for reasons beyond my control. Study abroad has opened my eyes to the world, teaching me that you can never know the entire world completely, but that I can continue to experience the world as much as I can, so that I may become a better person because of it. Just the experience of traveling somewhere else can inspire and drive someone to accomplish more. So my new development project is going to be this. I don’t know what exactly to title this project, but hopefully I can do something that’s sustainable.

Things I should ask at the Embassy (Let me know if there are other questions that I should consider in regard):
· What is the Visa process (get copy of Visa application)?
· What highers and lowers a Cameroonian’s chances of getting a Visa issued to them, as a traveler or student?
· Can an American’s invitation assist with the Visa process?
· What financial assistance, if any, is available to students wanting to travel/study abroad (I may do some research on Cameroonian companies, such as Orange, MTN, Coca Cola, and airline companies that may be willing to be a part of a program that assists financially or via some discount rates those who want to study abroad later).
· How could an American university set up a regular exchange program with a Cameroonian university or any student?

How strange to begin my relationships here. To be committed to the relationships that will be more and more defined in the next two years- the support network that is essential to my success here. This group of 37 strangers that met 3 months ago. October 6 will mark 4 months that a chapter ended my life in America and my chapters of Peace Corps life began. We had a Mexican dinner this past weekend. Cheese enchiladas (made with Babybel cheese, but cheese nonetheless that can be shredded and tastes delicious) are going to be a weekly thing for us. I never realized how simple it is to make tortillas, yet we always just buy them in the states for more than they are worth. Flour is a main ingredient in my kitchen now, when I hardly ever bought any for my Denton kitchen at all. The only ingredient we need from the other side is chili powder to make the sauce. I have learned how to make a saucy salsa as well, additionally spiced with piment peppers. Piment peppers are very hot. I think my dad would just love to try some piment peppers in a hot sauce.

Yune decided to extend for a year, but she will be working in the extreme north of Cameroon instead of my village after her trip back home for about a month in January. I better understand her desire to pass down this house to the next volunteer now, because this house is closest to the village that is just next to it, still 20 minutes away by moto where Yune works. The house is situated best of the possible housing locations that already have electricity, water, and are walking distance from the market. We are going to look around at different houses and apartments so that I can get into something by November when the next agro-forestry volunteer starts at this post. It’s going to be another girl for sure. I’m already excited about new volunteers. For one, I won’t be the batch of new volunteers anymore, and second there will be new friends to meet and have over course of the next couple of years. In any case, there is a 3-bedroom apartment in a compound I hear is available near the bridge that crosses the river in my village, and hope to look at it soon.

My motivation for lesson planning and teaching has hardly been seen in these past few days. I sometimes want nothing more than to sit inside of my house without talking to anyone. Yune says that this is normal, and in addition she has also been through a phase in which she develops a hatred toward men and wishes she could castrate all men because of some of the male attitudes and advances that are irritating and disturbing. I think that most of the men here want to marry an American so that they can obtain a Visa and a ticket to a better life, there don’t even consider would ever involve issues of money or hard work. All dreams come true in America, right? You and I both know that is true, but I think that is the idea that most Cameroonians have of the states.

My marriage proposal record log:
1. A model school teacher (that really wants to know me, along with all the other white girls that taught at model school with me)
2. A random older male in Bangante who stopped me in the street
3. A random guy in a bar who offered a dowery (gifts and money that males are to give the family when asking permission to marry the daughter, in some cultural customs here) to my counterpart, and then following gave me the finger wiggle which involves a violation to the palm of my hand by a the pointer finger.
4. Does a drunk who tries to kiss me count?
5. It happened twice!
6. A colleague (whose name I will not mention here)
7. Erik the electrician, a villagois neighbor
8. Erik, a student at the lycee across from my house who has come to my house to tell me that it is his dream to be with a white girl since he was a little boy…and guess what, he wants me to be that girl.
9. Emanuel, one of my 2nde students! I am going to embarrass him tomorrow in class for this. I was appauled at his ridiculous stalker behavior that landed the family in my compound to become agitated.
10. Random neighbor who I laughed at in his face when he told me that all he dreamed about was me the night before. I don’t even think he was that embarrassed when I laughed, but at least he had stopped trying to negotiate what he thought I should want.

* this does not include random daily comments, shouting, hand motions to come over and men trying to talk to me randomly throughout my routine around village and Nkongsamba.

I am stalling. I need to lesson plan for the next week. There are dishes in the bucket in the kitchen, and before I know it I will need to start thinking about what to eat for lunch (everything takes longer here…) so that I can prepare it. Instant gratification should be something that is out of my vocabulary by the end of service here. I have heard stories of returned volunteers that go into a grocery store and end up walking out with nothing because there was just too much for their senses to take. I will guess as well that I will be more relaxed with time schedules. But I will be an alright cook, and I will know what to do with myself when I am alone. I don’t think I have ever known myself better. Maybe this has something to do with why I don’t feel that far away really from everyone back home [in America]. In a way, it seems that my friends are closer to me than they have ever been, because now is when I look back and reflect on memories and experiences that get me through the day, and this causes me to love them even that much more. You are with me beyond physical being. You’re with me in everything I do.

Makes me think of the following quote…

If we have the courage to disinter dream, we are then faced with the second obstacle: love. We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realize that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent us from going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.

-The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

09.14.2007

“But if you don’t, who will?”

-“Mom” or Lynnette Nadeau

The birds chirp outside. The door is open and a cool breeze blows through the kitchen. I am actually wearing a sweater because otherwise I would be cold. The rain season is almost over, which is followed by the dry season. My contacts tell me that it’s coming, as my eyes have been irritated more lately. The dry season consists of very hot weather, or as Narcisse once told me, “It gets so hot there…like as hot as Texas!”. I had never tried to compare the two types of weather, just assumed that it would be much hotter in Africa. I suppose I won’t feel too far away from home this way.

The waiting and the patience I must have for the slow-paced work ethic and productivity of things on a daily basis affects my motivation. I was talking to my mom, telling her that when someone else does not show up for a meeting, why should I even care about it? She responded that if I don’t, who will? I have to care, and I will have to find whatever it takes to keep me motivated and hard-working if I want to make a change for the better. That is ultimately why I am here.

Yune, my current roommate, came back yesterday. It’s nice to have her company. We are going to take a moto tour around where she works in the small villages next to the one we live in today after I finish my one hour of class. She also brought me my dad’s package as well as a couple magazines that Madame Parks sent to me. Christmas in September! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Know that you are making a difference, even if you yourself will never see it. -Advice of one teacher to another

Bukowski once said, “You don’t choose writing. It chooses you.” At the same time, when it chooses you, you can decide to take on completely what has captivbated you, or you could make the choice to release it some other way, or to just take it with you until you forget and the inspiration fades away. I don’t want the inspiration to fade out, but there times that I block myself from writing…because it feels selfish, because it’s all for me. And I am here to benefit others; I am not here to indulge in myself. Writing is my chance to live twice the wonderful memories, or to vent, or to boost myself up because of some experience I chose to focus in on. I battle with myself and the writings that have chosen me.

But this weekend was the weekend of consumption. Every delicious meal had to go to my belly. Pizza. Cheeseburgers. Milkshakes. Ice cream. My greedy self came out from wherever it was hiding, and I have resulted in a surplus of pleasures that I don’t think I really needed. And I’ve probably also gained 10 pounds. It was a repeat of the feelings I had when I was about to leave the states, trying to take in everything that I would not have the chance to and might regret not doing later. For the memories of having done these things.

But now it’s back to the routine I was trying to establish. Maybe that’s why they want me to stay at post the first three months. What I start doing now for the next 20 months or so. 100 sit ups each morning before breakfast and lesson planning in advance. Conserving my chocolates and cheese until I feel desperate for them! And writing. Writing for my sister. Writing out those little stories that could mean a little part to someone else as they do to me. Writing for Cameroonians and for the Americans that could learn something from them, good and bad.

I guess it starts with me.

09.07.07

I started teaching this week- rather… I started showing up for the times that classes should take place. This was not the case for everyone. Although the official commencement of schools in Cameroon is September 3rd, there are many that don’t make it until the following week, due to lack of money to enroll, for instance. It’s both tragic and irritating. I ended up with a classroom half full of not only 6ieme students, but with others who would have otherwise been standing around outside. I tried to do fun things- singing the alphabet, repeating dialogues, learning vocabulary playing hangman, playing ‘toss Rover’, a beanie that my friend Angel gave me, as they listed off the greetings they have learned. I was somewhat impressed with the enthusiasm of my youngsters. I hope that this enthusiasm will last. A student even came up to me after the first day and asked if I would sit with him as he read his book with various phrases designed to help students learn English…his name? Ousmanu, pernounced like ‘EsSmanu’, of course I was hearing, Its Ma Sminu! What a smile that brought to my face. I was feeling somewhat useless until I saw one of the teachers hit a student, hard on the back, for no real reason. How disturbing. He was upset because students other than 6ieme were in my class, not sure why. But then I was glad to be there. Maybe I can teach teachers and students alike a new kind of love… Janice did say I was an Indigo child… a kind of love that doesn’t involve that kind of abuse.

I’m off to Nkongsamba to celebrate Tim getting electricity and his TV… then we are doing Mexican food. Yummmm.

If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. You’ll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesmen fight because they are part of the human race. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.

– The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Now is the time I am finally alone, and I force myself to write this blog, or it will not become part of my routine like everything else.

Like walking the ten minutes or so from what is now my house to the girls center, down the muddy path between houses, in which 9 out of 10 of them include people outside or on their porch yelling out at me, “Bonjour!” The first day being here and feeling a bit strange, I can say that I never once felt alone. One cannot feel alone when babies are struggling to talk, yet they make an effort to get out “bonjour” to you, the American that everyone knows as a teacher, that everyone’s happy about because you’re going to help raise our children. It doesn’t get old, no matter how many times you say it.

Like bon apetit! No one ever forgets to say that. Even at the last bite, Cameroonians still feel entitled to giving you that phrase of politesse– and it’s said more as if the person saying the phrase gets more gratitude than anyone.

Like cleaning my feet from time to time on what is now my porch, scrubbing the mud and dirt off and being satisfied at how white my feet can actually become again… To look up and see Maman (the entire village calls her this) walking by and asking a question or telling me something like “Ferme la porte ou si non les moustiques vont te piquer!” –something that reminds me that she is going to look out for me.

Like market days in Nkongsamba. They happen every Sunday. Tim and I tell each other “Happy Market Day!” and we go out into the thriving streets on a quest for food and to bargain over what must be equivalent to nickels (but it’s the principal of knowing that we are no longer getting ripped off). Makes me feel productive.

Like washing my clothes in a bucket. Yes, I still do this myself! And I have been warned about the mango fly, so since a good story told by a fellow PCV, I have been very careful to leave my clothes to dry for three days in the house. I don’t know if I could bring myself to cut open my own skin to pull out a worm or fly, if it’s there long enough. Hey, you know what though… I never lose my socks in the dryer!

And boiling water the night before so that I can put it into the filter the next day.

What is difficult to become routine to is patience for what does not happen on my schedule, or the schedule that was originally put into place. The tasks that would take a few minutes take hours. Going to the cyber could be a very stressful task depending on my mood, because sometimes I cannot stand waiting for ten minutes while an e-mail is sending. Meeting with the proviseur requires a book because you were told be there in the morning…and you know you’ll be waiting. Patience is something I must reason myself into having. It’s never my schedule. Waiting will have to be done.

What else I will struggle with are the numerous marriage proposals that I receive. In the last journal that our training stage published announced me in The Mosts as “Will have the most boyfriends in Cameroon.” Although I’ve been firm about refusing, I need to have encore more boundaries. I have stopped shaking hands with men that want to greet me, because it’s happened twice that the men pulled me in to try to kiss me. His friends found it funny; I found it violating. And when I don’t tell them I am married already, I’m told that I’m never leaving. I usually chuckle, but I did become quite fearful when a maman told me that I would not be leaving because I was going to marry her son. Part of what scared me was the way that she hugged me, tightly like Mom does when she doesn’t want me to go anywhere. I guess Mom’s the only person that can do that. Recently a colleague has made some steps to making our relationship less professional and uncomfortable. He is looking for a wife, and he is trying to convince me that I do want a relationship when I feel it was already enough that I even gave him an explanation for that. At 22 years old and looking around at the many women who are my age, married and with children, I find again that I am not just Mom’s baby or the baby of the family- I am just a baby in the whole scheme of things in this world.

Routine also shall involve rides in cars that sometimes start with screw drivers instead of keys, that are filled up when four people are sitting in front and another four are in back… and having no space to yourself and you’re just thankful you aren’t embracing a smelly person. And looking out at the scenery that sometimes privileges you with the most beautiful green mountains and hills and trees…and other times looking at the shacks of houses that I remember feeling sad about when I first saw similar conditions on the bus ride from the airport. At the time, I felt that Cameroonians were terribly unfortunate and deprived. Now I feel more that I’ve just been extremely lucky my entire life. We live out of necessity here. In America, we live so luxuriously, so extravagantly. I knew this before, but now I live a life that constantly reminds me.