“Nothing really ever works, but everything works out okay.”
There is one word that describes this weekend perfectly: Collaboration. In Batibo, a town not far from Bamenda in the Northwest province, a cultural festival took place thanks to an ambitious Agro-forestry volunteer named Seth Shapiro. Peace Corps volunteers, Cameroonians, and even some Spanish and Germans working here made it to the event. Everyone worked together for one common goal of sharing cultures and understanding each other.
My particular role was performance. I was supposed to sing with both Angel and Anne, who both play guitar, but some of the songs were cut, due to the late start of the event. I did enjoy the practice session in the morning before the festival began with Angel, when some children gathered around us to listen to us play “Let It Be” and “No Woman No Cry”. There was a nice breeze, we were pumped and ready for the day, and the strumming of the guitar inspired most of us to sway along, a few children dancing and singing along. This was no doubt our best performance. When the festival’s activities actually began, singing the national anthem I could tell that the microphone was cutting on and off at its own will. Angel was able to play “Billy Jean” and we performed “Let It Be” for the audience composed of an arena-like field full of booths for different groups and vendors on the outer sides. While it lasted, it was fun and I think people appreciated it.
Some gracious notables hosted all of the volunteers that attended in the evening, in their house that so much resembled Los Angeles. We ate turkey and mashed potatoes! This was along with some traditional Cameroonian foods, such as plantains, cabbage salad and ndole. A generous British woman who grew up in South America and who married a Cameroonian many years ago hosted many volunteers at her house. It was especially delightful because her six children are our ages, studying or married in other countries around the world, and so she treated us just like that- it was like visiting family.
But my favorite part of the weekend happened spontaneously. Insisting that we not go to sleep, I convinced five volunteers to go out dancing in Batibo. One of the notables that hosted us offered generously to take us out in his jeep. We ended up in a hall where originally Seth’s band would have played, but no one ended up going out that night; Cameroonians awaited the arrival of Peace Corps community, entertaining themselves with karaoke-like performances and dancing. If we would have not come, they would have been sorely disappointed. When we figured this out, Sarah turned to me and said, “You have to sing something! I don’t care if you want to or not, you have to!” As tired and worn out I felt, I agreed to sing No Woman No Cry, by Bob Marley, even though Angel had not come out to play the guitar. I didn’t know how well it could go with only the commitment of some white back up dancers.
The stage was my own the moment I walked up the stairs, and all the fatigue I had disappeared in the adrenaline I got. The entire hall stared at me. The microphone worked much better than the one that had been used at the festival and I was gratefully surprised. I told them that I was sorry; I did not have a guitar, but that maybe they could help me out with this song… I asked them if they knew No Woman No Cry and they responded approvingly. So I started in, Said I remember when we used to sit… in the government yard in Trenchtown… and their hands came together in support. Suddenly we had a beat all our own, and then there wasn’t a bit of nervousness in me. I was singing to the beat of Cameroonians claps, and for this energy and collaboration, I was swept away by my audience. It was especially significant when we all sang, everything’s gonna be alright, everything’s gonna be alright… they all cheered and sang along, and it was obvious that they really like that part. I thought to myself, this is why I do music. And If I had to choose one moment to represent hope, this would proudly be it. All of us singing together, to the beat of our own hands, swaying and singing along, that everything’s gonna be alright…