Sunday, January 30, 2011


Mardi le 25 janvier

It’s 10:02 am Tulsa Time, which must mean it’s 5:02 pm here (I can’t figure out how to switch my watch...)

As I write, I’m on my final flight. Destination, Yaounde. (Pronunciation: Yah-UNE-day)

I finished saying goodbyes to friends around 4:30 am Monday morning and was headed to the airport with my dad by 5:15. First flight? Tulsa to Newark. I’m pretty sure I was asleep before we even took off; when I woke up a few hours later, it felt like years had passed. A 7 hour layover was awaiting me in Newark, but I could hardly complain—I spent the whole time in the president’s club enjoying Netflix. 2nd flight? Newark to Zurich. I had hardly found my seat when two girls came up to me and asked, “Maria?”. Other people from my program! We found one other girl (yay for facebook stalking!) and all sat by each other getting to know one another. We agreed the whole thing felt unreal, but we were very excited nonetheless. With the whole middle row to myself, I soon passed out and slept for fiveish (?!?) hours. Once in the Zurich airport we added our fellow SIT peers one by one (only mistaking one stranger as a member of our group…). We’ve all been chatting on facebook for a month or two now, so it’s exciting to actually meet. There are 14 of us total.
Right now I’ve got a window seat and have enjoyed some really great views of mountains and dessert. Little disappointed with the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” (but hey—at least it helped me avoid doing my pre-assigned reading!). Fun fact: the wine comes in little plastic bottles. The little girl in front of me speaks French (I forgot how much I missed the sound of that!)
Overall, a stress-free travel experience (let’s just pray my luggage arrives at the same time as me!!).

11:50 pm
Currently: laying in my mosquito tent!! I got it set up right on my first try!
Got a bit antsy on that lasyt flight, but who cares—we’re here now! All of our luggage got here too, which is AWESOME. I realized that I put my LOCK on in a way which made it completely useless, but everything seems to be in place. SIT picked us up at the airport, and we loaded up a van (without, to their disappointment, the help of the dozen locals surrounding us).
Guess where we’re staying during orientation? A monastery!
Had dinner, met our program director (Christiane), called home very briefly, tackled that first cold shower and am turning off the flashlight now…rise ‘n shine at 7!


Mercredi le 26 janvier

What a lovely first day in Cameroon! Breakfast reminded me of France—bread/tea/hot chocolate (but with powdered milk!). During the morning and the early afternoon we had orientation things—talked about SIT history, the semester schedule, differences in Cameroonian and American culture (ie don’t use your left hand! Girls, don’t cross your legs!). It was great, because there were 4 Cameroonian students there with us, 2 of which will be spending quite a bit of time with us throughout our stay; they’re super nice!

Finally started using a bit of French this afternoon—IES sure did know what they were doing with language immersion. For the record, I’d say my goal for my time in Cameroon is to use my French, not necessarily improve it tons.
After our sessions some of us took a walk down the hill the monastery’s on (we have a really great view of Yaounde from up here!). Saw: people jogging up the hill in jackets (what??), a soccer match, lots of people carrying stuff on their heads (I’m in awe). The walk back up was tiring; maybe I’m not quite ready to tackle Mt. Cameroon.

Took a nice long nap and then had dinner (note: Maria avoids eggs for the first time). Afterwards everyone in the group chatted for awhile—I really like everyone!
General thoughts:
-I feel so much less hesitant to use French now than I did in France!
-So far it’s been pretty easy not to dwell on home…maybe that’s because of the lack of internet.
-I have this strange feeling that I’m going to attribute to my semester in Nantes: I sort of want the semester to be over. What? Let me explain. It’s NOT because I don’t like it here (it’s great so far!!), but I’m already excited thinking about the memories I’ll have compiled at the end, and I can’t wait to share them with everyone! (Note to self: Life’s about the journey, not the destination.) All right, I’m just weird.
-Speaking of Nantes, I’m not telling the other kids in my program that I spent a semester there. I decided that I would probably become super annoying, making comparisons all the time, so we’re just going to nip that one in the bud.

‘Night now

PS I went to some sort of prayer at noon in the church here at the monastery. Might have been liturgy of the hours? My friend Ellen and I were just asking the man standing in front of the church a bit about the monastery, and he invited us in! We hesitated at first, but I’ve made it my goal to be less shy…glad I went for it! The church was very simple. Plus instead of pews it had classier versions of those pop up stadium seats! Fun.

Jeudi le 27 janvier

-Breakfast: Laurel (my roomie) and I had been 1st yesterday, but today we strolled in 10 minuteslate like any real Cameroonians.
-Orientation sessions on safety and homestays.
-Lunch. Why yes my table broke out in song at one point…seems like our generation is simply smitten with the Disney classics.
Picture this-- you’re dropped of in a random point in a city you’ve never been in with only: one other person, about 6 dollars, and a random list of things to find around town. Mind you, you’ve got no map, no cell phone, there are no street names, oh and the language around you is not your native one.
Sound awesome or what??
Actually it was. We were all about to pee ourselves out of fear before we left, but by the time we all returned safely to the monastery 4-5 hours later, we were laughing. It was a really interesting and empowering experience. Examples of things Araba and I had to find: ATMS, a certain fabric store, the French cultural center, US embassy, police station, restaurants in a certain district…
Basically we just had to suck it up and walk up to random people and ask for directions over and over. We were a bit overwhelmed at first, because we got dropped off in “centreville” where it was very crowded with vendors and it took only about a minute before strangers were touching us/making the customary hissing noises/shouting “la blanche!” or “Sarkozy”. We were definitely given some wrong directions along the way, but people were generally helpful. We were confused about how to get a taxi at first, but we learned quickly enough. After a few rides (I can see why the US embassy advises Americans not to take the taxis…) and quite a bit of walking, we pretty much finished our list AND we were the first ones back. Hoorah!
-For dinner we went to a cabaret instead of eating at the monastery. Fried plaintains + chicken + Smirnoff ice + live music = good.
-2nd cold shower? *check*
-A bit of packing—we leave tomorrow for our host families!!?!—and Night Prayer [new goal: say liturgy of the hours once a day].


Le 28 de janvier
Ah! I have so much to say! Seriously.
First, I must say, I cannot believe I’ve only been in Cameroon for three days. They’ve felt like the longest days ever…but not in a bad way. C’est-a-dire, I feel so at home already!
Anyhoo, this morning we had our last breakfast at the monastery, and then we loaded up our (not-so)little white van with ourselves and all of our luggage and headed to Bastos, the quartier where the SIT “office” is located. The office is our ‘classroom’ (circle of chairs), a lounge room, a little kitchen, two balconies, two bathrooms (yay! The toilet has a seat! Boo! You have to flush it with a bucket!) and the administrative offices. Also, it is protected by a wall with barbed wire, a guard, and a guard dog. Little over the top if you ask me, but I’m sure y’all are glad to hear we’re so safe. Also, it has a nice view (seems like every place in Yaounde does—yay hills!) We saw Christiane (director) for the first time since our DropOff and so had a ‘debriefing’ which consisted of every pair relaying a summary of their experience via a drawing on the white board and lots of laughs. We then had a lovely lecture by a doctor who told us all about malaria and other fun diseases we could catch. Mainly we just need to be careful about handwashing, water drinking, and malaria-pill-taking (though at one point he did say that my anti malarial drug, Doxycycline, has not been proven to work in Cameroon. Luckily I know that’s not true. Thank goodness for the CDC.)
A nice long break followed, including lunch there in the office. A French baguette sandwich (they are so French here!) and POP in bottles which I absolutely cannot resist. Plus I had never tried Malta before. Not sure I’m a fan, but it’s interesting. I also used the time to chat with my new pals and start looking over the Independent Study Projects (ISPs) of former students (I’m so so excited for this!! But how to choose what to study?!?)
Our afternoon orientation session was a reminder of things we are not to do if we’d like to avoid getting kicked out of the program (ie taking mopeds, branding (what??), bungee jumping, skipping town, white water rafting (does that even exist here?), and dating our host siblings).
Also, our program director (Christiane) gave us our newly exchanged CFA francs (I love foreign money—it’s so pretty) and the cell phones she picked up for us. Everyone else’s is black with a yellow stripe; mine’s yellow with a black stripe. Best $20 phone ever. Obviously I’m naming it “Banana Phone”.
Next up, host families! Ah!! Naturally we were all a bit terrified, but also very excited. Interesting, because in Nantes this fear had haunted me all throughout my day of travel, but was then immediately resolved. Here I kind of forgot about being nervous until today. As we were waiting we reasoned with ourselves that we could live with anyone if it’s only two weeks (we’ll be back later, but we head to Dschang very soon!). The families started arriving (late of course, per Cameroonian habit) and all seemed very nice. It was super supsenseful for us, though, because we didn’t get to know which we belonged too! They had seen our pictures, but we hadn’t seen theirs. Finally when most of the families had arrived, we began a little guessing game where a host family would stand up and try to point out who they thought was their student. A nice idea, I guess, but actually pretty awkward. Especially, because 1. I got called up twice when the family was not mine, and one of those times got as far as bisou-ing before the situation was corrected and 2. My family—and several others—weren’t there! Let me tell you—not a great feeling. We poor homeless Americans munched on the yummy pastries while the others chatted with their host families. Soon I heard my name and was meeting my host dad, Magnus. I was told that he was in a rush and needed to leave right away, so in no time at all, we found my bags and were in his car (whoa! They have a car! Whoa! It seems really nice!) on the way home. Home, it turns out, is about a minute drive from school. OH. MY. GOODNESS. I’m so ridiculously grateful for this convenience. You don’t understand; I’m really bad with directions. How could I have gotten myself to school if it was a 45 minute walk and I had not had a map? Crisis averted!!
The whirlwind continued. The gatekeeper of the apt complex carried my bag up, my host dad introduced me to my host mom, Therese (pregnant with a baby due in June) and their 11 month old daughter, Manuella (sp?), my host dad left to go back to work, and my host mom and daughter left to go to her night class all within five minutes.
Obviously not what I was expecting. I was a little bummed at first, but decided to take advantage of the alone time to start to organize my things and creep around the house a bit (are they Catholic? Can’t tell…obviously my creeping skills need work). Must say, the study abroad gods must love me. For the second time I’ve been placed in a home where my bedroom’s bigger than the one in my apartment and I have my own bathroom (bonus! Here the shower and toilet are in the same room!) They’ve got a huge flatscreen tv, a jillion tv channels, a laptop, a washing machine…oh and quite a bit of booze (that or they’re pulling a classic American college student move and are proudly displaying all of their empty bottles).
I soon heard quite a bit of noise coming from a nearby apartment and realized it was my American friend Laurel returning with her host family! I couldn’t figure out exactly where she was, but I started shouting her name out the window (probably scared the *&@$ out of her) and got her attention—fun that we live so close!
As this was happening I heard the doorbell ring but chose to ignore it. Then after a minute or so, it rang again….very unsure of what to do, I went to the door and (without opening it) informed the person that Therese wasn’t home. “Oui, je suis Louise, la soeur de Therese”, a girl replied. Oh! Therese’s sister was standing there with little Manuella. Probably Therese explained this was going to happen, and I just didn’t understand…
So the three of us got some good bonding time. At first Manuella was scared of me (so white! Weird accent! Red braids!) but soon she was in my lap, placing preciously sloppy bisous on my cheek. Manuella. Is. So. Cute. Plus, she’s going to be walking on her own in no time at all. Louise, it turns out, is 17 and in high school. She showed me pics from Therese’s wedding—they just got married in December! We discussed my fallback young adult convo—American music. She told me she was one of 5 kids. Therese told me she was one of 8. I’m confused; either way they’re sisters, and seems like Louise might help out here quite a bit.
Even when my host dad returned, Louise continued to watch Manuella; also, we didn’t talk at all. Weird. He did mention something about eating that I couldn’t understand. Huh? Were we eating all together? Luckily Louise came to my rescue and explained that since Therese has night classes, they usually eat as a family for lunch instead of dinner. She kindly reheated some meatballs and potatoes for me. My goodness they eat so much food here (and it’s rude to turn it down!)….and to think I imagined going hungry…
Manuella went to bed, and I went back to emptying my suitcase and setting up my mosquito tent. Speaking of which, at first I was kind of frustrated, because my tent’s the size of a twin, and my bed is a full, but I realized that when I’m not sleeping, this is super handy. For example, I’m typing in my bed RIGHT NOW, but don’t have to be in the tent.
Therese came back early and I gradually ventured out. Manuella was up again. What? That was just a nap? At 8pm? Anyhoo, she got a bath in the kitchen. I was still a little wary of dad at this point (he was lounging in a wife beater in front of the tv with a cold beer), but was initiating conversation with Therese. I did something I should have done in Nantes and never did, and asked 1. Should I call you by your first name (yes) and 2. Can use the ‘tu’ form with you (yes).
When Louise went to bed (she doesn’t live here but is staying the night), we shifted to the living room to join Magnus, and….we had bonding time too! I’m no longer intimidated by him. He told me I’m to make myself at home, and we had a nice long chat.

Things I learned:
My host family is Catholic (yay for answered prayers!).
My host dad knew not only where Oklahoma was had also heard of Tulsa. Wait, what? Why? Turns out he is one of 14 kids, and a bunch of his siblings (I lost track) live in the US. Sounds like he’s been to the states a number of times and highly recommends that I visit NYC (though he still likes London better).
He feels like Yaounde must not be that different from what I already know. Yeah, we’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one—though maybe he’s just saying it’s much more modern than other parts of Cameroon…the weeks ahead in other towns should be interesting! Oh, and he thinks Cameroon is an expensive place to live, again…agree to disagree (a taxi ride costs between $.40 and $1!)
My host dad manages a weekly newspaper. He hopes to someday make it daily.
He took his high school BAC in history and had a great time talking to me about my European ancestry when I showed him a picture of my family.
They have screens on their windows. I’m still using my tent.
My host mom is the granddaughter of a past mayor.
The family has a maid.
Showers: I asked what time would be good for me to use it (Smart, Maria!) and they said anytime. In fact, I think they think I’ll shower in the morning AND at night. Ha. Don’t they know that that would mean showering at a rate about 5 times my normal one? We’ll focus on one a day for now. Also, their shower has hot water. Mine does not. BUT it seems less cold than the monastery water. That or I’m adapting!
Last but not least…………………..THEY HAVE WI-FI!! I’ll get the password soon! Wheeeee!

Probably more, but it’s getting late and this post is getting much too long…

Peace out girl scouts,

Samedi le 29 janvier

Guess who the lucky winner of the 8am oral French placement exam time slot was! Meeeee

Therese heard me in the kitchen and so she got up to pull a loaf of bread out of the freezer for me, but then she back in bed before I thought of asking her exactly how I was supposed to eat it, so I just stuck with the hot chocolate for breakfast.
Walked all by myself to school! Yay! Really, it’s so close that it would be extremely embarrassing if I had gotten lost.
Turns out the “exam” was more like an interview; no yucky questions like “what’s the first person subjunctive of vouloir?” (veuille). Instead it was simply a one on one conversation. I felt pretty good about it and didn’t realize how easily I could talk for 30 minutes straight in French!
I stuck around school for a bit talking to other kiddos who trickled in and taking a nap.
Glad to find that people were home when I returned (I don’t have a key). Watched part of some Hilary Duff Disney movie on tv with Louise and Manuella (Cameroonians LOVE tv) while waiting for Therese to get home.
The two of us then spent the afternoon shopping at the market and preparing a meal (Cameroonians are not very strict about the 3 meals a day thing, which I originally took to mean they eat more often. Maybe not. I thought we were making lunch, but we didn’t finish until around 5. Let’s go ahead and call that dinner.) It was my first time at the market! It isn’t the biggest one in town but was interesting nonetheless. We picked up a chicken (dead and defeathered, but head and feet still attached…), lots of veggies at a stand Therese must frequent often, and some steak. Mmmm….nothing like hunks of meat sitting in the hot sun with flies all around!
Making dinner took a long time, but it was quality bonding time. Magnus was at work (his office is directly below the apt) and Manuella was sleeping, so we chatted as we worked. Mainly she talked; she told me pretty much her whole life story, which was really neat. Unfortunately I definitely did not catch all of it, because she speaks really softly!! (When I find the French here difficult to understand, it’s not really because of the accent, but because people either have very low or very quiet voices…)
When Magnus walked in around five and found that we hadn’t eaten yet, he was upset. I think he wants to be a really good host and felt bad for me. So I was rushed to the table and they joined me later. (awkward) The chicken/veggies/plantains, bread, salad, papaya, and wine were yummy though! Hopefully I won’t get sick. I’m supposed to be easing myself into washed items and am somewhat skeptical of Therese’s claims that washing everything in vinegar gets rid of the “les microbes”. Well, hopefully she’s right…
Magnus got chatty again at dinner (though when he does talk, Therese doesn’t seem to say a word). Convo? How much he loves Cameroonian food; how Cameroonians are self-sustaining agriculturally; his newspaper. Oh yeah, and I got a lecture about how Cameroonians don’t believe in the gender equality that you’ll find in Europe and America. The husband is boss and his wife should submit to him and cook for him. Even if she has a job too. You should have seen how patiently I bit my tongue. I only made one semi-sassy remark about how the change in the western world was benefiting me pretty well…. It’s really very interesting to see the subject spoken of so bluntly and it is giving me a brand new appreciation for my rights at home.
Homework? What? Are we here for classes or something? Oh, yes, actually, we are.
After dinner I excused myself to begin my first essai.

Later gator!

PS as I type this I haven’t yet asked for the internet password. Do you know how strange it is to be on a computer and not have access to the web? I cannot imagine how productive I would be at TU if I wasn’t allowed little internet breaks from my homework…