Vendredi le 11 fevrier
This week was youth week in Cameroon!
Monday: For French class we went to the University of Yaounde. Students showed us around a bit—saw the library (computers with floppy disk drives, what?), a huge ampitheater classroom, and Serge’s (one of the Cameroonian students who attends our classes) oncampus housing. Wow, am I spoiled with TU’s beauty and small size. The best part of the visit was talking to and eating lunch with students there. Talked a bit about their daily lives, about how it’s very hard for college grads here to find work. One student in particular was telling us about his great love for America (the impact of the media is incredible). I thought French people liked American culture; no, CAMEROONIANS like American culture. Very strange sensation to be so idolized—on the one hand it’s an honor, on the other hand you want to snatch your country out of the spotlight. This student was making me kind of sad by his lack of pride in his own country, but when I mentioned this to several other Cameroonians later, they told me that generally Cameroonians ARE very proud of their country. Good!
Got into some good dinner time discussion with Magnus. As usual he was giving me my daily reminder that my stay with their family is not an accurate portrayal of Cameroonian life; he wants me to know I’m spoiled here, and I appreciate that. We were talking about hardship in general in Cameroon (and Africa), and he said to me: “Maria, I’m going to tell you something you don’t know…people here suffer so that you can live well.”
Wow. Well that’s not easy to hear. As I was thinking about how I kind of wanted to cry, he pointed out the example of Cameroon petrol. Gas here in Cameroon costs more than it does in the US; even though petrol is one of the country’s major exports, it’s outside countries that control the refineries.
Also at dinner, the phone rang and Magnus was busy, so he made me answer it. Pressure much? It was a wrong number (I think…?).
ALSO at dinner, Magnus clarified my must-marry-quickly instructions and told me that I need to marry an African. Back at home, he agreed—it’d be too complicated to find someone here in such a short amount of time (whew! I almost got really worried there….). Pretty babies? I’m game…
For homework I had to conduct my first interview. The interview itself was easy—only 16 minutes, and it was with my host dad about his ethnicity (Bamileke). Transcribing however proved to be an extremely tedious task!! Whew! Putting the audio into writing took like 10 times as long as the actual interview itself.
Tuesday: For our afternoon lecture on Cameroon history, we met our guest lecturer downtown and did a little tour of some historic monuments as we had our lesson. Pretty cool except that I was too excited about our next plans to focus....finally!! Time to go fabric shopping! A bunch of us went to Laking to accomplish step one of our African-dresses-to-be; so many choices!!! Very fun!
Back at home I finished reading “God of Small Things” (awesome book!) and then had to (*ahem* I mean “got to”) learn how to do laundry. It actually wasn’t so bad, just a bit time consuming. And frustrating, because I was sitting next to an actual-real-live washing machine as I stooped over my bucket giving myself cloth burns on my hands. Question: if you have a washing machine, why would you choose to use it only for sheets? Oh well, good life skill. At least, it’s a good life skill here in Cameroon where most people don’t have a washing machine—I’ll most likely be putting it to use at my other homestays.
Wednesday: For lunch I finally got to go back to the bench “restaurant” for my 500franc ($1) plate of yummy spaghetti and beans. Afterwards we were free so I went to a tailor that’s a few yards away from school and ordered two dresses!! I’m so ridiculously excited! Hopefully they’ll turn out chouette—for now I’m getting one western-ish style dress and one typically Cameroonian dress, and I’m pretty sure there will be more to come (too hard to resist!).
Thursday: For part of French class we went to a small artisan market. Most of the stuff wasn’t actually made by the vendors (brought in from villages), but was very cool. Lots of jewelry, figurines, masks, sandals, etc. I’m finally getting a little better at “marchander”—for example, when I asked for the price on a card, I was initially told 600franc, BUT, I ended up getting 4 for 1000! Very fun visit…might have to go back some time.
Spaghetti and beans!!!
For our afternoon class we had our first peer-led discussion over the past two weeks’ lessons. Pretty intense: What is poverty? Can it end? What steps can be made to work towards eliminating it? Is Cameroon today really free? (celebrating 50th year of independence) What is “free”, and do we as Americans even have a right to comment on the state of Cameroon? Globalization—pro and con? Morals—universal or relative? Does one country have a right to impose morals on another? (example: here in Cameroon women and homosexuals have fewer rights, should the western world step in?) Does one country have a duty to “develop” another? Does it have the right? Why hasn’t the aid given thus far made much of an impact?
I know it’s not the same since you’re not here with me, but I hope I can get you thinking a bit nonetheless…
Our deep convo was followed by lots of hip thrusting—by which, of course, I mean ANOTHER DANCE CLASS! A lot of fun, but pretty darn tiring too!
Got to stay at school til 8 since it was Thursday, which was very good for working on homework, oh and for running to the grocery store for a little snack. Grapefruit flavored pop? Genuis.
Back at home, after everyone else was in bed, I went through the kitchen to grab my now dry clothes (nice and unwrinkly too! Yay!) and apparently surprised some little animal. My first thought was mouse, but it was probably actually a lizard. Those things are everywhere. No surprise really, we don’t wash our dinner dishes because the house keeper takes care of them the next day…that guy must be feasting!
Friday: Busy! Today is actually supposed to be a holiday (in honor of youth week), but we had a French test today. Oh well, it least it wasn’t hard. Afterwards a bunch of us went to see the youth parade! Jillions of little kids, and university students too. No candy thrown, but lots of street vendors around per usual. Grabbed sandwiches after that, and then some of us decided to go to the market.
WOW. I had already visited a smaller market that was mainly food, but this was completely different. Not only was it huge and mainly clothes/shoes (western brands like H&M and Steve Madden….where the HECK does these things come from??), but we got a lot of attention. A CRAZY lot of attention. American-wise it was me, my friend Laurel who’s half Chinese, and my friends Janelle and Afiwa who are black; our Cameroonian friend Danielle was also (luckily) with us. It’s funny, because I was JUST telling someone how surprised I’d been at the small amount of attention we’d attracted in Yaounde thus far, and how I hadn’t had the chance to whip out the “sorry, I’m already married” line even once.
Touch. Grab. “Sarkozy! Famille de Sarkozy!” *insert random French sounding last name here* (well, hey, at least they think we’re French!). “La blanche, la blanche”. *insert inappropriate comment here* “Je t’aime!” and other expressed love. I got to use the “married” line probably 3-4 times! Seriously, this one guy decided he had a crush on me, tried to get my number, and followed us around for 5 minutes. Kind of cute. Sort of. I go back and forth from finding the whole thing entertaining to getting tired of it.
We had to be pretty on top of our game—not getting pick-pocketed, sticking together, etc—and so were pretty exhausted (and hot) by the end of our shopping, but it was a really interesting experience, that’s for sure.
Afterwards, I couldn’t go home like everyone else, because no one was at our apartment, so I went to Laurel’s. She lives in a house right behind my apartment (reality check, Maria! You’re really spoiled and might get a bit of a shock with your next host stay…). We enjoyed a nap and a small din-din and then headed back to school where we were meeting our group to go to a Cameroonian beauty pageant! We got there at 7 when it was supposed to start. Silly us, it didn’t begin until 8:45. (By then the place had finally begun to fill up a bit, though it still seemed really empty because it was held in a basketball arena.) Oh well, we had fun talking and playing MASH (4th grade much?) as we waited. First the girls (about 20) came out and strutted their stuff to Mika. Some of our French profs had come with us, and they were hysterical, offering constant loud commentary behind us. While the contestants were changing we got to see a Cameroonian fashion designer modeled. Next up? Dresses and dancing that were more traditional. Then they started each giving a little talk, which started to get a little long, and the night started to get a little late, so some of us left. Unfortunately that meant missing out on a Petit Pays performance—apparently he’s a famous Cameroonian rapper.
Oh well, I needed to get back and pack—we leave for Dschang (pronounced “chong”) in…less than 7 hours. (Guess I should go to bed!) I’ll let you know all about it when I get back in 2 weeks!