I am not quite sure how one is to start explaining their fresh, new, naive life in Cameroon, but I am going to try and start with my experience today. Today after school we journeyed off into the bigger market of Yaounde, called Mokolo. Six of us squished into a taxi with the intent of no one else jumping in with us*. These taxis are small – like old Yaris’. Also I should mention the insanity they call driving here. People don’t have rules – they make up their own. I haven’t seen stop signs (or many street rule signs now that I think of it) and I think I have seen one set of lights. I’m not exaggerating guys. You wouldn’t be able to tell from sober to extremely intoxicated driving. Now that you have an idea of my ride in this sweaty and no-personal-bubble-allowed taxi, on pot holed roads of rage and terror (ok that’s an exaggeration, but not by much), I will continue with my market experience. The main reason for this trip was to buy fabric. There are not a lot of places to buy clothes here, but many people offer their skills to make clothes for you at reasonable prices. No one found fabric. I mean, there was fabric. Lots of fabric. But we didn’t buy any. Well actually one fellow teacher bought a “National Teacher Day 2015” printed fabric to make t-shirts but that doesn’t really count. To fill in the rest of your senses, there was the exotic aroma of human urine and garbage rushing through our nostrils, I got touched/grabbed by the arm once by some man calling me “white white” (which I am sure would have followed by a marriage proposal if I gave him the time of day), and finally, the sound of people either trying to get your attention with the same sound my dad uses to scare away our cat. Phew, that was a long sentence; but, now you know! I am still getting use to being comfortable in public here. It’s tricky but, if you don’t wear jewellery, take no bags, and don’t become distracted by someone yelling at you or trying to show you something, you should be ok. Or so I’m told. You know, the basic survival tips for newbies in a high crime country. So far so good.
The event with the most impact on my trip so far has been, with remorse, food poisoning. I have little idea of how I contracted this bacteria, but it was not fun. I experienced almost every symptom of food poisoning, most occurring at the same time (apologies for images I may have planted in your head.. and more apologies for the image you now have in your head which may not have been there prior to me mentioning a nasty image). To make it better, it all started at 3 am Monday morning, the first day of orientation at the new school. I only missed one day so all is good in the land of intern duties. The school itself is BRAND new. It is gorgeous and the administrative team and building team have done an awesome job. The only thing is, it is still completely in construction mode and has been throughout all of orientation. The plan is to have it done by the first day of school, which is Wednesday. FINGERS CROSSED. I find it amusing and still unbelievable I am in Africa. I. Am. In. Africa. I’ll walk out of the school and look over the great white barrier wall (we have for protection) and see Yaounde in all its glory and it continues to blow me away. It’s almost as though someone placed a green screen there and is artificially projecting the scene in front of me.
As expected, there are some traditions here quite foreign to my North American upbringing. Some were surprises and some were expected. One Cameroonian tradition that stunned me a little was the washing of shoes. We have a housekeeper** and on her first day, I returned home to find my runners out on the table of our balcony with the soles torn out, looking better than new. Cameroonian tradition is to always have clean shoes and if someone wants to clean my stinky sneakers for me, by all means, clean away my beautiful Cameroonian friend, clean away. Another popular thing here in Cameroon is to get married and have babies as soon as possible. It seems like if you are Cameroonian and do not follow this pattern, you are trying your hardest to jump on that marriage-baby train ASAP. So, considering the pigment of my skin and, as I have found out, the fact that I speak french, I am of hot commodity on the streets of Yaounde. I have had three marriage proposals thus far (not that I’m counting) and continue to lack a reliable comeback. A quick husband or any type of “love” is the last thing I came to Cameroon for, or plan on leaving the country with. I tried telling one man I was already married but he came up with the obvious solution of “just leave your husband for me”, stunning me of words and throwing me straight down culture shock alley (as if I wasn’t already there). He said it in such a matter of fact way too, as to say “this is such an obvious solution you white woman – why you no think of this – I am the only man”. My dad suggests I ask how much money they have, and always say it’s not enough. I may adopt this method very soon. For now, pretending I don’t understand french and yelling “ENGLISH?” at their face is doing the trick, even when they start speaking clear english. I guess an incoherent english woman isn’t worth the skin colour.
Well this post is getting lengthy and I should leave some stories for later. Overall, I am coping with great ease but I am still trying to get into a concrete groove. I miss you all and hope you are also coping with ease in your own lives back at home, on adventure, on the moon, mars maybe? Wishing you the content life where ever you may be!
PS – I have taken very little photos thus far. Here are the only two snaps I have. The first is an arial view of Istanbul from my flight here, and the second is an amateur view from the school entrance out onto a very small portion of Yaounde.
From the heart,
* Here you may pay the taxi drivers extra to have the cab all to yourself. Otherwise, you are going to have the driver stop for all other riders until the cab is full. Apparently it can get sticky and uncomfortable (ah.. duh). Do not worry, I will never put myself in this situation for, as mentioned above, my skin colour and gender places me at the top of the harassment list here.
** My roommate and I have decided to hire a housekeeper. She comes every Monday and Friday and does everything and anything from cleaning, to going to get groceries and making a whole meal. More on this later.