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I woke startled at 7:15 am. I wanted to be in the 8 o'clock car back to Akonolinga. I took a fast hot shower before heading home. I had the car let me out in front of the office. The ATM meeting went well. They nominated candidates for the elections for the board of directors. Kanaga almost got left out. Then Bienvenu and I rushed off to catch the final hours of the General Assembly Extrodinaire of the CECA. Decent decisions were made but they have many problems to fix.
There're many topics in my head to write about.
I had a nice relaxed day with Juliet. I didn't feel pressure from her. We chatted and laughed and shared stories. She's a city girl who can't carry her baby on her back like other African women. So I walked into town alone. The cave was out of white toilet paper. The old man offering me whiskey was hard to understand. I poured the whiskey back into his glass. Night falling, Andre, the first member of ATM, wanted to bring me home. I offered him a Malta at King Peter's. Peter hasn't seen me in a week. He wasn't happy.
The cool breeze rising this evening feels good. A good storm is on its way. I wanted to swim today or be immersed in bath water. As I road home from town on the back of a motorcycle with the cool wind in my hair, I tried to imagine in the future when I'll be craving motorcycle rides instead of baths. I took Ernest out for grilled fish and a beer. He leaves tomorrow for a possible 10 day job outside Yaoundé. He told me he misses me when I'm not around. The rain sounds likes hail on the roof.
Mom's Christmas package, Anne's box, letters from Liz and Sarah all arrived today. I feel very loved.
The Moto taxi-men are ready for the big meeting tomorrow. I watched the preparations, the slaughter of a young pig (la mort du porc) and wives of taxi-men working into the night, preparing 5 kilos of mackerel, cleaning and butchering the pig. It took over an hour for one woman to clean out the intestines. They assured me the delicacy was worth the effort.
Several hawks came to town a few weeks ago. They glide above town so elegantly, nobody takes any notice.
Why is a good life such a struggle? My honesty in the simplest matters, openness to the most foreign affairs, patients in my confusion, frankness in my anger – these threads of my character appear to be appreciated across cultures. But sometimes my openness and flexibility rise above expectation and people don't know what to do with me. For hours I've been trying to convince myself that I should reign myself in, just perform the role that is expected of my skin and learn to ignore, (like those around me), what the mind and soul inside my skin is capable of.
President Paul Biya has been in power for 21 years. It was a relaxed day. I met my Flemish neighbor, had lunch with a traveling salesman who sells workbooks for schools, and found some young men who let me actually play songo with them. I've just returned from a dinner party at Bienvenu's.
But I didn't do yesterday justice. The ATM association was formalized in front of the sous-prefect, the mayor and the delegate of transportation. They pledged their support and invited the taxi-men to escort the Prefect to Ayos for the celebrations today. My taxi-men were proud and encouraged.
During long conversation about the CECA with a business owner in town that slipped into the benefits of polygamy, I figured I'd write all my words about him.
Then I had an engaged conversation with Beinvenu about the serious management decisions he has to make regarding the future employment of his employees. They haven't been paid but few are working.
Then the charming, sophisticated, principal of the private school, the grandson of the Chief of Bandjoun, (Cameroonian Royalty?), declared his absolute devotion to me. He's been in complete love since he first met me, why have I tormented him so?
My taximen are some of the kindest, hardest working, least flirtatious folks in town and have made few demands on me. Several are becoming friends. They look out for me. They lost 2 days work with the ATM activities this week and have increased expenses with getting their licenses and registrations in order. ATM has created a buzz in town. The mayor said that when the network gets here he'll start booking ATM chauffeurs by cell-phone. The sous-prefect gave a heads up that as of Dec 1, he'll crack down on non-licensed drivers. ATM's growing faster than even I'd imagined.
It's been a quiet Sunday. Napped, read, made curried rice, played with Bienvenu's kids, sorted papers, typed letters, cleaned the dishes, set things aside for next week's trip to Yaoundé.
Tomorrow morning Bienvenu is going to drop some bombs at the staff meeting, including closing the office for a week and then the 2 of us will travel together to Yaoundé where we have some meetings set up. I'm curious to see how tomorrow plays out. Bienvenu plans to start the staff meeting first thing at 8am, probably before half the staff arrives. We're starting to work more like partners.
Bienvenu preformed today better than I could have. He artfully leveraged my advice. He reviewed points from the past 2 weeks, just a few positive, a long list of negatives. A few points of motivation, several strict warnings. He let me say a few words. He announced that the office is closed for a week and he's taken me to Yaoundé to meet with the head office. Then he met with everyone individually and asked each the same 5 questions. Several hours later we were in the van to Yaoundé. He was proud of himself. I was proud of him too.
Love and marriage, love and marriage … that silly theme song ran through my head this morning as I reflected on Ernest's serious marriage questioning last night. His approach is foreign to me but it's hard to say it's wrong.
Could I live in Cameroon?
Do we have dowry in America?
What kind of husband do my parents want for me?
Does that matter?
He said that Cameroon has so many tribes, he's accustomed to dealing with different cultures. Serious culture shock is hard to explain. He's studious but naïve and young.
The PC office is closed for Veterans Day.
Bienvenu and I met with the Director of MIFED today and explained the taxi-man project, the rural woman proposal and the current staff problems.
Eventually we got to the central market, met up with his brothers and had omelet sandwiches. We were out late drinking with 3 of his brothers and the son of the chief of their village. Fun night - danced in the bar, the whole crowd stumbled back to the hotel.
We went to Juliet's house for dinner tonight. I met her husband and older kids. The food was cold. Everyone talked in Patois. I wasn't happy.
At the Peace Corps office I met Matt, an agriculture trainee who'll be posted in Esse. He was on site visit and got sick, so returned to Yaoundé. He'll be the closest volunteer to me – between me and Yaoundé in a more rural town right next to the village where Bienvenu is from. I invited him to come out drinking with people from his future home. We had a good time. I enjoyed having an American out with the Cameroonian crowd. Bienvenu noted that Matt's interesting i.e. laid back, cool, simple. Matt said that he thinks Ernest is really cute.
This morning Beinvenu succeeded in making an appointment with a program director at AFVP for next Wednesday morning.
Each day this week we retuned to the same spot in the market, chez the man who made my curtains. It's their village territory in Yaoundé. Need news from home? Each day all their friends or brothers pass. We said our goodbyes.
Back in Akonolinga, walking home along my road, Sabougha greeted me. Three ATM members passed the driver's license test. Seven more need to take it.
I did a tour of town greeting all my acquaintances.
It's nice to be home.
The events in Yaoundé last week were many. Back and forth with Ernest trying to be the big suitor but he's evidently the kid errand boy, when surrounded by his older brothers. "Why didn't you fix your hair?" He asked me in the cab to Juliet's when nobody was speaking to me. That question still rings in my head days later.
I went to the local bar tonight. A new man drew me into a political discussion.
Did you know that Cameroon and Canada are the only bi-lingual countries in the world with English and French as their official languages?
I feel good, felt it all day. Yesterday's curry beef and potato stew had way too much salt. I made more sauce and potatoes to balance it out.
17 of the 21 ATM members showed up for the budget lesson I gave.
I played songo without any assistance from someone standing over my shoulder. I ate 26 pieces, need 40 to win. Not a bad start.
Rushed off to have Mary braid my hair. People giggled behind me as I walked home.
He turned back and waved from a passing moto.
I took my leftover stew to Malgoire and Arlene.
I was only slightly conscious and still in bed when Lillian called out to me. So I jumped out of bed and opened the door. Since I'm not really up yet she's starting in the kitchen. I left a lot of dirty dishes in there last night. I was expecting her yesterday, not this morning.
I went out to eat beignets (fried dough balls) and beans. Lillian cracked open the coconut that I bought in the market and pried the meat off the shell. I made Sarah's recipe of tomatoes, potatoes and coconut with some hot pepper. It was yummy.
Back in Yaoundé with Bienvenu at the same bar with the same crowd. Ringo Star of America, I met him tonight. He's a Noble from a village 5 kilometers north of Esse.
Managing expectations… Coming to Yaoundé for Bienvenu is about action, meetings and girls. He came back to the hotel alone and angry tonight. For me Yaoundé is more stressful. It's Beinvenu who calls Ernest when we arrive. Then Ernest expects to be with me by default, crash at the hotel. Tonight I cleared the air at the bar, way before heading home. Hopefully we can talk clearly tomorrow.
"Do you want to try those?" There's a women holding a platter of skewers she's just lifted off the top of her head.
"I'm not hungry"
"You should try it."
"I'm really not hungry."
"You don't want to try?"
He buys 2, hands me one.
"Are they nuts?"
White deflated things the size of almonds with red peppercorns between them. I slide one in my mouth. Oil oozes on my lips. I spit it out.
"What is it?"
I gave him back the skewer.
"What you can't eat it?
Ernest, please let me just be.
Drunk last night I lost my cool. I yelled at him. I told him he's a kid. Yes a very good student but he should stop studying what kind of husband I need and stop acting like a father trying to train me to be Cameroonian. I'm much too grand! Ugliness poured out of me. They accompanied me back to Peace corps.
Today I find him at the bus station in a suit and tie asking, "Why didn't you call me today?"
Back home to Akonolinga, Juliet is in the hospital with malaria. Her baby is asleep on my bed.
The meeting was short and sweet.
Beinvenu said, "Let's be clear, SAIMED has no money and it is unknown when in the future the money will come through. Assuming it arrives, the last 6 months will be paid. But I can no longer keep a full staff of employees who aren't working. You each have three options:
1. Technical conge
2. Being fired
3. I'm open to hear what you propose, what you're willing to do. You may make a collective proposal or individual proposals.
There's still work to be done, I can't put everyone on technical dismissal…"
The news around town…
The Lebanese man who was trying to open a bakery gave up and left. The authorities were bleeding him dry and he hadn't even opened or sold a loaf of bread yet.
It was announced on the radio Thursday that the Sous-Prefect has been reassigned to a desk in the ministry. It's a demotion since he won't have a territory anymore.
A new beer, Castle Milk Stout, an alternative to Guinness, arrived in town yesterday. David said he sold lots of it.
The ATM Association has been legalized.
The dry season is here, the dust increasing.
I spent 51 happy, chatty minutes on the phone to Brussels today with Dad, Liz and Barbara on the line. There's so much more to say.
The first thing I noticed about Mary is that her whole face smiles. She and her husband recently moved to town. I want to photograph them together. She sells fish in the market and needs some credit so she can buy larger quantities in Yaoundé each week. It sounded like she wanted a large personal loan, but I'll get her started at the CECA. She braided my hair again today, maybe we'll become friends.
I wrote yesterday without mentioning the missing child. While braiding my hair, Mary sent the other kids out to look in the obvious places. Then we set out looking through town with her husband, Albert. His 10 year old niece had gone out a few hours before and hadn't come home. Serious head injury at age 6, her logic isn't dependable. They found her at 16:00 today, after 24 hours of looking. The child sat silent watching her hands twist in her lap. Mary wanted me to see her suffering, she'd spent money she didn't have looking for the child.
It's a national holiday for the end of Ramadan. Town was slow and empty. Without a cloud in the sky it was hot and dusty. The bright white sliver moon rose in the light sky of dusk with the north star shining above, the whole moon only slightly visible as a faintly lighter shade of dusty blue than the rest of the sky. Delphine found us at the café when she returned from Yaoundé where she's been with her nephew who broke his arm in two. Aloys and I visited Marious who served us delicious lettuce with oil and vinegar.
Je suis dépasse = I've been overtaken, the solution is beyond me.
It's a common phrase that's taken months for my American
"we can rise above it all"
spirit to feel. I want to pull down the shade on my tiny window into this corrupt, desperate cycle of poverty. My pockets aren't deep enough, my heart & intelligences are irrelevant. I felt dépasse even before I came upon Kadafi's rigor mortis body crawling with black ants, the Nnoma's 14 year old dog dead in firefly alley. The most fascinating and hardest thing about Cameroon is that natural disorder always wins.
I have to remind myself that it's thanksgiving. I wonder who is where?
At 14:00 the delegate of employment came to our office to witness the signing of an interim contract with lower salaries. Nico mouthed off and blabbed on before being the first to sign.
I missed the aides march through town.
The sister has Italian visitors and invited Beinvenu and I to a pasta dinner. It was nice to chat with Europeans but was disappointed to eat fish and fried plantains instead of the pasta promised.
I'm thankful for my health and freedom to live as I choose.
After 2 nights without electricity, the phone signal failed and the water started to run low. I walked in circles. I tried to call Tyrone to see when he's coming to town next week. White finished my stool and cutting board, ordered a bed for my guest room, picked up a package. I gave Delphine money to buy Kanga fish to teach me how to cook it but when I got to her house it was already prepared. I spent an hour standing in one spot in the street greeting people. Came home to Ndamba and played with Bienvenu's kids.
The General Assembly of the CVECA in Embolakounou was scheduled to start at 10am. It started at 12:30. Ended at 18:00. They discussed in detail what will be done to recover each outstanding loan. They reelected the management committee. Then we ate and drank at the chief's house (I didn't touch the monkey meat), road 10 miles to eat and drink at the president's house. Riding a motorcycle home 40 miles my ass hurt from sitting in a wooden chair all day. Back in town, we stopped at Pascal's, I missed Dad's call. Ernest unexpectedly appeared at the Club American.
Describing my week in 20 minutes - By the time I got past the missing child, co-workers with salary reductions, pleas for money and 48 hours without electricity to finding the dead dog I had tears in my eyes. But then I had dinner with Italians. Spent Friday chatting in the road, yesterday in a rural village.
Today I found out his name.
I sat spinning the globe on his desk as we shared the basic details of our lives. He has a great smile. On paper, you'd all agree he's a candidate. Only time will reveal his true motivations.
The Tip Jar