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It’s late and I’m at the case. I just posted Feb and figured I get March started. Started the day with an office wide meeting, some money has come through and the wheels are starting to roll. Lillian went to market and fried some fish for us. Jules came home to eat before I set off. He’s calm and distracted, my latest tantrum blowing over. I traveled calmly and found Jeanah and Kevin at the case, a group of us went out for dinner and beer. I’ve spent ages reading e-mail. Now it’s very late, time to find a bunk.
Relaxed, quiet, productive, exceptionally calm. I'm almost alone at the case. There's a crisis corps girls who just arrived. We had dinner together. Nice girl. The computers are free, laundry machine empty, TV off. I saw a dermatologist at the Cameroonian teaching hospital this morning, got some information for Dad's visit, asked a driver to look into car rentals, had helpful discussions for my aides education project, read newsletters, requested vacation, handed in an updated emergency contact form and rent receipts. Tomorrow I'll do my shopping. Tonight I'll get caught up on e-mail. It's great having this place to myself.
I wanted to buy the women's day fabric at LaKing in Yaoundé behind Marche Central because I figured it'd be cheaper (ends up it isn't). The store had moved down the block. There was a huge crowd of women outside. I had my cell phone in the pocket of my caba. I felt my pocket lighten. I saw my phone in a hand. I grabbed it saying "I want that back!" He got two steps away before a gendarme grabbed his collar. In a police shack they beat his bare soles and made him jump on rocks and bottle caps.
I've blue hair, about 400 electric blue braids with some burgundy strands mixed in for good measure. Now I really feel like I'm experiencing Africa and having a little fun. It took over 6 hours of patiently sitting. When the sun set I started to worry that people were looking for me and I didn't have anything to eat in my kitchen. Afterwards I went to get Jules and take him out for dinner. The moon tonight was very bright and spectacular, an almost mature moon encircled by a huge ring of clouds, like a halo 20 times its size.
Jules was invited to a play at the Salle des Fetes. We got there 45mins late, as it was starting. With the play in action, a man entered in front and asked pardon from the room but his wife, the mother of his children, had come out without his permission. He'd come to get her. I couldn't hear clearly, it took a moment to sink in. She was seated in front of me and quietly left with him. In disbelief I loudly announced my understanding of the situation. Everyone looked back at me nodding, almost as shocked as I was.
I have to give computer lessons at 4pm to some soft spoken teenagers. There're other things I'd like to do with my afternoon. The ATM meeting this morning was long, tedious and unresolved. It's hot and my scalp itches under my braids. Lillian arrived this morning dressed up to travel with her son and bag. So I let her go. But if she finds it hard to clean my house while watching Juliet's baby and she doesn't want to work on weekends when Juliet is away then she doesn't really want to work for me. She needs to be replaced.
The moon is full and very bright. Jules said that when he was little he learned that God lives in the sky. Then he flew in a plane between layers of clouds. He wondered, so where is this mystic residence of the almighty. The sky, where is it?
There's a general pessimism here.
That won't work. That's bad quality.
It's mixed with jealousy and destruction like mean camp girls chopping off someone's golden locks. Here adults do it; poison sisters to have her white husband. Community gardens in the states are really powerful things. Where does that spirit come from?
Bijou styled my hair a la Eiffel Tower, which with blue braids is damn close to Marge Simpson hair. They're watering the dust on the main square and tying palm fronds to poles. Everyone wants me to celebrate my hair and the day by buying them a beer. The men think it's a day when women should buy them drinks. I ask them all, so what are you doing for your women today? The women are preparing to parade through town in matching International Women's Day dresses, then dance and drink the night away. I'm ready to strut through town.
You have a gun, you know karate, you collect information.
Wait, I have a gun?
Well, yes. That's the news around town. Everyone knows you have a gun. What's in that black bag of yours? You have a gun. You're trained in karate. You want information. Everyone knows that.
The town. Anyone who talks about you talks only about that.
So I have a gun eh? All this threatening power and I had no idea.
- Just now Jules asked if I am recording our conversation. He knows now and then what the subject of my words will be.
My new maid asked me: – So where ya from, like France or what?
No I'm American.
Oh that's far! AhKa!
Yes I'm here for 2 years. Then I go back.
Oh that guy, what'll he do? He'll cry when you leave.
Anything can happen in the year to come.
He'll cry. Where're your kids, back there?
I don't have any yet.
You going to go back and marry a man where you came from?
I don't know.
Oh so you reject us all.
I don't know who I'll marry.
Hey, Are you going to take me back there with you?
Time alone on my hands. The only books I have that I haven't read are either too braindead or too demanding. My laptop charger is broken, my creative energy flustered. I got out my watercolor paints and painted some cards. Tried with some success to paint mud huts and palm trees. Time flew by and I enjoyed the concentration, distraction, focus. By 8:30 I understood that Jules wasn't coming over and for once there's food waiting for him but I'm already in my home clothes and calm. I'll go to bed and listen to the BBC until I fall asleep.
Jules is in Yaoundé for some hearing I know nothing about. I doubt he'll return as expected tonight. The week long mission from the Ministry of Agriculture ended at 5 and I was excused. But I knew some of them were going out drinking. I felt very rejected and disregarded in the way I was excused. Juliet asked what my bonne had prepared for dinner. "Aren't you going to serve me?" "Ah… no." She rebutted with a why? And I started to say that I'm not her servant but I softened my response. Maybe I'm too soft for this society.
He says I'd be perfect if I didn't have outbursts and tantrums. So he didn't recognize the anger lining my quiet withdrawal when I refused to go out tonight after he left me waiting all afternoon. I stayed in and drew and painted mango tress, laundry lines and moonrings while listening to Cds that have been collecting dust. People say this town is covered in dust but in my eyes today it's one large sandbox that children scoop up in bottle caps and dump over their heads. With Melissa singing ‘meet me in the back', I'm transported back to NYC.
We were already upset with each other and arguing. I made myself coffee and then put a mug of hot water next to the open can of sweetened milk on the cement counter for him while he stood in the middle of the kitchen with the radio in hand. As I was leaving with my coffee he called me back. He said if I'd started (nodding at his mug) then I should finish the task of preparing his coffee. So I emptied the hot water back into the pan and put the can of milk back into the little fridge.
For months I've heard that the rains start March 15th so under the unusually hot glaring sun this morning I announced rain. When a dozen huge drops splatted against the roof during lunch I started to wonder if I don't have sorcerer's blood running through my veins. A few people agreed that while it only threatened rain today (a dozen drops doesn't count) it will rain during the night. There are no stars in the sky. While Africans are notoriously late, the atmosphere just may be respectful of the arbitrary schedule. I'm looking forward to some hard rain and wind.
I road out to Abem with Aloys. We couldn't find the man with the keys to the CVECA. Nobody was home, they were out working their fields. We drank a glass of natures white wine before heading back. Everyone commented on how dirty I was from the dusty journey. I took a long soapy cold shower. Sat an read, clean and soft. Talk of food missing from my kitchen stressed me out. Is the new bonne stealing from my kitchen? The electricity went out. I was unprepared and very disoriented. I've caught 2 mosquitoes in the pages of my journal.
Well my waiting now is over. It's night, the electricity is still out and now it is raining – glorious, thunderous rain. Jules will not come knocking in this rain and Beinvenu will not send anyone looking for me in this rain. So I'm free to crawl into bed. I stood outside for a few minutes watching the lightening flashes, listening to the rain gaining momentum, feeling its spray. It's really dark since the lights are out and the sky is cloudy. My neighbors are all holed up inside. Now I wish Jules were here to crawl into bed with me.
too many stories today: The road to Zalom was narrow, rigid, bumpy, dusty, full of potholes and ravines. Where it rained yesterday the surface slipped…
The signature of a member of the Zalom bank is "AH!!"
There's a man au village who took his week old baby letting the mother return to school in town. Aloys was astonished.
He filled his glass with palm wine, poured it through each of our glasses and then drank to demonstrate there was no poison.
Coming back, the motorcycle chain broke.
I've never seen Jules as animated as tonight after his confrontation Mr. Abata.
Yesterday there was a crying child being beaten 100 yards away. The men around me were certain that the child must have been bothersome. The big or powerful beat the small and weak into submission.
I'm the only woman in town who carries a purse, so there's a general curiosity about the contents of my black bag. Months ago the kids wanted to peak; glasses, keys, wallet, gum, hair band, tissues. Solange explained they don't know anyone who goes to market with so much stuff.
Barbara had her appendix taken out. Noah is walking. My family is continuing without me.
Dad is so enthusiastic, any apprehension I thought he had disappeared in excitement echoing through his voice. Ready for anything, ready to land in Africa and experience the daily life of his 33 year old daughter. I neglected to tell him that the electricity has been out for 3 days (there's a serious break down in the main line out of Yaoundé), the water has stopped running and the phones go in and out. But it will probably be the cold showers, bumpy roads and noise of the night creatures and the foam bed that cause him to lose sleep.
While Jules was interviewing a girl to run a callbox, she expressed interest in working in the shop. He looked at her education, a seamstress trade diploma. "We're not sewing any clothes there sweetheart." I was taken back by his bluntness. He often tells me to stop interpreting his actions and words. Although I'm known to be rather blunt back home, I come from a culture were much less is said directly – many insinuated communications expected to be interpreted. Weeks ago I decided I'd buy cheap paint, mix fun colors, paint my walls. Jules hasn't delivered the help he offered.
It's the 6th night without electricity, although there was some for a few hours here and there. I finished painting the extra bedroom around dusk, then walked over to Beinvenu's house. I found Solange sitting outside in total darkness with Bellva asleep in her arms, Megan huddled next to her on her stool and Sonny on the cement. Beinvenu hadn't been home since morning and Solange didn't have 150CFA (30cents) to buy kerosene for the lamp. I sat with them talking in the dark. Sonny used my flashlight to serve himself dinner. Then I went to buy them some kerosene.
They do it to each other too – double prices, negotiate, skim off the top, make up stories, invent excuses. It's a battle of wills. For me they lay it on extra thick and expect me to fold twice as fast. Today I feel strong. Buying fabric he quoted me 3 times the price. I took a seat knowing it'd take awhile. Tomorrow I'll fight SNEC. They want me to pay to fix my water-meter. I refuse. My bonne lost the soap she uses to wash floors, clothes, dishes. She insinuated that Lillian took it. I think she took it home.
I'm sullen, depressed, congested, tired. Mr. Nnoma inspected the water-meter. SNEC should replace it but he doesn't have time to fight them. Just like a New Yorker would pay double for convenience, he told me to pay for it and subtract it from my rent.
I sat quiet all morning, witnessed the counting of the contents of the safe of the only bank in town, then came home to hide. It feels like everyone wants to suck me dry, use me up, dump me out. It was best not to see or talk to anyone. I slept the afternoon away.
Today was utterly exhausting. I told Beinvenu yesterday that it feels like I've been here for years, I'm angry with everyone. Today he offered me help dealing with the water company. I fought loudly with Juliet, I sent money to SNEC to replace a piece on the water meter, I cleaned my place. The day ended with a discussion with Jules about money, property, sharing and direct and indirect ways of asking for things. I'm worn out but calmed. I've just learned that the president of Equatorial Guinea is visiting tomorrow so the airport will be blocked when dad arrives.
There he was, Dad, second person to round the corner off the plane. He dug his WHO card out of his pocket to verify vaccinations. He noticed me and started coming over to greet me. A customs official stopped him asking him to wait behind the yellow line. We were 40 feet apart facing each other. A long line of passengers formed behind him. I was in a crowd of greeters, the luggage scanner staff stood at the ready, more people were gathered outside the luggage area. We all waited for the passport control guys to arrive and set up.
Petrol usually sits at the market behind his sewing machine and nods his head listening to the gossip around him. Today dressed in Zebra from hat to cuffs, he delayed us by hours and then guided us to the village. Animated by alcohol, tour guide in the dark forest on unmarked roads he chatted alternating between telling me the sites and giving the driver directions. ‘On the left is a school. The road will be flat until the next intersection. I was born 6 kilometers down that road. Take a left. Beinvenu was born 5 kilometers down the other road.
When I lay down I'm sure I'll sleep soundly tonight. Dad is here. He's relaxed and calmly going with the flow. I've been a chatterbox for 3 days straight, overflowing with stories, gossip, information. And then… And then … And then….
It's good to have him here. We returned from Esse this morning, napped, had a late lunch and several drinks at Perjero's. We went see if Beinvenu and Solange made it home safe. We sat on stools under a mango tree talking with Beinvenu. Jules came by in the evening. Dad is safe and hopefully comfortable in my house.
Dad's in bed. I should soon sleep as well. He's commented several times in the last few days on how well adjusted I am. Tonight out having drinks with my co-workers he leaned over and said ‘I've never done anything like this before.' I inquired for details that he couldn't provide. Smelling burning rubber wafting through the outside area enclosed by incomplete walls, surrounded by black people speaking an incomprehensive language, offering beers to gendarmes who liberated us from a makeshift check point, mosquitoes swarming, a drunken bum taunting us, mixed with discussions regarding legal regulations of forming an association.
We went out to Eboman with Cecile and the driver to see the suspended rock. We stopped several times along the way to drop off mail, leave messages, greet people. It was a long trip. Even from inside the car we got covered in dust. We went to Jules' place for dinner. Just as we were swallowing the last of the chewy chicken, around 21:18, Jules' cell phone rang. My mouth dropped open. He jumped out of his chair. It's the first time I'd heard a cell phone ring in Akonolinga. The network has finally arrived, life has already changed.
The highlight is Dad, he's an easy going good sport soaking up new, totally foreign experiences. I took him to market, introduced him to my dressmaker, carpenter and barmen. We walked through town under the hot sun, ran some errands and prepared a party. People came, ate well and danced. Jules came late from Yaoundé where he was buying phone cards. Self obsessed; he's not a party boy. I thought he'd left. Dad and I cleaned up, talked, looked at pictures. Then I find Jules asleep waiting for me in my bed. Feels like ease dropping, hiding, laying in wait.
The Tip Jar