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Dad's spell is wearing off – the electricity went out hours before we left Akonolinga and rain drops started to fall as the rented car pulled out of town. Solange cooked up lunch, fried Kanga in tomato sauce and French fries. We then went to a party at Juliet's in Yaoundé.
Air conditioning, smoked salmon, cheese, car and chauffer… April fools. I have to return to peace corps volunteer standard of living. Dad's visit has been fabulous. Now he gets to go back to Brussels and I return to Peace Corps life squished in buses and being begged for money. Fun.
We had a good tourist day in Yaoundé. We saw Mt. Fibi, 2 decent museums and visited the PeaceCorps staff. Then tonight I accompanied Dad to the airport. When checking in he asked if there's a Business class lounge. It's upstairs and I can go there with him. So I walked with him through passport control and we asked directions. There's a first class room but it's closed and non-functional. So I sat and had a drink with him in a bare café before saying goodbye. I'll see him in a month in Brussels. Can't wait for that boarding call.
I stayed in the Yaoundé Hilton until the final hour, late check out at 14:00. I ate breakfast buffet, finished March words, worked on my laptop, took a last hot bath, watched some TV. Dad called to say he'd arrived safely. Barbara said he'd been talking for 3 hours straight. I left the Hilton and went to peace corps case de passage. I found it almost full. I put my name the last free bunk bed and then hung out with a few friends and some people preparing to close service and fly home via a bunch of exotic places.
The sky was full of white fluffy waves of clouds illuminated by the full moon as if a schoolteacher had lined up thousands of students in symmetrical lines and cast a warm spotlight on the stage. Then the sky cleared and the electricity went out. The moon shone bright and cast crisp shadows. Now the electricity has returned and so have the fluffy Charmin clouds. It's almost as if the electricity went out to highlight nature's brilliance.
When I returned from Yaoundé Bienvenu stood saying "It's good to see you. I noticed your father always stood up to greet women."
I want to write and write but something along the lines of frustration, anger, resentment is clogging my brainwaves. At this morning's office meeting I was informed that everyone needed to come over to consume the leftover drinks from last week's party. I didn't refuse. I didn't accept. I resented the obligation of it. I found it exceptionally greedy, imposing. They came, drank and left with the final bottles of soda. My obligation is fulfilled, a few people who missed the fete got to share in the drinks, which's lucky because I won't have another party for a long time.
The electricity was out all day. It came back on for an hour, then went out for an hour. You never know when it will go off again. Jules is having some success establishing him-self as an MTN distributor. He's proud but also seems angry with people in town. I spent most of the day angry at him and contemplating his business strategy. He doesn't understand why he should give some people wholesale prices they can find in Yaoundé.
I'm a little calmer, a little happier. It was a hard week before Dad arrived. It's been hard since he left.
What's the opposite of integration? Disintegration? I need to pull back, withdrawal a little, live a little less integrated, find a way to disintegrate. He accuses me of misinterpretation on the smallest matters, thinks I should live without interpreting his actions, especially since I'm so bad at it. Some kids wonder what the world looks like to ants, fewer contemplate how it appears to adults.
I watch him counting money waiting for simple words like How are you? Nothing like it uttered.
If I'm right about him he took his exit cue tonight but he'll return as if nothing's wrong.
Poster Boy repeats warning labels and taglines; never leave your phone charging over night, too much medicine isn't good for you; medicine heals; seatbelts save lives. He gives instructions – tell her to cut that pineapple; don't talk to them; never go out of your way to greet them.
When someone was knocking at the gate, I moved to go open it. He said ‘that's not your responsibility, unless I'm at the gate. But I'm here. So don't worry about anyone.' He was slightly offended, feels neglected, needing to instruct me in my care - my care of others too obvious.
The official MTN kick off was yesterday. I only knew because my co-workers told me. He called at noon and said he was coming over. Then came by after 9pm. I was in bed reading "We Were the Mulveney's". In his long speech he described Mr. Abata trying to steal the motorcade, the jealousy in town, even his friends don't buy cards from him. But he's succeeded in being the official MTN distributor and has all the authorities as customers. Do I understand a little now? Revenge and pride oozing from him. I nod wondering why he's so bitter.
I'm waiting for a gesture of peace from someone who only understands commands and reprimands. Tonight it was that he doesn't like my tone when I say What? exasperated. Petty silly details, yes they're the tip of the iceberg, but he needs to step back and notice the forest and stop throwing twigs at me. Waited hours for Ernest to arrive from Yaoundé, I told him I'd buy him a beer when he's in town but he arrived after 22:30 and then tried to give me a guilt trip for not taking him out. Rapidly walked out on them both.
I went to Easter mass with Bienvenu's family, my first church experience in Akonolinga. The church is a cement floor with a tin roof next to the primary school. Everyone carries their benches and chairs up the road and then they line them up in rows next to each other. The choir sat and sang calm hymns for 45 minutes before the priest arrived. I didn't understand much, readings in patois, the Lord's Prayer in French… but there was a cool breeze, a calm atmosphere and plenty to see, little girls in Easter dresses, old women with wooden walking sticks.
"It sounds like the women aren't treated very well there."
I've forgotten what I'd wanted to write but Barbara's words still echo in my head. "It sounds like women aren't treated very well there." And I said…
it's ok I'm treated like a man...
Oh that wasn't the right response and I knew it instantly. When Beinvenu counts the women at the table he often forgets to count me and the one man who treats me as a wife infuriates me. If you want to be served, date a Cameroonian. So are the women's lives just different or completely miserable?
Twisted hangover confused. I was out late a King Peter's. I drank 5 beers with some charming young men too big for their boots. I had a good time, I let out some steam, had a few laughs, let him flirt a little too much. Who saw us together? Which taximan brought me home? Jules was at my door at 7am asking questions. I went to the CECA to figure out why the past 3 months accounts don't balance. In a few hours I had everything in order. Then I fled to Yaoundé, away from flirtatious boys and angry men.
Rainy, damp, after midnight. I've spent the day hanging out and chatting with other volunteers, many of my friends from training and people about to close service and fly home. Projects, inspiration, administration, some work, some social blather. All very good for me, like a sponge burnt out & curled up in the sun of the long dry season soaking up enough moisture to soften around the edges, flatten out, regain stability.
Training will be in Mbalmayo, closer to me than any other volunteer. Fran & Ted are tech trainers. I feel relieved knowing I'll have American contact this summer.
Fran and Ted have returned from Medi-Vac. After a laundry list of their injuries, it's amazing to see them in such good form and see them so eager to return to post. Discussing Peace Corps Washington, Fran said it's a shame that not all staff are returned volunteers. They complain when there's water on the floor in the bathroom – but they have running water HOT and cold, a flush toilet with seat! And toilet paper, paper towel, hand blower and a cotex machine; all standards none of which we take for granted anymore. They've no concept of how we live.
We had a great meeting with PMSC, a social marketing group that sells condoms, birth control, mosquito nets and that publishes a youth magazine focused on health and the prevention of HIV. I could work with them in several capacities, linking them with people I know in town.
I went with Andy and a few others to see a dance rehearsal of a Cameroonian dance troop. It was fantastic. Joe met one of them on a plane from Paris and tried to set him up with Andy. They're located near Inter Voyage and I expect they'll become friends of mine.
It's like I've been in hiding, not answering my phone for 3 days. I've been avoiding at least 2 people and not even responding to unfamiliar numbers. They keep calling back. 5 missed calls, 3 missed calls, 7 missed calls. I'll have to explain myself but I avoided that today when I got home. I went over and hung out with Solange and the kids. She fed me. We watched a movie. I'm afraid I'll be greeted in the morning with more phone calls and/or unwanted visitors. I can't hide forever. Tomorrow I'll answer my phone, then it'll stop ringing.
I told Jules today that I won't marry him. I'm not taking anyone back home to America with me. 200% sure. And I'm tired of fighting with him every night so it's all over. I'm sure it's the first declaration that got him. It was short and sweet… Why haven't you returned my calls? Because I don't want to be with you and I won't marry you. I was clear and he had no response.
I found Magloire in the road when Solange was walking me home. We went to town to find dinner and a few drinks. It's late.
School children – Easter break is over and school children are running through the streets in a variety of uniforms again. I've heard that there are more students in Akonolinga than there are adults. But it's people in their 30's and 40's who are in control of this society and it appears to be the same age group that parties in town. Although older folks live it up a little as well.
There're often things I want to tell my bonne first thing in the morning. But I'm never awake enough, so I'd rather ignore her. She has too much energy.
There's lots of work to be done and I have to prepare for my vacation, so there's a little extra pressure to get things done. At the same time it feels good to be busy. I finished a draft of the aides education project and passed it on to Bienvenu. He's 10 times busier than I am. I took Magloire out for dinner and missed the girl who needed help with her English homework by only several minutes. Bellva's excited laugh and sequels is one of the best sounds I've ever heard. There's 3 babies next door, lots of crying.
Helpless like a cockroach on it's back
With purpose like an ant in an assembly line
Sticky like mango juice
Eat something to calm the worms in your belly
Partnership like birds building a nest
Annoying like a mosquito buzzing in your ear
Wandering like a butterfly in the breeze
Butting heads like goats fighting for the top of the hill
Fibrous like a banana leaf
Playful as lizards chasing each other
Desperate like an unemployed man with a dozen mouths to feed
Crafty like a bandit
Tall like a giant
Obedient, voiceless, like a Cameroonian wife
I still wasn't feeling well this morning so I didn't go to Zalom with Aloys. I didn't have the energy to ride hours on a motorcycle, let alone the patience to sit through a long meeting in Beti, nor the stomach to feast on bush meet and gulp palm wine. I came home and slept hard for 4 hours. When I woke I felt much better. I went over and chatted with Solange. She's become a good friend. We've started sharing confidences. I don't have to tell her Bienvenu runs around, she knows. But it's a hard line for me.
A girl emptied her beer on the cement floor in a large cursive loop, then tossed the bottle down breaking it. She didn't like something Aloys said. All this commotion, bienvenu asked if I had a problem. I moved closer. Yes, my problem is that I'm on your side, I'm one of the guys. I want to experience your culture, see things as they really are. But I'm also a woman, a good friend of your wife and I want to share my point of view sometimes without being shut out. He nodded. I gently elaborated. We all went dancing.
I'm in a new dress with the cut and style of my old red dress that the dogs ripped up. I worked all morning, English club and a long 3 hour ATM meeting. I'm proud of those boys, of their way of discussing and making decisions. Labor day was a long rowdy discussion but they finally decided to participate in the parade in new uniforms, reflective vests. I hope they do pull it together...
MTN network is blocked, it won't charge new credit. Damn those folks for using all my credit yesterday night. 0 big fat 0 absolutely no credit.
Vacation is so close I can taste it: Croque Mr. toasted cheese, fresh real bread, orange juice, Belgian beer, milk. But it feels like I'm not ready. I don't know what to take as gifts. I haven't formatted my pictures. Should I get my hair braided? Would my brother wear an African shirt? Which caba should I pack? How many sweaters?
I left the gathering at the bar early. I was seated next to Bienvenu and he was distant, speaking patois and didn't want me around. I hate that. It's hot. We need rain. I need a good soapy shower.
I had articles and essays in my head. I eagerly sat down to type and they evaporated. So I figured I'd play Scrabble on my computer for a few minutes, which turned into 4 or 5 hours. I almost memorized all the combinations. It's cool and rainy which is great because the day was super hot and the damn dust clouds unavoidable. It feels like I could find a nice rhythm living here, it's just that the people complicate things, my relationships change quarterly, the chores I want done for me change weekly, my drinking and eating habits change daily.
I've revealed too much here already of my relationship and conflict. My head's spinning. I've got dirt to spill. I want to cut him down to size and when I cut someone down to size they become very small. I'm shredding him in my spinning head right now. 1000 lies, manipulations, stupidities. My capacity alone overpowers him too much and he's already put plenty of stories in circulation. So I'll calmly live my life with my head held high, or low depending on the strength and level of the sun. It doesn't really matter what this town thinks of me.
I feel exhausted, worn out as if I was drinking whiskey not water last night and as if I danced on the tables in a saloon instead of fuming with anger in the privacy of my own house. I'm in a bubble but the atmosphere outside doesn't feel quite right. Some of the Americans around seem judgmental (declared my Akonolinga jokes in poor taste) and the Cameroonians generally think they can manipulate me as if I were more naive than they are (at least the testosterone charged men). I left for Yaoundé unprepared in my haste to hitch a ride.
Yesterday's oddness rapidly wore off when Angela accompanied me to the bank. I had her rolling on the floor with laughter over the odd stories Jules has been telling in town. Stories of the promiscuity and polygamy in Akonolinga shock other volunteers and I wonder if I'm too integrated. Have I become too numb to and accepting of an outrageous way of life? Should I express more outrage to adultery and corruption?
This morning I attended a press conference promoting our business program. I was interviewed by Cameroonian radio and TV. If aired, I hope I don't miss the broadcasts.
We returned from the party at Tyrone's late last night. I got up early and was at the office in Akonolinga by 9am. I sat through the end of the taxi men's meeting preparing for the parade tomorrow. Then I discussed my water bill with the boss at SNEC and went out with everyone from the office. At 1pm I figured I'd take a nap. I woke at 6pm when Joselyn knocked. I didn't know if it was night or day or when I'd gone to bed. Aloys just brought me my phone that I'd left charging at the office.
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