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I cranked stuff out; cut and paste e-mails that I'd already prepared. Two applications down besides the manuscript AND statement of purpose AND autobiographical sketch AND critical writing sample. (Magloire would say And? And? And?) The hard stuff's missing but I was encouraged by cranking most of the official crap out of the way. I didn't get too hung up visiting people. Bought an iron. I made it back home to Akonolinga quickly too. Swollen eyed Roger traveled back with me. We got back to town not too late, went up to the corner for drinks and songo. (And? And?)
I'm calmed but in an odd cloud, or is it a bubble? The ground is distant, the hot sun can burn my skin but the breeze keeps it cool. A stack of new magazines (thanks Anne!) and talking of my friends and family while looking through photos – suddenly I'm neither there nor here. And I can't help leaping into the future. I wonder how long what I have now will last and I'm constantly searching for clues if I want it to. Some things are too beautiful to trust. I can see the beauty but don't feel it. Bellva giggles.
What does it take to build together? Each moment feels heavy, too significant as I try to judge the capacity of the future. Cultural floodgates hang over my shoulders; the contradictory advice on how to live, thin supermodels eating fast foods, the pure country of justice with little tolerance for accents, learning to economize in the land of everything. I eye him up and down as I've eyed others. Finally a slip of his bike tire causes me to shut down. Yes the wine must have made me sleepy. Need to find a way to return to here and now.
I had an 11am appointment with a young girl to braid my hair. I wanted just my own hair braided but she started braiding tiny braids with extensions. I hadn't planned for this 14 hour process!
Jeanah was en route. Hours passed and there were still no cars at Inter-Voyage in Yde (Saturday market traffic). I told her to find Armel. I asked him over the phone to get her a place. Moments later Jeanah sent a text message saying "Done deal. I'm impressed with your ability 2 work the corruption. There're people that hate me glaring into the bus."
Jeanah and I stayed up talking to the wee hours of the morning last night. She came to visit so we could get some work done, which we didn't get around to. But it's great to have someone to talk to in-depth about everything (our different backgrounds, career building, social hang-ups, religious theories, experiences in Cameroon). Carole came back to finish my hair early this morning. Since the electricity was out, Jeanah and I traveled back to Yaoundé in the early afternoon. She didn't see any of the town but found the people cooler and more open than the Bamileke.
I feel accomplished. Shannon and I handed in a draft of our proposal to repeat the women's business training seminar in three cities. I discussed further counter-part training for Mifed volunteers with Gabby. I responded to e-mails, corrected applications. My head calmed and I focused on my personal statement. I finally have a draft I can work with. I passed my stories around the case and got interesting feedback. I feel energized, worthy, satisfied. Statistically my chances are low but I feel determined and lucky. I hope I can sustain this productive streak tomorrow to clean up the online applications.
Heading back to Akonolinga I sat in the front window seat (an old favorite) and read a magazine as twilight descended. Nearing home, maybe outside Mengang, I realized that everyone in the van was following the radio. The special news program was announcing the restructure of the government. Not only are many Ministers being replaced but new posts established. Instead of just one Minister of Education, there is now a Minister of Primary Education, Secondary Education, Graduate Studies. It's hard for me to understand what it means on political, tribal and geographical levels. People oohed, ahhed as names were announced.
There are no newspapers in town. The girl who sends them from Yaoundé is ill. The government has been restructured and nobody else is enterprising enough to send newspapers this way. I was also shocked recently to find that there has been no mail in town for over a month because the mail truck has broken down. The mail ladies wanted my sympathy for their boredom due to lack of mail sorting. But the big news is
football team won their last qualifying match in Douala finally moving them up to first division. Everyone's thrilled, motorcycles circled honking.
My long conversation with Sarah last night stays with me, especially since I'm listening to Pink Martini Je ne veux pas travailler. Our scattered conversation helped me finish a draft of my last application essay. Edited over the phone with Jeanah. But more immediate I reflect on the dangers of being here. It's true I've a high tolerance and have created a safe environment but I'm also becoming increasingly risk adverse. All my strong wise Cameroonian friends have been assaulted in Yaoundé. Matern was stabbed in the back 10 times the night before last. He can't move his right leg.
I take a day out to say I think of grandma whenever I watch the birds. That is to say I think of her often It's the one simple beauty I know she enjoyed and here there are birds. The hawks alone are remarkable, how they glide and dive. But there're also packs of small birds who advance in groups and perch on grass reeds that cannot support them, bright blue birds with big orange beak, a couple of sparrows building their nest together outside the office and one in a red velvet jacket who welcomes me in the morning.
I finally visited Juliet in her new house on the other side of town. It took her awhile to invite me and then the invitation was a bit vague so I ignored it. She's a useful friend but a complicated woman. She filed through scenarios on Matern's attackers and then heard my reaction and rearranged the story without missing a beat. Hard to ever know what she's thinking. She told me the golden sun of my time of the day was approaching. She said she never used to notice it before but now when she does she thinks of me.
I don't know why this day was left out, besides that I must have stayed home reading and preparing for a day trip to Yaoundé when I got a lot accomplished. I'd had an upset tummy and was put out that I had to visit Juliet yesterday. I was reading A Girl Could Stand Up, enjoying having a novel to read resting in bed. There's nothing particularly African to announce and nothing in my personal advancement to declare besides that I took the day off and my opening phrase for tomorrow is " I'm overdue for a good long write."
I got an amazing amount done today. My camera is fixed! I got two applications and manuscripts sealed in addressed envelopes with self-addressed postcards with American stamps inside thanks to Dr. Laura. I caught the end of the dance benefit against AIDS, had a drink with the crew (got a t-shirt) and made it back home to jump into bed and finish "A girl Could Stand Up" – quirky, heartwarming. I feel like there's snow outside. I feel the holiday season even as the heat rises. Foudre should return tomorrow – wonder what Akonolinga's version of a tickertape parade will be like.
I rushed around yesterday to get back home then spent today sitting in the office reading Newsweek. came home and napped, visited the kids, came home and started studying for GREs. Being home isn't enough, I have to walk through town, make myself seen, look for interactions. The kids were excited that my camera is fixed but they don't know how to stay still for a picture and they instantly want to see it. I asked Solange to accompany me on another day trip to Yaoundé tomorrow to go to the bank, visit Matern, get my jump drive from Omnisport.
I'm teetering between falling into the community with holiday spirit and a fish out of water depression bubble. Bienvenu sat in my office at Cecil's desk and announced he hasn't been en forme – too much work, problems at home, the electricity bill… He's depressed. I was also feeling it, loneliness, detachment. When I asked Solange to go to Yaoundé she said Bienvenu wouldn't let her but I had the impression she didn't want to go. Tired of running around alone, I didn't go.** Foundre returned in an impressive motorcade followed by a boring pep-rally. Took Aloys and Maglore for drinks.
I saw Matern at the Central Hospital of Yaoundé this morning. He wanted to sit up, to show me the progress he's making. He swung his legs along the side of the bed. He has 8 gauze rectangular patches on his back, some stitches. After a week his foot is still swollen, wont support him. I suggested he elevate it. The theory is that his leg didn't move because he lost so much blood. Almost more shocking than the stabbing is that he lay bleeding with stab wounds on the floor in the hospital without any treatment for 13 hours.
We danced last night. Hadn't danced together since the Tyrone days. He invited me for x-mas and I said I'm leaving Yaoundé for the last time this year but Foudre returned yesterday and tonight is the night for the students to party before collecting report cards tomorrow and I think you should come home with me and dance. So he did. We drank at the Club American chatting over the status of the world with grand declarations made under breath. We then had a good whirl at Azek. I put him in a car this morning after feeding him kanga.
Took Bienvenu out for a beer after work last night. We needed to hand out, haven't done so in awhile. We went to Club American and ran into Tonton Danger. I was hungry and didn't want to drink but the beer was coming free and Bienvenu needed it. Bien leaned over and said that he's furious with MiFed. Contacts are signed and 7 months salary about to be released but 6 millionCFA ($12,000) for training activities was paid to MiFed instead. He won't have enough to pay back salaries or taxes. Later he declared that he adores Roger, recognizes himself.
After touring town yesterday and going out last night, Annika and I stayed in my compound all day talking about AIDS, politics, problems, research, school study, travel, friends, articles, and writing. I made black bean soup and flat bread. Annika's fingers burned from chopping pimat. Cold water, aloe, yogurt. They burned. Finally we visited Solange. She rubbed palm cooking oil on them saying it would pass. We played with Bellva, Megan and Sonny and slowly her fingertips faded back to white and the burning subsided. We came home and ate the soup with vache qui ri cheese melted into it.
I've been trying to figure out what to give everyone, how to package it, when to send it. I'm in a different mindset, wanting to plan parties while co-workers have pressure to pay rent. Solange suggested that I focus on kids, sending food and balloons to co-workers. Fights start when I give people things. It becomes complicated. Annika left this morning in the fifth car. I visited peter - ordered cases of wine, candies and cookies. I need to take out my braids. I wonder what Ro is up to. I have letters to write, wish I'd gotten cards sent.
Lunchtime: I sat in on the COOPEC FEM-EST training this morning, calculating interest rates. It's interesting but I'm feeling low. Came home immediately during the pause and ate tuna mixed with Vache and then gave myself a pedicure, soaking my feet in a bucket, cleaning out all the dirt, scraping off dead skin. Christiane is moving in next door. I need help taking out my braids, my scalp itches, too much hair breaking. I'm hot and distracted. Roger is far, unable to be a partner. My head is dirty; don't know how or when I can take these braids out.
I can't sleep, my grand idea is too big. Take control of the best located bar in town for the next 10 days. Staff it well, prepare good simple food, add big speakers, screen it with mosquito nets, using masking tape write "Bonne Fetes" add something special for the off nights: happy hour, free popcorn, dance competition. I could make mixed tapes to change up the music. **Taking out my braids, we had the idea of running Perjero's dead bar during the holidays. I ran to town to inquire. Peter thinks it's a good idea, need to negotiate with Perjero.
Being fully engaged in life is exhausting, at times embarrassing. I baked banana bread playing with the kids while waiting for Solanage to return from market and discuss bar plans. Then I ran back and forth with excess enthusiasm negotiating and planning. Peter changed his deal. I walked away from the nonsense, luckily finding a motorcycle quickly. Full moon, bright nightlight, found Bienvenu back from Yaoundé saying we can do what we want but he'll have no deal with Peter Lee, plans on spending the holidays at home with his kids. That sealed it for me. No deal, wasted day
After sleeping soundly, I woke thinking of family. I thought of mom's sour-cream coffeecake on Drexmore, Susan's house bouncing with kids, Maya's first Christmas dressed in ribbons. It's a cool, cloudy morning. I'm sitting on my stoop listening to children playing and little birds' chatter. I can also hear the water on the stove start to roll into a boil. The air is soft and moist, like after a spring rain back home. Bienvenu's discovery of Mifed stealing infuriates him. The blatant corruption is beyond my comprehension, they intend on keeping $12,000 erroneously paid to them. Solanage didn't come by.
I've slept in incredibly long. There's a 9am mass up at the end of the road that I must be missing if it started on time. Last night I crawled into bed just after midnight. My cell-phone rang. "Happy Christmas. You are so far from me. I'm sitting here with Serge and he asked where you were. I don't know why you didn't want to come to Yaoundé to be with me. We'll talk tomorrow. Good night." I wanted to get up and write that down for some reason but instead I fell asleep and slept soundly. I didn't know.
I've just read through my journal for the past few months. I slept in again and let Christiane go to church without me. I'm sitting outside watching the ants march by. I want to pick up, clean, organize, bake more banana bread. I woke thinking of making a calendar for the year to come, posting it on the wall and penciling out weeks; dad's visit, women's seminar in three cities, mom's visit, cos conference. I have photos to format. The end of my service in August will be here before I know it, will I notice life as it passes?
Well Pops was right,
The Biography of the Continent AFRICA
is a fascinating tome full of information on evolution, geology, biology, nutrition, development of culture and technology. I'm addicted. It distracts me with my own ideas as it compels me to read on. There are other things I should be working on and studying. At the same time I'm preoccupied with evaluating my own needs. I wish I could have a weekend powwow with my sisters. Looks like I'll have to wait until September's family gathering. (Big news just in by text message from London… they're going to get hitched.)
I was waiting outside the office this afternoon when Kanaga stopped to chat. We have good conversations, he likes to just shoot the breeze. His honesty and frankness makes me laugh. He's preparing to deliver a dowry and get married in January au village. I invited myself. I asked how he met his woman. And what makes her special? He said she's a woman like any other. Why her? I love her. We have kids together, they multiply the love don't they? I've witnessed their intimate greetings, good couple. But no matter how I probed he couldn't describe her individuality.
I woke early in the dark, slipped back and forth into sleep. At 7am someone knocked at the gate. I jumped out of bed thinking that it was Chantel but it was mde Gua looking for Christiane. The CECA was closed yesterday. I let her in and let her knock on my new neighbor's door. But I felt bad. People hunt her down. Running the small bank in town is a lot of pressure. Just yesterday morning she told me that Mde Gua doesn't know that money was withdrwaln from her account for unpaid loans to elites that she'd co-signed.
She plays victim. She doesn't come look for me. She deals with me when I appear but our friendship runs no deeper. Not wanting to go with me to Yde but went with Juliet several days later. She has a lot to say to Cameroonian women but not much to say to me besides trying to tell me that it's Bienvenu who restricts her movements and siphons her will. She went to market on the 24th without me. She goes with other friends but I always go alone. So I stay away and she sulks wondering why I haven't visited.
Chaos breeds creation. Everyone jumped to look around the corner as if there was a fight. What is it? Incendie. Fire. Flames meters above the roofs. Crowds grew transfixed. Raw fire just next door. The flames danced, sparked, smoked. The house glowed from the inside with true jack-o-lantern warmth. I verified the bar evacuating, stepped closer, people moving tables and chairs. A derisive comment about the white girl was made. I stepped out of the way into headlights. They were waiting for me near their motorcycles to move our party to another bar. More beer was ordered. Happy New Year!
The Tip Jar