REPORT A PROBLEM
I'm different already this year and I can feel it. My thoughts have shifted on something that has been eating at me. Much remains to be seen, but it's easier to sift through. A certain storm in my life has passed.
I was invited to a huge New Years Day feast by a professor I met months ago in the bus to YaoundÃƒÆ'Ã‚Â©. He's an intellectual who enjoys discussing ideas. And while he has his favorite topics, I find talking to him very interesting (while also rather exhausting). We discussed African mysticism and the power and progression of the soul.
What does it mean to be "eaten au village-?
There're secret societies that have spiritual power - advanced, trained souls - in American terms, developed six-sense. They control the spiritual energy of the community. Capable of miracles, malice and travels, they practice in the darkness of night. They burn a lot of energy, as a match thrown into gasoline. So they feed off energy of other people. When someone has been eaten their energy source has been withdrawn by such a group, cut off i.e. "eaten-.
So they're walking dead?
The heat of an iron doesn't disappear as soon as it's unplugged.
There're many things that I don't say here. I regard this as news to you all, at least that obligation keeps me going. Sometimes the only way I can fulfill that obligation is in veiled notes to myself.
At 8:30 this morning I found the complete staff in the Director's office with a Monday meeting already started. The tone was positive and collaborative but my stomach grumbled as it continued. Then Bienvenu consulted with me briefly before calling in Magloire and Cecile for the news that's been pending.
Afterwards I took Magloire out for a coke to strategize his career.
YaoundÃƒÆ'Ã‚Â© - got e-mail done, posted words, bought provisions at the corner store. I didn't like waiting, a co-worker said he'd left. Eventually he arrived and calmed me relatively well. We went to meet Sebastian in town at an upstairs bar with a live band that played a good variety. There were several couples around the table working on a bottle of whiskey. I'd met Sebastian and his wife months ago and we had to explain why they hadn't seen us in so long. We danced before moving to another bar for a nightcap. Political discussion interrupted by an angry regular.
Spent the day in YaoundÃƒÆ'Ã‚Â© chez roger without exiting the gate. His sisters went out to market and cooked us eggs. I'm shy here but more comfortable than I'd expected I'd be. We talked of spiritualism and told stories... C'est bon, C'est pas bon. Imagine that as your only vocabulary... He listed his 10 siblings for me. I drew a family tree of parents and spouses, chatting non-stop for awhile. He showed me family photos. His sisters live all over. There are only a few rare photos of him over the years. Watched movies on his computer in his room.
I knew MiFed was expected in town this week to sign contracts but I was surprised to return from YaoundÃƒÆ'Ã‚Â© and find 25 people in the salle du reunion with the French man from CIDR leading the group through the contract point by point. I pulled up a chair and sat through the final hour. It got heated. Bienvenu hit a point he refused to accept, truly, visibly furious. Eventually he backed down saying that a shop keeper who sells eggs should never start a fight in his store. The poor Frenchman couldn't see all the waves under the table.
I sat on sacks of rice while the baggage was accumulated. Six cases of beer, kilos of salt, two huge pigs etc. When the old silver van was loaded with cargo, they asked who was traveling and over a dozen people moved toward the van. Kanaga suggested I ride in the car because the road is real bad. I decided to ride on the motorcycle with Marius. We arrived in the night hours before the car that had taken the worst route and had radiator trouble. Melan II's Chief's fourth wife, Mary, bright and cheery declared that moonshine gives courage.
Random people translated and explained what was going on, delivering dowry and negotiating marriage. The most astonishing was the distribution of the dowry among the bride's family. Neither the bride nor groom present, cousins distributed kilos of fish one by one, rice and wine in bowls, bottles beer. People bartered, screamed, stomped. Finally we danced under a palm frond awning, people were surprised that I've learned some Cameroonian moves. Highlight was discovering Cathy- morning wash at the water source laughing over her twins Limousine and Groumiel, night chat in room about the old lover she'd crossed paths with waiting outside.
Marius had wanted to leave early. I woke when the music stopped and went out back to pee. The cold sent me back to the covers. We had to wait to be fed goat and a MAI that was packaged in leaves for everyone to travel with. Riding back on the motorcycle under the hot sun with my backpack on my back and the 4 year old in the front was hard, the dirt road bumpy, overgrown weeds whipping my scratched knee, dust clouding my eyes. We stopped in KAN to visit Marius' family and champ. Zombie, need to wash.
I had an upset stomach last night and felt weak this morning. I went into town to buy Roger a present. I went to Jules, Pascal and Jules old business partner. The girl in the shop who doesn't know me was the kindest, most professional and had what I wanted. I didn't return to the office for the long planning meeting after lunch, feel like an awkward hermit. I made banana bread, played with the new phone and formatted photos. My system keeps changing and I still don't know what format to save photos in. I need to burn disks.
I don't blend in, I can't. I'm not sure when I became comfortable with that fact but I've begun blossoming in my role as the foreigner, the odd man out, who doesn't understand the local language but who gets what's going on. I've found a place finally where I can naturally shoot from the hip. I sometimes surprise people with my understanding of what's going on, my response to their culture.
Coming home I feared the cold at the bottom of the Ndamba hill ("Alaska"truly frigid). Marius speed through it and we both screamed as if on a rollercoaster.
It's a little less cold this morning. I had warmer layers on before I stepped outside but the air didn't bite as much as yesterday. People say this cold comes for a handful of days each year. When the sun disappears the temperature has been dropping a good 15 degrees. The cold woke me the other night when I was sleeping au village in a mud house at Kanaga's wedding. I've pulled my sleeping bag out of the trunk, closed the windows and have been sleeping in socks. Each morning is warming slightly.
Internet is on the way to Akonolinga...
He worked all day on installing the internet and the connection wouldn't go through. He sat fixed dialing again and again, changing the configuration, dialing again. The folks at ICCNET were derogatory the first time he called but hours later when he called back they said they'd verified everything on their end. It may be the telephone line. We regarded that as an excuse but it's true the tone has been week since the line was cut a month ago. We tried the modem from my laptop, it'd make encouraging beeps and disconnect. He was especially baffled, frustrated and disappointed.
Inflation, it's starting to hit home. It started a few weeks ago when the price of official stamps doubled. Then car registration more doubled and all taxes were increased by more than 100%. The price of beer increased, now the consumer in town pays 500 francs instead of 350. The cost of obtaining a passport tripled. This week the price of gas went up too and so the cost of a moto taxi has increased from 100 to 150 cfa. Government salaries were cut at the end of the year. Everyone is waiting to see if they'll get a raise.
It's Saturday morning and my work today is to write a final application essay. This week Roger helped me settle on a topic. It had been driving me crazy and the indecision facilitated procrastination. I've got the main points outlined and the start of a draft. I plan to stop by and visit the new Belgian Doctor from Doctors Without Boarders to see if she has a working internet connection, rumor is that there was internet but they've had problems. I also want to get to YaoundÃƒÆ'Ã‚Â© in time to get photos developed. There's too much going on these days.
The wood carver came to meet me at Texaco Omnisport and had to wait while we finished drinks with the Sunday football boys. He took us back to his closet workshop on the other side of town and had us flip through a photo-album of his work before placing an order for a trunk. Then I had to chose a scene or theme for each side of the trunk. He's had a workshop for 30 years. He talked of past Peace Corps volunteers, how they like sitting around cook fires. I didn't have the energy to try to impress him.
Everything is a little slow here. I needed to check on a bank transfer. The first news was that it simply wasn't there but it was eventually found and the bank man scolded me for not having complete information from the start. "See when I have the information I need I can help.-
I went with Roger upstairs from the bank in the Hilton complex to ICCNET where we discovered that they'd set up the internet connection wrong but fixing it needs the signature of the boss who wasn't available so it'll take the rest of the day. No apologies.
I just blew an odd bug off the edge of my glass. More than a year here and I'm still confronted with new varieties of bugs within the walls of my house! The PCA is in town leading a workshop within SAIMED to create a strategy and diversification plan. It was a good constructive day that passed quickly and finished with a dinner chez Bienvenu. After eating the PCA left. Bienvenu called me to open the dance. The group was so small, there were lots of odd couples and giggles. Encouraging the kids to dance was more amusing for everyone.
The SAIMED workshop with the PCA was power packed. I got a chance to talk to him about his background and career options in development.
My pacing, organizing, stacking, packing habit will never leave me. It's my rhythm before vacation, before leaving my house. .
New York days on my mind. All the varied friends and the scattered things I still have of them - from the music I've found to the memories of clubs with Lisa and Carol, the French connection with Isabel, singing with Kate, the wine on cold winter nights with Sarah, the African concerts with Popo and DI.
I'm in the Meridian in Douala. D&B arrived on schedule. Unfortunately my bus was late, so I found them at the hotel. We had a nice dinner together with many unanswered questions brushing over all the topics we have to discuss. I've had a warm bath, flipping TV channels between Jerry Springer, BBC and CNN - having English TV is great. Jerry makes me sick.
"You can climb Mt. Everest 100 times and set out to do it a 101st time. The experience would still be different and new." That sits with me like a brilliant new way of approaching life.
Still feel my fist in your back?
We spent a long frustrating, boring day at the airport waiting for the airplane. Not a good first day of vacation, nor a good first day for visitors to Cameroon. Nonetheless we made it to Garoua by CAMAIR plane. Waiting for our bags in the baggage claim we were next to a group of men taking flat metal boxes off the belt. Our baggage guy knows their guides and explained that the men had come for a hunting safari. The metal boxes contain guns. People usually come to hunt elephants and other large game. Anything's possible for the right price.
Woke in Garoua with a parched throat and a feeling that my skin is shrinking from the dry air. The colors are different - pale desert monotone, gray sand. We stopped to see Dagmar in Guider. She was glowing, bubbling over with excitement to receive us. She sent us off with freshly baked coconut cake. This evening in Rhumsiki we visited the Crab Sorcerer who read my future by interpreting a crab's movements among stones in a calabash. There's someone who loves me a lot. I'll have 3 children (firstborn a boy) and live long enough to carry a cane.
I'm in a boukarou in Waza Campement up on a hill among rocks There's a strong wind blowing through. We just drove up and down the paved road as dusk was approaching to see animals as they cross to drink water on the other side. We saw monkeys large and small, Topi, Giraffes, jade green birds, heron and guinea fowl. It was a long day on a bouncy dirt road but it was wonderful to be greeted by giraffe on the way in. Traveling with the parents I see the cultural differences and all that I've had to adjust to.
It's still dark out, deep blue sky at the horizon. Noisy winds whisked forcefully by while I was still in bed. The Harmattan winds from the Sahel desert. As I walked up the steps to the restaurant for coffee and breakfast I saw a small white owl fly into the tree branch above me. That may account for some of the strange sounds I heard in the night. We'll spend the day driving through Waza national park. (We found a family of elephants with a youngling hiding completely underneath his mama. Watched papa knock down a tree for family lunch.)
We had another morning drive through Waza before hitting the road to Maroua. It took some negotiation to get comfortable at the hotel. We had a scattered tour of town (if you don't have an especially solid stomach, don't bother visiting a tannery) and got pictures of little Maya developed (makes me a tad sad to see how big she is getting). The highlight of the day was dinner - fabulous food at Porte de Mayo although I shouldn't have insisted that he tell his long story of plumbing problems. Had a good chat with Roger, nice to be in network.
Oh I'm sleepy and a little worn out today, quieter in the car as we drove out to Maga Pouse. The sun was strong and hot - closer to the heat I expected to find up North (it ends up we're visiting during the coolest month. I'm very glad Barbara has an extra jacket). We saw an example of very interesting traditional houses of the -----. The outside of the clay huts have ridges and it ends up they are used like ladders to climb on top. After dinner I will meet Jim and Drew for a beer in town.
We went this morning to the house of a shoemaker Jim knows to order leather sandals. Even though we'd left a message the night before that we'd come by in the morning, he'd gone out to an artisan conference. He was called and we waited a little anxious to get on the road. Eventually he arrived, a smiling, young, accommodating man who works in a small closet workshop. He measured our feet and had us choose the style from western catalogues, the color of leather, the material for the soles. Drew will bring the sandals to YaoundÃƒÆ'Ã‚Â© for us Tuesday.
After lunch suddenly I heard loud squawking and screaming. I went out to see what was happening. I saw men grabbing heavy sticks and slingshots. Getting closer they were clubbing a lump of fur. A Baboon. Everyone was focused on the lump of fur and since it'd stopped moving, they'd also calmed and stopped screaming. It was explained that they'd set a trap because the Baboon had been eating their chickens and slapping their toddlers. The crowd was just as fascinated as I was to examine the dead Baboon's body. There was a triumphant air - they'd finally gotten the bugger.
We went out on another drive through Benoue (Ben-Way) national park this morning. I really enjoy this park, the landscape is beautiful. The fallen leaves, and dry grass combined with the cool nights it reminds me of fall back home. We're at the "Ranch-. It's beautifully landscaped, simple, cozy. The French couple who run it are frantic busy. I haven't been asked so many times if I enjoy the food since I've been in Cameroon. It makes me feel observed and imposed upon. Cameroonians don't appear to take it as personally if I don't like their food or finish everything.
There's something very solitary to spending time alone with a couple who've been married close to 30 years, even if they're the parents. I've noticed it before but I can't say it has ever bothered me. It's just an unusual current, a different rhythm. .
We've had a very calm, quiet day at the Ranch outside NGaoundere. I walked several times around the lake with my eyes on the path one step ahead, only occasionally stopping to take in the grand views and listen to the birds. My thoughts danced around the impossibility of understanding the future ramifications of today's decisions.
Transportation in this country simply sucks. Prepared for possible delays in our flight to YaoundÃƒÆ'Ã‚Â© we planned a calm morning at the Ranch before having to deal with the airport. Unfortunately I was woken to a hard knock before 7am announcing that the flight had been moved up and we needed to rush to the airport. I let myself fill with joy and hope. I called Roger and announced I'd be back early. We waited until 1pm to hear that the flight was cancelled. So we'll have to spend 16hours on the overnight train. We spent the day waiting again.
The Tip Jar