Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Un Voyage Au Cameroun: A Journey To New Jersey

Well folks, my internet credit did not hold until the end of my trip, but, as you may have noticed, I am back home safely in the US. The end of my time in Cameroon ended with a few family parties and some bittersweet goodbyes---and of course, an airport staff in Yaounde trying to tell Jamie she was in violation of a law in order to get $1,000 from her. When I told him he was clearly lying, he carried on about he was only one man and needed to do what he had to do. It was a fitting end, and while I didn't agree with his methods, I appreciated his honesty.

Following my departure, I stayed with Jamie in Paris for 3 days at a good friend's home, and we had a great time and doing everything there is to do.

This post is aptly titled to reflect my change in location from Cameroon to New Jersey, so I will mostly be tying together my reflections in a short post. Perhaps I'm being lazy (I'm also really cold), but I feel this will be satisfying to everyone who wanted an ending to my time away.

In typical fashion, my flight home was really rocky. There were only 20 people on the airbus that holds 250, which was quite funny because, really, no one wants to fly to Newark. Our plane was delayed from landing for 40 minutes, which made the experience equally painful because all I wanted to do was land and see my parents at this point.

Many of my friends have been asking me if I had fun in Cameroon. "Fun" is definitely not the word to describe my time there. However, it was one of the most crucial experiences in my life---which I think is pretty amazing that I can make such a strong statement and have only been home for a day. I feel more self-aware, self-assured, and knowledgeable about who I am. I think everyone needs to have an experience where they literally pull themselves away from everything they know and enter a new culture. The amount of respect and love you have for your life back at home is one of the strongest emotions I have ever felt.

So what else did I learn?

a) Home is where the heart is. When I saw my parents waiting for me at the international terminal, I was really overwhelmed by a sense of family. My friends all sent me welcome home messages. It is probably one of the best feelings---everyone should experience walking down the international hall, you feel like a celebrity. In Cameroon, I missed my home---probably more than I would have liked to. At the same time...

b) Experiencing another culture is absolutely necessary to understanding yourself. Being open-minded and patient with people who are different than you teaches you a lot about some of your attributes (the good and the bad). Making cultural mistakes in Yaounde made me feel quite embarrassed but I learned from those moments.

c) Accept the things that are not within my control. There were many moments that I feel frustrated from being in Yaounde.

d) Relax. Relax. Relax.

e) Never stop smiling---always keep a positive mindset. I kept this philosophy at home before I left but I think I was fighting it while I was in Cameroon.

f) Be thankful for what I have. This goes without saying but the poverty I saw is scarring when considering the home I am lucky to live in back home.The divide between the global north and south is extremely unsettling.

and finally...

g) Be honest with yourself. I couldn't have stayed in Cameroon longer than I did. Because I felt more self-aware, I was able to really understand what I could handle and what I couldn't...as well as what I wanted too handle and what I didn't. A developing nation isn't easy to live in, and there are some things you may not be willing sacrifice. Be open-minded, as I said before, but be realistic.

I experience a range of emotions in Yaounde. Everyday was a roller coaster---happy, sad, angry, frustrated, humorous, patronizing, discriminating...over and over again; it was exhausting. But I am so grateful for everything I have learned. I wouldn't take a moment away from my experience.

And to that, I say thank you for reading. This blog was my form of therapy and I am glad so many of you enjoyed it as well.

I am excited for my next journey: graduating Drexel from June.

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
-Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tolstoy, red wine, and Au Revoir Noela!

It is not that surprising that my last week here has been probably my favorite. Coming off my Mount Cameroon high, I was a bit worried that these last weeks would drag out in anticipation for my departure.

Gladly, this last week has just been a reminder of how far I have come here in Yaoundé. It all began Saturday night with a bottle of delicious red wine and Leo Tolstoy. Reading his short story, “Family Happiness,” while sitting in our big, comfy sofa chair was a much needed meditation for me. Tolstoy writes of the importance of sharing our lives with others as the ultimate happiness. Sacrifice goes hand-in-hand with this ideal. A lot of my unhappiness here in my first few weeks was my unwillingness to depart myself from my life in the States. I was stuck on sharing my life only with my circle of friends and family at Drexel and in New Jersey. If I could learn to enjoy Cameroon more with the people I have here, then I would ultimately find happiness.

It is funny how we often come full circle on such a simple philosophy. The last few days have only been about the happiness I have here with my host family. On Tuesday, we would say goodbye to Noela, Mercy’s cousin who lived with us. She won the diversity visa lottery to the US, so she would be traveling to Maryland to live with Mercy’s relatives and hopefully attend school in the future. It was her first time flying or ever visiting another country. I knew she would be in for a big culture shock, so I tried to explain the theory of culture shock, coping methods, and some hints to living in the States. The diversity visa basically gives you a green card, so Noela will not be coming back to Cameroon for years to come.

On Sunday, I went to church with the family. Believe it or not, I enjoyed myself despite the lengthy 2.5 hour service. There was a very positive energy among the church goers, which helped me rid the stereotype I had of what I believed were mostly sin-obsessed Christians here in Africa. Following the service, we visited Mercy’s friend, Cookie. Her son was being presented that day at the Church, so she had a party back at her house. I ate eru and fufu, which is usually my least favorite dish, but found myself quite liking it. In fact, it seems my taste buds have adapted to many foods that I didn’t like originally.

After the party, we then went to Mercy’s family’s house. Her parents are some of the nicest people I have met in Cameroon. I ate fufu and jama jama, which is one of my favorite dishes here ---not the fufu, but the jama jama which tastes, looks, and feels like spinach, but apparently isn’t spinach.

It was a night full of sharing stories and talking about Noela’s soon departure to her new life in the US. We then had a little prayer session for her, and then began to sing to traditional African hymns. The family had me dance in the center of them, which was really amusing to everyone, including me. I left feeling like I have really cemented myself in my host family. Mercy later told me I will always have a second home in Africa.

On Tuesday, we beat the traffic to get Noela to the airport. In Yaoundé, the airport is quite small but still extremely chaotic, like in most developing countries. I was trying to take notes for my own departure. It was a tearful moment for the Awantu family, as everyone said bye. I said “see you later” rather than bye since I will be able to visit her in Maryland when I return.

We then sat in the parking lot, opened some beers, and sat by the car until we watched her plane take off. It was really one of the most special moments I could have shared with the family. The African family extends to a lot of people, so there were also friends of Mercy with us, drinking and having a good time.

My host brother, Jude, left for Buea to start University this morning, leaving a pretty empty house. Mercy joked with me that it was similar to an American family---mother, father, and children (and one more house help).

I carried this optimism to school today. Unfortunately, I got word from one of the teachers that one of our students came to school beaten very badly by his parent. His face and hands were swollen and he couldn’t hold a pencil. It was a harsh reality of some of the abuses that occur in the impoverished villages. Certainly this type of violence occurs in every country, but to have one of our students affected was quite upsetting, especially when social work is scarce in the village.

In addition to this news, we were also visited today by two NGO doctors who came to vaccinate the children with H1N1 vaccines. My boss had not told us that they were coming so we were a bit confused, but we went with it. The kids were screaming for their lives at the sight of these shots. I could not understand why H1N1 was so important, since the amount of cases had practically disappeared since the hype of last year. We speculated it could be a donation from a Western country that wanted to write it off as one of their contributions to the developing world.

On a humorous note, I was reading a book about human rights, and saw that the description of the first family (Adam and Eve, of course) was what looked like a 1995 clip art picture of two people roller skating. So there you have it---the first family was on roller skates.

That leaves me to today, in quite good spirits about my time here. I have a week left so there really isn’t much I can accomplish in school, so I will try my best to relax in my final two days of school, and then begin to think about the final leg of my trip. My students took their second test with me and there were 3 A's, 3 B's, and 2 C's. They have come along way since day one and I am very happy to here them speak English in class in other subjects now.

This weekend, I will visit Max at his apartment and celebrate Jamie and my last weekend here. We will then confirm our flight on Monday, do laundry by hand on Tuesday, and pack Wednesday. Then it is off to Paris until the following Monday when I fly home.

I will probably only have internet credit for one more post before I leave and will reserve one once I get home in New Jersey. If not, I will write my final post back at home.

I am ecstatic to get home. It would be quite a lie to say otherwise and I am certainly not ashamed of it. I feel I have grown tremendously and am ready to take these experiences and apply them to my life and move forward, especially with graduation in June. I want to see my friends and my family and be back in my comfort zone among those I love.

Until then, I will be sharing my final days in my second home in Yaoundé.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Cameroon?

            Long time, no see. Today officially marks the two week point from my departure from Yaoundé. I am ecstatic to finish these weeks off strong and I have my trip to Buea and Limbe to thank for that possibility.

            Jamie and I left Friday morning for Buea. We had to take the bus for 6 hours, which if you remember from my previous post feels like eternity in the claustrophobic busses here. On the way to Buea, we passed through Douala, which is the other major city of Cameroon. It is also very humid, so passing through the city felt like we were passing through an oven. We also saw something very amusing on the road---an oil truck drove by us when I noticed something was on top of it. Yes, on top of the oil truck there was a goat. This had to be one of the more bizarre things we have seen on this trip. The poor thing must have been terrified.

            Buea is the university town of Cameroon. Much like a University town in the US, it is small and confined to mostly one street. We would stay in a small volunteer house owned by a volunteer coordinator from a partner organization of my boss. We were thankful for the free accommodations, except when we arrived we found ourselves in an extremely dirty house full of dust, spiders, black water in the toilet, and a missing mosquito net over one of the beds. There was also no toilet paper. No toilet paper. I will say it again. No toiler paper.
            What was the first thing Jamie and I did after putting our bags down? We bought toilet paper.
            We figured it is only five days, and it was free. Beggars can’t be choosers. The organization also agreed to feed us. We went to the coordinator’s house everyday for food. In my host family, it is very important to be polite to guests, which usually means feeding them well. However for breakfast and dinner every night, we were served one of two things: bread with chocolate or bread with tomato and cucumber.

            Now I don’t mean a nice sandwich that would fill a person. I mean slices of bread on a tray and some scattered veggies on the side. It wasn’t such a big deal to me because I happen to like those items, but I knew that my nutrition would be really low for the week and I would probably always be hungry. Jamie, on the other hand, is allergic to bread. She would eat it anyway, because it’s free (again I repeat the importance of free things on our budgets) but she would feel sick later. We also filled up on coffee to make the hunger pass.

            Two other German volunteers who work with the organization in Buea were staying in the other volunteer house. Theresea and Jacob were very nice and invited us over their place the first night for drinks. Their volunteer house was the same as ours in dimensions but was much cleaner.
            Because my bed didn’t have a mosquito net, Jamie and I huddled in one bed. The net barely fit over us anyway, so I eventually split into the other room on the third night but it was quite the funny sight to see us in fetal position, cramped side by side.
            Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip in Cameroon without the bumps in the road. Other than those nuances, we had a fantastic time. We went to Limbe and had ourselves a relaxing day on the black sand beach. Etisah Beach was a private beach, so we paid 1500 CFAs (or about $3) for access to a secured beach and a free drink. The beach was pretty clean and I had never seen black sand before. Because it was a private beach, the customers were mostly foreigners (French tourists). I had never seen so many white people in Cameroon at one time! The water was like bath water and though I usually stay clear of the ocean when I am at the shore, I took advantage of how nice the water was. In addition, there were no shells! It was a beautiful start to our trip, and Jamie and I appreciated the ability to just breathe fresh air.

            The third day, Jamie and I went to Limbe a second time for the Wildlife Center and the botanical gardens. The Center housed different species of monkeys who are endangered in Africa. We saw a variety of monkeys and, unlike the zoos of the US, the guard rail as not very high. You really felt you were in their habitat with them. I got some pretty funny pictures of drills (an endangered monkey) play fighting with each other. I also saw an antelope, which was sad because I had eaten some antelope meat in Bamenda. I apologized to the antelope for eating its mother, but assured her that if Bambi could do it, she would be just fine.

            The botanical garden was nothing too exciting, but the landscape was beautiful to walk around. I’ll skip the details of that as to not bore you.

            The grand finale was Mount Cameroon. One of Africa’s largest mountains at about 4095 meters, Jamie and I would climb about half on a one day excursion. I had no clue what to expect, since I had never been mountain climbing. I have ton my fair share of hiking trails so I figured it must be similar.
            It wasn’t. Within 10 minutes of our hike, we were both out of breathe---mostly because it has been so long since we had any cardio activity. It took us three hours to reach our summit, but the climb was breathtaking. We walked through so many different environments. One minute we were in a field, the next we were in what looked like a typical African rainforest, and then we were in a misty, moist forest, and finally walked through the harsh conditions of the savannah. The last few meters were extremely painful on my knees, but I was leading our group and pushed myself to just get to the top.
            We reached the summit and threw our bags down. Sitting on a large rock, Jamie and I sat in silence for a long time. I couldn’t believe I had just climbed 2000 meters and was now looking down this huge mountain. On the way done, I kept falling because the traction on my white (now red and black from dirt) Adidas shoes is completely gone.

“This is why I came to Africa,” I told myself as I began my descent. I had traveled all this way to challenge myself. If I wanted a cake walk, indulgent trip abroad, I would have gone somewhere in Europe. But that’s not what I was looking for. Instead, I searched for meaning and understanding of my current life and my future. Indeed, I have definitely been confronted by many tests here. Whether it was teaching a class, to the language barrier, the racial discrimination, or just eating bread for 5 days straight, I had accomplished more here then I have in any other two month period of my life.

And I was ready for it to end. Granted, I have always been ready to hop on the next flight to the US, I knew it was never actually time for me to leave yet. I have two weeks left, and I am happy to say that it is indeed time for me to peace out of this country. I look forward to just talking with you all over a drink or coffee. I look forward to eating what I want and when I want it. I definitely look forward to the gym.

But I know I still have time left here, so I will save the final thoughts until next week. After all, fourteen days is not a weekend. I still have time left. And not to my surprise, I returned back to Yaoundé a bit disappointed that there was still such time left. Then my host brother asked me to help him in the shed. Tied to a box, there was a rooster. He wanted me to help kill it.

Of course he knew I wouldn’t but I asked for time with the rooster. I named him Wesley and apologized to him that he was tied to a box and would soon become a tasty delicious piece of meat in my rice.

“Yep,” I thought to myself. “I am not done here yet.”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Beyonce, le diable

Today I looked at the calendar, and was quite surprised to see that I only have three weeks left in Cameroon. This is good news, as I am excited to get home to cheeseburgers, greasy pizza, and cheap beer.

I am also pleased to report that this has been one of my favorite weeks in Yaoundé, not because it has been especially fun or exciting, but because I have been the most comfortable, accepting the things that I can not change and enjoying the good moments.

It began at school with a lot of accidental profanity. We were practicing the present continuous tense. I had the students repeat several simple phrases. The last sentence was “I am sitting in my chair.” Stupid me. One by one the students repeated the sentence without a problem until El Haji. If you remember, El Haji was one of the most difficult kids in terms of behavior. However lately, he and I have gotten along quite well, because I don’t beat him like the other teacher does. I think he is beginning to appreciate “le blanc.”

Me: Okay El Haji, your turn. “I am sitting in my chair.”
El Haji: “I am…shitting in my chair.”

A smile immediately broke out on my face. I am too immature for this stuff sometimes.

Me: Okay, good. Try again. Look at my mouth when I say the “s” sound. “I am sitting in my chair.”
El Haji: “I am shitting in my chair.”
Me: Okay, not really. Let’s break it down. “I am sitting.”
El Haji: “I am shitting.”
Me: “I am sitting.”
El Haji: “I am shitting.”

Sigh. He got it eventually but I had to walk out of the room for 3 minutes to compose myself from laughter.

Later, I was grading papers and one of my students, Rachilde—who is the weakest of all the students in terms of comprehending anything---did not understand the directions to write each sentence and then practice reading it aloud. Instead, she wrote the same sentence 10 times.

The sentence: I am in class. You may be able to see where this is going.

Her paper looked like this:

  1. I am in class.
  2. I am in class.
  3. I am an ass.
  4. I am n ass
And my personal favorite
  1. I am in ass.

My co-teacher and I had a field day laughing at number 5.

Monday night, my host mother, brother, and I watched music videos when Lady Gaga came on. Who knew a simple listen to “Bad Romance” would instigate a religious debate. Mercy told me that she watched a documentary from an American man (religious fanatic) about how Beyonce and Lady Gaga are actually in cahoots with the devil. At first I thought she meant that their music was distasteful or too sexual.

No. She actually was telling me that they were worshippers of the devil and that other artists like Kanye West, who has a music video with devil horn imagery, is also in pact with Mr. Devil himself.

This argument got a bit out of hand, as I explained to them that most Americans do not believe this to be true. The conversation escalated into a “how can you not be a Christian you must be going to hell” debate which included discussions about American attitudes towards sexuality and other religious favorites.

Jude even thought that the movie 2012 was conceived by a thought produced by God and implanted into the director’s head. In the end of 2012, only Africa remains, so Jude believes this to be foreshadowing. I told him the movie didn’t sell too well.

They also were offended when I tried explaining that their religious culture is not the same as my culture. To them, religion is absolute not a culture, which any anthropologist would tell you is untrue. Religion is culture, whether the belief is factual or fictitious

“This is getting inappropriate,” I said. “It is just culture. I do not believe the Bible is the absolute truth. Many people in the US do not agree with what you are saying about the Bible. This argument is not worth having.”

I am all about religious freedom, but I am not going to listen to someone telling me that the beautiful song that is “Halo” is actually about the devil and not a glowing, angelic light for the one you love.

Tuesday night, I went to a restaurant with Jamie, Dr. Reynolds (one of my Drexel professors), and her family. This restaurant, La Paillot, actually wound up being a huge expat spot. Jamie and I got there early and chatted with a bunch of Americans who worked for an oil company. I was surprised to see none of them had taken a taxi or a bus here. In fact, they had drivers, house help, cooks, and guides. Jamie and I took pride that we were living something closer to a real Cameroonian life and not some rich, superficial expat experience.

The dinner was delicious. I had grilled pork ribs, because I know that I would never eat that much meat at one sitting for another month while I was here. It was great to see Dr. Reynolds, and I appreciated her ability to relate to how I was feeling about my time in Africa. We shared stories and it helped me really see how much I have grown from the funny nuances of my African life. I hope to see her and her family again before I leave. Apparently there is an American Cultural Center nearby that has a pool and a grill with delicious cheeseburgers and fries. I have to see it to believe it.

I leave for Buea and Limbe on Friday with Jamie, so you will not hear from me for about a week. I will be climbing a portion of Mt. Cameroon, sitting on a black sandy beach, and enjoying my final vacation in Cameroon before my 2 week mark approaches. When I return, I only have one week of school to teach my kids past tense.

I can already hear El Haji say, “I shitted in my chair.”

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Soccer, Football, Soccer, Football...Soccer

Coming off a rough week, Jamie and I promised ourselves that we would start anew this weekend. Indeed, it was a very comfortable and relaxing weekend.

Friday started out really well at school. One of my students, Aboutou, began to read off the blackboard! When I say read, I mean she can sound out the likes of most words. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start…a huge start. As she was reading the sentence, “I am a boy,” off the board, I couldn’t help but think too myself “Holy shit, I am teaching this girl to read!” After that I thought, “Oh crap, Aboutou is not a boy and I am having her read ‘I am a boy’.” Still, the meaning is not as important as the shear fact that my students are now trying to read. They are no longer staring at me in bewilderment. They have lost their stubborn francophone attitudes. They are trying to read English.

After Friday’s success, I decided to host my volunteer friends at my family’s house for the Cameroon football game. We tied the team from Congo, whom we are apparently much better then. I am not a soccer fan anyway and will show it by purposely calling it “soccer” to my European and African friends who know it as football. Football is the Philadelphia Eagles. It is very americentric of me, but it’s only one out of a few things. Can’t take the American college guy out of the…American college guy.

Max, Vanessa (the new German volunteer), Jamie, Mercy, and I enjoyed popcorn, roasted peanuts, cookies, pineapple, beer, pamplemousse soda, and whiskey. I never liked pineapple until I began eating them here in Cameroon. They are delicious! The day was a success because we were all able to unwind and just talk.

Today I went with Mercy and her husband to visit her friend in a hospital. On the way there, I saw the slum developments, which were quite a sad sight. I haven’t written a lot about the negative images here, because I have been lucky enough to only experience poverty at the school that I teach. Another moment was at the Handicapped Center, where Jamie volunteers a few days a week. When I was there, I was told that many of the children were neglected and abused or abandoned because of their disability. One child couldn’t move his limbs correctly and couldn’t speak. He was in a crib with his leg sticking out in between the bars. When we came in, his face lit up and he began communicating to us nonverbally, hopping up and down with jubilation. It was heart breaking and wonderful all at the same time to see his excitement at his visitors.

Anyway, the hospital was more of a clinic than a large hospital in the States. During our visit, a priest came in to pray with us, which confused me because I didn’t know her friend was in any jeopardy of dying. I figured I would bow my head and respect their prayer. The funny thing is that the priest continued on the prayer for about 35 minutes. It was like attending church.

On the way home, I admired the sunset over the landscape of Cameroon. You do not get many views like this in America. Beautiful mountains overlook the homes, the trees, and the lively night streets of Yaoundé. It was good having such an overwhelming positive feeling towards my new home city.

I began this week on a high note. Tomorrow, I will be trying to meet Dr. Reynolds again for dinner. Friday, I leave for my next vacation in Buea and Limbe with Jamie.

I only have 3.5 weeks left here, surprisingly. I am doing my best to make each day a new experience.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reflections from a Happy American in Cameroon

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You should begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” –Emerson

This is the quotable card that my sister gave me before my freshman year (yes, Faith I still have it and brought it with me). I woke up feeling rather silly about letting that silly conflict stand in my way of the optimism I have been feeling lately. I thought to myself, “What would I do if I was in this type of conflict back home?” Granted the cultural differences stood in my way, I decided to apologize first to Emmanuel and offer some extra money from the week in Bamenda that he felt he was owed. It felt good to release that negative tension and move on. He didn’t respond, leaving me to believe that he will hold this grudge for awhile, but I wasn’t looking for an apology or any response on his behalf. Letting go of a grudge is a way of exhaling.

On that note, I had a great day at school. My kids are speaking much better, granted it’s with the same 30 word vocabulary they know (I am playing football. I go to school. Over and over again). Today I split the kids into 3 groups and gave them each a different book, and we did reading stations. I did most of the reading for every group and was exhausted by the end of the day. The three stories eventually merged into one so when I was reading I would mistakes because I forgot which book I was reading. It sounded something like this, “Mischief was a little pony on a farm who caused trouble and jumped to the moon and then met Rumpelstilskin.”

I was looking forward to doing nothing after school and will spend the rest of my day eating fufu and fish (lovely), marking papers, doing some GRE studying, and evade the strange insects that tend to fly at me and make me squeal like a girl.

It feels good to feel good.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Who opened the umbrella in the house?

They say bad things always come in three’s. If that was true, Jamie and I would have seen an upside after going 0 for 3 these last few days. Instead, bad things came in four’s with Thursday, I’m sure, having plenty of chances for five’s, six’s, and seven’s.

Jamie and I went to exchange money in the central market. We got bombarded by people who were trying to sell us things. They didn’t get the hint that we were not interested in their products so they decided to stalk us. At one point, we were surrounded by literally 7 people. I knew this happens in the busy markets, since everyone assumes we are white and rich, but usually you walk away or say “Non, merci” and they leave. These guys were getting a bit forceful, and one even grabbed Jamie’s arm. Finally I yell out in English, “Do you really think that we are going to buy anything from you if you follow us like this?” Of course, that didn’t help. They continued to follow us like we were secretly guarding the Sorcerer’s Stone.  We never got our money exchanged because we couldn’t take it anymore. Follow this event, Jamie found out she was charged double the price it costs to receive a package because she picked it up 10 days after it arrived. We were 0 for 1 at this point, but it was nothing too serious at the time. In fact, we had a good laugh about it later. A frustrated, I hate the world kind of laugh.

I was really excited for World Teacher’s Day on Tuesday. My traditional African shirt made me look more Elvis than Cameroonian, but I accepted it with confidence and was ready for a party.

There was plenty of alcohol and food for everyone, and I had a great time chatting with the teachers, outside of school. I was drinking good beer, laughing with my colleagues, and noshing on some plantains in tomato sauce.  That was---until Emmanuel arrived.

As you all know, Emmanuel is, or was--I'm not quite sure, my Cameroonian friend that I went to Bamenda with. He is pretty wealthy here and that means having a lot of connections all across the region. Because of this wealth, he has a pretty big ego. He was our friend the first few weeks here, but we began to see some interesting personality traits that seemed insincere. He liked flaunting his money. He also liked being really sweet to Jamie. Let’s put it this way: Emmanuel likes Jamie (because she is white and Canadian). Emmanuel made a move on Jamie. Jamie said “no”. Emmanuel gets angry. Emmanuel assumes that since Jamie and Adam are friends that they must be dating. Emmanuel hates Adam. You don’t need a class in critical reasoning to see the logic here.

The entire party was discussing World Teacher’s Day and the next holiday, World Women’s Day. These are two UN recognized celebrations but are not celebrated among most developed powers.

Emmanuel: “Everyone knows World Teacher’s Day. It is international. They have it in Canada, Jamie?”
Jamie: No, they don’t. It is not an international holiday across the world.
Emmanuel: Yes, it is. Maybe you don’t know about it.

At this point, Jamie and I are pretty sure what Emmanuel is about to do. His friend, Walter, who also “likes” Jamie (wants her money), chimes in on the conversation. They are trying to get under our skin, since they know they can and they know that their Cameroonian friends would find our reactions to be foreign and humorous.

Walter: Of course they have it! It is international.

He looks around for a reaction from everyone else, who is laughing too for some reason.

Me: It is not in the United States either. I bet if you ask the population of the US, not many will say they heard of it. That doesn’t mean it is not a holiday, but really, it is not celebrated in the US like it is here.

The conversation continued, with Walter and Emmanuel trying to make us look like white foreign devils who are ignorant to the world’s problems, never mind that we are in this country to help a developing nation. Jamie gets frustrated and walks into the house. Emmanuel turns to me and says “What would you know? You’re not a teacher.” At this point I am trying to not lose my cool in front of everyone.

But of course, I do. I don’t have much a temper, but I do have a short fuse, especially when you question my background.

“Actually, my parents are teachers,” I said with my face getting red like the old Looney Tunes characters.

“So why don’t you call your father and ask?” Emmanuel says.

I whip myself out of my chair, called him a moron, and slammed the door behind me. I walked into Jamie’s room and almost knocked down her door, which is kind of funny because she was right behind the door and probably thought she was being attacked. I explained to her what happened. We grabbed four beers and chugged them in her room just laughing at what the situation with Emmanuel had become ever since we returned from Bamenda and Jamie turned him down.

The rest of the night wasn’t so bad. This morning, the taunting from Emmanuel continued. I received texts from him that I owe him more money from Bamenda and that I “ruined him” last night and am ungrateful and greedy person. In other words, Jamie likes me as a friend and not him. I showed Jamie the texts after school and we both sighed. It is frustrating because Emmanuel was a big reason that Jamie and I became introduced to the social life here. He had ulterior motives the entire time.

I tried snapping myself out of it, because why should I let one person change my experience here, especially when school has been really good (we even moved into the present continuous tense) and I am really enjoying my host family.

However after the issues in the city, the World Teacher’s Day debacle and the nasty texts, I was happy that I would be seeing my one of my favorite Drexel professors here, Dr. Reynolds, for dinner. She is doing research in Yaounde, as it turns out. I was hoping to gain some perspectives about the cultural boundaries I feel here.

But of course, the taxi takes Jamie and me to the wrong location and gets away with a decent amount of money. Then, Dr. Reynolds calls and says that the restaurant is actually closed and we need to reschedule. This is certainly not her fault, but we just traveled a long distance for an expensive cab ride that gypped us. Great. 0 for 4 in a few days.

We get back home, and my boss begins asking us about the fight at the World Teacher’s Day party. I explained to her the entire situation with Emmanuel. She seemed uncomfortable that I was hinting of Emmanuel’s passes at Jamie. I explained to her that these would be considered rude and threatening in our culture. Of course, she is Emmanuel’s friend so I think she had to remain neutral until she could figure out how to handle this situation. Here in Africa, it is the man’s given right to make such passes at women.

If I was in Philadelphia, I could probably shake off these Murphy’s Law events as an ironic twist of fate since I had been so happy here the last few weeks. What goes up must come down. All good things must come to an end. Whatever stupid cliché-ism you want to use, the fact of the matter is that it is hard to handle in a culture that isn’t necessarily friendly to yours.

I am doing my best to take everything as a life lesson. And they all are life lessons. I am learning a lot about myself---the person that I am and can be in the future. Right now, it is being tested and when Jamie and I saw an airplane flying over us tonight, we thought to ourselves, “Wait, you forgot two people!”

Luckily we are traveling to Buea and Limbe next week, to climb Mt. Cameroon, have beach time, and breathe a little.

You learn to cope without your main support system when you are abroad. You learn to type your feelings into a computer and post them on a blog.

Then you wake up the next morning, read the card your sister gave you before you went to college with the inspirational quote about clearing your mind from the past day’s transgressions, dust your shoulders off (because really this place is quite dusty actually), and move on to another day.