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.


  1. I got a chance to catch up on your blog. Interesting reading that made me laugh often, put the world in perspective, live vicariously through your experience.
    Looking forward to listening to more stories next time I see you.
    Welcome back to the US
    Uncle T

  2. 7 days adam...I couldn't miss you more. I'm glad you've learned a lot but it's time for you to come home! You made the best of it and I'm proud you pushed through.