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.

1 comment:

  1. What did your boss have to say about Emmanuel's inappropriateness???? I will be happy when you are on your way home:DDDDDDD!!!!!! Be safe, oh is Mt. Cameroon in your league of mountain climbing?

    Love you,