After a week your house is ready. The house is florescent blue and pink to match the candy land feel of your landlord’s house who is a silversmith. While staying at the case (a peace corps hostel basically) in Ngaoundéré you’ve felt true boredom and lazyness. You let yourself have a holiday of beer to sub do the lethargy. Sometime in the early week a $100 of yours disappeared, yet you aren’t as mad as you should be. All attention is on the house, yoga in the morning and reading naked in bed. You’re excited to get to know your little village over the mountain, since you’ve learned that Beka Hossere means behind the mountain. You’re excited to start what you’ve been waiting for, even though the thought of actually teaching is a little too much to handle. You’re just excited to stop waiting for something.
Your time in Bissock and Ebolowa is drawing to a close. You are happy to be done with training, which besides model school has felt completely pointless, but you are sad to say good bye to most of your stage (training) mates. You barely think about what life will be like once you are at your future home because it is as difficult to think about as the idea of Cameroon was before you left. Instead you try to take a second look around you.
Cameroon, when looked at the right way, feels like a cartoon. The motos honk is outlandish fashions as they whistle by with obtuse cargo, like Tom running with a piano to smack Jerry. The dust from the moto needs an onomatopoeia buzzing in the air as you imagine the cliff the dwindling dust is sure to reveal. Gestures are outlandish in the face of utter calm. Chickens seam to look up in fear when you talk about them, as if they know their fate. Women wear dresses you don’t see how they move in. Children run with their arms in the air like wings. The same child carries water you’d find heavy up the same small cliff you struggle over at the spring. The children at school sit still and stare silently till you leave the room at which point they burst into glee as if you were the teacher from The Peanuts. People somehow pass the whole day without getting their shoes dirty when the roads are dirt. Men stand in front of grills all day without feinting, cutting meat and waiting in the heat for customers. NGO white toyatas feel like photos in a cartoon setting as they go by. Beers are always twice the size as in the States, making hands look smaller. Every taxi or van looks like a clown car. There is an insect that as far as you know is called you have to kill that.
Remembering in this way is not meant to separate it from your reality but merge it with your past memories across the world and those Saturday mornings eating cereal while watching Looney Tunes.
The child is crying. Each time you play with him he seems to find a way to hurt himself. Around the child is an acid wash earth tone everywhere. Splattered on the walls that all eyes see the ground becomes crimson, bleeding back into the earth. It hasn’t rained in over a week and a half and the dirt and dust have begun leaking out of your nose, classic allergies.
You have been teaching a model school to equal part satisfaction and frustration. In one week you have your worst day in Cameroon and one of your best when a history club you run goes better than you could of ever expected. The school itself is a forgotten memory of a time when someone tried, all cement has disappeared under dirt as holes from god knows what litters the walls. In one room “où va le monde” (where is the world going) is written innumerable times.
You think about how people talk about Cameroon as unmodern and modernizing. Cameroon is not modernizing, nothing is, modern is now, saying otherwise disassociates the poverty around you to it’s connection to the current world and your life. You want to pin the frustrations you have of no one thinking critically or outside of the box on some fault of the Cameroonians at not catching up. The fault is with everyone, things we buy support the corrupt economy, not looking at nations not drowning in blood supports governments that ignores its people. The world is always one.
The same dirt bleeding down the wall behind the crying child comes from the same chaos of all of us.
The train rocks you awake to the beat of a M.I.A. song stuck in your head as the trees start to fade into rolling hills. You walk off the train, a tan color drapes across the city as your host hugs you.
How long has it been since you’ve been hugged?
The dry heat is refreshing, like coming out of a dirty pool. Staring at the ramparts of various mosques you are happy for a change of scenery. After a day of running water and a pretty good cheeseburger that was gone before you even saw it you ate it so fast you meet various other volunteers that help assure you that there is a future outside of the blur of training. The next day you consume copious cups of coffee and spaghetti omelet sandwiches, which need to catch on in the states yesteryear. Queue staring children and a few men hitting on the girls you are with and you are on a crowded bus to Meidougou. It is more of an oversized van where you feel like a background character in a Scoobydoo episode as all the fifty or so heads bob in contrast to the lackadaisical vehicle and still background of obscure green blobs meant to be trees. In Meidougou you see your host, a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), in action, always a smile amongst her sea of children, almost like a pie piper. On the side lines of an ultimate Frisbee game her students try to talk to you in English. This is what you want, to connect to students and get them to want to learn and talk English. But how to get there still is like a distant cloud in the Adamawa landscape, floating towards you with all the time in the world.
Back in Ebolowa, with a bloody finger from opening a sachet with a knife, you are impatient with everything. You got a glimpse of how your life might be for the next two years and you want it. You learn after days of grinding your teeth that you will be posted in Beka Hossere in the Adamawa, five kilometres from Ngaoundéré and it feels like a warm déjà vu of a happy memory.
Back home you find yourself locked out of your house, hungry, tired and slightly entertained as you sit in the grandfather’s house watching Congolese music videos with the children. Once your host brother gets home he shares his loneliness at his wife and child being yet still away. The next night you find yourself talking with your host brother over moonshine for hours. He grows restless with the wife away and appears after you brush your teeth with commands to put on your shoes because you are going to his friend’s house. The road was dark as you avoid a barking dog while shadows danced around a bound fire. A woman, the size of the log she drags, tosses the wood into the flame, the embers mimicking fireflies. Your host brother tells you to follow him into the house that seems to materialize out of the periphery. Inside the house pop music leads you inside to a dead woman on a dinning room table, candle light praying around her. A rag wrapped around her chin and knotted at her head gives a medieval feel to your utter shock. Your mind is blank as you try to do the most respectful thing, hold your hands behind your back. Your host brother says a pray, crosses himself and leads you outside. Around the fire he talks to whom you presume is your friend before leading you away. On your way home you simply don’t know what to think. You did not know her and you did not feel anything but shock. Are you supposed to? Is there something wrong? Are you just fucked up? Or was it just a death? The people around the bound fire weren’t wailing and crying, should you have? Is this culture or a humanity thing? Your mind continues to race and go blank as your host brother introduces you to a lady who promptly proclaims that you two are going to have sex. Your shock is shocked. You feel an auto pilot kick in as you say, “non, ça va.” Life truly moves on. A death is a death in a context of fighting for the next day. Life and death are always next to each other, laughing, crying, being.
In ngandre there is a large hill trying to be a mountain made of a generation of stones with a boulder posed at the tip of the hill that would make a mean troll at night. Staring at the precarious boulder your mind goes to Sisyphus and his ad infinitum push and descent and Camus’ idea of a smiling Sisyphus. You know your time will be like his never ending work and you reassure yourself that like him you’ll be smiling.
If your life were a fairytale:
Pierre, the rooster, always reminds you, maybe a little loudly, that it’s time to wake up around 5:45.
Once Pierre leaves your baby mouse friend, Gus, gives you words of inspiration during your morning yoga.
Rebecca, the spider by your clothes, advises you on fashion as you dress.
Peter, the roach, flies into you for a hug as you open the latrine door.
When you go to the farm with your host brother Harry, and all his bee cousins, tease and taunt you.
Harry always pisses you off, but at night Sebastian and all his firefly family consul you.
At training you’d like to talk to Jacques and his colorful lizard gang, but they always run off somewhere, probably under the bleachers to smoke.
Buz and his dog friends remind you of an absentee brother.
Sheryl and her bird choir can’t help but practice everywhere all the time.
Sometimes at the end of the day you like to offer Liz, the hen, to babysit her chicks so she can have a date with Pierre, but she tells you he is no good.
As night slowly washes around you and the sandman starts to drizzle sand on your eyelids you say goodnight to your friends and hope to see them tomorrow, because without friends where would we be?
The hen and her chicks watch the rain under a tin roof. Your host sister in law grabbed your clothes previously hanging on the line before the storm. The daze of Mass still reverberates with you as your arms tingle from washing your clothes. You haven’t bothered with your bucket shower yet, though you’ve come to enjoy them. The latrines are next to the shower so you never smell clean while showering, but the cleansing of hours of sweat is always pleasant.
You ate part of the rat your host brother presented to you as a hello. He quickly brought you to a house/bar for Cameroonian Whiskey, I.e. moonshine made from a palm tree. It tastes like the palm wine that you’ve seen harvested and tried to enjoy but the bees swarming for a taste was too nerving.
Life is surprisingly comfortable, there is a wall to lean against when you pop a squat. Everyone is welcoming. A child named Welcomed appears out of nowhere to talk and hold hands. The chef of your quarter pauses whatever he is doing to talk with you, about subjects you wouldn’t expect a chef of an poor area to talk about: the hypocritical economic actions of Europeans and Americans, “brothers taking from brothers.”
Bang is the sound of young me falling into fist push-ups, somehow their knuckles don’t break. The smell of alcohol is on almost every man’s breath. For breakfast one morning there was no bread to buy so your host brother gave you whiskey, you stuck with the instant coffee you find yourself praying for in the morning.
Sleep is instant, at once calming and confusing. In the morning the motos race by like in Southeast Asia. The similarities are surprisingly vast. It seems poverty erases more lines than diplomacy. Poverty that holds life back. To heat anything you need to start a fire. The rain collector is broken and it’s a 15min trek through the woods, over steep rocks for water. Every step the words of your host farther, the chef, said:
“Poverty regresses us.”
It’s easy to say people are happy none the less, but when you have nothing what else can you hang on to but happiness, hope, cheap whiskey and family? So your repeat these things, even though sometimes the large families, the accepting the now with too much passivity with alcohol regresses you. But you feel like it’s probably to early to comment to such an extent.
The training classes are a slap in the face with a cold fish of boredom and frustration. You hope they get better. You find yourself wanting to just go back to the village, or explore, but you are permitted little free time. You think of two years in the future because it’s easier than knowing what the next weeks and months will bring.
But you are happy.When you come home your are happy to see your host family, you laugh with them as they joke about boobs. You do a little exercise when you wake up ready to go at 5:30am. You are happy that by eight you are passing out. You are happy for the challenge, the change. But man some coco puffs sound amazing.
The rain the hen hinds from comes after a long hot day. Like the weather time rains down after a period of harshness.
The city for you is but the sight from your hotel room. Hours of talking vaguely about what you will do while not doing anything drives you a little crazy. You take a deep breath for the two years to come and anticipate when you get to your training site and host family.
Hope they like the knife you got them.
People call you “le blanc”, why not. When you do get to walk around you try to memorize everything in the four foot wide gutter. They’ve banned plastic bags here. The are no markings on the streets. You see a white guy holding the hand of one small blond boy who makes a train with an even smaller small blond boy, a dog on a leash orbits them. A lizard runs away with a butterfly. Bravo little guy.
You talked to the security guard and he told you of a good surf spot in the South, something like Karebi.
Sometimes there is water, but if not you go to the hallway for the community bucket, fill your own bucket, dump in toilet or self, repeat.
Last night the sky bursted and your fellow volunteers danced in it as you looked on. The sounds, the laughter, the water all like home when you were small and would dance in the rain.
You look back through your words and find memories untold. You can’t recall why you did not write them down, but they still warm you deep down.
In Chang Mai with your roommate you two rented two mopeds, once again, and instead of dodging cows you dogged bikes and cars as you two made your way to a park at the base of the mountain. Driving up it felt like a never ending climb. Stopping for a scenic view you two made your way down a trail to a small river with a natural pool where locals were sliding off and splashing with childlike sensation. Following their role you two join, only hitting one knee on a rock on the way down. You meet an American, but that’s all you remember. Photos are exchanged amongst broken english. Luckily Smiles are universal.
At the top of a mountain you relive the never ending staircase of Mario as you make your way to a temple. Foreigners are the only ones who have to pay. The tile is warm yet cool. Russians posing for photographs. The Paya making you squint from it’s brightness.
You two race down the mountain, butts frankly clenched. The sight of a man over turned, blood running down his face as others help him slows you two down.
In the city you take a wrong turn and wait for your roommate, leaving seconds before she passed, you find out later.
Dinner is pleasant but you can’t remember much more. Maybe you drank some beers alone at a bar, wouldn’t be surprising.
You wonder if sometimes memories are best kept to yourself, but what is it if it is not shared, a passing thought? Are you created in words and language as much as your memories?
I am here. Is Hal’s first and yet last words in Infinite Jest.
You find yourself back in Seattle months after you drove back to Texas with three years worth of belongings. A blur of roads and faces. You relive memories with friends. Yet change is everywhere. You see how being back home, a blur of depression, jobs and then satisfaction, has affected you. Your beloved friends have of course grown as you have.
You are leaving in about a month for Cameroon to teach english for the Peace Corps and your time here makes you think of it in terms of lost possibilities instead of nervous anticipation. You find a medium within a deep breath. You are here and forever will be.
It is not so much sad as reassuring.
You expect for someone to instantly hit on you, sweep you off your feet, make you paella therefore falling in love with Barcelona. You blame Woody Allen.
There are beautiful people everywhere but even though you can understand almost everything you can’t find one Spanish word in your head and feel like it’s too pretentious to hit on someone in English.
Your friend has college everyday, so you just walk and walk and walk till you feel like your knees are about to jump out and roll away in protest. The beach is a beach, but feels like a mall by how it’s organized. Alleys intersect alleys drowning you in a mosaic of old and new. La Sagarda Familia really was breathtaking but you weren’t about to stand in that line. Same for the Picasso museum. Luckily you find the Museum of Modern European art, one of the best museums you have ever been to.
Apartment hunting is a movie in itself. Most don’t mention that they are families only renting out a room. You could cut the air with the awkward tension.
Barcelona reminds you of any other big international city, but sometimes the architecture is better. Any big city has its places where you feel like you’d fall in love with whomever talks to you next.
The thing that makes a city isn’t buildings, lingering images flashing by your eyes that you might recall in passing. Cities are made of people that ebb and flow like blood through a body. Without knowing someone in a city it is like any other pile of rock across the world. You are missing that connection and it frustrates you.
It’s time to go home, but you can’t imagine it all being over.