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Case (Thursday, 2011 January 13)

January 14th, 2011

At Yaoundé in the case right now. I don’t know the etymology of the word (pronounced with a "z" sound at the end), but it’s also called a "transit house" — a place where Volunteers can spend the night if they’re on official business, or travelling through the area. Right now a bunch of us are here for some training regarding emergency contingency plans, but that’s not for a few hours, so I’m just "kicking it" on a couch and being a nerd (editing OpenStreetMap, for example).

It’s just weird being here in the Organization, like at every level. There’s the fundamental fact that we’ve chosen to uproot ourselves from everything we knew and loved and moved halfway across the world to not-really-settle among people of a completely different culture. The human being is not designed for this sort of thing, so you get a bunch of peculiarities. I’ve heard someone say that any other Volunteer is automatically about the level of a second cousin — you may not know them very well, you may not even like them, but you know that you could crash at their place if needed, and that you’d put them up too. There are some number of beds in the case, let’s say 24, and though they’re all single, it’s socially acceptable to share (but ask permission). And if the case fills up, although you’re allowed to go to certain hotels and get reimbursed later, some people just sleep on couches (as I did last night, for example).

I really like the case. People say it’s disgusting, and Jenny says it’s too much like a frat house, but to me it feels, well, safe. It’s not just the ten-foot tall wall and the 24/7 security detail, although that helps; it’s also the obviously lived-in furniture, the presence of other Volunteers, the creature comforts of hot showers and sometimes air conditioning. Here you don’t need to have difficult conversations about religion, and strangers don’t ask you to marry them. You don’t have to navigate the ways of this culture; here, being an American is just fine.

Yaoundé is a little too hot for my taste, but the case makes up for the fact that it took me eight hours to get here. (In your head, imagine Zack’s exasperation with me; it took him three days to get here.)

It’s well situated, too; the Organization’s office here, which is where the case is located, is on an alley that empties onto a main road; there, you can find a supermarket, colloquially referred to as the "corner store", and often there’s a spaghetti-omelette-sandwich shack. There’s at least two bars in the alley and another down the block ("Red Bar"). Yaoundé is a little expensive — I find myself dispensing a couple of mille each day for food alone — but some volunteers cook for themselves too, maybe that’s cheaper. Some of them made bagels today (!).


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