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Sister (Friday, 2011 June 24)

June 24th, 2011

I know I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve been traveling a lot and the other thing is I just haven’t been as stressed out recently, maybe because I’ve been traveling a lot. And if I’m not stressed, I don’t write as much.

One of the more tiring things about this country is being around people who don’t really get it. Maybe it’s Westernization; I don’t think it’s the language because my host family in Bafia is as reassuring as the family I’m among right now, the "family" of an Anglophone lady named Barbara who started a conversation with me on the way down to Yaoundé. She’s about my age, married, no kids, job with a bank, and the "rest" of her family is in Yaoundé; this is just a bonus offshoot. She’s my big sister now, and I’m her little brother. Her "sister" Patience is a teacher and her "mother" Thèrese is a vice principal in a bilingual high school here in Bafoussam. Everyone knows about Organization Volunteers and how we work; a Volunteer named Jill was here once. I’m picking up a bit of Pidgin, the grammar of which could probably be written on the back of a business card, but the vocab of which is a little slower going. "Hear" can mean "to understand". "Chop" is "food" or "to eat". Thus Timothy’s nickname for Jake, "Boss Man Go Chop". Also, a great phrase to know in Pidgin: "Ah go chop your pussy, na?" "I’m gonna eat your cat, OK?" We’re breaking open a bottle of wine now, which dovetails nicely with the last week of Hilton Happy Hours, sachets, and box wine. I’m gonna spend the night here; as "mom" says, "An African house is never too small."

Passed through Bafia a week ago to see if I could see the new stage, and to see my host family. Nadege just composed the Bac, I’m rooting for her. Interesting cultural side note, Nadege used "air guillemets" when we were talking about a certain Volunteer and his "host sister"/ex-girlfriend. Astride is still.. Astride, and Hyacenthe and Christelle are still there. My host family got a new stagiaire, who was sick while I was there, and once I got chased off the grounds of the training center, I retreated into the role of protective family member. Our new stagiaire is like a part of my family now, just as thoroughly as Barbara. The new stagiaire says Astride just keeps telling her about all the guys from the stage that she wants to have sex with. Some things never change!

At first I was a bit skeptical of the new stage, but what I saw of them on balance gave me a certain amount of confidence. They’re about to embark on site visit, and we got a couple near us (including the redhead Preston), so I might be able to show the new kids around the block. I’m excited to see how this all plays out! We need more nerds in my region.

I spent the last week in Yaoundé for Mid-Service, a set of medical tests that revealed only that I haven’t been trying hard enough to get intestinal parasites. We’re all very disappointed. After Jenny performed it drunkenly once on me, I’ve started wearing my hair in a braid, which looks slightly less ridiculous than the ponytail I have been wearing since I got here, and slightly less "aging ungracefully" than the hair-down style I default to otherwise.

One other somewhat interesting thing is the weird American that apparently passed through Foumban (tourist destination in the West) and was unable to purchase some traditional art pieces because he was refused. Two different Foumban art vendors have contacted me to ask me if I can act as an intermediary. The American in question called me and spoke to me a little in a French with an accent I couldn’t figure out at all, like the kind of accent you might expect to find on a German used to American English who was trying to learn French. He asked to speak only French so he could improve his French — which wasn’t too bad; verb conjugations were very fluid and there were no awkward pauses. Maybe he was reciting a preprepared speech. The whole situation tweaks me in a bad way — something doesn’t add up here. Both vendors? An American with a distinctly non-American French accent? Someone who was unable to buy something? I’m terribly uneasy, already trying to limit the damage and trying to figure out the "angle". Some kind of reverse-419? Who’s conning who? But for the moment I have very little information so all I can do is wait.

So all in all it’s life as usual in Cameroon. Summer vacation is the best! Lots of love to you all 🙂

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Vomir (Thursday, 2011 June 2)

June 2nd, 2011

[I think Sandiego is a much better name than Santiago, don’t you? Sure you do.]

Dear Diary!

We made our way back to Mountain Reflex the next day, and it was much quieter this time. Ran into Bennett and Amanda, and of course Cherry Drop, at the Transit House and decided to splurge on a fancy-ish offworld dinner. There are only a couple fancy restaurants in Mountain Reflex, and Cherry Drop’s already jaded of all of them, but we outnumbered her so we went to the Steak House. Correspondingly, we ordered steak. For a beverage, I ordered juice — hold the sachet.

Cherry Drop was ranting about Las Vegas or some other attraction on Earth when Amanda caught my eye. "Cherry Drop says you stayed at her place last time you were here."

Uh-oh, I thought. "Yeah."

"She says you were in a bad state. That –" (her voice dropped) "– you kept talking about the meaning of love and stuff like that."

Thanks, Cherry Drop, I thought to myself. Still, it could have been worse. And why had Amanda’s voice gone quiet like that? Was she trying to preserve my dignity (to what effect?), or did she want to talk more personally about that particular subject? I didn’t really think I could handle that conversation, so I dodged. "God is love," I said, "Statistically speaking." Amanda looked momentarily forlorn, but there wasn’t really much I could do for her, so I let it go.

I had hoped to bounce back to my post via a circuitous short-hop route instead of just taking the shuttle, but the short-hoppers were full and I ended up biting the bullet and just taking the shuttle with Jamie and Bennett. They were in a sleeper car, whereas I was in "first class". I found my seat across from a bunch of offworlder tourists speaking what I assumed was German, with the most attractive among them throwing up into a bag. Amateurs, I thought, as I threw my stuff onto a luggage rack a little ways away. I dropped my bag on my seat and left to hang out with Jamie and Bennett until the shuttle started moving and they started to check tickets.

"Do you want any sleeping pills, Sandiego?" Jamie asked me.

"No thanks — I guess I gotta draw the line somewhere." However, note to self: you can stay awake if you want to when on the effect of this particular medication, but you will have no memory whatsoever of what happened.

Not too much longer I stepped across a Zhenae with sen appendages in a posture of boredom, and seated myself across from the tourists. One of them started up a conversation with me. His name was Sebastian and his attractive vomiting friend was named Silki, and as I had guessed, they were German. They were visiting Zhen to see the marriage of one of their friends, who had fallen in love with a Zhenae. "He’s one of us," Sebastian said, "We’re Christfellows."

And they were. They were all so young — 19 and 20, barely out of school, and young, fresh, and optimistic. By contrast I was covered in Zhenae soil, weathered, and in a tailspin.

"I just can’t get over how young you are," I said, enunciating clearly — Sebastian’s English was pretty good but Silki’s was a little less fluid. "All I can think about is the mistakes I’ve been making lately."

"Such as?" Sebastian prompted.

This gave me pause. "Well, I licked my friend’s neck at the party the other night. While he was flirting with a woman." But then I didn’t really have anything else. Praise be, I’m not quite broken or jaded enough yet to think of falling in love as a mistake, and nothing that came afterwards has really been my fault. Well, obviously the alcohol abuse. But like I told Jamie and Buddy the next day, I don’t regret any of it.

We played cards for the rest of the night. Somehow I managed to sleep sitting up. The next morning, somehow I didn’t talk to the Germans at all until Sebastian bid me farewell with a "God bless you". Normally I find that sort of thing trying, but this time I surprised myself with an honest grin and a sincere thank you.

I’m finally back at post now most of a day later. You know how travel on Zhen is, at its finest, boring? Well, today it wasn’t. I’m really exhausted. There’s been some interesting news surrounding the upcoming election but it’ll have to wait. I’m too cynical to think that I’ll get my wish about real change on this planet, but you never know, right?

Sincerely, ever your friend,

Sandiego

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Pardon (Tuesday, 2010 May 31)

June 1st, 2011

My last post provoked an email from Suzanne, which is what I was hoping for, but it was an offended email, which was decidedly not what I wanted. She called me on a couple of important things:

  1. Some of the stuff I made up is probably legitimately offensive to someone of the appropriate faith. She cites the example of the firehose full of holy water. Holy water is serious business.
  2. The fact that I made up a satirical Church visit but used things that actually happened obscures the cultural differences that led me to be so puzzled and shocked. This isn’t like with the other fiction where I’m just obscuring my own personal drama — as an Organization volunteer I should be working to facilitate the exchange of cultures, not sidestepping the issue with misdirection. (And Gus would probably say: not judging, but that’s another argument.)

I’m terribly sorry for any offense my writing may have caused. I’m not religious but I balk at causing offense to my friends who are, because they provide me a view on a side of humanhood that I fundamentally don’t understand. And perhaps joking through my ignorance is not the wisest thing.

The fundamental grain of truth in this piece is the sensation of being present at a variety show. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the service or the congregation; if I were more familiar with Christian and Catholic traditions, I’d probably feel a lot less "lost at sea". But between not understanding the ceremony and the tendency of random sections of the audience to burst into choral song, I found the experience not unlike a Saturday morning cartoon, turned sideways.

As for the rest:

  • There really were ushers of some kind helping people find seats and quieting down the occasional private conversation. I really did see one wearing a Bluetooth earpiece and a Ché wristband, though he didn’t seat us and I doubt the Bluetooth was connected to anything.
  • There really was a teenage boy named Donald selling Bibles and crucifixes analogously to a hot dog vendor at a baseball game.
  • The organist ended up abandoning his keyboard and using instead a traditional wooden instrument similar to a xylophone.
  • The vows during the baptism really did include one to abandon vampirism and sorcery. The priest had to explain what vampirism was, and explained that it wasn’t his personal vow that he had stuck in there, but part of a Church-mandated set of vows (he even showed us a little pamphlet). I’m guessing this isn’t done in the States?
  • There really was a strange march thing that may have been ceremonial. I have no idea.
  • There was also a dance number which I got pulled into. It involved horse’s tails, which are traditional ceremonial objects. I don’t know the significance.
  • There really was a sermon/lecture about the emptiness of the happiness of the children dancing, or something like that. I have a hard time following along at Church because of the language and cultural barriers, so I have no idea what was really happening here. I came away with the impression that maybe he was saying that without being baptized, their joy was hollow because the presence of God in their lives was insufficient, but again, no idea. The priest really did admonish us to not play "Petit Pays" ("Little Country") and another well-known popular musician that night (but I forget which one).
  • There really were two lines for communion, one of which being manned by a priest from a neighboring village. I added "For your convenience"; originally they just said that the newly baptized were to take communion up front, and that "les anciens chrêtiens" ("former Christians" — i.e. those who weren’t newly baptized) were to take theirs with the other priest in back.
  • I really was informed that the priest’s son was among those baptized. I didn’t ask for clarification. There was a small boy wearing a bright white suit but I have no idea if he was the child in question.
  • There definitely wasn’t an M.C.
  • There definitely wasn’t stand-up comedy.
  • There definitely wasn’t a firehose of holy water. Holy water was applied appropriately as far as I could tell.
  • There definitely wasn’t a game show.
  • There definitely isn’t a "Christ-Vault", although they do keep the communion supplies in a wall that shows a portrait of Jesus [pictured], and they actually lock the compartment with a key. Apart from that, the communion was treated with respect and not at all like the highlight of a variety hour.
  • The line "covered in the blood of Christ" is occasionally seen on Anglophone bumper stickers and the like — I think the original wording is "I am covered in the blood of Jesus". I thought it would be a good fit here. Apparently the reasoning is that if the blood of Jesus cleans you of your sins and is holy and good, more of it would be better. At least one Westerner said that it sounded to her like "I have the blood of Jesus on my hands" — like the speaker was guilty of something.
  • The hottest woman at that party really was Hervé’s girlfriend of three years and she really did look a little like Carmen Sandiego.

Once again, I’m sorry about any offense I gave or misunderstanding I caused.

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