Archive for July, 2011

Actualiser (Sunday, 2011 July 24)

July 28th, 2011

I never actually looked up actualiser but it seems to mean something like to update. It’s how "refresh" gets translated in technical usages.

I’m writing this from Jenn and Johnny’s apartment as they argue softly in Chinese in the kitchen. It’s one more stop on the magical mystery tour — eating all the foods, reconnecting with all the hive minds, indulging all the old habits. It’s been good; I definitely feel much stabler than when before I left. I’m self-medicating differently than in country. Chocolate soy milk and hamburgers displace a certain amount of booze. Throw in the odd spot of drama to keep things fresh, and an electronics-buying binge, and I’m basically good as new. Newegg has a volume savings section for USB flash drives but, surprisingly, nothing like that for netbooks or digital cameras.

One thing I didn’t expect to enjoy about being home is seeing all my Stuff, my accumulated set of wonderful things. Coming home to a bookcase full of books and CDs made me happy somehow, as did finding my giant fuckoff Dell IPS monitor that I spent hours and hours researching way back when. I’ve added a few things to that collection already in a trip to Barnes and Noble (Rule 34 is basically brilliant, and I bought it in hardcover, plus Flight volumes 7 and 8). The new Bridges and Powerlines album "eve" is also exciting. Bridges and Powerlines remembered me! "Oh, it’s Ethan! Our fan!"

Jenn’s outdoing herself in hospitality; she asked what cravings I had that she could address. This morning it’s pancakes.

I’ve been checking up on everyone. Some people are a little chubbier than they once were, or whiter of hair, or have otherwise aged. Whereas others grew up, or otherwise got way more attractive. I think I might myself be in that category, because lots of people have asked me whether I’ve gotten taller, and others have told me I look like Africa’s treating me well. Stronger, somehow? More confident? Sarah said something about the glow of people who are doing the right thing, so maybe I glow. I’d definitely have tagged myself with "chubbier", "whiter", "aged", so who knows what’s going on. I’m thinking now of another college experience, one where my former housemates took an impressed sort of surprise from the ease with which I swam the subway system, slipping through cars with the ease of the light fantastic. The fact is, I belong here, with such sincerity and specificity that it’s hard to explain. So maybe that makes me look sexier somehow.

This part of the post is for an exhaustive list of all the things I’ve been eating, doing, playing, drinking, etc., but I know at least one Volunteer reads this, so I’ll spare you. The takeaway message is how quickly and easily I picked up my old habits, from my old t-shirt-and-cargoes dress to bitching about the imperfection of common consumer products (versus in Cameroon, where there’s nothing you can do about anything so you may as well suck it up). Everything is going well and it’s going to be hard to talk myself into flying back in a week..


Hollandais (Wednesday, 2011 July 13)

July 14th, 2011

I’m in an Airbus 330 watching a movie on the flight to Brussels, which turned out not to be direct but instead a two-parter from Douala to Accra (Ghana), then to Brussels. I had no idea people flew to Ghana from Douala, but lots of people got off, to the point that the flight’s not full right now, so I guess there’s a demand (or maybe they were making a connecting flight?). The movie probably has a name, it’s some "boy is going through middle school and his life sucks" thing, but the subtitles are in Dutch, thus the title of this blog entry. Begrepen?

Boris helped me get to the airport, after he got cockblocked by his girlfriend’s friend. He’s trying so hard and you can just tell he’s not gonna get laid — not that he smells of desperation, but there’s definitely an odor there and neither of his girlfriends are too dense to notice it. It sure was a surprise to hear him talking for hours about how he wanted to knock boots with this chick, only to finally meet her and realize that she’s probably in 3e. (His last girlfriend, who he dumped yesterday because she wasn’t putting out, was at least in 1ere.) Meanwhile he’s trying to set me up with all kinds of women — I made the mistake of commenting on the attractiveness of one yesterday and he keeps calling me "trembleur", when what he doesn’t understand and what I can’t make him understand is that I’m not afraid, not at all, but (like the man says) "There’s nothing in my heart", and that silence makes it difficult to motivate myself to go through all the hassles and negotiations that it requires pour qu’on s’entende, that one understand each other. It’d be bad enough in English, but I have even less desire to do it in French. Thus why I was outside Boris’s room teaching his family how to play Street Fighter a little bit better. Goal 2, I guess?

The airport was a fascinating trip. I spent a lot of time checking out people, looking for the ones that were "one of us", which apparently turns out to mean "science fiction fan-looking types", beards, glasses, white hair, and a pocket full of pens. Stereotyped everyone else, of course — he looks like a former Organization Volunteer; she’s on business; he came to visit a friend; she looks like she’s Gone Native; etc. I can’t wait until I get to a place where people start looking distinct again — like people and not merely extras. Found myself slipping into Special English (i.e. Anglophone accent) when addressing some European dude. I doubt I could have done anything to make him understand me. There was a certain amount of Cameroonian shenanigans around the airport — people outside weighing suitcases, selling bags so you can get under baggage limits, wrapping things in plastic — but inside it was fairly calm, and when I refused things like luggage carts, I got "You don’t have to pay for it!" from insulted-sounding Cameroonian stewards.

I can’t sleep on the plane, even though I’ve had two glasses of wine (which, BTW, come in these adorable little plastic bottles), but I’m a little bit more awake now that I’ve eaten a bit of dinner (took my chances on the salad and the bread; decided to skip the fish in white sauce and the "brioche cheese"). I was really looking forward to this flight, ’cause somehow I got it into my head that I was going to have this huge block of unbroken free time and I was going to be super productive, but that free time is supposed to be sleeping time and I’m not, so I’m probably pretty much fucked. On the up side, neither the ear infection that I may or may not have has been giving me any problems, nor does the giant sucking foot wound seem terribly infected. (Take your doxy, kids. It’s a wonder drug.) I have mosquito bites all the fuck over, most annoyingly on my knee, and I itch so much. But I made it out alive and that’s worth a hell of a lot.

The flight ladies on this red-eye are surly-looking, not sure if that goes with the flight time. I think I’m sitting next to a Cameroonian Notable — he doesn’t speak English hardly at all and he’s got that air of "The world will arrange itself for my benefit". There’s a pair of cute French chicks sleeping in the row behind me. Whereas I haven’t shaved in three days and I think I might look like a lumberjack.

I had this fascinating moment where I realized that at the airport, Boris was lost in a world he didn’t really get; where suddenly the norms made automatic sense to me, and I could swim instead of staggering around on fins. Thought to myself: "I’m an Organization Volunteer, motherfucker, and I don’t give a shit about the rules."

Boris saw me off at the gate. I waited until he was gone, and then I carefully set down my backpack, reached inside. Took the Cameroonian wallet, with my Cameroonian identity, from my pocket — switched it with my American self from the bag. Is that really all it takes?


Vacances (Sunday, 2011 July 10)

July 10th, 2011

I’m writing this from Boris’s apartment in Douala, where I am kicking it for a few days before flying home. I think technically we’re not supposed to be here if we can avoid it, and certainly not while clandoing for a few days to start your vacation early, but Boris is from my village, and he insisted — "At least three days" — so I couldn’t very well refuse, could I? I’m just being a good Cameroonian. That I love cities, and want to get an insider’s view of this one, is just gravy.

I think I packed everything I wanted. I’m a little afraid I’m going to forget something, but it isn’t the same kind of panic that I had when I was preparing to embark on this whole two year adventure. People can mail things, or you can just buy them, and most of the things I brought from home, I don’t use anyhow. I’m a little worried I’ll fail the people who asked me to bring things for them — either Volunteers, who asked me to bring (for example) hard drives, or Cameroonians who asked me to see if I can’t buy on their behalf computers or cameras or whatever. There are a few, the ones I love best, who have asked for adorable things. Sure, Samuel, I’ll bring you a Rubik’s cube! Sure, Guillaine, I’ll get you some hand sanitizer! Whatever you ask!

I’ve been moody the last few days. I don’t think this is the same "I got dumped" blues I’ve been coping with for the last few months — at least, I hope not, since as Allison says, it’s poor form to spend more time moping than the relationship itself lasted. Instead I think it’s a preview of what I’ll have from leaving this place for good in a year. Partly it’s melancholy, even though this time I know I’ll be coming back. Another part is anxiety coming from a voyage into the unknown. Home is familiar, and I tell myself that this will just be like that time in college when seeing the New York skyline again at winter break, I cried. But even familiar means potentially unknown, and nobody likes the unknown, right? (So then why am I a Volunteer?) Let’s be honest — most probable outcome is that I’ll bore people to death with too many stories that start with "In Africa, …". But I worry about fitting in, about being a foreigner even at home. Service changes you — we all agree about this — starting with our liver, but other organs too. And if home is where the heart is…

Of course, this is all coming from someone who usually goes out of his way to be different from other people. And I’m still planning on wearing a boubou on the flight home. So maybe it’s just the more mundane worries of trying to fit everyone and everything into three and a half short weeks. Given an even more finite timespan than normal, I’m even more terrified of a spare moment than usual, with the predictable result that I’ve already double- and triple-booked some days. Shit! This is why I have a calendar! And I just realized I haven’t contacted Garwood at all! What are you doing, comp sci??

This week’s advice: take a deep breath, and think about root beer floats. I’m going to eat and drink so much, guys. I told Barbara I was going to put on at least 10 kg, which is going to take a certain amount of effort, but I think I’m up to the challenge. I’m going to make hamburger smoothies. I’m going to double fist chocolate soy milk and raspberry vinaigrette. It’s going to be the land of roses.

It’s raining here in Douala — rainy season, you know — which is rendering the terrible, soup-like climate downright bearable. We’re in a neighborhood with a slight Fulbe presence and we ate dinner at a restaurant where we sat on a mat on the floor. You can see the airport from the window, and periodically you can hear a plane taking off.

"I’m sorry, mum and dad and bro
I couldn’t stay. I had to go.
To London. With someone.
Before I come undone.
‘Cause where I’m from’s a humdrum town and I don’t want to die."

—Vanilla Swingers, "I’ll Stay Next To You"


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