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Alternance codique (Wednesday, 2017 February 8)

February 9th, 2017

I was briefly in Europe for FOSDEM and to see some of my French coworkers. We flew into Charles de Gaulle and drove up to Brussels, where FOSDEM is, and then drove back for a few days in Paris. I’m flying back now.

I’ve been working now for Mozilla for 9 or 10 months. It’s an interesting place, and it has some similarities to being a Volunteer. The first, of course, is that it’s a company with a public mission and a global scope. There’s also the fact that some 40% of its employees are "remote", meaning not working in an office but rather embedded in some community, and working for its good in a way that feels subversive. In Cameroon, my post was in Batié, but now it’s in New York. When it doesn’t feel like being a Volunteer, it feels like joining a secret society, one with a proud history and rich traditions. Looking at me, you’d think I’m just some guy working on a laptop, but actually I’m part of a global network of operatives, communicating over the Internet on a frequency that nobody hears, even though anyone can listen to it.

Being in Europe brings out a lot of the same interesting linguistic situations that I was familiar with from my time as a Volunteer. The choice of language felt itself like a logistical concern. Most Cameroonians are Francophone, of course, but the Anglophones feel like an oppressed minority, and so speaking French to one could be seen as an insult. Sometimes people would want to speak English with me because they wanted to practice English, or to show off, and I didn’t mind either. When with Americans, we’d normally speak English, but we might drop into French if it was the only language that all participants could understand. Over time I tended to keep my mouth shut until someone addressed me, and then follow them in whatever language they were using. I began to sense a power in that first moment, when the first word comes out. Until you spoke, you might be Dutch, British, French, American. Afterwards, all possibilities were removed but one. I often tried to delay that revelation as long as possible using expedients like non-verbal noises, or the use of brand names (which were the same in both languages).

Belgium at a tech conference is even more complicated, linguistically, than being in Cameroon. Belgium’s official languages are Dutch (and/or Flemish), French, and German in some parts. Brussels, being the capital, is a linguistic no-man’s-land. But English is the language of tech, and thus of FOSDEM. Still, I found myself switching into a Volunteer "natives speak French, friends speak English" mindset when I ordered at the cafeteria, even though it was staffed by FOSDEM. At the restaurant in Paris where we ate last night, one server overheard our mixed group talking English (the only language everyone supported) and would address us in English, while the other one hadn’t noticed and continued to address us in French. In case it wasn’t obvious, the title of this blog post is alternance codique, which means "code switching".

FOSDEM itself was a pretty good conference. It’s interesting in a lot of ways — it’s free, and registration isn’t required; you just show up. It’s held on a college campus and staffed entirely by volunteers (with a little v). One thing that makes FOSDEM unusual for a tech conference is that they set up "bars" on campus which sell a variety of Belgian beers. Of course I tried almost all of them during the weekend. If I had to select a favorite, I think it might be the cherry lambic that I had, the Kriek.

Brussels is relatively affordable for Europe. Belgian beers in most places were only a few Euro. Like everywhere else in Europe, tax is included in all listed prices, and there’s no such thing as a tip. Buses have displays showing the next few stops, and there’s also a tram system, and I think a subway as well. Everything is cute and everyone we met was polite.

By contrast, Paris was not what I was expecting from Europe at all. If Brussels is a pleasant but stiff bureaucrat who maintains a formal distance, Paris is an old lady who lives in a corner house and chain-smokes aggressively. She can be mean, but she’s had a rich and colorful life and if she invites you to dinner, it’s always fascinating. The City of Lights is full of gilding and filigrees and beautiful historical buildings. The place we were staying dates from 1725 or so, but locks on the front door were much more modern and quite substantial, apparently because Paris had a serious burglary problem for a while. While we were waiting for one of our group to pick up a few things in the supermarket, someone shoplifted and the guard chased him down the street. Nothing violent happened per se, but it definitely felt less safe than Brussels.

Apart from a couple bad apples, the Parisians have been lovely. I had a charming if somewhat challenging conversation in French with the check-in counter for Air France about why I didn’t have long hair any more like in my passport. (I had been afraid that I wouldn’t be able to understand the accents of the people in Europe, but I was gratified to find that I have largely been able to get by.) The food has been quite good when I’ve been able to get it without milk. Paris is nice, but in the (admittedly short) time I spent there, I didn’t really see how people can fall in love with the place, unless you’re already powerfully in love with the idea of France or the French.

Some photos:

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/IMG_20170203_201356-scale0.25.jpg

The place where we stayed in Brussels had some cool nerd junk.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/IMG_20170204_000303-scale0.25.jpg

Brussels.

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Beer list. For a conference, this is quite a selection!

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The PostgreSQL elephant was in attendance. Can MySQL do this??

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Vending machine waffle. There were fresh ones being made too, but these were only 0.50€ and didn’t have milk.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/IMG_20170205_112438-scale0.25.jpg

Mitrallette.

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One of the passages/galleries in Paris. These are actually pretty cool; they’re not exactly closed to the outdoors, and they have a skylight, so you can feel like you’re getting some fresh air, but at the same time it’s enclosed enough to be pleasant, even during the winter.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/IMG_20170206_180245-scale0.25.jpg

Notre Dame de Lorette, a fancy church in Paris. Also depicted are my teammate Rémy and our intern Mansimar.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/IMG_20170205_213048-scale0.25.jpg

My intern Gabi and the adorable Firefox stuffed animal at the Paris office.

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Airplane cognac. Only on Air France…

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Cyclone (Tuesday, 2014 June 17)

June 18th, 2014

Last year Timothy came to visit me because his girlfriend was in the Mermaid Parade down on Coney Island. I am thinking now of standing on the fire escape here at Woodcrest and him telling me that I had quite an appetite for strong drink. Then, maybe the next day, we’re all standing outside in the sun and heat, running out of nigori sake or whatever we were drinking that morning, and watching the parade go by. In particular there’s a parade of muscle cars, some of which are fancy-looking antiques and one of which is just a loud car driven by the kind of person who knows how to make his tires squeal. After that car drives by, revving the engine like a beast only to stop short behind the next car, a guy in front of us says "Ha, and they have New Jersey plates, that’s perfect." Timothy, if you’re reading this, you asked if I "heard banjos" when I was in Brighton Beach. To answer your question, Brighton Beach is still civilization. For banjos, you have to go to Jersey, or at least Staten Island.

I’m getting off topic. Not too long after the cars go by, the parade starts, and before Jackie gets to go, the Brooklyn Cyclones mascot goes by. (He looks like a baseball with a duckbill and a baseball cap.) Timothy’s from out of town, so I’m explaining to him, "The Cyclones aren’t major league. They’re just below major leagues. Is there a name for that?" And the guy who made the quip about Jersey turns around and says "Triple A." So maybe the Cyclones are Triple A. (Although now that I’m looking it up, it seems like they’re Class A — Short Season.)

They don’t play at Barclay’s Stadium, in downtown Brooklyn, named after a major bank — they play at MCU Park, named after the Municipal Credit Union, open to all former employees of the City of New York. The park is in Coney Island, which, while once the gold standard for American amusement parks, is now one of the seediest neighborhoods in New York. So it’s a triple-A team playing at a triple-A stadium in a triple-A neighborhood. And when they sent me an email saying that they were observing Peace Corps Day with special seating available for anyone who used the discount code PEACE, I knew I had to go. Finally I would be able to relate to my father and his sister talking about the team’s dancing girls, the Beach Bums, walking around and shaking their bottoms. Best of all, I’d be able to heckle the Hudson Valley Renegades (?) while getting sufficiently drunk and being surrounded by other Volunteers.

We rolled up late, having had a chili dog and a Coney Island Lager at nearby Nathan’s, but as soon as I got there I knew I had made the right decision. The whole place reeked of Brooklyn spirit. Instead of ads for companies best described as "brands", the place was festooned with decorations for places like Astoria Federal Savings, New York Methodist Hospital, Midwood Ambulance Service, and Peter’s personal favorite, Send In The Clowns Entertainment Corp. A trained eye could look at the Beach Bums and easily discern the swarthy attitude of Canarsie, the tawny pride of Flatbush, or the self-important swagger of Midwood. There was a table for Peace Corps where they gave Volunteers a t-shirt with the Peace Corps logo on the front so you could broadcast your affiliation to the larger community, and it was easy to spot the section where your ticket was, even if you didn’t know exactly where to sit. Of course, PCVs don’t hurry right over to their assigned seats — instead we stood around the table and gossiped with the other (more experienced) Volunteers manning the table.

Apparently they’ve recently changed the application process? What used to take 8 hours to fill out now only takes 1, and instead of expressing a vague preference about where you want to go, you get to apply to an individual country. ("How can they do that?" Peter asked. "That’s not — they can’t do that! That’s not what Peace Corps is about! It’s about the cold hand of bureaucracy telling you what to do, and you doing it. With a smile.") Apparently if your application for a particular country isn’t competitive enough, they tell you to apply again when your application is more competitive.

To be honest, I’m with Peter on this one — if you know enough about a country or about Peace Corps to know where you want to go, you’re losing out on an opportunity for some serious cultural exchange. I had essentially no idea about anything about Cameroon before I landed there. My country selection process was almost exactly like my college selection process — random and undirected, just the way I like it. For some reason I think that worked out really well for me, although all evidence does seem to point to the contrary. It certainly does seem, though, like you’ll just get a bunch of people aiming for Beach Corps/Posh Corps posts like Jamaica or Ethiopia. But maybe it’ll sort itself out the way college seems to for so many Americans, or maybe they’ll recoup those frustrated failed volunteers and send them to slightly less posh places like Haiti and Mongolia.

The game itself was pretty forgettable, although we did beat the Renegades 5-1. More important were all the other bread and circuses that seem to surround a baseball game, even a triple-A one. For example, towards the middle of the game, a woman wearing what looked like business-casual went out and sang God Bless America, and then a little girl went out and sang Take Me Out To the Ball Game. They had a race with three hot dogs, Ketchup, Mustard, and Relish, and Ketchup won but only by playing dirty (he pushed Mustard over). The scoreboard was lit up with numbers (most of them zeroes), but I wasn’t wearing my glasses and really had no idea what most of them meant. Periodically the announcer would mention that such-and-such an event was sponsored by Kings Plaza Shopping Center, and then play a sound which was presumably meant to be some kind of theme music for Kings Plaza but was actually the Law and Order sound. Everything was chaotic and ridiculous but essentially harmless.

Everyone there seemed really cool and I had a really great time. I did not have a great $7 beer in the stadium. Instead I planned ahead and had an even better flask of Absolut Vodka (this is not a product endorsement — it’s just what I had in the house). Afterwards, there was a fireworks show (which, like the man says, wipes my brain slate clean — it strikes me silent), and then we got to run the bases. And the best part was that it was only 20 minutes from home. Go Cyclones!

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Temoiner (Friday, 2011 March 4)

March 4th, 2011

Wednesday, on my way back from getting bread and returning beer bottles (consigner, to deposit — 150 CFA a bottle, which you get back when you return them), I ran into a nice older couple who decided to start talking to me about God. Turns out they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses (temoins de Jehovah) and I think they have a salle just up the road towards the chefferie. They left a French "Awake", "Réveillez-vous!" for me to read, and then they asked for a donation. Basically exactly the same as Jehovah’s Witnesses back home, except I had to debate theology in French. Guess it’s better than grading papers.

Temoin, a witness, is also a verb, temoiner, to witness, and it happens to also be a helpful counterexample to my recent theory that English is more regular about noun suffixes then French. In French, it’s silence, "silence", but silenceux, "silent"; there’s "danceur" for "dancer", but "cuisinier", cook-person. In English it’s often -er, like driver, dancer, singer, but we don’t say stealer, cooker, or witnesser. So I guess it’s a crap shoot. Thanks, linguistics!

My Premiere class today was only 8 or 10 students, which was great. They did a little better on this sequence’s exam, which is good.. still show an appalling lack of creativity and originality for "literary" students. I blew up at one, even picking up a stick and banging it on a desk for effect, as the other students laughed inappropriately. Not sure if they were laughing at me or at him. It’s probably bad form to blow up at a student who really deserves it, since it signals that you’ve lost control in some way, and let them bother you, which is of course exactly what you are never supposed to let a bully do.

He had copied another student’s program, failed to understand it, and then asked me to give him credit, calling me "nduk", patois for "white person". It’s probably a little better than "le blanc", which refers directly to color — "nduk" is distinct from the patois word for white, which I learned once, and is "just the name given to Europeans", according to one of the other teachers. It’s still not extremely polite (though maybe not outright rude), and it’s an ugly word — you have to swallow the word, to borrow a phrase. Not as nice, for example, as nasara, in Fulfulde. (We compare notes on this sort of thing when we get together.) Ah, I hear it now; some lowbrows are wandering around outside. I guess losing my temper really was a tactical error. I try to respond with "le noir"/"la noire" ("black") when I hear it, but lately I’ve been stepping it up to "le nègre" — which my dictionary translates as "sometimes offensive Negro". Side note: expect me to be extremely politically incorrect when I get back; that’s just how service is. It’s just weird that growing up white in a Caribbean neighborhood means I know more about actual racism than a country full of for-realz Africans.

I guess the good news is that it wasn’t really that bad as far as Premiere classes go. I need to talk to the brighter students about how to really help their comrades, and I promised to give another remedial class Monday. I figured out a neat trick, which is to focus on the slowest student who wants to learn, and just teach "at" him/her. Focusing on one student lets you bring a lot of the old tutoring tricks to bear on the teaching problem — ignoring the noise/disruption from other corners of the class, ferreting out problem spots from signals on the face, mental models of what they’re likely to understand/not understand — which are a lot harder to wield at the front of a class. Of course, it should have been pretty obvious to focus on the students that actually want to learn and aren’t just being useless for fun. I’m a slow learner, I guess.

This week’s been a little bit of a challenge; 4e and 3e didn’t do so great on the tests, although there’s always a few that do perfect or almost-perfect, and giving back a test like that is basically a ready-made discipline problem. Jenny and Ryan are in Bafoussam tonight, going out and drinking, and right now I’m having a bit of FOMO ("Fear Of Missing Out"; also, one of my students’ names) despite the fact that I really would rather sit here at the computer and consume chocolate.

I just feel lately like I’ve been giving a lot, putting a LOT of myself into this stupid country with its stupid students. I’m developing that eyelid twitch that I tend to associate with sleep deprivation, although maybe it’s outright stress. I feel my blood pressure rise when the Boys walk into the house, because I know they’re just gonna sit around, do nothing, fuck around with my electronics, eat my food and ask stupid questions when I’d really rather just not deal with them. All I want right now is to sleep in, eat sustainably-made pancakes and watch 30 Rock in bed — and I’m all out of 30 Rock. This duty I have to be a volunteer teacher is starting to feel less like an opportunity and more like an obligation. Also see months 7-10 and 11-15 in the chart.

At least I graded and handed back all the tests for the 4th sequence. Any classroom you can walk away from..

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Trente-trois (Saturday, 2011 February 26)

February 26th, 2011

Woke up in the Binam Voyages bus back to Bafoussam; we’d only left a half hour ago but I was in desperate need of sleep. Had a brief moment where I wondered if the last two days were just a wonderful dream. It was easy to figure out that it would be dark by the time I got back to Bafoussam — the sun was yellow and low in the sky — and apparently "binam" means "le soleil couchant", "the setting sun", in the Bamiléké language family, so that was appropriate.

I got out at something like 9:45 PM, which is super late by Cameroonian standards, and I knew finding a car back to post would be extremely difficult. I screwed up my courage with the aid of five brochettes of soya, basically grilled meat, and went into the road to try to flag down a car.

Cameroonians have fairly specialized roles in the travel business — some drive the cars, of course, but others merely charge, or load, the vehicles. They get a commission for each passenger they furnish, and since they know the "lay of the land" in terms of where passengers are likely to be found and where cars are likely to go, they can play optimization games, along the lines of "Well, it’s really hard to find a car to that outlying village right now, but if I get enough of them together, I can talk some driver into taking all of them," or "There are five people for village A right now and only one for village B; I better assign one car to village A and hope for the best for the guy going to village B". A good chargeur is resourceful and creative.

So it came to pass that one of them called out to me as he clung to the outside of a truck driving by. This was one of the extremely recognizable trucks used to ship "33" Export, a fairly popular beer in this country (and one of my favorites). The chargeur had set up the deal; I paid 2000 CFA for what is normally a 600 CFA ride and I got to go back to post in the cabin of a 33 truck. It shuddered and it strained like it had worms, but it did the job. This post is thus named for that beer, which in Francophone Cameroon is pronounced "trente-trois", but in Anglophone Cameroon is called "export".

I’m back home now. It’s midnight, which is astonishingly late, but there’s a deuil going on tomorrow in my compound, so people are still out and about and I can still even hear them talking.

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Retourné (part 2) (Monday, 2010 December 27)

December 27th, 2010

Back to post again. I’ve been here for 20 minutes and I’m already bored and morose. I’ve spent the last few days with other volunteers and a lot of time watching movies and TV shows. We deep-fried everything. I think I’m going to try not to eat for a day or two.

Going out to [the village where I spent Christmas], the car I was in knocked over a moto. Everyone turned around to look if they were OK, but we didn’t even stop. I was sitting next to a gendarme at the time, he didn’t seem especially upset.

And now, three car rides later, I’m back at post and "the boys" are still wandering in and out of my house. It’s weird that when you want to be alone, your best bet is to go to another volunteer’s post. Priorities for the next few days include: laundry, writing code, doing paperwork, planning at least one lesson for Monday, and trying not to spend any money. Maybe I’ll try to be sociable and stuff too. I’m not exactly happy to be back — maybe that will come when I am in Bamenda — but I am capable of smiling at strangers again.

Here are some of the better pictures [edit: almost all the pictures] from the last few weeks:

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN5345-scale0.25.jpg

Jenny’s cat, I think his name is Aristotle, and its most recent kill.

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We passed a bunch of plantations on the way down to [training]. I don’t know what the giant spiky things are, they look like giant pineapple plants.

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Begin Here team.

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This might be the same car we saw with a person riding on the hood, which is excessive even by Cameroonian standards.

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Karen, showing off her new camera.

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One of the training sessions where me and Jenny decided chemical enhancement would be appropriate. Allison is holding a connect-the-dots that Jenny drew for her, or she drew for Jenny.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN5390-scale0.25.jpg

I couldn’t decide which of the many "we love Paul Biya" pictures to put here. Shit gets wild on the beach.

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Bus to Yaoundé. Julia, Timothy, and me.

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G.I. Jake on the seat ahead of us, boozing it up with the Cameroonians.

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The famed "nut balls" of our "hometown", plus the caramel my host family made for me.

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Timothy, Timothy’s postmate Kim, and Kim’s neighbor Fernand. We ordered him to dance and sing for our amusement.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN5427-scale0.25.jpg

For Christmas we did a "chefferie crawl", where we went to one chef’s house for a party, which then migrated to the other chefferie. The first chef, informally known as "Papa Chef", was born in Paris and lives in California. This is his daughter and her husband, who is British and speaks French funny.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN5429-scale0.25.jpg

One of the other chefs and his wife. Her dress was the real Christmas miracle. When we split up to go to the other chefferie, somehow all the ladies ended up in his car, as if by sorcellerie.

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Timothy’s friend Flobert.

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Kareen, Kim, Timothy.

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Who has two thumbs and needs a shave?

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Papa Chef, taking pictures of the other guests using his Blackberry.

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Timothy showing off his wizard robes. This fabric is a traditional Bamiléké fabric.

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Bitches don’t know about my boubou.

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Get out of bed, lazy bones.

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Timothy.

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Some shit we deep fried: potatoes, onions, green beans.

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Retourné (Wednesday, 2010 December 22)

December 24th, 2010

[FB Status: And then I woke up in a pickup truck in a village called Makénéné with a film on my teeth and a clarity in my heart.]

When I woke up on the car in Makénéné, I realized very quickly three things:

  1. I was lovesick. It’s one thing to have a crush on another volunteer — a dubious thing, but a thing. Being lovesick is not acceptable.
  2. Everyone who was worried about my drinking — Jen, Suzanne, Jessica W., Timothy, and anyone else — was completely right.
  3. The last week or so has been fun, but seeing my host family is what really recharged me.

At 5:30 AM I woke up to pack all my stuff in order to go "back home", i.e. where we had our first training, with Julia. Around 7 we headed out of the case in Yaoundé, where I left what were left of my sachets, and headed to Super Amigo Voyages, a 400 CFA fare. We paid 1300 CFA for tickets and not too much later we were on a bus headed out of town. We left at 8:25 and "touched down" around 10:45. Me and Julia headed our separate ways, and after I delivered a few Xmas presents that other volunteers had asked me to bring, I spent most of the day with my family, who was utterly thrilled to see me. My arrival was something of a surprise for them (and, I guess, for me), but we rapidly fell into conversation. They cooked for me my favorite breakfast — omelette and fried plantains, followed by pineapple for dessert.

I caught up with everyone, including Vlado, who can talk a little bit now — he responds to questions, occasionally names random objects ("Chaussures!!", "Shoes!!") or emits phrases like "Voici ça", "There it is", and "Je ne blague pas avec toi", "I’m not kidding around with you". It’s really adorable and a lot more fun than the mostly-mute child I left behind just a few months ago. Astride is on vacation from Yaoundé for some school in which I have no interest whatsoever; Nadege is preparing to retake the Bac, and is doing mighty well in math, English, and even informatique; Maman has been sick but I didn’t get to ask why. We talked about the most recent theft at [training], we talked about the volunteers they’d gotten from the stage after us — apparently they were party animals, like every other stage except ours. Maman said that she and one of the other mommies cooked for the entire stage rather than just a few days each week, and they regarded the fact that nobody had gotten sick as proof that one of the other mommies had fucked up during our stage. The new stage had two "desertions" pretty much right away, and the volunteers they hosted taught Nadege how to cook stuffing and cookies. Nadege says the stuffing didn’t turn out very well.

It was a real trip down memory lane going back. For three months, this little city was Cameroon for me, and it’s amazing to see it with fresh and experienced eyes. It’s much better paved than my village, and it’s much hotter. The students from model school don’t derange, they ask if I remember them (which I don’t, but hey). And it was super-nice to be someplace I knew geographically — the case in Yaoundé is a great place to be, but Yaoundé is something of a mess and I don’t really know it very well. Whereas once we got off the bus, the moto driver got lost trying to find "Lotus Bleu" and I had to direct him and point out to him where it was. (That felt GREAT.) It felt like years since I’d seen this village, but it’s only been months. Julia pointed out that if you analogize with post, there’s a real possibility that before long people at post will love us and miss us the way our training village does. Wouldn’t that be nice?

The family encouraged me to leave by 15h if I wanted to be back at post before dark, but they also wanted me to eat dinner so I didn’t really get out of the house until almost 16h. By that time the cars to Bafoussam were a little thin and I had to wait a little before a pickup truck pulled up and four of us got in the back and hit the road. Being awake since 5:30 was beginning to catch up to me and I had just started to realize that I was in a Bad State when I fell asleep, and when I woke up the following things were clear.

  1. Lovesick. If you want to touch someone but are afraid to, that’s lovesick. If you are confused and upset when someone buys you things, but you also want to buy them things, that’s lovesick. It’s a great foundation for codependency and neediness. Informaticien, debug thyself.
  2. Even though I’ve only gotten sick from it once, I think I have definitely been drinking unhealthily. I don’t think it’s just the breakup, but I’m sure it plays a part. I think it’s mostly burning out on being a teacher and volunteer, the endless work and recurring problems. I haven’t done the reading I promised I would do about substance abuse, but it "feels like" drinking relieved the tension I’ve accumulated and probably provided an escape from having to be responsible any more. While I do still believe at least some of the rationalizations I wrote Jen, namely that I’m "exploring the space" of possible Ethans, I woke up certain that I had made a hash of the last week and a half, and assuming anyone in our stage came through the last seven months with any respect for me I think I successfully deep-sixed it. Jen nailed it when she said that she wasn’t sure this is who I wanted to be.
  3. Whereas just talking to some relatively intelligent and educated Cameroonians, specifically Nadege, and the other people in my host family that really cared about me, notably Maman, made me feel like my work really did have value, and that it really was possible for me to make a difference.

A few years ago, when I had a crush on someone named Judy, I just said, "Hey, I have a crush on you and I don’t know what to do about it", and then when she didn’t know either, I gave up on her. And in fact that seems like a pretty sensible thing to do right about now, when I have a tentative crush on someone who seems tentatively uninterested. But I’m not sure I want to be the kind of person who says "Hey, I’m in love with you so fuck off", and my fallback strategy of ignoring the problem until it goes away is also getting kind of old.

This is about when we started to pull into Bafoussam. Like many other cities, Bafoussam is beautiful at night, and combined with the release of the last weeks’ tension, I found that I was actually happy to be back. I’m not done voyaging for the vacation, what with Christmas at Timothy’s and New Year’s at Allison’s (money permitting), but today’s theme is retourner, returning, to my host family, my village, and my senses (or anyhow the senses of one possible Ethan). Best part: I spent the night at post, so I wasn’t clandoing!

P.S. Notable thanks go to Aunt Jeanie, my parents, and my dear friend Adam, whose packages I managed to bring home today. They sent respectively: medical supplies and "graven images" of Spongebob Squarepants; a ton of candy (including candy corn and chocolate!) and conditioner; and a towel, a spatula, more candy (including spearmint leaves — oh, that takes me back), and VALENTINES (they’re really planning ahead). Thanks guys!

P.P.S. I am looking at the postage on these packages and they are INSANE. You guys are crazy. <3

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Déshabillé (Part 1) (Sunday, 2010 December 19)

December 20th, 2010

This week has been IST, for which I have had three vaguely-stated and simple goals:

  1. Make an utter mess of myself using recreational chemicals, preferably alcohol.
  2. Have sex with another volunteer [deleted: prioritized list of opportunities sorted by attractiveness and availability].
  3. Recharge, somehow, so that I am willing to return to post and continue to work instead of giving up on this country and going home.

This post is the story about accomplishing goal #1. The title, "Déshabillé", means "undressed".

So I kicked off Saturday by clandoing to visit Jenny’s post, and then going into town to see a "concert". That week I had bought a bag of twenty sachets, figuring that Jenny couldn’t be relied on to feed my developing alcoholism. I started Saturday with seven sachets, acted slightly embarrassingly, and crashed at a Volunteer’s post. Sunday morning, me and Jenny had some sandwiches and headed out to IST, the milestone we’ve all been struggling to achieve. ("Just make it to IST," I told myself, "You can do this.") We passed through Douala ("most insecured town" according to the Organization; not sure what that means). Getting to the douche, literally "shower" but also apparently giant fountain, to find a car to the right city involved going past, and naturally going into, a supermarket. Jenny and I went in, with her commenting that it made her so happy to see all this stuff, and how much she wished she had a camera!.. to take pictures of completely normal things like meat, cheese, soy sauce, and ice cream. Wandering down the toys aisle, we saw a "FunStation 3" and boxed SEGA Master Systems.

Eventually we got to the beach and got into the water. This was still Saturday, when I was idealistic enough to believe that I shouldn’t drink too much while in the ocean (or with intent to go into the ocean). The waves were rough and we got tossed around and scratched up quite a bit. Then back to the room for more AC and hot showers. I made crude passes at Allison ("No thanks") and Jessica W. ("I’m not looking for that"). This set the template for the majority of our time in [training]: go to sessions until 17 o’clock or so, using any means necessary to get through them without screaming; then go to the beach; then party with the nerdkin.

Tuesday for dinner we went to a bar we found called "Lotus Bleu" (same name as a bar back in the training village). We had no choice but to eat grilled fish and soya, street meat, while we drank. Then a street vendor came by and sold us magic wands (picture will be coming later). Then they played horrible American pop including "Barbie Girl" and "Boom Boom (Let’s Go Back to My Room)". We found ourselves enthralled and unable to stop dancing. Then we hurried back to the hotel, where we combined Tampico, a very sweet orange-ish drink (somewhat like Sunny D) with gin. This worked perhaps too well. So when we went back to the beach in the dark (not my idea! But somehow we all knew we were going to skinny dip) I found myself singing, aloud, at the top of my lungs, "cancun ’89":

Why can’t we just stay
Where the ocean is warm all year?
Fruit hangs from the trees
Do just what you please
And nothing is the same

The sun rolls down the beach
Sand gets in your eyes
Lean in for the kiss
Tans astound the crowds
Nothing is the same

—world of science, "cancun ’89"

The waves were still too rough on Tuesday, so being naked entailed getting scraped on the sand a lot. And very quickly the alcohol caught up with me. Suddenly I was terrified of drowning and staggering around the sand. After this point, things become unclear; the other people there (whose names are withheld to avoid incriminating them) would have better recollections. I remember calling out to them, afraid that they too would drown. They say that they came out of the water to find me humping a tree (still naked), although the minority opinion is that I was just hugging the tree and unable to stand. Everyone seems to agree that I then fell down. Apparently they tried to get me to put at least pants on, but this required more coordination than I possessed. I am reputed to have said "Hey guys, guess what? I’m NAKED!" This is when the Cameroonians showed up and wanted to know if everything was fine. "Yes," my wonderful friends said, trying to stand between my spread-eagled form and the Cameroonians, "Everything is great."

I rolled a 20 on a coordination check and somehow managed to get underwear on. I had already been wearing the shirt (I think I had been trying to get dressed when they found me). One of my friends wrapped a skirt around my waist and with my arms around two of them, we managed to head back to the hotel. I am told that I said "I think I’m in love with one of you, but I don’t know which one." Eventually they deposed me in the hotel room I was sharing with Timothy, where I commenced to remove the alcohol from my body and to wonder whether or not I was going to die. (I didn’t.)

My friends report that after all the excitement, they all breathed a collective sigh of relief. "What time is it?" they asked. Consulting a timepiece, they learned the terrible truth: 10:30 PM.

Timothy and I had a heart-to-heart Monday about how Jessica W. worrying about me, and how she didn’t like to see me bashed out of my skull (and how neither did Timothy, come down to it). Wednesday morning, I told Timothy that I think I’d gotten it out of my system. Time will tell, I guess.

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Neurochemical (Sunday, 2010 July 25)

July 25th, 2010

The party last night was themed "Middle School Dance Party". Sometime during the night I drunkenly misplaced my Camtel USB modem, which is a pisser but in theory not a crisis. If nobody finds it by Tuesday I’ll buy another one. I can afford it, even if I have to take $50 out of my USD bank account. So now I’m sitting at the "training house" and surfing the ‘net here.

Today is hard for some reason. There’s some anxiety in my heart that I don’t understand. Maybe it’s the neurochemical aftereffects of drinking so much.

We’re having a bumper crop of sick stagiaires lately. Typhoid, worms, and possibly other random crap. (No malaria as far as I know.) Everyone has been treated but some people are feeling better than others. Timothy is still working on getting better.

Decided to take some time to clean up my about page and change the theme for the blog to make the link to the about page a little more prominent. Opinions gratefully solicited.

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