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Posts Tagged ‘culture shock’

Accueil (Thursday, 2015 November 26)

November 29th, 2015

Starting about a month or so ago, I got a series of increasingly frantic emails, texts, and phone calls from Julie, one of the returned Volunteers that still lives in NYC. Apparently one of her friends from village, a young lady named Annette, won the Diversity Visa lottery and was coming here, to New York, and Julie had no idea what to do with her. What kind of paperwork was going to be necessary? Where was she going to sleep? What kind of work could she do?

Although the government issues visas, those visas aren’t backstopped by programs, services, or resources, even for fundamentals like learning English. You’re on your own for all of the above. Hopefully you have family or friends who know the lay of the land and can help you along. And if those friends or family are, like Julie, in the middle of moving house, then things become a bit more difficult. Julie apparently spoke to some of her "civilian" friends, and they discouraged her from all of this — she’ll take advantage of you, they said, or she’ll never leave. Maybe so. But we’re still Volunteers, and this is some prime Goal 3 kind of work. And if you think about it, Annette is kind of a Volunteer now too for some reverse-bizarro nega-Organization that lets people into the States. That means she’s family. We have to take care of her.

A plan has slowly coalesced around some of the returned Volunteers in the New York area. Julie (or maybe it was someone else?) found a Cameroonian woman who lives in the Bronx who came over just a few years ago with nobody here to help her but some other returned Volunteers. She now lives in an apartment with enough room to take in a few other Cameroonians. Julie’s trying to arrange for Annette to move there as of December 1st. In the meantime, she’s staying with us, sleeping on our couch and borrowing Rita’s old computer.

It’s been a weird experience so far having Annette — sort of like inheriting a slightly clueless 23-year-old daughter. I picked her up at the airport on Friday and it was the first time she’d ever been on an airplane. We’ve had to explain everything to her — how to ride the subway, how to buy vegetables at the supermarket, even how to flush the toilet. She’s an intelligent enough girl — she finished lycée and got her Bac, and even has a couple years of university under her belt — but is missing a lot of context. And then there is the occasional unfortunate incident like her not remembering how to work the intercom to let someone into the apartment, so going downstairs to let them in and thereby locking herself out.

It’s almost like she’s doing a reverse stage, and we’re (all of us in NYC) her famille d’accueil, her host family. (Accueillir means to welcome.) One fascinating thing has been to watch people come out of the woodwork — in just a week in America, Annette has had more guests at her parties than I have had at mine. Between this, and the above observation that she’s a reverse Volunteer, I keep leaping to conclusions that aren’t 100% correct. The main one recently has been about her maturity. Volunteers are always college graduates; Annette, though 23, hasn’t finished any degree. Indeed, I think of her as a good kid, which stands in stark contrast to the rest of us, who are generally hot messes. Nevertheless she’s seemed pretty cool for a Cameroonian, young and idealistic and essentially open to new ideas in a way that I can’t remember even in myself. (About homosexuality, which is illegal in Cameroon, she just said "Well, it’s up to them to manage their lives, and it’s up to me to manage mine.")

There’s a lot more to say about her stay with us, or indeed about the last year or two, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

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Héritage (Sunday, 2012 March 4)

March 4th, 2012

Yaya found this amazing research paper on the different impacts of British versus French colonial policy, which she produced to support my assertion that Anglophone Cameroonians are just better in general than Francophone Cameroonians (more polite or respectful, more engaging, or just better people). It’s been sitting on my hard drive for a couple weeks, I’m only just now getting to read it. It touches on a lot of my favorite things: data analysis, judging people, and Anglophones. It is full of wonderful juicy bits:

Hall and Jones (1999) find that output per worker is correlated with language, with English having a particularly strong positive effect, which they see as being primarily caused by the positive economic effect of European settlement.

Or

The arbitrary nature of colonial boundaries in Africa provided the starting point for a number of scholars to conduct qualitative small n-studies, generally comparing members of the same ethnic group on different sides of a boundary. Miles (1994) studied the Hausa of Nigeria and Niger, Welch (1966) the Ewe of Togo and Ghana, and Asiwaju (1976) the Yoruba of Nigeria and Benin. All argued that there were very marked differences in policy across empires, with the British-controlled areas being characterized by greater economic dynamism and respect for traditional political institutions than French-controlled areas.

Or

The economic efficiency of Protestantism is supported by Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2001) who found evidence for the effect of religion on per capita income.

Or

The dream of a German empire in Central Africa, and the careers of a generation of German-speaking Africans, were destroyed by the outbreak of the First World War.

You really ought to read this paper, it’s wonderful.

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Alien (Monday, 2010 December 20)

December 21st, 2010

OK, great, right now I’m in the real throes of culture shock, which is where I wanted to be when I wrote this post. The combination of high-pressure sales tactics with outright theft — not the thing at training, I’ll write about that next — plus whatever other shit is going on in my head just put me in a "fuck everything" mood. Let’s see if I can’t sublimate that into what Adam called "long-form cynical sarcastic proof that you haven’t been kidnapped/your account compromised".

So, first, Japanese culture is completely fucked. Everybody knows this because they have cartoons where tentacles have sex with animals or whatever. This fact was well known throughout the States, but we never realized that other cultures are completely fucked too.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN4097-scale0.25.jpg

Allison hasn’t been posting to her blog lately, probably because most of the things she does are illegal and she doesn’t want to incriminate herself. Anyhow, she’s on the record as saying that she finds this country a lot less difficult to adjust to than, say, the UK, because in the UK everything is only a little bit different. That’s not a problem here, of course.

The fuckedness of the culture here can be broken down into the following large, arbitrary, inconsistent, and overlapping categories: the people, the language, the environment, and the habits.

People

There’s not a lot to say about this, and certainly nothing I can really photograph. J-C is basically the best example here. I just want to share one story. One day I was taking roll in 2e. It was like this:

"Twenty two?"

"Present!"

"Twenty three?"

"Present!"

"Twenty four?.. Twenty four? Twenty four absent. Twenty five?"

"Present!"

"Twenty six?"

"Deceased!"

What?

She’s really dead. Apparently she was sick. Apparently it was her stomach.

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Have you tried the spoo? It’s quite fresh today.

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I hope you like wizard hats. Timothy sure does.

Language

Le Cameroun est bilingue — Cameroon is bilingual. What this means is practice isn’t well defined. Partly it comes from the weirdness that is French, such as ads for "infographie", which sounds like a strange blend of "information" and "pornographie", or "bureautique", which sounds like a strange blend of "bureau" and "erotique" but actually means something like "typing up documents". But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg; English makes cameo appearances from time to time, always in the "wacky neighbor" capacity. Sometimes it’s talking to J-C and him using a formation like "Come by around one-and-a-half P.M.", and sometimes it’s packaging that says ridiculous things like "choco pasta".

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN4755-scale0.25.jpg

I have no idea what teleboutique means, and I don’t know if they’re serious about their cyber éspace or if they just want you to know that it’s a space where cyber is available.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN3967-scale0.25.jpg

It’s rough when you have to speak another language all the damn time just to be understood, but it’s even worse when that isn’t enough and you have to speak your native language at a soul-crushingly slow pace because someone wants to practice. Fine, let’s practice, but I’m bilingualer than you are and when the bottom drops out of your aptitude I am going to club you into comprehension.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN4191-scale0.25.jpg

Sometimes the people here are industrious, and you have to admire that they’re willing to put bottles into their walls and break them instead of going out and buying real barbed wire. But at the same time, is even that much necessary? Why can’t it just be a wall?

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN4176-scale0.25.jpg

Sachets really deserve their own post; here I will only note that if you ever wanted to be drunk but without the inconvenience of having to drink a whole beer from a heavy glass bottle, you should be interested. 100 CFA (20 cents) buys you 5 cl of 45 proof alcohol. Buy ’em in bulk and save!

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN3896-scale0.25.jpg

P.S. This is an idea that we’re bringing back to the States with us.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN3897-scale0.25.jpg

Habits

Weirdness here includes: people play checkers, but on a 10×10 board instead of an 8×8 board. Putting things on motos in general is weird. J-C arguing with taxi drivers over 200 CFA until there are no more taxis and we have to hire a moto to carry my furniture and another to ride.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN4123-scale0.25.jpg http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN4122-scale0.25.jpg

Environment

If "Habits" is weirdness in-the-head, then "Environment" is weirdness in-the-world. So, for example, the fact that light switches are often but not always the opposite of what I’m used to back home (so, down for light instead of up for light). Or even the lightbulbs themselves. Maybe this is European style or something, and I don’t hate it, but it’s just one more goddamn thing that doesn’t fit.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN4096-scale0.25.jpg http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN4169-scale0.25.jpg

Depicted: a mandarine or orange. Oranges here aren’t.

This sort of insanity even extends to the plant kingdom. I’ve seen plants that don’t make sense. Here’s one from the Lycee.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN4070-scale0.25.jpg

Here’s one where the leaves are also flowers.

http://cameroon.betacantrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/DSCN4485-scale0.25.jpg

FUCK.

Conclusion

I often find that it’s easier to stop thinking about this as an African country not too far in distance or character from my own. Instead I think of myself as an astronaut in a "first contact" situation, bravely exploring a world and society that is completely alien. This is almost too easy sometimes — everything down to the red dirt supports it.

Cameroon is a really beautiful country — especially once you subtract the Cameroonians. There are times when I really love it, especially when I’m on a moto ride through the hills with the sun on my arms and the wind in my face. But I’m starting to wonder if that’s Stockholm Syndrome.

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