Posts Tagged ‘lovesick’

Sahel (Thursday, 2011 April 14)

April 15th, 2011

Maroua is the capital of the Extreme North region, which (together with the North and the Adamawa regions) are called the "Grand North". The first, best way to access the Grand North is via the train, which goes from Yaoundé to Ngaoundéré, and then buses from there as normal. As you take the bus to Maroua, you can’t help noticing the climate. Outside is not green, as in the Grand South, but instead sandy and beachy. It’s hot in the bus, but assuming you convince a Cameroonian to open a window, the wind blowing in from outside is even hotter, hot and dry, like a blast furnace. Even cold drinks in the Extreme North don’t "sweat" condensation like they do down here; there just isn’t enough moisture in the air. I wish I were able to use words like "Sahel" and "Harmattan" convincingly here, but I’m not. It’s just so hot and so dry. We went through bottle after bottle of water on our trip to Waza National Park (see previous picture), which we saw from the top of our van (!). Jenny took the picture, btw; that’s her in the checkered kerchief at bottom of the picture.

Music was a theme for this trip, starting on the train up to Ngaoundéré with trash80 – "pain fade down" and Ballboy – "I Lost You, But I Found Country Music". I was tasteful with my portable music player, but Cameroonians often fill the silence with music, especially music from their telephones, which prompted Austin to fight back on the bus to Maroua with music from his. We started with the wonderful "Fuck You" by Cee-Lo Green, and then some stuff by Tupac I think. Austin said this song starts with a sample from Star Trek 5, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, once he shared this bit of information, he told us that he had "broken a Knowledge Egg on your head-piece".

Similarly, on the way to Waza, we felt a need to break into song. Turns out Yaya has some sort of battery-operated portable speakers. First song: La Roux – "Bulletproof". This is the song that kind of got me into all this mess, way back in stage, and so I guess it was fitting that it get me out too. Ashes to ashes and all that. There’s a bunch of other musical selections too. I’ll make you a mixtape sometime. TL;DR: Oh radio! You’re so good at simplifying my complex emotions!

Consensus is that I’m suffering from "[Organization] goggles", a phenomenon where your vision is limited to the 150-200 Americans in the country with you rather than realizing that in fact, there are plenty of fish in the sea, plus other aquatic life if you get really desperate. Sure, maybe. Doesn’t matter what it really is. In the meantime it’s housekeeping, closing all the windows I left open and trying not to feel sheepish or nonplussed, sweeping out and throwing away all the things that mattered to me and replacing them with safe, unimportant things. (Is that too sanitized for you, Esther? I thought it was pretty clear. Send me an email and I’ll translate.)

Also with regard to music:

I’m not the boy I used to be
And although I’ve more or less accepted it
Although I’m no longer trying to change it
I still regret it
I regret it every day

—Ballboy, "I Hate Scotland"

I was startled to find that I didn’t feel that way any more. I don’t regret who I am. I’m more or less exactly who I want to be (for the moment — despite what I said earlier that maybe this isn’t who I want to be). Actually? Honestly, I kick ass. For once I don’t feel like a confused little boy, lost in a world too big to understand. I feel like I understand exactly what’s going on and I am prepared to deal with it.

Other stuff: Red Dwarf episode 103, "Balance of Power". I have all these tests I have to grade, but I keep watching episodes of Chuck (and hey, blogging). Outside, it keeps flirting with rain, and lord, do I need a rainstorm, but at the last minute it always turns away coyly. Turns out I have a hirondelle, "swallow" nest on my veranda. Business as usual, no?

P.S. All my love to Adam, Jen, Jenn, Suzanne, my parents, Aunt Jeanie, and all you wacky characters from back home. I miss you.


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 (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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