Sale et saleté (Wednesday, 2010 June 9)

June 17, 2010

Today I had my first bucket bath in Cameroon. I also learned how to do laundry and helped fetch water. This is all a big deal for me, because the rules for treatment and handling of water are pretty complicated. I thought my host family took all its water from the well, which means I would have to boil it before drinking, but because the water comes from le forage (in English you would probably call it a "pump" but the literal translation is "borehole"), it is only necessary to filter it (with my Organization-supplied filter). My host family also uses water from le forage for washing clothes or washing oneself [N.B. I later learned they use water from the well for washing themselves and laundry]. With all this concern about potability, it’s easy to fixate on the "cleanliness" of the water, or whether it is dirty (or "sale" en français). One of my colleagues mentioned that she would like her family/friends to visit, but how difficult it would be to try to be responsible for someone else the way the Organization has been responsible for our water, our immunizations, our immigration papers, and so on.

The bucket bath was about as difficult as I expected. Cold water is cold. On the other hand, it was the only time I haven’t felt sweaty here. I’ve had a little experience in this technique because I showered when the power was out last winter. I have a device to warm water (camper’s shower) but it says to wash with warm water and baking soda or something and not only do I not have baking soda, I think I left the instructions in the States. So, screw it. At least I’m clean-ish (although I am feeling an odd tingling in random parts of my body).

Washing clothes was pretty fun. I learned how to agitate, rinse, and wring out (en français: "presser". There’s no special word). Astride helped me by showing what to do. You have to leave to clothes in the soapy water for ten minutes or so until the saleté (dirtness, or dirt) leaves the clothes. I feel less like an idiot child each day. Tomorrow I need to check some emails etc. but maybe I will also learn to cook.

Last night I "ran out of French" after one glass of wine; tonight I went until 9:30ish, before asking Astride to translate some "important stuff" into French for me so I cold talk to my host mother without confusion. While writing this post, I accidentally used the word "bouiller" for the word "boil". I always knew French doesn’t co-exist with the other languages I’ve tried to learn, but it alarms me a bit that it’s beginning to displace my English.

Someone had a tiny breakdown today in our French class. She was having a bit of a problem with understanding what the instructor wanted, and the other people in the class weren’t, and she’d had a long day and was probably pretty hungry. We got over it pretty quickly, but after class, the instructor walked back with her alone. I hope she is OK. I had been showing off a little bit, and I feel a little guilty.

I’m feeling a lot better about my host family than I was last night. I got them to smile a bit, and Astride’s English is pretty good if I speak slowly and carefully. I kinda like these guys. Last night Mr. Alemi told me that one of his sons is studying pharmacology at Birmingham, and that he used to have a map of the States but that his kids lost it, which made him sad (please send help). I’m still a little uneasy with the father, who seems to make everyone else on edge, but all the kids and the mother are sweet.

Finally: I spent about an hour with my host family brokering a translation (we settled on "il y a des choses laquels parlent sans langage" for "there are some things that cross all languages"). I also learned the words "déranger" (bother/inconvenience), "medicament" (medecine/drugs), "cinture" (hanger), and "abîmer" (damage/spoil). Jacqueline says if I haven’t had culture shock yet, I’m probably fine. And the last pre-volunteer arrives tomorrow after her delay in the hospital.

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