Alien (Monday, 2010 December 20)

December 21, 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.

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.


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?"


"Twenty three?"


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


"Twenty six?"



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

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

I hope you like wizard hats. Timothy sure does.


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".

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.

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.

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?

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!

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


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.


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.

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.

Here’s one where the leaves are also flowers.



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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