Retourné (Wednesday, 2010 December 22)

December 24, 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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