Now that I’ve passed my year mark, it’s time to admit it: blogging is getting harder and harder. Every time I sit down to write, there’s about five deleted drafts before I finally find something that I feel like is worth writing about. I’ve been here long enough that I’m struggling to figure out what’s interesting to other people that haven’t been to Cameroon, much less to explain it all in intelligible English. But it’s not just that, it’s so much easier to sit and watch movies on my laptop than to try and analyze my experiences in the context of America.How do you capture a place that’s so different and difficult to define and make that make sense? …I’m not so sure that you do…. But, if we’re going to be honest, I can’t really understand what volunteers in other regions talk about with some of their experiences, either. The Northwest volunteers combat the evil JuuJuu spirits, the Far Northerners bond over their mutual hatred of hot season, and the volunteers in the West Adamauaua can discuss their extreme isolation from the rest of the country. I can’t understand what that’s like; that’s part of the difficulty of living in a country that possesses all of Africa’s major terrains, all of Africa’s different varieties of climates, and where the people speak about 260 languages and often can’t communicate with one another. This is a country with two official languages, so if we can’t all have one common language, how can we expect the culture to be the same? And if the culture isn’t the same, how can we expect to be able to make anyone else actually understand? And how can you make someone who’s never seen it appreciate it?
There are a lot of things that clearly distinguish Peace Corps as being a difficult experience: not speaking the language fluently, living in a culture you don’t always understand, trying to find worthwhile work that the community is passionate about making happen, dealing with loneliness and being far from home. I’ve gotten better at dealing with those. Harassment isn’t a big deal anymore, I laugh off the “white skin” comments and usually respond to marriage proposals by telling people that I live in a place that’s colder than the freezer they buy fish out of. The fat comments sting, but the cultural context and the positive connotations associated with weight make it such that I know the comments rarely have anything to do with body figure but rather their hope of your happiness and feelings of welcome in their country. Loneliness isn’t a problem because I’ve created such a strong network of friends in town and with other volunteers in the region. Corruption doesn’t enrage me to the level it used to because I’ve been confronted with it so many times during my service. Quite frankly, I’ve come to love living here. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely always been worth it. What’s the hardest is trying to assimilate the reality of my life here in Cameroon with the reality of my life in America and remember that somehow they’re both real. It’s not survival that’s hard, it’s talking about the hows and whys and trying to find a way for my current reality to fit into somebody else’s reality. It’s like fitting a large square peg into a circular hole; you can only get so much of that peg in at one time before having to pull it out and try from a different angle. That’s me with blogging nowadays.
It took me a long time to make things make sense, and the more I talk with buddies in other PC countries, the more I realize that we all struggle with it and none of us really knows how to address that to anyone who hasn’t had to deal with that in a long-term situation like Peace Corps. That alone makes it difficult to explain what I do and what Peace Corps is to anyone who’s emailed me to tell me they’re thinking about applying. Add on the fact that you don’t know anything about where they could potentially go or the project they’d be assigned to, and it starts to near on impossible. It’s frustrating when you’re applying that nobody can give you these answers, and it’s even more frustrating during training that the answer you receive most often is “it depends.” Turns out, it does depend. It also turns out that it’s frustrating not to be able to give those answers. You want to be able to make things accessible and easily understandable, but that’s not reality. Ever. And not just about Cameroon or Ukraine or the Dominican Republic or Senegal or Zambia, it’s hard to explain the reality of the US to people who’ve never experienced it, too. See: http://whatshouldpcvscallme.tumblr.com/
That’s what makes blogging so hard, and this job so difficult. But, that’s also 66% of the job: goals two and three of Peace Corps are both cultural exchange and an attempt to make “the other half” make sense. I get paid to make friends, tell you about how I wash clothes by hand, make Mexican dinners from Cameroonian friends, and post photos for you on facebook. Coolest job ever? I think so. I can’t really describe what it is that I love so much about my job or my community, so I might as well make fun of how ridiculous my life tends to be here. And, for that, what’s a better, more embarrassing American reference than Disney?
Based on my real life at my real post and real conversations I’ve had or heard about me, I present to you, “La Blanche” re-written to the tune of “Belle” from “Beauty and the Beast.” Do yourself a favor and look it up on YouTube to appreciate the glory of how well the lyrics fit, will ya?
La Blanche“Little town, it’s a sleepy city. Every day, different from the one before. Little town, full of really loud people, waking up to say: bonjour, la blanche, bonjour bonjour bonjour!
There goes a moto with some harassment like always, the same old comments as before. No morning’s been the same, since the moment that I came to this poor undeveloped town… Good Morning, Souer!
Good morning, mon frere!
Where are you off to?
The market. I’ve just finished the most wonderful fruit and I…
That’s nice. Sister, my US Visa, hurry up!
Look there she goes again that Blanche, she’s walking, all the way from Trypano*! Always on her way into town, on her feet, she walks into town. No denying she’s a strange one, that Nassara.
How is your family?
How is your health?
You need this fabric!
That’s too expensive!
There’s nothing better than this village-oise life!
Ah, my Blanche!
Good Morning! I’ve come to buy more bananas.
Oh, I couldn’t put them down! You have any for 100 francs?
*Laughter* Not since yesterday.
Oh, that’s fine. I’ll go over… there!
THERE? But why not buy these oranges?
But sir, bananas, they’re my favorite! And the price, I know it! I’m a Cameroonian in disguise!
Well, if you like them that much, they’re yours.
Why sir, thank you! Thank you very much!
Look there she goes again, she’s doing the market!
I wonder if she’ll marry me?
With her shining, sweaty face, and her feet covered in mud,
What a puzzle to the rest of us, that Blanche!
Oh! Isn’t this amazing? This is my favorite town because, you’ll see! Here’s where I met that student, and we had that one really great conversation about HIV!
Now it’s a wonder that she’s always busy; it’s 10am, she should be at the bar! Well, behind that white, shiny face, I’m afraid she’s always in a race. Very different from the rest of us, she’s rich unlike the rest of us, she’s different from the rest of us, our Blanche!
Wow, you didn’t miss a shot, Gaston! You’re the greatest footballer in the whole world!
No football alive stands a chance against you! Hahahaha! And no woman, for that matter!
It’s true, Amadou, and I’ve got my life planned around that one.
Who? The white woman from Trypano?
She’s the one! She’s the lucky one I’m going to marry!
The most beautiful woman in all of Batouri!
I know, but…
That makes her the best. And don’t I deserve the best?
Well of course, I mean you do, but….
Right from the moment that I saw her walking, I said she’s gorgeous, and I vowed: here in town there’s only she, who speaks English good enough for me, so I’ve made my plan to woo and marry the Blanche.**
Look there, he goes, oh he’s so sketchy! Monsier Gaston, he smells so bad! Run fast, dear women, I’m hardly breathing, he’s such a tall, dark, sketch, and smelly moto-man!
[Insert Mixed Chorus of “Show Me the Meaning (Of Being Lonely)”, unidentified angry gangster rap, “I Done Seen My Wifey”, and weird Fulfulde music mixed with screaming people and beeping moto horns]
There’s nothing better than this village-oise life!
Just watch I’m going to make that Blanche my wife!
Look there she goes again, that Blanche she’s yelling. A most peculiar mademoiselle. With pagne down to her shin, look how much she’s fitting in! She really is a sassy girl, a sweaty but a sassy girl. She can’t really be an American giiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirl, our Blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanche!”
Yep. I think I lost a few cool points in the making of this blog entry, but hey, gives you a pretty decent idea of what Centre-Ville is like, right? It’s loud, crazy, and sometimes pretty frustrating, but it’s mine, it’s home, and I love it.
*Trypano: My surrounding neighborhood, a 20 minute walk from Centre, of which Cameroonians are petpetually amazed that someone would voluntarily choose to do. Number of times I've walked into a public place and been recognized as "the white girl whose always walking": Countless.