No one told me about the post-IST* funk. In many ways it felt like the post-holiday period where all your decorating and planning is dumped on your sidewalk like your Christmas tree and your left looking at your long list of New Years resolutions and the daunting schedule you’ll need to accomplish them. Here in Cameroon, I arrived back at post with a sunburn and a list of project ideas. Aloe helped with the sunburn, but making sense of how to implement work was a bit trickier. Three months seems like a long time to gain an understanding of the community, but its not. It certainly takes a while to figure out the nuances of working in an environment sans Microsoft Outlook among many other things. On top of being stuck professionally, I returned to my village at the start of rainy season meaning I had to quickly adapt to a lot more mud and a lot less electricity. With all of this, I found myself thinking about the more comfortable past – the first months in Cameroon when I was under the umbrella of a family, the first few months at post when my main job was just to get to know people and even the United States where family, friends and cheese run abundant. Just as I was at the height of all these feelings, I received an email from my friend, Kait, with a quote that seemed beyond fitting. It said,
“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived and loved and where all your yesterdays are buried deep – leave it anyway except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. The cloud clears as you enter it.”
– Beryl Markham
While I still cannot help but look at photos or read old letters and think fondly of the past, this month I’ve tried to take my own collection of photos (more like mental snapshots) to remind me of the joy that’s found in the present and the potentialities of the future. Here are some of those snapshots:
- My friend was having work done on her tin roof, which is common around this time a year because tiny holes can cause a lot of problems with the heavy rain. An older man (I’m estimating his age to be around 70-years-old) was working very hard on the roof. Upon completing his work, he hopped down from the roof , tossed his hammer euphorically and squatted down to enjoy a bowl of “riz-sauté.” I constantly people toiling away daily, but it was wonderful to see the delight and repose that comes after a hard day’s work.
- With the start of the rains, come mangos. The trees are full of this ripe fruit and their peels litter the ground everywhere. After a few months of meager fruit and vegetable availability in our village, mangos are celebrated. Something I’ve loved watching these past few weeks is the children in Lokoti rejoicing the mango rains. Before school, after school (sometimes during school), you can spot children with long sticks pointed high trying to knock mangos off their branches. Or you’ll find children climbing the giant trees in search of fruit, but also adventure. It’s been fun to watch and delicious to enjoy the fruits of their endeavors (pun intended).
- My friend Hadija, the superstar best friend from the last post, had a beautiful and healthy baby boy named Mohamadou Awalou on March 9th. In Fulbe tradition, the baby is named one week after the birth and the mother cannot leave the house for 40 days. Last Monday, Hadija left the house, beautifully clad in head to toe pagne with Mohamadou in his new tie-dye boubou (long shirt). New mothers who leave their house for the first time bake beignets (think Cameroon’s version of Dunkin Donut Munchkins) and then hand them out as they go house to house visiting their friends. Not only was I thrilled at that fact that my friend can again accompany to market and visit me at home (not to mention, the added bonus of receiving beignets!), it was truly a blessing to see a healthy mother and child – something that is less taken for granted here.
- If you were told that a nurse was taking notes on a presentation that a McLean child gave, you would probably automatically think of my very smart nursing student brother, Tyler. But last Saturday, that person was me. During Nutrition Day at the health center, I gave a presentation on healthy eating and the food groups to a group of about 35 women who came to have their babies weighed. During the presentation, I noticed the Chef de Centre (the head nurse at the health center) taking notes as I was presenting. After a month of feeling incompetent in the professional realm, that was exactly the boost I needed. It also illustrated the character of the nurses at our center – they are always willing to take the time and learn about how to approach the knowledge they already have from a different perspective to benefit the population that they serve.
- Something that will be hard to capture and take back with me in two years is the feeling gained when groups of children exclaim “SAMANTA! Bonne arrivee! Bonne journee!” Some days I find it hard to muster up the energy to leave my house, but I only need to walk less than 15 seconds outside of my house to be reminded that many people are invested in me being here and that this is where I truly belong in this moment. I am welcomed.
April has been a month of making sense of the past, present and future (it’s a lot harder than conquering the past, present and future tenses in French) – learning to live in the present and face the future boldly. Soon I know that this – language gymnastics, work frustrations and all, will be my safe and sunny past, a far cry from the cloud it looked like at the beginning of this month.
*IST: In-Service Training. A training for PCVs after their first three months at their post. After IST, PCVs are allowed to start projects, whereas the first three months are primarily for community assessment activities.