I officially celebrated my One-Year Camerooniversary in September, however, one-year ago today I was sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. As will be chronicled in a near-future blog post and has probably been noted by many of you who receive emails from me, Peace Corps service is like no other sequence of mood swings that I have ever experienced (and I’m saying this as a Gemini). However, at the end of every single day, even if it ends in tears or frustration, I can honestly say that I am happy I took that oath one year ago. Everyday I have the opportunity to learn new things. That might not seem exceptional, especially in the age of the internet when everyone and thing can be Googled in a moments notice, but I’ve been learning things that cannot be found online. With that being said, there are still oh so many things that make me question “Why?” (I guess these are the cases in which Wikipedia could be helpful…), even after one-year. Here are 6 such things (the number doesn’t represent anything or mean anything specific – just like many things I’ve encountered here):
1. “C’est qui?” “C’est moi!”: When someone knocks on your door and you ask who is there, 99% of the time they will respond with “It’s me!” I was looking for something a little more specific…
2. “Tu es la?”: In following with the last point, people love to state the very obvious. It is common to hear people exclaim “Tu es la?” (“You are here?”) when you walk in a room or “You are eating?” when you are mid-bite, and of course, “Nassara!” (“White person!”) when you are most definitely white.
3. Coffee or Tea?: Tea is consumed when people need to stay awake, while coffee is known as a beverage you drink when you want to sleep. Sleepy-Time Tea would not have a market here.
4. The rules of hygiene: You are a filthy person if your feet are a tad bit dirty, but body odor, outrageous pit stains, kola-nut stained teeth and cozying up to babies without diapers are acceptable and somewhat embraced.
5. Etiquette that would confuse Emily Post: There exists a very strict etiquette in terms of how your greet people, how you treat elders, how you address a crowd, etc. However, at the same time I am amazed at how many times people fall asleep at public events and while visiting people. With the later, I am not talking about a doze – people take full-fledge naps in their friends’ living rooms. While I’ve been writing in third person and still do not understand it, I’ve definitely partaken in naptime.
6. There’s no saying “Cheese!”: For one year now I have been on a crusade to have people smile more in photos to no avail. Photos are like family heirlooms here, since it is pricey to print out photos and not many people have cameras. When visiting people’s houses, they will often pull out a stack of photos to show you. The photos are a wonderful portfolio of different family members in a variety of different poses (my personal favorite is part thinker – hand on chin, pensive visage, part mid-latrine usage – a strategic squat). However, the smiles are always missing.
In a time when we have access to find answers of many questions ranging from “In what year was the World Food Programme started?” to “What does yolo mean?” (just two of my many Google searches), it is somewhat refreshing to not know why some things are they way they are. If anything, it continues to keep life exciting, even after one year!
[I started writing this before I noticed that one of my fellow PCVs wrote a very similar blog post earlier today. Please check it out for more baffling facets of life in Cameroon: http://peacecorpspeach.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/10-things-i-still-dont-get/ (I especially endorse Numbers 6 and 7)]