The complete and updated list:
If were you to judge my presence in Cameroon solely by the experiences I write about on this blog, you might have assumed that I had left already. For that I apologize – keeping up with a blog is no small business – I can now understand how people are full-time “bloggers.” Yet, I am still here! And happily so at that, which has been making it hard to face my inevitable departure. Alas, those final days have arrived and I am down to one month. Exactly one month – I leave Cameroon on November 9th.
With these 31 days, I aim to revel in all those things I have come to love (I refuse to say “one last time,” since I fully intend to make it back to Cameroon in the future). In honor of the 31 days I have remaining, here are 31 of those things I am going to savor during the final countdown and inevitably, miss the most* about this place I’ve called home for the past two years. The list is composed of many things that have become very quotidian to me, but as my days grow more and more limited, I’m reminded of how interesting, strange, delicious, [insert many more adjectives] they were when I first encountered them. Here they are:
1. Franglais: If you’re lucky, you might hear me slip into franglais ever so often when I am back in the states. It’s a wonderful mix of French and English that makes perfect sense to fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, but not to my parents when I speak to them on the phone on Sundays – just ask them – sometimes I struggle to find the right English word to describe things. I’ll miss communicating with such incomprehensible ease.
2. Cameroonian French: In addition to franglais, Cameroonian French is another sort of pidgin language I have picked up since being here. Unfortunately, I have picked it up to the dismay of my years of actual French. Inversion – you ask? Well you can forget that. And compound tenses? Who needs those when you have the present, simple future and past tense. Also, when in doubt you can always substitute the pronoun “on (one)” for literally any other pronoun. “On a dit que je parle comme une africaine, non?”
3. Fulfuldé greetings: Following with the languages, I will also miss the stream of greetings in fulfuldé (the language of the Fulani people – a primary language in my village). Even if you are rushing to go somewhere, you will always stop and greet your friend, with at least three questions. Here is one side of a dialogue: “Hello. You are here? How are you? Thank you. How is your health? Thank you. How is your family? Thank you. How is the cold? Okay. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Lovely. Goodbye!” Here is the other side of the dialogue, “Hello. I am here. Good. Good. Good. Good. Okay. Thank you. Goodbye!” It is especially wonderful to witness the endearing exchange between two older “Aladjis” (respected, older, Muslim men), however, my favorite person to exchange greetings with the marabout, who is my neighbor who asks these questions at least four times a day as I past by. He ends every exchange in “woodi” (lovely) reminding me that life really is just that.
4. The great outdoors: I will miss being able to spend the majority of my day outside. Whether I am walking in between meetings, having those meetings in outdoor classrooms (aka under trees), washing clothes, sitting with friends, etc. I am almost always outside. This fresh air I have taken for granted and will miss.
5. Moto rides: I take motos to get from place to place (not including 1+ hour trips) when it is too far to walk. Whether it is hopping on a moto in the regional capital for a quick zip to a restaurant, or the 30 minute moto ride in the wide open savanna between my village and the neighboring town, they are always fun. It ranks up there with my other favorite forms of transportation: walking and trains. However, with moto rides, you get a really cool accessory as well: a moto helmet that makes me look more Power Ranger than Peace Corps Volunteer. I’ll take it and maybe even use it for Halloween.
6. Thank you: I’ve taken to saying “thank you” when I ask how someone is and they respond “Good.” Also sometimes just when someone says “Bonjour!” I loved hearing people respond that way when I first arrived and I still love it. I don’t think we hear thank you enough in our world. This remedies that.
7. Chai: Not to be confused with a chai tea that you might get at Starbucks. This chai is sugary tea that is consumed many times a day. I get a bit jittery after a few glasses, but I would bet that the average Fulani man consumes a thermos of chai a day. Fun fact: My friend’s baby, Mohamadou’s first word was “chai.” He has good taste [pun intended].
8. Fluidity of time: I am half going to miss this, half going to say “good riddance!” The relaxed time here has definitely worked to my benefit in some situations. For example, for those under-the-weather days, it’s easy to push back a meeting a few hours to get a bit more sleep or until that medicine kicks in. Or when I’ve been engrossed in a book, I know I’ll have some time to continue reading before my meetings start since everyone will show up late. This fluidity of time also allows time for more human interaction. No one is in a rush, so it allows for some genuine conversation and interactions, even if the class you were supposed to get to is starting at that very moment.
9. Nkongosa: Translation: village gossip. Yes, I know gossiping isn’t very becoming, but sitting with mamas while they nkongosa has become one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Lokoti might be a village, but let me tell you, it could be the setting for quite a soap opera. We’ve got wives confronting mistresses with knives, bandits with machetes, presidents of organizations who steal dues, a chief who demands the equivalent of $300,000 from the construction company in exchange for him allowing them to build a paved road through the village (as you might be able to guess, that paved road did not get built), a veterinarian who is switching out vaccinations with sugar shots for cattle, sorcery, so much sorcery… the list can go on and on. Who needs television when you’ve got nkongosa?
10. SA-MAN-TA: I can say with quite certainty that I will never live in a place where every single person will know my name. Or even if I do, chances are they won’t be yelling it out every time I stroll through village. For some groups of kids, spotting me and yelling my name has become somewhat of a playground game that comes with a repetitive song. Instead of “Cinderella, dressed in yellow, went outside to kiss a fellow…” these kids sing, “Bonjour SA-MAN-TA! Bonjour!…” I will miss channeling my inner Belle (think: the first scene of the Beauty and the Beast as she is strolling through town and greeting everyone).
11. Cucumber season… mango season… seasonal food in general: While onions and mysterious green leafy plants are the only veggies you can count on at the weekly market, there are some wonderful food seasons that provide a great break from the monotony. Some of my favorites are cucumber season, mango season and avocado season. Once during cucumber season, I bought too many cucumbers and tried to make “cucumber bread” (note: cucumbers do not work like zucchini). During mango season, besides snacking on mangos, I enjoyed mango upside down cake, mango salsa, mangos in my chili, etc. As for avocado season: non-stop guac. While the end of a good food season is sad, I’ve enjoyed having to look forward to eating a certain food and not taking it for granted. And because our vegetables and fruits are not shipped thousands of miles to be available during all seasons, when we do get them, they are local and fresh, and therefore more delicious.
12. Making tofu and soymilk: While I know I won’t be pining to make my own tofu and soymilk in the states since it will be readily available, I have loved being capable of transforming soy beans into delicious food and drink. Homemade tofu and soymilk have been great protein-filled treats for me through the past two years.
13. Learning: Every moment of every day here presents a chance to learn something new. My goal is to bring that mentality back with me.
14. Teaching: As with learning, I have had constant opportunity to teach here. I’ve taught in formal settings and in informal settings on a variety of subjects. Food groups, goal setting, family planning, how to make rehydration solution, making paper chains and snowflakes, etc. Every moment of everyday spent with someone here is an opportunity to teach them something new, and as I mentioned above, learn something new.
15. Kossam: Kossam means milk or yogurt in Fulfuldé and is a delicious and refreshing natural yogurt. Kossam is found everywhere in my region, as the Adamawa is known as the “land of milk and honey.” It is normally served in Bar Latiers (Milk Bars) frequented normally by Fulani men. However, the milk bars in my area have accepted my female presence and love of kossam sans sucre.
16. Street meat: Beef is also somewhat abundant in my region, since there are so many cows. In villages and large towns, there are vendors that will sell beef brochettes grilled over an open fire and they are oh-so-tasty.
17. Prunes: Another food favorite. Prunes in Cameroon are not like the prunes we know in the United States. In fact, the only thing they have in common is the name itself. Prunes in Cameroon are a strange vegetable, kind of like a small bitter avocado. I know I’m not selling it well, but trust me – it’s delicious.
18. Bar shopping: Whenever you are sitting at a bar or restaurant many vendors will pass by selling a variety of items from trays on their head. From bar favorites such as candy and kola nuts to shoes, mirrors, etc. you never need to choose between an afternoon of running errands and drinking and socializing with friends, for you can do two at once!
19. Fripperie: Ever wonder where some of your clothes go when you donate them? Well, some of them end up at the fripperie (known as “the frip” to PCVs). The frip is a section of the market that sells western-style clothes for reduced prices – a shirt costs 20 cents, a skirt 40 cents, etc. Today I picked up two pairs of heavy wool socks (for a hiking trip in a few weeks), for 40 cents total! From “Class of 1997 Reunion Clam Bake” t-shirts and authentic hockey jerseys to snazzy blazers and leather bags, the frip has got everything you could ever need for daily attire, or an awesome Halloween costume. Sometimes I think Macklemore might have written his song “Thift Shop” after spending an afternoon “frip-ing.”
20. Sachets of mayo: Yep, I’m probably the most disgusting person you know – I LOVE mayo. No shame. And here, in Cameroon, you can buy mayo in plastic sachets perfect for one-time, individual use. If I’m eating grilled fish and the fish mama doesn’t have mayo, I don’t need to fret because chances are, I have a sachet of mayo in my bag. In true scout form, I’m always prepared.
21. Sachets of liquor: I know this sounds a little gauche, but I will miss liquor sold in plastic-bag sachets. Want a mojito? All you need is a 25 cent bag of “Zed’s Vodka” and a Crystal Light Mojito mix. Or a whiskey ginger? Well, that’ll cost you an additional 25 cents, since “Lion d’Or Whiskey” costs 50 cents, but still – even that beats happy hour prices back in the states.
22. Mirror dancing: Exactly what it sounds like. When you go out dancing in Cameroon, you will find yourself in a club lined with mirrors. Those mirrors were meant for you – the dancer! Cameroonians and Peace Corps Volunteers alike will find themselves dancing with, well… themselves. It is totally normal and accepted to have a line of people dancing with their reflections in the mirror. At first I was hesitant, but after that first solo dance, I was hooked. So for a good night out in Cameroon, all I really needed was me, myself and I.
23. Dancing craze: In addition to mirror dancing, there is just a general culture of dance here. Everyone – men, women, children, babies (videos of baby Mohamadou dancing available upon request), grandmas and grandpas alike – dance. When do they dance you ask? Whenever there is any sort of background music on (even if it’s just a catchy ring tone). I love that there is no stigma attached to people, especially men, dancing their hearts out!
24. Carrying items on my head: While I have not mastered the hands-free approach, I have gotten used to carrying heavy or awkwardly sized loads on my head, using one hand as support. It is much more comfortable than having to readjust the load in your arms every so often. It also gave me major brownie points from mamas in town.
25. Washing clothes at the stream: During the last few months of my service, I took to washing my clothes at the stream. Not only did this cut down on my water usage, but it also gave me a great opportunity to socialize with mamas. Washing clothes at the stream is quite the social event and gave me ample time to brush up on my village nkongosa!
26. The sunshine: Even during rainy season, the sun doesn’t hide for long. I have gotten my fair share of Vitamin D while here and I loved it (don’t worry, I’ve also slathered on my fair share of SPF 75 as well).
27. Spaghetti omelet sandwiches: An omelet with spaghetti in it all put on a baguette. Also known as the best breakfast food in Cameroon. Now I know it doesn’t have a bacon, egg and cheese on a bagel to compete with, but still…
28. Starry nights: Words cannot describe how brilliant the starry night skies are in Lokoti, thanks to no light pollution. Sometimes I catch myself staring up at the sky for the amount of time it would take me to watch a 20-minute television episode – the sky is just that entertaining. And when those starry nights are accompanied by a full moon, it is brighter outside the house than inside with your headlamp.
29. Public transportation: It isn’t comfortable or convenient, but it has been enjoyable for me. The long periods of waiting in the bus station for the bus to depart followed by the equally long ride to my destination has allowed me copious amounts of time to read, listen to podcasts, meet new people and just generally think my thoughts. I also believe that public transportation in this country has made me a much more patient person, and you know what they say – patience is a virtue.
30. Candle lit nights: Eating dinner, journaling and reading by candlelight has become so normal to me, that sometimes I need to step back and remind myself how gosh-darn romantic I’m being. So if you ever walk into my house in the states and see a plethora of lit candles, don’t assume I’m courting you – I’m just reliving my Lokoti-nights.
31. Pagne: Pagne is the brightly colored and interestingly patterned “African” fabric that many women and men wear here. You buy pagne in rolls of 6 yards and then are free to create whatever you want out of your chosen fabric – dresses, pants, blazers, bags, pillow cases, bow-ties, hair-bands, etc. Besides being beautiful, pagne allows you to be creative in what you wear. You are no longer forced to choose styles that are available in the clothing stores that season, for you can design your own style! After drawing your dream design, your tailor – either a fabulous southern Cameroonian woman with sass or a quiet, but detail-oriented Fulani man – will take your measurements and create your custom article of clothing – for less than $10. While I cannot wait to don corduroys and boots upon my arrival in the states, I will definitely miss my pagne collection (and how amazing it was at masking sweat). Even more so, I will miss seeing everyone so vibrantly attired, no matter what the season.
* This list does not include people. If I included people, this list would have had to be three times as long!