April 21, 2008
“Sign them and they will come.”
Franck’s birthday was Saturday, and as the maman, I organized the food, the drinks, the cake, and the guest list. We needed help because the event was so grand! A friend brought over a loud speaker for music and dancing. Two students served as bouncers by the door, with guest list in hand. Children were gathered outside, trying to get into the house through out the entire party. We gathered chairs and plates and marmites from neighbors so that we could entertain everyone- but in the end there still wasn’t enough! Girls started cooking in the morning, to finish around 5pm. Now I understand better why mamas often drink beer in the kitchen! The table was eventually covered briefly with ndole (greens), sauce tomate, fried fish, baton, and a large bucket of rice. Everything was cleared off within 15 minutes.
I was proud to have organized a truly Cameroonian event, down to the formalities of introducing the guest of honor. It’s traditionally acceptable that the grands of the party gather inside the house in a remote location -for us it was the living room- then there are people around the house and in the backyard of the house-the invites- and if there is any food left, you give it to those outside. Since I had made three marble cakes (everything including the frosting from scratch!), there was enough that everyone took a small piece to leave some left over. Angel attempted to take it outside to share with the crowd of children gathering by my front door. In a few seconds, every little hand reached and grabbed until the tray was cleared.
I didn’t know half of the kids that were even there. There were definitely more than we had originally previewed! But it was okay, because Franck was having the time of his life. I don’t think I have ever done anything so self-less. The experience was stressful, tedious, tiresome and expensive, but seeing how Franck was having such a great time, I could not help but not have a good time myself. I had some PCV friends there that did such a great job at assuring me that I was doing a wonderful thing, that night and in general for Franck. “You are giving him the confidence and love and support that he needs to attend a great school and invest himself into his country,” a friend said to me, and a new definition of what I was doing for Franck became clear to me. This is sustainable development. This is education. This is not just my personal secondary project. This is Peace Corps development work that comes from the depths of my core because I am naturally impassioned by it. I remember now from Philadelphia staging, in the room where we met each other and prepped ourselves for the cultural adaptation, there was a poster on the wall that said: Professional life=personal life=professional life. I am living that! So that night I danced around in my kaba, among my Cameroonian students and a few caring friends, never failing to play the mother/teacher role, and while at the end it had taken a lot out of me, I slept really well.
Franck asked me yesterday when my birthday was, and I told him August 11th. He asked if we could have a party again, but I quickly refused. No, thank you. I want an American birthday party- that means someone else organizes the party, buys my drinks, and everyone else gives me presents!