Cameroon / Peace Corps / Volunteering

Bon Appetit!

If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. You’ll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesmen fight because they are part of the human race. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.

– The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Now is the time I am finally alone, and I force myself to write this blog, or it will not become part of my routine like everything else.

Like walking the ten minutes or so from what is now my house to the girls center, down the muddy path between houses, in which 9 out of 10 of them include people outside or on their porch yelling out at me, “Bonjour!” The first day being here and feeling a bit strange, I can say that I never once felt alone. One cannot feel alone when babies are struggling to talk, yet they make an effort to get out “bonjour” to you, the American that everyone knows as a teacher, that everyone’s happy about because you’re going to help raise our children. It doesn’t get old, no matter how many times you say it.

Like bon apetit! No one ever forgets to say that. Even at the last bite, Cameroonians still feel entitled to giving you that phrase of politesse– and it’s said more as if the person saying the phrase gets more gratitude than anyone.

Like cleaning my feet from time to time on what is now my porch, scrubbing the mud and dirt off and being satisfied at how white my feet can actually become again… To look up and see Maman (the entire village calls her this) walking by and asking a question or telling me something like “Ferme la porte ou si non les moustiques vont te piquer!” –something that reminds me that she is going to look out for me.

Like market days in Nkongsamba. They happen every Sunday. Tim and I tell each other “Happy Market Day!” and we go out into the thriving streets on a quest for food and to bargain over what must be equivalent to nickels (but it’s the principal of knowing that we are no longer getting ripped off). Makes me feel productive.

Like washing my clothes in a bucket. Yes, I still do this myself! And I have been warned about the mango fly, so since a good story told by a fellow PCV, I have been very careful to leave my clothes to dry for three days in the house. I don’t know if I could bring myself to cut open my own skin to pull out a worm or fly, if it’s there long enough. Hey, you know what though… I never lose my socks in the dryer!

And boiling water the night before so that I can put it into the filter the next day.

What is difficult to become routine to is patience for what does not happen on my schedule, or the schedule that was originally put into place. The tasks that would take a few minutes take hours. Going to the cyber could be a very stressful task depending on my mood, because sometimes I cannot stand waiting for ten minutes while an e-mail is sending. Meeting with the proviseur requires a book because you were told be there in the morning…and you know you’ll be waiting. Patience is something I must reason myself into having. It’s never my schedule. Waiting will have to be done.

What else I will struggle with are the numerous marriage proposals that I receive. In the last journal that our training stage published announced me in The Mosts as “Will have the most boyfriends in Cameroon.” Although I’ve been firm about refusing, I need to have encore more boundaries. I have stopped shaking hands with men that want to greet me, because it’s happened twice that the men pulled me in to try to kiss me. His friends found it funny; I found it violating. And when I don’t tell them I am married already, I’m told that I’m never leaving. I usually chuckle, but I did become quite fearful when a maman told me that I would not be leaving because I was going to marry her son. Part of what scared me was the way that she hugged me, tightly like Mom does when she doesn’t want me to go anywhere. I guess Mom’s the only person that can do that. Recently a colleague has made some steps to making our relationship less professional and uncomfortable. He is looking for a wife, and he is trying to convince me that I do want a relationship when I feel it was already enough that I even gave him an explanation for that. At 22 years old and looking around at the many women who are my age, married and with children, I find again that I am not just Mom’s baby or the baby of the family- I am just a baby in the whole scheme of things in this world.

Routine also shall involve rides in cars that sometimes start with screw drivers instead of keys, that are filled up when four people are sitting in front and another four are in back… and having no space to yourself and you’re just thankful you aren’t embracing a smelly person. And looking out at the scenery that sometimes privileges you with the most beautiful green mountains and hills and trees…and other times looking at the shacks of houses that I remember feeling sad about when I first saw similar conditions on the bus ride from the airport. At the time, I felt that Cameroonians were terribly unfortunate and deprived. Now I feel more that I’ve just been extremely lucky my entire life. We live out of necessity here. In America, we live so luxuriously, so extravagantly. I knew this before, but now I live a life that constantly reminds me.

About Tara

Tara received her degree in French and Communications before jetting off to serve Cameroon for 2 years with the Peace Corps. She has forever since been inspired to serve in humanitarian projects around the world. She's a writer, tour guide, business owner, property manager, wifey, dog mom, and traveler. Tara lives in Dallas, Texas, where she's happily married to the tech genius who keeps her website pretty.