Cameroon / Eat / Life / Peace Corps / Volunteering

Living Culture

You don’t learn a culture. You live a culture.
– Tsafack, P.C. language trainer

It’s funny to think that it’s only been three days. Like other volunteers have mentioned, it feels like it’s been months, and I say that with the most positive tone. Time passes slower during large adjustments, I suppose. Thursday morning, I received my packet, which announced to me my family’s name, and listed that there were six in the family. We were each given a map with our home stay houses marked. I was happy to see that Stephanie would be living just next door. We now walk to training together every day, just five minutes down the dirt path, past the electricity post, trees, cornfields- oh, and more cornfields. One volunteer I know identifies her path to her home stay by a pile of garbage, if that’s enough to tell you that there are not very many landmarks.

So we packed up in the bus and headed on our way. At Bangante, families were already waiting for us with signs, featuring each of our names. When my name was called, I quickly met Merineau, and she immediately took two of my heaviest bags. I was thinking, “Man, this woman is strong and kind!” She sent me off in the van with her daughter, Urielle. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I feel so at home in her house. Granted the first night was a bit awkward, the next day during our home stay reflection activity, my word to describe my first night was “nice”. The mother and father are both teachers, but my host mom is already on vacation, so we have spent lots of time together this week. She taught me how to make la sauce which is tomato sauce with fish cut up in it, among other spices. With rice, it’s pretty good. There is a lot of fish here. The fact that they eat meat regularly is a sign of wealth, or it could be just that they keep honoring me. Being American in the community is a pleasant, although sometimes awkward, experience. Everyone stares, even the motos that pass by. I was approached and proposed to yesterday. I responded that I was already married…Other PCVs recommended that we say this to avoid being hit on too much. Actually, when I asked about having male visitors from the states, everyone said that it would be a really great thing for me, because my village would think I was married, at least for a while, and people would stop approaching me so much. Being a woman in Cameroon, I can tell will already be a very different experience from the male volunteers. My activities have included cooking, setting up for dinner, helping out -which I have been a great sport about, but my family makes it easy because it’s just the way that we spend time together. Peeling garlic is enjoyable on a breezy day when you are sitting outside with two other women peeling plantains, listening to the kids chase the chickens and poke at the goat. We have three goats in our backyard. As a woman, I have not been out alone at all, and it became extremely obvious one evening when Merineau and I went for a walk into town. We forgot the BoGo light. We walked home, hand in hand, completely in the dark. I can barely get around in the daylight on the bumpy, dirt roads, much less in the darkness. The BoGo light has definitely become a great friend of mine. Electricity and water also go out often. But we just manage. Cold showers are something that I haven’t quite adjusted to yet, but at least I am getting better about taking faster showers. And by the way, shaving? No thank you.

Merineau took me with her to a party of other teachers Saturday. It was fantastique super! Let this experience also serve as a lesson of Cameroonian time. I was told that the reunion would start at 3pm. We left the house at 4:30, but when we arrived, the party was hardly starting. Merineau and I walked around for a bit longer, and she pointed out some of the various plants that are planted here. There is so much green here. To follow, the women began the party leisurely but forcefully, each of them making speeches that sometimes turned into hymns. I was only jealous that I did not know the hymns as well, so that I could sing along. To see the heart and core of gospel music at it’s natural state was impressing, to say the very least. As we walked outside at 9pm, I looked up at the sky and saw that I was surrounded by nothing else at all but stars. The stars seemed to cup around me, and even though I couldn’t see anything else, I felt like I was surrounded by the hands of a higher being. I also went to church this Sunday. The sermon was made in French and translated into the local village language as well. I can’t tell you enough that Cameroon is very diverse. Even at home, it’s hard at times to spot when the changes from French to another language occurs between family members.

The head Director of Peace Corps came to visit yesterday! This was in celebration of 45 years that PC has served in Cameroon. We danced to traditional music and ate a great lunch. It’s not very often that the PC Director comes to a country and meets the trainees, so it was a privilege to shake his hand, take a photo, and to hear him speak like anyone of us would, with strong feelings of passion for the P.C. program and mission.

Communication. I want to say a few things about this. First of all, my latest tip is to use a tampon box to mail things in, inside the package- this will prevent theft, because tampons are the same word in French, and who wants to steal those?! Secondly, I left my phone on the bus on our way to Bangante, so my cell phone took a trip to Yaounde, arriving to me on yesterday. I go to bed around 9pm along with my family, so before that time would be best. There’s a six-hour time difference. While I mention this, I want to warn you that having phone conversations with family back home, especially so early in the program, has more potential to make a volunteer very homesick. It’s not that I try to forget about you all, it’s just that I’m really trying to put my whole heart into this experience right now. I know that you all will be there, and while I will eventually send you all my blogs and show you each and every one of my photos, it might not be so soon. PC recommends that we talk to family/friends back home at max, once per week. I agree that it’s a good idea. Letters. I know some of you are expecting letters, and want you to know that although I have been thinking about you all lots (really), I have not had time to write. In times that I could have gone into my room for personal alone time, I have been instead trying to integrate and settle in with my family. And I feel really successful so far. Cameroonians don’t really spend much time alone, and there’s always someone to talk to or to help with whatever they are doing. After all, the saying is, “we are together”! I am trying to take full advantage of this. Then there’s language training, and today we started technical training… there are all kinds of intense activities and assignments that we will have to do to be successful teachers (there’s actually a model school starting up soon in which we are going to participate a lot in). I will start my letters, but even then, that will be about 3 weeks, at the least. Sorry if you were expecting something sooner. I can make it to the internet café every so often.

You should be proud, because I did my own laundry yesterday!! Yep, last night, with a pause because the light went out, Merineau showed me how to wash my clothes with soap, water and a bucket. Yes, this is the same Tara Lynn!

To conclude this blog, I will give you a bible verse in French to write on packages/letters. The traveler’s passage, Psalms 139:7. “Ou je pourrais-je loin de toi? Ou furir loin de ta presence?” –“Where could I be far from you? Or to flee far away from your presence?”

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.