I don’t know how time is going by so quickly. It seems I transitioned from endless amount of free time to hoping time would slow down a bit all within matter of days. The month of November is spiraling away out of control. I need it to slow down, just a slight bit. I no longer have nights where I sit at my big house and wonder how I will pass the next 5 hours until I go to sleep. My To-Do list is now legit; no more “take a bath”, “do dishes”, and other daily tasks as such. Rest assured, I am by no means complaining. I welcome the fuller daily schedule and actually cherish my alone time once again. The sole reason I want time to slow down a bit is that I am not quite ready to let go of those new French friends!
Comparing to other fellow PCVs whom I’ve kept a close contact, my life here does not sound like how a typical Peace Corps experience ought to be. I send out email updates that titles “The Real World Batié” due to the amount of pure ridiculous drama-esque events that occur in my life here. I must say, I haven’t had such interesting life in a really long time, perhaps ever. As the world economy continues to tumble, and news headlines are worse by the day, there is nowhere else I would rather be now. Sure I would love a weeklong vacation to Paris or London, or anywhere with broadband Internet, hot shower, BBC, CNN and sushi, but all in all, I am happy here.
This week, I had several “yup, this is not the US any longer” moments. Life here has become fairly comfortable. I don’t take many pictures anymore, or even blog as often because things don’t strike me as unusual the way they did before. Yet when I do take the time to think, I am marveled at how differently my life has become over the past six months.
Tuesday morning, I woke up at 6:15 to meet Juliete to do some work in the fishponds. The fish apparently need to be measured monthly and this month they are short of help, so I was recruited to record data. I was out of my house by 6:30am, the earliest I’ve been out in the village. It was quite amazing. On my walk into town, I could smell the fresh morning air and feel the fog just starting to spread. Kids are getting water before heading to school at the pump by my house. Mamas are walking around, going about their businesses. I got a ride half way through my walk by a car that was taking a group of students to school. Once I met Juliete, we hopped on a moto and went to Chez Bernard. So there I was, 7am on a Tuesday morning, I sat amongst the fishponds, the fields, and beneath the great mountains. While I waited for the guys to get the sample fish for measuring, I ate a few sugar beignets (they are like donuts, but less fattening). It was then, in the midst of the great view, the sound of pigs, frogs and the faint smell of fish that I thought, “this is so not my life in the US”.
So then I thought about what I would’ve been doing on a Tuesday morning at 7am just six months ago. I would probably be just struggling to get up after going to bed at 2:30am due to an exhausting night at the library. I would take 2 minutes to check my morning email, take a hot shower, make an espresso, and hurry out the door for an 8am class. Or, if I didn’t have class, I would’ve been waking up, standing in front of my closet and struggle to pick out an outfit for work because I wasn’t sure what “mood” I was in yet. I would’ve then hopped out of the house in my high-heels, and stopped at the Starbucks around the corner of my house, ordered my grande, non-fat, toffee-nut latte before making the drive down Forest Park Pkway into Clayton. Once I get to the office, I would walk into that fancy elevator, get to my cubicle, switch on my computer, and spend my day running reports and crunching numbers for millionaires in St. Louis.
That was then, this is now.
Another moment this week happened when I was visiting a guy’s house that raises livestock. He’s a client of mine that lives in the neighbor village of Bapa. Even though he is a “notable” in the village, and has something like 19 kids, he still struggles with basic management of his farm and livestock. We had met twice and I decided I needed to pay a visit. Every time I go to Bapa, I am amazed at the view there; it also makes me realize I am not really living in the middle of nowhere. It could be so much worse.
I visited the concession that is full of fields, small bit of pigs, chickens, rabbits, goats, etc. The guy seem to had the concept of diversification down, although I don’t know how useful that is in raising livestock. We discussed some basic accounting and the need to start keeping track of expenses and have separate accounts for his business. After the visit and discussion, I was being fed lunch – true to Cameroonian form. I was fed foufou and gumbo sauce. Not gumbo like your New Orleans style Cajun goodness, but well… brown gooey sauce that you are supposed to eat with your hands. I welcomed the hospitality but at that moment, I remembered that this is no longer life in the USA. And I also remembered how much I don’t miss having homestay family or just stage in general.
Work in the non-English teaching area is picking up. I hope by the New Year or soon after, I can begin to transition some teaching work into more SED related projects. While teaching continues to be interesting, the days that I am frustrated becomes more frequently now. However, the rewarding moments are still amazing. Today in my Women’s class, I was so entertained by the few mamas in my class who can’t even speak French. They only speak the local patois, thus making it near impossible to learn English since I am teaching the material base on French. Then, I realized that by giving this class, I am giving them an empowering opportunity. Maybe they won’t retain a single thing after I walk out of the classroom. Maybe they will never speak a word of English, but I am providing them 2 hours a week of opportunity to do something different. They have a desire to learn something, and I am providing an opportunity to fulfill that desire. Whether or not they actually learn, that’s a different point.
I am in the process of writing a proposal for the library project I had in mind for the school. It’s been a learning experience writing this proposal. I pulled a lot of research off the net last week and they provided a great deal of guidance. The similar concept also applies when I worked with Victor to draft a project proposal to finish building the community center in our cartier. Through all the work though, I wonder what three months of technical training actually did for me. I am still teaching myself everything I need to know. I like these result-oriented projects much more than teaching. Teaching can be difficult to foresee the result of the effort put forth. Props to the education volunteers! I only started teaching because I was bored; not sure how I would fair if that were my primary job here.
Turkey Day is around the corner. Not sure my plans yet. I may actually spend it with the French since it’s the last weekend that some of them are around. I feel a bit guilty for my lack of presence among my American and Chinese friends, but I figured they are around for a while. Gotta allocate my time accordingly among friends. Starting to make some local friends in village. But it’s not the same. The day I have a Cameroonian friend whom I can talk to the way I talk to my American, Chinese, or French friends is the day I have succeed in culture integration. We’ll see how long that takes.
I miss the cold a bit. As we speak, I am writing in t-shirt and shorts. Few weeks ago, I began listening to Christmas music, but have since stopped. I also have had the urge to take out that tiny Christmas tree Kirk had left for me. But there is something wrong about doing Christmas stuff when it’s 80 degrees out. Even the holiday season in Taiwan was cold! This is weird. I miss the fresh smell of winter, of the first snowfall. I miss cuddling up in a sweater and drinking coffee, reading a good book. I had to explain to Gary the concept of Thanksgiving – it’s Christmas without all the present fuss. I then talked about the rounds of eating that take place during T-Day. I talked about my first Thanksgiving in the US where there were 10 different kinds of pie outside of the house, and ridiculous amount of food inside of the house. Oh my, I could really use a plate of turkey, stuffing, green been casserole all drenched in delicious gravy. Mmmmm!