Sometimes I am amazed at how my mood can change so rapidly within a single day. This particular Sunday was a perfect example. I woke up at 8am after 7 hours of perfect beauty sleep, in my quiet house, feeling fantastic. Computer works. Internet works. And plenty of yummy goodness from the US of A. Life was good. I am doing whatever on the computer, the radio rambling off world news. Neighbor kids come knocking on the door to fetch water. One even asks if he could deposit some of his own money in his envelope. I am promoting the value of saving, one envelope at a time.
The sun was out. I sat down on the stool and “did laundry”. More like soaking my clothes in good-smelling detergent I had splurged on at the “white people store”, and scrubbing off visible dirt. I finished laundry without knuckles bleeding and quite proud of myself for this genius way of “doing laundry”. I tidied the house a bit until it was time to meet Juliette at the carrefour to go to Baham.
Trip Into Town
She needed to make copies and being Sunday, the one photocopy place in Batié was guaranteed to be closed. We thought we’d try the luck at Baham, and also make a trip out of it by eating some brochuettes (meat on a skewer) there. I decided to allot myself enough time to make the walk into town instead of taking a moto. I walked and glanced at the amazing view. I forget I really do live in a village, and a mountainous one at that. I am quite sure I will never again live in a place with this many trees. It’s funérailles season (people here have funerals long after the deceases has passed. They save until they have money and then throw a big gigantic party) and Sundays are big for that. Lots of cars were driving through the usually empty dirt road. Every time one passes, I am covered with another coat of dust, thanks to the dry season. But no matter. I’m in a jolly good mood.
Once reached the carrefour, I waited for Ju a bit and then got into a taxi heading for Baham. We got there, and the place is so much more livelier, but infinitely more annoying than Batié. I did some shopping for the week, since the more activity also means more stuff to buy. No luck with the photocopy for Ju. We then sat to eat some brochettes and drink our coke. We head to the outdoor bar and there were lots of people drinking, talking loudly, etc. And that also means the minute we walk by, drunk guys are trying to get our attention. My jolly good mood was instantly out of the window.
I sat down, some obnoxious drunk guy comes over and ask me something in an indecipherable voice, probably wants me to marry him. Ironic all the marriage proposals I get here, and when it is time for me to get married, watch I can’t find anyone… Anyway, a few minutes later, this other guy walks by and says, “ni hao” (hello in Chinese) to me. I ignored him. Then he said, “tu est chinoise?” (are you Chinese?) I nodded. “Pourquoi tu ne comprend pas?” (then why don’t you understand?) I wanted to start cursing him out in Chinese. Then we can see who understands.
He sits down and tells us he lived 6 months in Shanghai. He had studied and lived in Germany for a number of years. Ju even made fun of his German accent. He was asking us this and that and pointing at his green Mercedes to show he’s a well-to-do guy. But in fact, I find it annoying that people like that instantly think that us “white people” should want to be his best friend because of it. Puh-lease. Later in the conversation, he asked me if there is some way for him to see me again. “rien,” (no way) I said. “rien du tout?” (none at all?) “rien du tout,” I said. Did he think I was going to give him my contact information and we’ll drive off into the sunset in his Mercedes? Seriously.
Meanwhile, there is some other ridiculously drunk guy who is talking to me, but really more like talking to himself 20 feet away for the entire duration that we were at the bar. On the other side, two big mamas were yelling at each other and the guys were all yelling, too.
What time of the day do you think these events took place? Take a guess. Must be at least 5 or 6pm, right? WRONG. 14:00 – 2pm in the afternoon and all these people were plastered. And they wonder why Cameroon has a problem with alcohol…
House of Money
On the taxi ride back, I was stuck in the front passenger seat with some big dude. The driver was trying to talk to me, asking me what I do. I said I work in Microfinance at the MC2 in Batié. “Oh, the house of money! You must have money then.” “Not at all,” I replied. Then he said, “oh yes, yes you do.” I was not at all in the mood to give the, “I work for free for the good of you people” speech. And then he proceeds to hit on me and asking me if I’m married. Quite the common pattern: First assume I have money, then see if I’d marry him and share some of that money I supposedly have. And then take him to America. When we got to Batié, the driver guy then tried to rip me off and charge me more for the ride. Thankfully I had exact change and I gave him that and left. You’ve got to be kidding me!
The walk home calmed me, and I so needed it.
I realize that “white people” can be quite the fascination. I grew up in a place where “white people” are so amazing. In Taiwan, we love Americans and everything America. But we would never see an American and yell obnoxious thing. We’d never blatantly ask for money or things because there are “faces” to be saved. But here, the mentality is, “the worst that can happen is they say no”. Juliette says in a way, it’s simpler. They ask when they want something. Point blank. There is nothing hidden about it and no need to interpret things.
Quite the stark opposite of the large part of the Chinese culture where no means yes and yes means no. “No, I can’t take the gift” sometimes really means, “no, you gotta offer it to me three more times and then I can take it.” “Yeah I ate already.” means, “yeah, ask me three more times and then I can feel okay eating your food.” Cultures are that way. No better, no worse. But when you aren’t used to it, it will drive you UP THE WALL.