These past few days, I’ve been very impatient with tidbits of life here. Most of the frustrations have to do with transportation and big city living. The more I spend time in my quaint village, the more easily I get angry at the big cities. Kate is still staying with me. Things are never as anticipated here, so the hope she’d be settled at her new place felt through yet again this week. We’ve been doing quite a bit of running around between my town and Bafoussam (short for Baf. – the provincial capital).
The other day, I was leaving Baf. to come back, and had a broom in my hand. Yes, buying a broom with a handle is a big task here. Finally, I found a broom, but had to carry it around as I walk through the city to find a car home. It’s common to have people “sssss-ing” at me (hissing without the h) as I walk, calling me La Blanche or Chinoise, or better yet, making random sounds “hee-haw” and the like that suppose to resemble Chinese. Most days, I find all that attention amusing and hilarious since I don’t get it everyday at my village, only when I am in bigger towns. However, on this particular day, I was tired, it had been raining, so I was trekking mud and dirt all over my legs, and these people are yelling at Kate and me per usual. As I walk, I got angrier, and I think having a broom in my hand made it that much worse because I had urges to either whack my broom across their faces or shove it up their you-know-where.
When taking cars here, the drivers like to pack it as full of people as humanly (or even inhumanly) possible. The four-people-in-the-back-seat rule applies regardless if it’s 4-120lbs girls or 3-180lbs mamas plus me. Also, cars work kind of like busses here, kind of in a very exaggerated sense. The part where people get off where they need to and the driver picks up people along the way is the resemblance. Naturally, without the pre-designated stops or the button you push for a stop. Some drivers are greedier than others and will stop every time there is one “empty” spot in the car and he (always a he, I’ve yet seen a woman driver) sees a person walking idly on the side of the road. Some drivers won’t stop every time he has an open seat if he started with a full car and will make decent money getting the rest of the people to their destinations.
The other day, we had a particularly annoying driver who stopped constantly to ensure his vehicle is packed full of 8 people at all times. There was a lady who got so fed up and just left the car. Now, you know it’s bad even the Cameroonians won’t put up with it. These annoying drivers are also the kinds that the gendarmes like to give the most trouble, therefore slowing down the journey even more because we get held at every gendarme checkpoint. These drivers are like those rowdy troublemaker kids in middle school, and if you are unlucky and has to sit next to them, your life suffers.
Today continues our streak of bad car rides. We somehow got into this car where the entire trunk was full of stuff already, and we had to squeeze our bags and moto helments in the back seats. I thought, surely he is not going to squeeze two more people back here with us. I also made it darn clear that I am paying one person’s fair only, thinking, “it’s not my fault you have a trunkful of crap.” Of course, my logic fails once again. Using a logical approach to daily lives here is generally a bad idea. The driver proceeds to shove one more guy into the back seat, and so I started yelling at him saying there is no way he can fit another person back here. My French flows when I am pissed. My one-line comeback “Tu es fou!” got quite the laughter from other people in the car. Except it didn’t work, he shoved the fourth person in the backseat regardless.
On the topic of yelling at Cameroonians, I was at the Chinese couple’s store the other day when they had a frustrating Anglophone customer that came in. The couple sells farm equipments and this guy was looking for replacement parts. I was informed that this guy is an old customer, and every time he comes in, he haggles unreasonably for the prices. The total of his items was 51,000 CFA and the couple was willing to sell it for 45,000CFA. But, this guy apparently always likes to go a little further, and he argued forever about paying only 43,000CFA. I was watching the exchange happen and the Chinese couple doesn’t speak English that fluently. Finally, I got frustrated and stepped in. I said, among other things, “You’ve been given a discount. They are helping you out already. Pay 45,000CFA or go somewhere else.” He then replied, “There isn’t anywhere else to go. I can only buy these here.” I said, “Exactly, you need these parts for your machines. You can’t go anywhere else. Pay up or leave. This isn’t buying cabbage on the street.” After a few more exchanges, he paid up.
I realized how important it is for me to teach economics here. This guy obviously didn’t understand supply and demand, or even monopoly power. This incident brought up stories of my superb bargaining skills. I think it’s in the blood, because I used to see my mom haggle in the markets in Taiwan and think she’s ridiculous. Now I am just as good. The trick is: You tell them what price you’ll pay, within reason, of course. Take it or leave it. Literally, they say no, I say oh well, walk away. 30 seconds to 3 minutes later, they come crawling back and budge. I have to be even tougher since when they see me, they jack up the prices to begin with. No such luck. I’m known for scaring many mamas in the markets of Bangangté who tried to rip me off. Don’t even think about it. It’s not the money; it’s the principle.
On a happier and less angry note, I recently received an email from a blog reader who isn’t a member of my friends or family. She wanted to let me know how my blog had successfully painted for her a picture of my ife here in Cameroon and that she would’ve lost her job if she wasn’t working for her husband because she spent all day reading my blog. Emails and comments as such validate the purpose of keeping a blog and what a great tool it serves to achieve goal three of Peace Corps – helping Americans learn about lives of the people abroad.
1 thought on “Tu es fou!”
Hi, I am a current PC invitee to Kyrgyzstan and came across your blog. I spent the past summer in Buea, Cameroon volunteering and this post really resonated with me. All the attention I got as an Asian-American was the worst part of my Cameroonian experience. As the only Asian in my group I was always singled out and often felt really isolated because I didn’t really have anyone to talk to. You seem to take it better than me though so cheers to that. Good luck in your work!