Monday, January 19, 2009


I walk into the mission’s office at break time. First I go around the room, shaking hands with and saying hello to each of the seven people seated in the lobby. I sit down, turn to the person next to me and shake his hand again, holding it for a beat longer than during the initial greeting. I avoid eye contact. (It took me three years in the States to relearn eye contact with men, but it immediately feels natural to avoid it here. In a few small ways like this, I am more comfortable in Cameroonian culture than in my own.) I ask him how he is; he replies and asks me how I am. I reply, then ask how his family is; he replies and asks me how my family is. I reply that they are fine, then say, “So. The family – they are all fine?” He nods, says again that they are fine, and adds a detail or two. His younger son has succeeded in his exams. His daughter is learning how to sew. He then asks me again if my family is fine. I say yes, they are fine, and pull out some pictures of Karen’s wedding. “Karen is married? Wonderful!” He claps his hands together once, and we shake hands again, enthusiastically. Someone next to him says, “I am remembering when Karen was born and you brought her just here, to show her to us.” He laughs, and I laugh and shake his hand. The pictures go around the circle, with many remembrances and handshakes. When the photos have made the complete circle, I rise to go. Of course I shake hands with everyone before leaving.

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