Monday, January 12, 2009

Paul is out the door at 6 am. His colleague is flying to Maroua, in the north of the country, to pick up some missionary children and bring them back to Yaounde, where they live in a hostel while attending Rain Forest International School (RFIS, where I used to teach.) He and Paul will use the flight time to perform Paul’s check ride so that he can begin flying right away. I am happy to sleep in until my alarm goes off at 8:30.
My good friends Lois and Julia, both of whom work at RFIS, have invited me to lunch. At 11:30, I put my water bottle and passport (The law requires that one carry ID at all times) into my backpack, slather on the sunscreen and head out. It is a pleasant 80 degrees and not too sunny, so the hilly mile and a half doesn’t concern me. The road from my apartment to theirs is one of the busiest in the city and there is no sidewalk. Most of the time I walk on the uneven ground next to the road, but I am frequently obliged to cross onto the road to avoid fruit stands, crude homeless shelters, women grilling fish, or taxi drivers washing their cars. This means jumping the two feet wide sewage ditch that borders the road – a jump that I am very careful not to miss. I pass hundreds of people, many of whom stare but surprisingly few of whom greet me. Two young men say “bonjour” wolfishly and make little kissing noises. I turn, feign annoyance, and scold them in French. “Vous n’avez pas de respect?” “Have you no respect? Here I am, an old woman who could be your mother. Imagine: your mother is walking along like this, and some young men would treat her with such disrespect. Is that what you want for your mother?” They fall all over themselves to apologize. “No, Madame, excusez, Madame. Bonne année, bonne année."

La bonne année -When we first realized that we would be returning to Cameroon in January, I said to Paul, “Oh, no… bonne année!” (Happy new year.) New Year’s is an important holiday in Cameroon, even more so than Christmas for many people. Beginning on January 1 and continuing until sometime in February or even March, acquaintances and even complete strangers will call out , “Bonne année”, which then obliges the hearer to give them a small gift. We used to buy large bags of candy and distribute them to our neighbors on January 1 so that we could cover some of the obligation all at once. In this case, since the young men have wronged me, I just say, “Bonne année” in return, to indicate that all is forgiven, and continue on my way. When others along my path call out, “Bonne année”, I clap my hands together once then hold them, palms up, out to my sides, in a gesture that indicates that I have nothing to give them.
Julia and Lois seem as excited to see me as I am them. I am delighted to see that they have both shed the excess pounds - about 100 between them - that had been giving them health problems. They feed me a very nutritious and yummy lunch of whole wheat bread, salad, tuna and pineapple, then fill me in on school news. I will be giving my first workshop at the school on Thursday.
The walk home at 3 pm, in the heat of the day, is less pleasant. The little thermometer attached to my backpack tells me that it is about 90, but the humidity makes it feel hotter, and the frequent jumps over the sewer are more of a strain. When I get home, I consider my options for cooling down: drinking ice water, taking a shower and sitting in front of the fan. I decide on all three..”

1 comment:

  1. Nanci -

    Hope all three worked and you are cooled down. A Canadian Artic wind is coming to the US this week so we will be wishing for a little of that heat!