Thursday, April 23, 2009

While unpacking the trunks of things that we had packed away to make room for our renters, I badly stubbed and sprained my toe. After a few days of keeping it iced and elevated, I am recovering, but I still can't wear regular shoes. As I went about my errands yesterday, self-consciously wearing socks with my sports sandals (It's too cold to omit the socks), I found myself exaggerating my limp, hoping that people would rightly assume that there was good reason for my fashion faux pas. We Westerners are far more rigid in our dress codes than are Cameroonians.
I remember that when I was waiting to board my flight in New York, the woman ahead of me turned to me and said, rather testily, "I AM in line!" I wasn't sure what she meant, so I just smiled and nodded. But then yesterday, while waiting in a check-out line, I noticed that the woman ahead of me was giving me anxious little glances over her shoulder. I realized that I haven't yet re-adjusted my notions of personal space. Americans like for people to keep more distance than do Cameroonians.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I am home. Home from Cameroon and home from the quick trip to Dallas that I made a few hours after my plane touched down in Charlotte. I spend a lot of my time in that strange world that exists beyond airport security, so it feels like a third home to me. I think that is why I rarely experience culture shock anymore. By the time I leave Airport Land, I'm happy to enter any real world that awaits. Nevertheless, when I look out the window of my home office, I am surprised to see the green grass, the azaleas in bloom, the clean, empty street. When I go out my door, I am struck by the eerie silence. No sounds of traffic, roosters, the chopping of wood, frogs that sound like everthing from slamming doors to screeching brakes, cicadas, loud music pouring out of bars. In Yaounde it is never quiet.
Karen sent me this link to an article in the English version of the Cameroonian Tribune: My sister, who has worked in editing and publishing for over thirty years, says that it's the funniest thing she's ever seen in print.

Monday, April 13, 2009

In a few hours I will board my flight to Charlotte, via Casablanca and New York. I am already dressed in my "goin' to America clothes." It is the first time in three months that I have worn long pants, and my crew neck shirt feels like a dog collar. It may be a few days before I have Internet access. I suspect that I won't have a lot to blog about anymore. In Cameroon, if I want to find something to write about, I need only walk down the street. Life in the US is too predictable. Maybe I'll have some interesting observations about the differences while I am still freshly back in the land of straight lines, friendly police officers and water fountains.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

This morning I went back to our old neighborhood to say goodbye to our former neighbor, Marie. She had asked me to get her a Bible, so I took that with me, along with some recent family photos. I left the Bible with her husband and told him to ask her to pass by my apartment. She came and we chatted and looked at the pictures, and I told her that I was leaving on Monday. Here is the conversation that followed:
Marie: When will I see you again before you leave?
Nanci: This is the last time. That’s why I came by to see you: to say goodbye.
M: Do you leave Monday morning?
N: No, evening.
M: Then I’ll see you Monday.
N: On Monday I have a meeting all morning, then lunch with a friend, then another meeting all afternoon, then I will meet another friend to say goodbye, then I have to go to the airport.
M: So you were just going to leave like that, without saying goodbye?
N: That’s why I came today, to say goodbye.
M: Hmph! (Long pause.) So you’ll come see me at my house tomorrow.
N: Tomorrow is Easter. I have things planned all day.
M: Well then when will I say goodbye?
N: I thought we could do that now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Over the weekend we had dinner with our friend John Tangko. He said, “Here’s something that is strange about you Americans: you put so much importance on your names. You want people to call you by the right name and you don’t like it if they spell it wrong. It isn’t like that for us. I don’t care what you call me or if you ever call me by my name. You don’t even know my first name.” Then he turned to one of the other guests, and said to him, “What is my first name? I can’t ever pronounce it right.” His friend told him that it is Mjeung. We all, including John, practiced saying it for a minute. We then asked John how he came to be called John, and he said that it was the name chosen for him when he got baptized as a child.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Kennedy’s great-grandfather was very wealthy. He had twenty wives. When he died, his oldest son (Kennedy’s grandfather) inherited those wives, and added ten more. Needless to say, he had so many children that Kennedy doesn’t have any clue how many aunts and uncles he has. Polygamy is legal in Cameroon, but when you marry your first wife, you have to declare whether it will be a monogamous or polygamous union. One time a friend of ours was planning to get married, and he told us that he was going to declare a polygamous marriage, although he is a Christian and doesn’t believe in polygamy. We asked him why he would lie, and he said that his friends had told him it would be a good idea. That way whenever his wife caused him problems, he could threaten to take a second wife.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Our friend Kennedy told us an interesting story tonight. Like many Cameroonians, he had no birth certificate. When he was in elementary school, one of his teachers said, “Oh, you were born on the same day as my son!” So from then on he thought he had been born in July of 1965. A few years ago, however, his older brother came to visit. He told him that he had visited their home village, gone to the clinic where he had been born and got his birth certificate, learning in the process that he was older than he had previously thought. So Kennedy did the same thing. He learned that he had been born in November 1963, on the day that his namesake (or, as they say here, his "homonym") had been shot. In other words, when he thought he was 40, he learned that he was 42.

While we were at Kennedy and Emma’s house, a young man came in. Kennedy exclaimed, “Oh, you can meet my son-in-law! He is married to the younger sister of my niece.” We were happy to know what he meant.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Recently we had dinner with our friends Jennie and Fred (the head of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Cameroon) and their four children: Faith, Hope, Love and Peace.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Coneilia and Dieudonne in front of the house that she has been building for the past five years.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The racism that I experience here is very different from what minorities experience elsewhere, but it is racism nonetheless. Here are the comments that I can expect to hear from strangers during a typical 40 minute walk. Note that this is on a busy street and that I am being singled out in the crowd. (Ordinarily Cameroonians don’t call out to people they don’t know.)
Friendly: 10 – 20 people will greet me pleasantly (“Bonjour, Madame”, “Hello, Mother”, or even “Hey, White Lady!”, but said nicely.)
Unfriendly: 1-3 people (almost always young men) will greet me with an unpleasant comment such as, “What are you doing here?”, “Ntangan!” (Ewondo for “Foreigner”) or “Hey, White Lady”, said in a nasty tone of voice.
Sexist: 5-10 men will say, “Hey Honey” or “My baby!” or “Can I come along?”
Curious: Sometimes children will follow me, giggling and pointing. One or two brave ones might try to feel my skin or my hair.
Afraid: Upon seeing me, a child might burst into tears or run away in fright.
Greedy: 3-5 people will ask me for money, for my visor, for a trip to the US. Seriously.
Antagonistic: About once a week, a driver will deliberately veer toward me, as though trying to hit me.
I often wish that I could be invisible.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

We don't have KFC or McDonald's, but when I don't feel like cooking, we can stop by the local chicken grill and, for about $6.00 buy an entire (very small) grilled chicken. Grilled bananas are an extra 20 cents each.