Friday, December 20, 2013

You are all kinds of woman right now.

So as my time winds down here in Cam Bam, I have been trying to squeeze in as much as I possibly can… and crushing it (obvi). I was in Bafia a couple of weeks back to train the Youth Development newbies, and my friend and fellow trainer Shane and I decided it was high time for our pilgrimage to the notorious crater lakes of the cLittoral. The last group who came back from the trek told tales of fog so thick they couldn’t see the lakes 50 feet below them, wild unpreparedness for rain/ cold/ chowtimes, and mad bulls emerging from the aforementioned fog in a fitful rage to charge the unsuspecting group. Shane and I had no qualms about any of their admonitions, as we both have very high opinions of ourselves, including high opinions of our eyesight, of our [debatably over-] preparedness in all things we do, first and foremost in snacking. We didn’t give much thought to the charging bull thing, as we were too busy planning our outfits and snacks for the next 48 hours.

So Shaners came back with me to Bafang after we finished up training, and after frying me up a whole mess of chocolate covered chocolate donuts, he and I grabbed a car out to a nearby town where we met our guide Rostan. My first impression was that Rostan was pretty cute (as are most humans after 27 sexually destitute months), was very well dressed and he had his own motorcycle (dolla dolla bills y’all). As visions of sugar daddy Rostan danced in my head, we careened down a paved road at lightning speed until we arrived at Rostan’s nearby village Mboroukou, where a GIANT ASS UNPAVED 90 DEGREE ANGLE HILL awaited us. For those of you who haven’t ridden on the back of a motorcycle lately, a hill like that is comparable to Shaun T’s “Insane Abs” workout but with the very real possibility that if you bitch out halfway through, you will fall off of a motorcycle and will sustain more injuries than cut abdominals (zing!). Upon arrival, Rostan ran inside his house to grab his things, while Shane and I sat outside and exchanged fears that the ab workout might have been a bit much for our liking, whimpering about how sore our abs already were as we strapped our very large hiking packs on. Just as we had figured out how to attach our giant motorcycle helmets to our already oversized packs, Rostan rolls out with a fanny pack and a hiking stick. Alright dude WAY TO MAKE US LOOK WHITER. That’s fine, let’s just fucking roll.

Without a word, Rostan breezes past us and just books it straight up the rest of the Insane Ab hill. It took me approximately seven seconds to decide that we had just embarked on the most bananas hike of life. Our trek was straight uphill at a mountain goat pace and Rostan kept looking back at my sweaty, ruddy, pitiful self bogged down with my big ass pack and asking if I was going to make it. YES ROSTAN DO I HAVE TO REMIND YOU AGAIN THAT I HIKED MOUNT CAMEROON?! I AM ACTIVE AND SHIT. Needless to say, my crush on Rostan quickly faded. I should, however, mention that the 27-month dry spell also kept me open to the idea despite the fact that he was a total and complete asshole who conveyed negative interest in my well being and only just slight interest in my existence whatsoever. Girl’s gotta eat, yo.

Anyways, cut to me, soaked to the bone in what had to be ALL of my sweat (what’s new, I know), taking very aggressive pulls from my camelback and vaguely wondering why the water in it tastes a bit off (black mold. I later realized that my entire camelback and its straw were full of black mold. Nomz.). All Shane had to say to this was, "You are all kinds of woman right now." MEOW BETCH. Oh and remember those mad bulls? Yeah well I most definitely did at this point, and every time we passed a herd of cows, I was very much on the verge of shitting myself/ sweating even more profusely/ sniveling for Shane to wait up for me and my bull-agitating red pack and hot pink shirt. Rostan had NO TIME for any of this. Homeboy did not have time for water breaks either, but I would just go ahead and stop every half-hour or so and let him deal. This, of course, generated a whole slew of questioning about my capacity to finish our day’s journey and my value as a human being in general. Probs still would have hit it at that point.

So after FOUR HOURS of straight uphill nonsense, dodging herds of mad bulls and wild horses, wading through swampland, and NOT TAKING ANY SNACK BREAKS WHATSOEVER, we made it to the beautiful crater lakes. Shane and I set up our hammocks under the gazebo, and told Rostan to get to steppin, thanks for nothing, and wait hold up are you DTF??? He left us in peace; so we stripped out of our soaking wet garb and slipped into our evening wear. I went for more of a homeless, genderless person, whereas Shane opted for the Fulani woman look. Once clad, we ventured down to one of the crater lakes to fill up our water bottles and my camelback (I’m a thirsty girl- a little black mold isn’t going to keep me from my agua). As we clambered down step after step with our very awkward stiff-legged, blister-footed gaits, we came to the realization that climbing back up to our gazebo was going to be literally the worst thing we have ever done in our lives. Our premonition was spot on. We got our water from where the reeds were growing (science!), and turned back to the stairway from hell. A small part of me died on the inside, but I managed to avoid shedding tears, my only driving force being that food was waiting for me at the apex. Also the fact that Rostan wasn’t around to rip on me for taking breaks. I made it to my sardine/ laughing cow cheese/ mustard sandwich, with a side of peanuts and dark chocolate and parle g cookies, and went ham. I’ve never been less sorry in my life.

As the sun started to go down to the west, Shane and I noticed that we could no longer see out to the east as a very ominous looking wall of clouds had gathered and was building momentum coming right at us/ completely enveloping us and our wall-less aluminum-roofed gazebo where our hammocks were hung. As soon as it got dark, a CRAZY lightning/ torrential rainstorm proceeded to rock our shit. I was scared out of my mind, and Shane kept trying to engage me in conversation to take my mind off of it, but apparently one of my trips down memory lane was just a little too long for his liking because he FELL ASLEEP. REWD!!! I stayed awake for hours, freaking the fuck out and trying to make peace with my life. Every muscle in my body was completely tensed, re-tensing with every lightning strike on the crater lake surface. At some point I managed to fall asleep, and I only know this because I was passed out when Shane, who had fallen asleep at like 8:00, tried to greet me all chipper-like at 4am saying "GOOD MORNING PRINCESS! HOW'D YOU SLEEP?" and I was like hell no bitch it is not time for any of that noise. We got up [hours later] and had a delicious breakfast of not quite hard boiled eggs and laughing cow cheese- no bread- and then had a photoshoot at the lakes before setting off Rostan-less to Bangem.

The "two hours" we'd been told it would take us to hike from the lakes to Bangem came and went as the sun ravaged my skin and gave me the lovely souvenir of mild sun poisoning. Nasty old mamas kept hitting us up for coin in the tiny villages that were not Bangem (and therefore the worst), and there were herds of cows and wild horses EVERYWHERE. Four hours and four hundred “Are we there yet?”s later,  we finally arrived in Bangem, only to hop on the CRAZIEST MOTO RIDE OF LIFE. Holy fuck. Our driver strapped our two hiking packs onto the back of his motorcycle, and then had both myself and Shane clamber onto his bike between himself and our packs. Then it was TWO HOURS of unpaved hills in one to four feet of mud AT ALL TIMES. I kid you not. That shit was ba. na. nas. Our driver was incredible, though, he was like the mud whisperer. We didn't fall (although if we had it's not like we would have fallen far or fast), and he only made us get off three times to walk (once was when he had to siphon some gas from another moto). By the end of the two hours, mud was caked from my boots to my waist, muscle memory from wearing my giant motorcycle helmet for two hours between two large dudes had fixated my gaze aggressively to over my right shoulder, and my thighs and abdominals were Teresa-Giudice-flip-a-table mad at me (Prostitution whore!). And I thought the Insane Ab moto ride was rough. Woof.

Thank you, Cameroon, for all of the ridiculous memories.

peace love and prostitution whores.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Southern Skin

I had no idea how aggressive and volatile I had become until I saw the look of fear and horror on Shanna’s face at the Foumban artisan market. We had just come from our tours of the Grand Mosque and the Palace museum, and were excited to wrap up our touristy morning shopping at the local crafts market. I was as happy as a clam, excited at the prospect of some Cameroonian retail therapy. Upon entry into a shop, I inquired the price of a small pendant that had caught my eye. When the salesman replied that it was 5000 FCFA (10 USD), I flipped. my. shit. I threw down the pendant in disgust, spat at the salesperson that his price was insulting, and spun on my heel to exit the shop. The salesman and his colleagues called after me that I did not understand the ways of African bargaining, only further incensing my rage. I stormed off, to the tune of Shanna trying to placate me with the prices she had hurriedly negotiated out of her deep embarrassment on my behalf. I screamed back at Shanna about the PRINCIPLE OF THE MATTER! and whipped around to muff (MUFF! roughly translates to fuck off) the salesman blathering on about African bargaining, flicking my fingers into the open-palm position to show him that he should shove that noise up his mother’s vagina. Shanna followed, her head hung in shame, apologizing profusely to the victims I had left in my wake. Minutes later, we arrived at a shop just down the road, where I found a similar pendant for 500 FCFA (1 USD), and bought it, returning to my clam state of happiness just as quickly as I had violently torn away from it.

I recall blanching at the way southern Francophone Cameroonians interact in a not-so-distant past; doing my best to ignore the obscene cat calls from strangers, flinching when casual discussions escalated into screaming matches, and all but collapsing into the fetal position at the hand of bus station cacophony, where at least four separate screaming matches happen simultaneously whilst Cameroonian music blares over the loudspeakers and mobile salespeople come and aggressively shake their goods in your face. I cannot pinpoint when my internal transformation occurred, but I can definitively say that the change did not begin or end at the Foumban artisan market.

Growing up, my mother was constantly reminding me to smile because that was her PC way of alerting me that I had reverted to my natural state of “bitch face,” and to turn it off immediately. Now, I find myself actively utilizing this all-powerful bitch face gift passed on to me from my Grandma Bunny. I have developed a visceral jerk reflex when I hear someone call out “tu me plait (you please me),” “ma cherie (my darling),” “petite fille (little girl),” or any other condescending phrase along those lines: upon hearing the phrase articulated, my head whips around in the direction of the speaker with full-blown bitch face turnt all the way up; menacing scowl, narrowed “imma kill you” eyes- the works. I’m starting to get whiplash from all the bitch face I’m slangin these days. Lately, however, I’ve noticed that my head is whipping around to throw bitch face in the direction of a lot of men who are not cat calling to me, but to other girls, and have fleetingly considered this trend to reflect a hyperaggression in mine self. Fleetingly.

I have also found myself readily raising my voice in casual interactions with Cameroonians, doing the most for the least: last night I tried to stiff a cabbie 50 FCFA (10 cents) because I thought he was bullying Shanna and I into paying too much for a very short cab ride. I chewed him out extensively and walked away from him, but the man could not be deterred. Shanna, mortified as usual, forked over 100 FCFA for the two of us. I’ve been doing an awful lot of haggling over amounts totaling less than 2 USD of late, resulting in many more embarrassing moments for Shanna in the past week [and, I’m sure, the three weeks to come]. Like I said: the most for the least. And that bus station cacophony I described earlier? A symphony to the ears that decorate my now full-time bitch face. I have bought watches, sweaters and shoes from the traveling salespeople. I dance along to the music playing from the speakers, and ask my neighbor what the name of the new P Square song is when it comes on. I have multiple porter (bus station workers who load and unload luggage from the buses) friends who know me by name and want to know when I’m coming through next so that they can bring me gifts from their villages, and who often bump me up to an earlier bus. And how did I get these friends, you ask? By being a full-blown southern Cameroonian bitch. They love that shit.

Now I just have to figure out how to shed this southern skin before getting back to the states… Can I get a Lannister lackey up in this bitch for a partial flaying?

peace love and bitch face

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Life in Bafang: A Constant State of Swamp Ass

Due to security concerns in the Far North region, I was promptly and unceremoniously uprooted from my home and family in Meskine. My final days in my village are a blur of storms: a storm of heaving sobs, the storm that was attempting to consolidate my pack rat collection of possessions into a few suitcases, and a hailstorm. No seriously. When the car came to get my bags and me on my final morning, golf ball-sized chunks of ice came pelting from the normally cloudless sky. Lucie said that it was the Far North region forbidding its Peace Corps Volunteers to leave. And yet leave we did.

We left by Danay Express coaster bus, with all of our worldly possessions piled high and strapped to the roof, and crammed into the empty back seats. The Maroua cluster left our case (travel house) in Maroua teary-eyed and somber, after having just said our goodbyes to our dear guardian and his family. We arrived in Kaele soon thereafter, where we found a band of monsters in sombreros letting the wild rumpus begin at nine o’clock in the effing morning. Once it had been established that there was no way in hell that we were going to be able to fit Ricky’s four suitcases, three footlockers, two mattresses, refrigerator, water filter, bike, gas tank, stove, television, satellite dish AND HIS DOG (oh and the rest of Kaele cluster’s belongings) all onto our one coaster bus, we made arrangements for another bus to follow us to Ngaoundere with their things, and the whole Xtreme gang piled in and hit the road.

I can only describe the eight hours that followed from my perspective in the second row window seat, where my personal space was more often than not being assailed with hostile sing-along/ dance combinations from Josh, of the Kaele wildling clan. The Maroua cluster, in their sorrowful and unsociable state, had all chosen window seats, leaving only a column down the center for the Kaele wild things, which led to a lot of sloshing of their shared boxed wine grape juice-flavored ethyl alcohol down the line, and completely-unreasonable-and-not-at-all-sensible-or-acceptable acoustics of their Disney Classic sing-alongs, which lasted the entirety of the eight hour bus ride. Around hour four, Earl could [not not] be heard from the back row singing-screaming along to “Under the Sea,” interjecting with a running commentary on his clearly irrepressible love for The Little Mermaid, with shouts of “THIS IS THE PART WHERE THE TURTLES DRUM!” then erupting in his own display of air drumming on his own imagined turtle shell, and “GOD THIS MOVIE IS THE BEST! ISN’T THE LITTLE MERMAID THE BEST??” and so on and so forth. When it would grow quiet in the back row, I would turn around from my seat out of curiosity to find Earl, a pair of gas tanks affixed just behind his obtrusive ginger head, leaning across Joanna, smoking a cigarette, and I’d just turn right back around because surely this was not real life. Meanwhile, Aloyicious kept nervously glancing my way from two seats over and mouthing to me that “We shouldn’t be on this road. We are not safe,” as he broke out into his distinctive Gigi sweats, only further contributing to my unwavering conclusion that this was, indeed, not real life. We were all functioning at hazardously high levels of absurdity, as I suppose one must do to survive an ad hoc exodus, and I maintain that none of it was real life.

However, here I am, in my manse upon a mountain in Bafang in the wild wild West region, with only excessive viewings of Pitch Perfect as a coping mechanism for my sudden and unexpected loss. My life here is entirely different from what it was in the Xtreme:

Meskine, Xtreme : Bafang, West ::

Heat and heat rash : coldness and a constant state of swamp ass ::

Bathing…on the odd occasion : VERY noticeable if I skip a day of bathing, as I did today (see “Constant State of Swamp Ass”) ::

50-yard dash to my outdoor latrine : Two (COUNT EM!) flushing toilets in my house ::

Sleeping naked over [very temporarily] soaking wet sheets : Sleeping under wool blankets in a long-sleeve robe, leggings and socks ::

Waking up in the middle of the night to chug water and/ or dump water over my head : Cannot get up in the mornings because I do not want to get out from under the covers ::

Full pagne ensembles, complete with head wraps so that villagers don't call me "gorko" (dude) : Wearing whatever the hell I want to (read: lots and lots of leggings as pants) ::

Dry, dry, arid, dry, dry, dry, dry, dry, dry, dry : Wet, damp, dripping, moist, rainy, sodden, soggy, sopping, oily, moldy- oh so very, very moldy ::

Sand : Mud ::

Flipping my shit over the month of carrot season : Carrots every. freaking. day. (along with all other imaginable produce) in the cobblestone-paved market ::

Keeping bottles of water in the refrigerator in an effort to consume tepid water instead of nearly boiling water : Keeping my tomatoes out of the refrigerator because they keep freezing ::

“Speaking” broken Fulfulde- sometimes French : Speaking English- sometimes French ::

Nights at the bilbil cabaret with intermittent electricity fueling the obnoxiously loud music : Nights at Leonard and Carine’s watching the news, playing scrabble and splitting a bottle of wine ::

Working in the shade of Lucie’s overhang on a plastic mat on the sand, occasionally dozing off or stopping to eat : Working in a fully furnished library (!!), cataloguing books (!!) using electricity (!!)- working 6 hour shifts with no naps and no lunch breaks ::

My village fam, my hearts : New friends ::

Getting weird in Maroua with the Xtremies : ??

I am still happy- just a different sort of happy. Pouring one out for the Xtreme. Sey yesso, wuro am. Mi yidi ma.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cameroonian Medical Advice (le palu derange)

When it comes to sicknesses, Cameroonians seem to always have a prepared, well-rehearsed script of explanations of what brought upon your illness. All you need to do is offhandedly mention one symptom and someone will start spouting off their unprofessional, unsolicited medical advice, no follow-up circumstantial/ backup questions necessary. In my experience, this medical advice flows especially freely from strangers on buses, but that's generally because they are screaming at you for putting their health or their children's health in danger, i.e. on a 110 degree hot season bus ride when you open your window for a little airflow for some small relief from your own personal uncontrollable sweating and the unbelievably hideous collective stench filling the small enclosed space packed full of ripening human bodies, baton de manioc and dried, rotting fish, and the woman behind you starts screaming at you that "CAN'T YOU SEE MY CHILD? CAN'T YOU SEE HOW COLD HE IS?! CAN'T YOU SEE HOW THE DUST IS MAKING HIM SUFFER?!" as she clutches her sweating child, clad A Christmas Story-style with immovable limbs in layers and layers of thick wool crochet, and as another man clambers across three people to shut YOUR WINDOW without bothering to solicit your opinions on the matter. REWD. But I digress. Even when the medical misinformation is not being forced upon you in such an aggressive manner, you better believe that it is still being forced upon you. Feeling sniffly? Must be the poussiere (dust). La poussiere derange (the dust bothers), especially during dry season, but not exclusively. Or perhaps it's le palu (malaria) qui derange. Because le palu is pretty much always deranging. Caught yourself a cold? You've probably been drinking water that's too "fresh"/ cold, or maybe it's just been too windy for your organism to support. Your white man organism is just not up to the grueling demands of the African climate. Or did you recently take a bus ride and leave your window open? God knows that'll do it. Or perhaps it's the poussiere still deranging. Or the palu. Feeling feverish? Your organism is not yet accustomed to the heat "chez nous" in Africa because heat like this doesn't exist where you come from. Or you know what? It's probably the palu. Sweating profusely? You've been drinking too much water- if you would just cut back on your weird, excessive white person water consumption you could stop sweating so much (and look slightly less gross). Or maybe- just maybe- it's the palu. Have a headache? It's probably that damn poussiere again. Or the palu. Probably the palu. Definitely the palu. Might I recommend that you find a traveling medicine peddler, those very trustworthy-looking men with mass amounts of illegible Chinese "medicines" strapped to the front of their one-gear bikes, and get you some palu compriments. TREAT YO SELF! The only loophole to this mass onslaught of medical misinformation is to catch a Cameroonian off-guard with maladies that they have never heard of: hit em with an "allergy." Crickets.

peace love and palu, y'all.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Cameroonian Compliments

There are compliments, and there are backhanded compliments, but living in Cameroon has introduced me to a whole new breed of compliments; compliments that, depending on the day, either make me want to crawl into my bed and cry myself to sleep or unleash my hyena laugh because of the ridiculousness spouting from my friends' mouths. These are, in no particular order, my top five favorite Cameroonian compliments:

5. "You have gotten so fat!" The fat compliment is the most tried and true of all Cameroonian compliments, its popularity stretching to all corners of this vaguely chicken-shaped country. During PreService Training in Bafia (it is worth noting here that PST is debatably the most vulnerable and insecure period of a PCV's service), when our homestay families and language trainers first lavished us with aggressive commentary on the shapes of our bodies and their ever-increasing sizes, we were beyond mortified. Our French may have been a bit on the shoddy side, but we could deciper select words, like "weight" and "fat" and "body," especially when paired with gesticulations directed at our problem areas, and my personal favorite, the puffer fish face to mirror our own jowly visages. The onslaught was constant- my homestay sisters took every opportunity to express their envy of my rotund figure, my homestay mother bragged endlessly to friends and family about my giant, insatiable appetite, the lunch ladies at the training center took notice of my clean-plate club membership and [loudly and publicly] complimented me on it daily, my language trainers gushed over how I filled my new caba (muumuu) so nicely, my tailor could not say enough about my "basin (butt)," and how I had the shape of a Cameroonian woman, and how my host family must be feeding me very well and so on and so forth. I started running and doing Zumba classes with other trainees, but my resistance was futile. A year into my service, I am still fielding the same assailment of fat comments. Upon returning to village from any length of time away, without fail, I am always greeted with some variation of the fat compliment: "Ooh Sarah, tu as pris le poids/ le corps!" ("Ooh Sarah you have put on weight!"), "Wow Sarah tu es devenue grasse jusqu'a!" ("Wow Sarah you got so fat!"), "Tu as bien mange la-bas! Ca se voit!" ("You ate well there! We can see that!"), etc. After my trip to the states for Christmas, I was regaled for weeks with new and creative ways of expressing how fat I had gotten while away, which was fair considering my month-long indulgence in all of the things, but a couple of weeks back, after having gone on a running/ P90X binge since returning to post in February, I was in Maroua for a week- still running daily, mind you- and met up with my best friends Habiba, Lucie and Temwa at the end of the week for a drink, and Temwa started going on about how fat I had gotten in the seven days that I had spent in Maroua. WHAT! I stopped him mid-fat compliment, and went on a full-blown psycho, insecure girl tirade: it must be the shirt I'm wearing! There is no fucking way that I have pris'd any poids- I have been working out like a madwoman! You take it back! and YOU CAN'T SIT WITH US! He rescinded, but my outburst sparked some questions from Lucie, who cannot for the life of her understand why I wouldn't want to get fatter and is now concerned that she would receive no love in America because it seems like we are really against getting fat. I thought about explaining "chubby chasers," but instead went with how I think black women hold their weight much better than white women do, and reassuring her that I do think that she is beautiful. My b, gurl. My b.

4. "Your hair would make a great weave." I have been asked multiple times by friends in village to cut off my hair so that they can use my locks as a weave. When approached with this proposition, I always want to ask a few questions of clarification, starting with "you do realize that my hair is a completely different color and texture than yours, correct?" and "can't you see how hideously dry, brittle and ridden with split-ends my hair has become in your extremely arid desert climate?", and finally "you can buy a weave for 500 fcfa (equivalent to 1 USD. ONE. U.S. DOLLAR.)... is my natural hair only worth 500 fcfa to you?" to which the answers are always a resolute "yes, yes and yes." This past week, Lucie told me that she is in the market for a wig of my exact length and color of hair so that we can be "vrai jumelles" (fo real twins). Get ready for those pics, y'all.

3. "You got so pale!" In the same vein as the fat compliment, I often get the pale compliment upon returning from a trip in cooler climates, i.e. Yaounde, the states. Normally, there are only so many variations on telling a white person how white they are: "Ooh Sarah tu es devenue blanche jusqu'a!" ("Ooh Sarah you have become so white!") and "Wow Sarah ton peau est devenue blanche blanche!" ("Wow Sarah your skin has become white-white!") are about as creative as it gets. Despite there not being many different ways to comment on my whiteness, my friends find ways to emphatically deliver the pale compliment, generally by repeating the same compliment again and again (and again) in one sitting. The other night, I was at Lucie's house after having just gotten back from spending one night in Maroua, and Lucie would not stop talking about how white I had become overnight; she kept repeating "ton peau est devenue blanche jusqu'a" over and over again, unable to focus on anything else I had to say, and eventually her absolute conviction inspired other ways to express her sentiments: how I was whiter than she had ever seen me before, how my entire body had become the color of my non-pigmented skin on the palms of my hands, how I was glowing, and then she began theorizing as to why I had become so pale overnight: I must not have spent any time in the sun in Maroua, my blood was thinned because of the heat, I had applied a new bleaching cream... After literally hours of discussing my pallid complexion, I excused myself and headed home, beelining to a mirror, trying to reassure myself that I was no whiter than I had been the day before. Satisfied that I was just as white as ever, I retired to my hotbox of a bedroom and cozied up on my mattress and pillows that, in true hot season fashion, perpetually feel as if they were just microwaved and drifted off into a sweet (sweaty), sweet (sweaty) slumber. In the morning, with the lengthy discussions of my colorlessness just a vague, distant memory, I arrived to Lucie's house, only for her to continue her rant about how white I was the night before, peppering our conversations throughout the day with further reflections on how pale I was yesterday and theories as to why. Equatorial Africa, man, you'd think it'd be doing me a couple of favors in the tanning department... apparently not. The ginger gene may be stronger than I'd feared.

2. "You are so simple." On a recent trip to the East region, I had a long chat with a man who I shared a cab with. We talked about differences between American and Cameroonian cultures, specifically pertaining to marrying and child-birthing ages, because that is generally where conversations with Cameroonian men end up, and then at the end of our ride, he asked for my contact information, so I gave him my email address, hoping to evade the inevitable onslaught of ceaseless phone calls that come from giving a Cameroonian your phone number. He sent me a short note the next day, ending it with: "You are a very wonderful and simple person. Hope to hearing from you very soon." I've been called simple and uncomplicated a few other times in this country and I hate it. As a person who thinks very (some might even say exceptionally) highly of herself, I resent being described as "simple." I'm interesting! I have depth! You don't know my life!! Knock-knock jokes are simple. Addition is simple. One dimensional shapes are simple. Do I look like a circle to you? [Insert fat compliment here.]

1. "Your leg hair is so beautiful!" This was a first for me. The other night, I was sitting at what I was told was a wedding ceremony (ended up being a political party event... easy mistake.) and Habiba was talking to me about her day at school, when all of a sudden she stopped mid-sentence and started caressing my calves, exclaiming, "Sarah! Your leg hair is so beautiful!" She went on to explain that her own leg hair is always getting burnt off because she cooks over an open fire, but my leg hair can grow out to its full beautiful potential because I cook using a gas stove. She also recounted to me that one summer she worked for a woman in Maroua who owned a gas stove, she was able to grow her own leg hair out like mine and she would rock mini-skirts on the reg and everyone would compliment her saying how her leg hair looked like a "gorko," a man's leg hair, and how awesome that was. By this point in the conversation, all of the small children present were also caressing my calves and gushing about how beautiful my leg hair was. Habiba encouraged me to start rocking mini skirts to show off my luxurious leg hair, and made me promise that I would never shave it off after I explained to her that in the states we usually shave off all of our leg hair with a razor. I promised. Then, two days later, I arrived in Ngaoundere and shaved off all of my leg hair because I wanted to get henna done and the last time I tried to get henna with fully-grown leg hair, the hair got in the way and messed with the drawings. Sorry, Habibz. Give me another couple of months and I'll be back to full-blown gorko leg status.

peace love and nice gorilla legs, girlfran.

Monday, January 28, 2013

America Sarah

America Sarah likes to start her mornings with a nonfat no whip double shot latte from Starbucks.
Cameroon Sarah likes to start her mornings with a spaghetti omelette sandwich dunked in ketchup.

America Sarah pampers herself with brazilian waxes, massages and mani-pedis.
Cameroon Sarah pampers herself by letting small children rip her hair out of her head under the facade of cornrows and by letting teenage girls doodle on her legs and feet with black hair dye.

America Sarah is a firm believer in the power of retail therapy and an avid chaser of shopping highs.
Cameroon Sarah is a firm believer in Up-for-Grabs* and an avid bar shopper**.

America Sarah loves texting, tweeting, instagramming and checking in on foursquare on her iPhone, which is an extension of her right hand.
Cameroon Sarah wishes her drug phone had T9.

America Sarah can put away a sashimi appetizer and two sushi rolls no problem.
Cameroon Sarah can put away a giant plate of intestines in oil sauce no problem.

America Sarah dranks vodka sodas with a splash of cran and a twist of lime.
Cameroon Sarah dranks plastic baggies of debatably potable alcohol. SACHETS TO THE FACE!

America Sarah loves her DVR and Charlie's Netflix account.
Cameroon Sarah has seen a lot of weird DVDs because that's all she can get her paws on in the travel houses to play on her janky old school portable DVD player.

America Sarah wallows in her hangover with chinese delivery and Law and Order: SVU.
Cameroon Sarah wallows in her hangover with oily red beans with mayonnaise and fried beignets and Trace (ballinous French music video channel).

America Sarah wears Vera Wang Princess perfume and lotion.
Cameroon Sarah masks her stench in prescription strength deodorant and the anonymity of being in a country full of B.O.

America Sarah sweats it out in spin class and on the treadmill with a personal TV and her iPod blasting jams.
Cameroon Sarah sweats it out to Jillian Michaels in her living room and goes on long runs in village, hoping to God that this time she won't be chased by dogs or small children.

America Sarah rocks skinny jeans, boots and little black dresses with stilettos.
Cameroon Sarah rocks full pagne ensembles (wrap skirt, top, headwrap all in matching printed fabric), cabas and [bomb ass] pagne overalls.

America Sarah showers with a socially acceptable frequency, and enjoys a nice long soak in her clawfoot bathtub with jasmine scented bath salts and exfoliating scrubs from time to time.
Cameroon Sarah bucket bathes*** as infrequently as she sees possible and has no white people around to tell her otherwise.

America Sarah likes a sultry smoky eye or a bright red lip on her face.
Cameroon Sarah likes it when her sunscreen doesn't melt off of her face in slimy streaks.

America Sarah pees in toilets.
Cameroon Sarah pees in latrines, holes, sinks, egg-shaped porcelain fixtures, behind houses, behind trees, in thickly weeded areas, on the side of the road in open fields, down shower drains, in bucket-flush toilets and from time to time in an actual flushing toilet.


*Up-for-Grabs is "one man's trash is another man's treasure" personified. We have boxes in all of our regional travel houses filled with clothes that volunteers no longer want for other volunteers to take.
**Bar shopping is my favorite Cameroonian pastime; whilst sitting at a bar, a series of vendors walk past you with various items for sale. If you think you may be interested in a vendor's products, you get his attention by hissing at him, and then he will come and show you his goods. It's like shopping, but you don't have to move and you get to drink forties of beer while you do it. Swag.
***A bucket bath is when I hoist my 25-gallon water container (with the strength of a thousand raging hulks) and pour myself a nice cold bucket o water, and then use a cup as a vehicle to get the water from the bucket onto my filthy body. #sofreshandsocleanclean

Sunday, October 28, 2012

white girls don't dance; they explode.

How (yes this is an actual Anglophone greeting in Cameroon).

For any of you who have had the great pleasure of seeing me break it down on the dancefloor, you can fully grasp the concept of "white girls don't dance; they explode." Perhaps you have even given life to this phrase right alongside me- shout out to my aggressively-enthusiastic-about-pop-music partners in crime who are still raging stateside in my absence. But for those of you who are unclear of the ramifications of this heavily-loaded phrase that more or less sums up my 23 years of existence on this planet, let me break it down for you. Allow me to paint a picture for you: a beautiful tableau of our current favorite boite (nightclub) in Maroua: Hotel Mizao.

It's Saturday night and the strobe lights are threatening to induce seizures, the smoke machine is pumping lungs full of God-knows-what and the mirror-mirrors on the wall are beckoning the fairest of them all to come shake what their momma gave 'em. The dance floor harbors a throng of immaculately-dressed Cameroonians, all calmly swaying in sync to the slow beats of Amina Poulou, shuffling their feet ever-so-lightly back and forth whilst making vague, restrained juggling motions with their hands just below their breasts. Heads are bowed, shoulders are hunched and these Cameroonians are in. their. zone. Discretion is the name of the game in the world of Cameroonian dancing: movements are small and reserved to match the repetitive rhythm that characterizes Cameroonian music. Not a drop of sweat falls to the floor from this crowd of minimal-energy-exerting club-goers.

Enter a group of Peace Corps Volunteers, squealing in excitement that we got past the bouncers in our ripped jeans and flip-flops, stumbling over each other in a drunken scramble to the mirrors. We are thrilled that we recognize the Cameroonian song that's blasting out of the speakers, and fall into step with the Cameroonians, albeit in a less contained manner. We are visibly fighting to keep our excitement on lock as we move our hips back and forth to what we perceive to be the rhythm and mimic the fondling of the imaginary giant breasts with our hands. Some of the PCVs are bolder in their Cameroonian moves, busting out an around-the-world spin or a drop-it-low variation on the juggling-swaying move. Out of the corner of my eye I spy a PCV in the DJ booth, assuring the DJ that some American tunes will REALLY get this party started, shouting over the blaring music key words: "SEAN PAUL!" "RIHANNA!" "NICKI MINAJ!" "STARSHIPS!!!!" Sure enough, as Amina Poulou's ballad slows to a stop, the opening notes of Starships come blasting out of the speakers, and the explosions begin. All bets are off- we no longer feel the need to contain ourselves; we let the music take over. We are screaming and jumping around in pure ecstasy, our extremities are whipping around in a series of karate chops, fist pumps and pop lock and drop its, and when the chorus comes on, you better believe we are hitting those notes and singing those lyrics like our lives depend on it. Take a step too close and you may fall victim to an airplane arm to the face as we belt out Nicki Minaj's lyrical poetry with fervor, and we are not about to stop to tend to your injury. And don't you bring that shuffling of your feet over this way because we are likely to come stomping down on you in a fit of jumping zeal. We are not just a force to be reckoned with, we are downright hazardous. We are ruddy, dripping sweat to the point that it is spraying everyone within a 10 foot radius (maybe that's just me...), and KILLING! IT! We. Are. Exploding.

Cut back to the Cameroonians surrounding us on the dancefloor, still swaying, shuffling and juggling- unchanged less the slightly quicker tempo in their movements, trying to keep their distance/ shield themselves from the explosive brouhaha that is us. Slow jam, dance beats, Starships- Cameroonians pretty much stick to the same dancing style, keeping their cool and maintaining their coiffed, immaculate appearance. I can say none of these things about our crew- we leave the club at 4am winded, redfaced, drenched in sweat, and at no point in the evening did we "keep our cool." We are hot messes in every sense of the expression, but that's just how we do.

peace love and explosions