Wednesday, October 24, 2007

a day in the life

my alarm went off at 7:30 this morning as it does practically every morning. i have been more or less awake, however since 6:30, which is the time that everyone else decides to get up and start revving moto engines/whacking children/blaring cheesy french church choir music to test and see if their speakers work. i stuff earplugs in my ears and squint against the piercing morning sun. my window faces east. have got to get me some curtains. i press the snooze button a few times, so stubborn that i refuse to wake up unless it is my choice, and not that of the screaming babies across the way.

when i finally drag myself out of bed, i start boiling water for my daily coffee, oatmeal, and warm bucket bath. although i have a shower, it only has cold water and i'd rather squat on the floor and pour water over myself than suffer the sub-zero torrential rain. i do not want to be that awake.

the hardest part of my day is leaving the house, because walking to work means walking through the center of town, being called la blanche or ndoc or wat or baby at leat 15 times and dodging motos, sludge-filled ditches and crazy stick man.

crazy stick man is one of the regular fous (crazy people) that roam the streets of my town. this man is particularly interesting because he is the brother of the chef and is said to have been turned crazy by sorcery. he wanders around ranting, writing gibberish on walls and leaving pieces of tattered clothing in his wake. he has tried to poke/trip me with his stick before so i make sure i cross the street if i see him coming my way.

today, as i am walking, i see something rather unusual. coming towards me is a man pedalling something that looks like one of those old, three-wheeled, ice cream vehicals. however, instead of selling ice cream, this man is pushing propaganda. he has a bullhorn and is shouting things through it. arching above his head is a sign that proclaims: "homosexuality: the abomination of the century." i stop for a minute. i don't even know how to deal with this. do nothing, bien sur. homosexuality is very illegal in cameroon, although paradoxically men walk down the street holding hands and it's not weird at all. i keep walking, saying a silent prayer for all of the brave souls that have chosen to volunteer in cameroon despite their sexual preferences.

when i finally get to the bank, it's just in time for the credit comittee meeting. when i mean just in time, i mean i'm about a half an hour late. however, i am still the first one there after my counterpart who has to be there because he has other work to do. however, instead of waiting around for the PCA and the rest of the members to show up, i'm dragged aside by the vice president. one day previously, a huge rockslide completely destroyed a large chunk of the highway about 30 kilometers away... the only real route that exists between Bafoussam and Douala that is widely used to truck goods from Douala inward. the vice president wants to know if i want to go see the damage. being a closet rubber-necker, i can't say no.

upon arriving at the site, dozens of young men surround the car. "i'll carry you across on my back!" "rent these boots! you'll get your shoes dirty!" "rent this walking stick, you don't want to slip!" this disaster has at least created the opportunity for some make-shift employment opportunities. it took a lot of firm insisting to convince them that we were just looking. the road is completely shattered, reminding me of "where the sidewalk ends". you can't even see where is starts up again. where it ends, there is a river of soil with uprooted trees strewn precariously through. despite the inability to drive across, people still need to commute so they are hiking over the slide. i see a smashed house and wonder if anyone died. apparently one old woman is missing, but no one other than that. people hypothosize that with bureaucratic stagnation and lack of funds that it will take several years to fix. as they say, on va faire comment?

when we finally get back to the bank, the PCA is already there. we are almost two hours late, but c'est normal. the meeting goes on for almost four hours after that. i zone out completely in the fourth hour, as my stomach is starting to eat itself and i can no longer concentrate on any french. when the meeting finally ends, the only woman on the council brings out the food that they serve after every meeting: grilled chicken with plantains and poulet DG. it is delicious, and i actually pick a good piece of chicken this time. usually, i don't look hard enough and get stuck with some questionable part. everyone drinks a beer, then all of the council members are paid 10 mille francs (20 dollars) for being there. dontcha worry, i attend for free! i'm not sure how much we actually accomplished during the meeting, but i'm ready for a nap. if i feel motivated, i may stop by the market of the internet cafe, but usually i head home and read and think about what i'm going to cook for dinner and dream about all of my plans for the future involving amazingly successful projects and people that listen and are motivated and honest. this future has been seeming a lot closer lately.

and the time passes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

bank drama continues

and the time passes.

my bank situation is still in limbo. what has been my biggest frustration to overcome is the vagueness surrounding everything and everyone involved. after catching a serendipitous free ride with the president of the council of elders, i also realized the lack of right and wrong surrounding this issue in general. i do not like the president of the council of administration, but a lot of people in my town do. i know that i don't like him because he kind of reminds me of a certain star wars character, but i also have a natural aversion to what he is trying to do at the bank because i am american and was brought up on the ideas that democracy and fairness are the best schools of thought around. in a world where democracy operates perfectly, this man would be ousted and they would find someone else to replace him. unfortunately, things are not that simple. anyone from my town who replaced this man would, in fact, end up doing exactly what he told them to do. here in cameroon, people show deference to their chefs, especially if they are chefs that seem to own half the town (and most of the bank).

i had a realization the other day when i was listening to this man sell his intense propaganda to a very receptive audience. what people don't realize is that dictators and other unsavory characters who we would like to think have no souls and are a perfect picture of pure evil are exactly like us. they are clumsy, they get colds, they burn their mouths on hot coffee, they doubt themselves, they miss people, they spill on themselves. in short, they have moments of weakness. it is so much easier to hate people if we don't have to see them face to face. even something we may consider to be pure evil retains aspects of humanity. the problem is, using this humanity and powerful rhetoric, these people can easily make other people agree with them. it is only later, when the media in a far off land paints them as that perfect picture of evil that we wonder, how was anyone ever convinced? now, really, i have gotten carried away and am more thinking about sociopathic, murderous dictators than small town chefs that don't subscribe to democracy and justice, but being carried away by a charismatic person remains in both cases.

so while i wait for something concrete (anything, really) to manifest at the bank, i try to think of work i can do that will not directly help the ones abusing power. i've started investigating some NGOs and i was thinking of doing a computer skills class with the staff of the bank and whoever else is interested. i'm trying to stay strong and it is mostly working. it's funny. i think i have it figured out every night, and every morning i wake up and i feel awful and vulnerable and like i can't remember why i'm here. i don't know why that happens. i need these good feelings to make their way through the night!

this blog is intense. next time i'm writing about food.