I’ll start off with an apology. I told myself that I was going to be better about chronicling the end of my service and the associated emotional and logistical aspects of leaving Cameroon and returning home. But as it turns out, there were better things to do with my final few days at post (and even my first few months back home) than sit at my computer writing about the only subject that I found myself talking and thinking about: leaving. And besides, I had another online project that was occupying a significant amount of my technology time (and internet bandwith): my friend Anna and I started a blog dedicated to the many potential uses for Laughing Cow cheese (La Vache Qui Rit) in a primarily cheese-free culture. It turns out that the possibilities really are close to endless.
|Special shout-out to this crew.|
A few weeks before I left Cameroon I had a conversation with my grandmother during which she compared my impending departure from Cameroon to the departure from a particularly meaningful summer camp. Convinced she was minimizing my experience, I brushed her off without much of a thought. But as it turns out, grandmothers know best. Climate aside, my time in Cameroon was nothing like summer camp. But the process of coming back from a place that is so wholeheartedly other- that one is more familiar than I ever would have expected.
During one of my first weeks back home my dad asked me what I missed about Cameroon, aside from specific people. So caught up in the wonders of the developed world, my answer: “nothing!” was a bit hasty. How could I miss a way of life where daily inconveniences and struggles took up so much of my mental processes? Three months later, I’ve had a bit of time to think about some of my favorite parts of life in Cameroon and the aspects of life that I truly miss.
The first two are easy. My first longing was for fresh tomatoes, no matter what time of year. To expand this a bit further, the tropical fruit in Cameroon was second to none. And while my market access was quite a bit better than most other Volunteers, we all enjoyed some of the best avocadoes,
|A highlight of my reunion tour cross-country trip. Davis, CA, is|
a truly wonderful place.
While I will never say that Cameroon’s public transportation system is superior to the one in America, it does have one major advantage. Hitchhiking is common, safe, and often the best way to get around. Volunteers often called it “taking a private car”, a rebranding that I found hilarious. To put it briefly, you could get basically anywhere in the country by standing on the correct side of the road, stopping any and all passing cars, and explaining where you were trying to go. Sometimes they would take you there, sometimes they would take you part of the way, and sometimes they would drive past while deliberately avoiding eye contact. What fun! One time I found myself in a car with a man who asked the driver to avoid stopping at any checkpoints because he was travelling without an official ID card but with the equivalent of $800,000 USD. The other passengers and I made the driver stop immediately and we all got out. That day was less fun. Here in America, hitchhiking is no longer considered socially acceptable or safe. There is rising interest in ridesharing, but it lacks the spontaneity (or excitement) of true hitchhiking. And don’t even get me started on the inefficiency of national need for vehicular independence.
|I missed this.|
This brings me to my last point, which is a bit harder to explain. The main part of life in Cameroon that I miss is the ‘assumed interdependence’ that permeates the general way of doing things. Cameroon is far from being a Socialist country, but it does have an unofficial community-based safety net that America seems to lack. Friends and neighbors would routinely offer to help me carry my heavy items, markets experiences were always infused with a touch of personality and light-heartedness, and there is a collective understanding best summed up by the expression “on est ensemble”-we are together. America experiences this sentiment sometimes; we shine most often at our very best and when faced with the very worst. But nearly every day in Cameroon exemplified this idea: when my neighbors sent over a plate of dinner because they knew it was my favorite dish, when someone would stop walking wherever they were going to wish me a “Happy Sunday!”, when all meetings started with a prayer for group members and their families. I am nearly as far from being an expert on American culture as I am from being one about Cameroon. But I would wager that many American would be better off if we approached our fellow neighbors and citizens with a bit more of an interdependent mindset. Because we really are together.
|Four of us and this table have spent some time in Cameroon!|
I’ll close off this blog with a sincere thank-you to my friends and family both here in America and back in Cameroon. As much as I learned what I have to be grateful for here in America-supermarkets, subways, and clean drinking water come quickly to mind- it’s those of you that I have in my corner that I really needed. Thanks for the letters, emails, phone calls, and those late night-Skype sessions when the Internet was really strong. Thanks for coming to visit in rainy season when the road down to my house was more of a mudslide, and thanks for coming in dry season when the taps ran dry. Thanks for sharing two years of your lives with me and reminding me that you just can’t hug every cat.