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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Oh hey here's a massive journal entry

Saturday, February 1st  
Today I helped my host mom make koki, a ground up bean paste that you mix with red oil, salt and a bit of pepper. You wrap it in banana leaves and boil it in a pre-heated pot. I sat and tore long strips of banana bark to tie the leaf-bean-pudding pouches and asked constant questions about the French word for kitchen items.
Today I also got to know the neighbor kids who live in the apartment next to ours, we share a balcony. Loic, the fifteen year old, is the oldest child I’ve met so far, but there’s a little girl and three little boys. The littlest boy is just a baby, probably 4 months. I held him and chatted with Loic for most of the afternoon. Our conversation was made possible by the translation services of the little girl, an 8 year old with incredible English. They each got to decide what language to study and Loic chose French, the little girl English. I think they said she’s studied English for 6 years, how that is possible when she’s 8 I don’t know. Possibly I misunderstood the French I was hearing, which is likely with my comprehension skills. Or the Cameroonian education system is just way better than America’s. Also possible.
Whenever my French was particularly unintelligible while talking with Loic, he’d call his little sister over and make her translate. We were able to find out each other’s favorite months, why they’re our favorite seasons, favorite colours, and lots and lots more. I love kids, and I’m not surprised that I love talking to Cameroonian kids. I don’t feel as self-conscious about my French, and I just have more fun with it. They’re all adorable and super nice.
Sunday I woke up at 7 am to scrub my fingers raw washing my clothes by hand. I was wearing my last clean shirt, the desperation explains the early wake-up call. I’d hoped to go to church, but my host mom Annie wasn’t feeling well so we plan on going next week. Annie and her sister Gella are “Evangelique”  Christians, and when we couldn’t go to church Annie put on praise music instead. She danced around the house and sang, and I joined in singing since I knew a lot of the English songs. I cooked omelets for breakfast after Annie instructed me in the use of the gas stove (the whole matches/fire thing still freaks me out). After lunch I walked around my “cartier” neighborhood with Luic as my tour guide. He’s fast becoming my adopted little brother/best friend/tour guide/French tutor, and I am pretty sad because he is gone to school until next weekend. Annie gave him specific instructions about where to take me and  when to return, so that she would know where I was at all times, which I am pretty sure he completely ignored. He was supposed to show me the Catholic church, since I’d told Annie I also like Catholic services, but there was no Catholic church in sight. Instead we ambled along red roads and avoided the insane traffic and laughed at my French.  We did see a mosque, and the call to prayer was haunting and melodic.
That afternoon Nathalie, the host family coordinator/unofficial “mom”/counselor of the program had organized a soccer match for the SIT students and families. I’ve missed African soccer on red gravel fields so much. It was wonderful. I am as aggressive a player as ever, but my footwork is entirely gone from my old middle school soccer glory days. I just ran around energetically and got in peoples’ way and had a fabulous time. Luic was my stand in family, and played goalie for the opposite team. I scraped up my knee stupidly when the gravel slipped out from under my feet, but the blood made me feel a bit bad-ass.  As usual Serge, the program assistant, literally took care of everything, grabbing my knee and demonstrating how to wash it properly without wasting my drinking water too much.
Luic and I walked to the top of the “palais de congress” which has public fields and then a tall building at the top of a long row of stone steps. The view of Yaound√© was gorgeous, of course.

Then we walked back home and sat on the deck in the cool of the evening and talked French some more, while I held the baby of the family. Cameroon is a culture of sharing, and neighbors and friends share work and responsibility and parenting. Annie and Gella freely chastise and love the neighbor kids, no problem. I was changing the neighbor baby Onzo on the first day, and Annie has promised the other neighbor friend downstairs occasional free babysitting for her little one courtesy of me. Which I am genuinely totally cool with, more than that. I love babies and I love Africa babies (they tend to be pretty chill. Also beautiful) and I love integrating into the culture. Tonight, Annie and Gella borrowed my internet key (looks like a USB drive but it is plug in internet access you can pay for) because theirs’ ran out, and also my converter for the fridge after their converter broke.
 I love it because Cameroonians NEVER ask favors of temporary “guests,” but once you’re in the friend/family circle, sharing is just the way of life. I’m pretty thrilled to be becoming part of that circle. 

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