Joyeux Noel! Or, as we would say, Merry Christmas! Christmas has come and gone now, and for me it was (of course) difficult at times to be away from my family. All in all, however, I survived and had some good experiences along the way. I guess it’s okay to miss just this one Christmas in Canada in exchange for learning about how another culture celebrates it. The hardest night for me was Christmas Eve, and the time difference is especially evident around Christmas time. When I was sitting down for Christmas Eve dinner in Kribi with the family that my fellow volunteer, Muriel, so kindly introduced me to, my family was still wrapping presents in the basement and watching cheesy rom-com movies (sorry mom and Robin if that was a secret!).
As I mentioned in my last blog, my time in Cameroon so far has mainly been spent adjusting to the way of life of the locals, learning to navigate my surroundings, and to understand how to do simple stuff (like going to the bus stop) on my own. Going to the bus stop was surprisingly difficult when I wanted to go to Kribi. On Friday I thought I had the day off, and I needed to meet Muriel anyway because she was coming from Yaoundé on a bus that would take us to Kribi. There was supposed to be only a quick stop in Edéa, and I stressed myself out to make it there on time. All I knew was that I needed to be there or the bus would leave without me, I needed to buy a ticket somewhere (I didn’t know where), and, if I didn’t do these things, then I might not get to go to Kribi. This was very dramatic, because I really could just take the next bus and be there on time. But it was my first time doing something like that! I thought that if I didn’t catch this bus, I wouldn’t get to spend Christmas with anyone but myself, and so I was more scared than I needed to be. I was supposed to be at the bus stop at noon, so the morning of the trip I went to the bank with a friend of Patricia’s, and then came back thinking I would remind my neighbours that I’m leaving this afternoon for Kribi. I needed their son Albert (who usually drives me to work), to drive me to the bus stop for Kribi because I had no idea where it was or what a “bus stop” looked like in Cameroon. It took a while to get my point across, but eventually I was able to explain to them that Muriel’s bus was only going to be at the bus stop for a few minutes, and I needed to be there waiting so that it would pick me up and I could go with her to Kribi. Finally, we got to the bus stop, and it was pretty much a wooden shack with beers, so I bought one for me, and one for Albert for dealing with me. I can be a little high-maintenance when I’m in a hurry, but a beer usually settles that out. He was cool about it all though, and very accommodating.
By the time I was on the bus, I was just happy to see Muriel. Really, I was very relieved and I had also missed her. Since the SKWID training, I had come to think of her as a mentor, if not a mother figure during the placement, and hopefully afterwards as well. She is retired, and has a lot of experience with travelling and volunteering in many different countries such as Niger, Haiti, and Cameroon. Sometime ago, she worked in Edéa for three years! Now she is volunteering in Yaoundé in the field of education. We eventually got to Kribi, and once there I bought a bottle of wine for the family, and we then travelled to the house. The house was beautiful and big. It was made by the father of the family, who had died some years prior. He was buried in a tomb that they actually have in the front lawn. It even has lights that turn on at night. I wish I took a picture, but I will post one once I go back to visit the family again. His son is also a carpenter. Muriel and I were with that son for most of the time that we were there. He had our first supper there with us, took us to the beach the next day and the day after, and went along with us and a tour guide when we went on another excursion.
I am going to dedicate at least a paragraph to that excursion now, as it was something I had never experienced before, but I hope I get the chance to again when I am more prepared. Our first morning upon arriving in Kribi (Saturday Dec 24, Christmas Eve), we woke up around 6:30, had breakfast and then left with the tour guide on a long and hot road to the river. I wasn’t expecting to need long pants when I was in Kribi, and I wanted to pack light because I could only carry one backpack on the motorcycle, so I didn’t pack anything even close to appropriate for trekking through the rainforest. But that’s pretty much what we did. The mosquito bites will heal, but thankfully this blog post (and the memories hopefully) will last a lifetime. When we got to the river, we boarded a Pirogue (which is basically a dug out canoe, but if you want you can check out the Wikipedia article which is interesting). Sadly, we didn’t see any monkeys as I was told we might, but I don’t think we got up early enough. We rowed for about 45 minutes, and eventually pulled over to the riverbank, walked a short distance, and were greeted by one of the people living in the community there. Go ahead and picture something directly out of a social anthropology textbook, it was pretty much that. Our guide brought out the gifts that we had given him the money to purchase, and distributed the cigarettes and other comforts to the people there, as is custom. Something I realized upon coming here is that it is very important to always be prepared to be generous. We must recognize that we have the means to do so, and it is our obligation if we want to build a relationship that is built on a base where we can consider ourselves equal in our humanity. I hope that makes sense, it is difficult to phrase, but very important here. My skin colour signifies wealth, and also denotes that I am not from here. Almost every time I go to the market, I am called out to by…really anyone as la blanche! That is just the way things are here, and it does not bother me too much if I focus on how it gives me a better glimpse into the minds of the people here. That ultimately makes it easier for me to adapt if I have a better idea of what’s going on inside people’s heads. Anyway, to continue on with the story of my Christmas, we greeted the people in their cooking hut. They were cooking chicken feet and gave us a liquefied version of manyok that we had tried earlier to taste. After meeting them, we went to the campfire area and met the son of the Chef, and his friend. I sat with the son of the chef for a while which was pretty cool, and I used as much French as I could muster and eventually he taught me how to play one of his traditional songs on a hand-made drum. I practiced that song with the son of the family we were staying with for practically the rest of my time in Kribi. I wish I had pictures. I was speaking with Robin about this later, and she joked that she felt like I was making this whole thing up. After our visit we got back on the Pirogue, and rowed back to the main road. I rowed for about half of that time. When we got back to shore, we pulled out some shrimp from the trap (fun fact: Kribi is known to have the best seafood in all of Cameroon), and started the long hot walk back to the house.
We went to the beach afterwards until late afternoon, and then sat down for Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas Eve dinner is about the same here as it is in Canada, except there isn’t much talk of Santa. Also, Cameroon is a primarily Christian country, so we did have a prayer before the meal, and there was a church service. But the church service is very late at night. After the service, there is also a party on the beach until morning. It sounded awesome, but I was more concerned about the mosquitos and staying safe in a town I didn’t yet know. Not to mention, I was pretty tired and missing my family because it was Christmas Eve. I ended up eating dinner, teaching the sons of the family the card game “Speed”, and then just going out to get a beer and dance for about a half hour. I’m glad I went out a little though, because that’s when one of the family members (Mireille) said that I could come back anytime for just a weekend. It is only an hour bus ride from Edéa, and if I ever miss the beach, I’m glad I have somewhere to stay with such a lovely family. That evening, I thankfully also got to Facetime Roland. The next day was pretty quiet, but very nice. We had breakfast and went to the beach for most of the day. At the beach, I read for some time, and swam in the ocean. It was really perfect. I don’t really have much else to say about that trip. That was the way I spent my Christmas. Of course, there were no real pine trees, but they did decorate the palm trees with a tinsel-like thing that was sold by people walking around with bags of it on their head. A lot of things are sold that way here in Cameroon. I hope to return to that family again soon and learn more about their family structure as I begin to feel more confident with my French. The next blog post will be a lot about that, as the neighbour and I (Erica, who is seven years old), started to do language courses together each morning. I want to learn French, and she wants to learn English, so it’s a pretty rewarding trade-off for both of us I hope. Merry Christmas to everyone I know here and in Canada!
As always, if you feel like supporting me in this or donating to Cuso (even as a belated Christmas gift), it is always appreciated. The link is found here.