I mentioned in my last blog that the other Cameroon volunteers and I would all be going to Yaoundé. There were two events that we attended while we were there; la Rencontre Trimestrielle and la Réunion Régionale. The former was held on Friday, but we all went over to Yaoundé on Thursday the 16th. Even though Friday was a long day, I was really excited about it because it was my first chance to meet the other volunteers doing their placement in Cameroon! Fred had been talking about them for a long time but I was never able to put personalities to their faces from merely their online profile. Melissa, for example, is a volunteer that did her placement deep in the bush where she had no running water, AC, or other first world necessities. She was there for a year and, personally, I applaud her because I am way too much of a princess to attempt life in the bush. Even if Édéa has become comfortable and, dare I say, enjoyable for me, I still find it nice that I can retreat to my little house and blast the AC after work. Sometimes I can even take a shower, but lately the water has been more off than on.
On the weekend Cuso hadn’t planned anything for us so we basically had the entire weekend to explore Yaoundé and just hang out with the other volunteers. On Saturday I went out with Evelyn, her boyfriend Adam (who is a Cameroonian living in Yaoundé), another volunteer named Yoan, and some of Adams friends. I really wish I had some pictures from this night because it was amazing, but I have plenty of other pictures for the next couple days so I hope that will suffice for this post. We danced for almost the entire night and then crashed back at the hotel room before the next day when we went to go and meet Adam’s sister and her husband. Sunday evening was more relaxed but it gave me plenty of time to watch a few of the many movies I had downloaded thanks to the wifi in Yaoundé. I’m just going to give a note here to the wifi situation. There is wifi in the Cameroun Écologie office, but it rarely works so really we always just tether our phone data to our computers instead. Because I only have 1.5Gb per day with the data plan that I bought (and you can’t carry data over to the next day) I am lucky if I have enough left over at the end of the day to download something. So in Yaoundé where their hotel wifi actually works I downloaded a bunch of stuff to watch in Édéa. For example, I haven’t had a chance to watch Moonlight yet even though I have heard from many people that it is amazing, but at least I have it downloaded now. Sunday night I really just watched Django Unchained with another volunteer and finally got a start on the new season of Supernatural.
I guess Cameroon hasn’t conquered my love of television and movies just yet, although it has made the experience of watching them more special.
The next day (Monday) was la Réunion Régionale. We all got dressed up for this because it was a big national and, in terms of diversity, a truly international event. There were speeches in the morning including one given by Muriel. After we all took a coffee break the headline speaker, Kumi Naidoo, came up and gave a recounting of his international experiences and what he has learned about the value of international volunteering. One part of his speech that stood out to me was his reminder that “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste”. Evelyn and I have been going through some struggles lately as I talked about in the last post; my friend from childhood was in a fatal accident, we both lost our phones, the power and water was out for almost a week of the time that she was living with me, and when we were going to Yaoundé she sat on and broke my sunglasses. I know I didn’t need to mention the sunglasses thing, but Evelyn and I have a joke about it now because it is like Édéa didn’t think we had had a hard enough time in the past couple weeks, so it gave us somewhat of a parting gift before leaving for Yaoundé. It is as if Édéa was saying “okay, have fun in Yaoundé! Better buy some sunglasses while you’re there LOL”. Not to mention while I was in there it was also necessary to buy a new water filter because my old one had a crack in the bottom, and of course I had to buy a new phone as well. When I bought my new phone the SIM card also just happened to be a dud so I had to go back a day later and get a new one. Looking back now, I just can’t believe in how short of a time all of that came to be and I feel proud that I was able to solve one problem after another and actually feel like I’ve put my life back in order again. It’s true that these struggles have given me a new perspective on life here, but they have also ironically made me enjoy my life here more by making it more interesting and manageable. I am getting to the point now where I feel like I will be able to write a genuine blog post called “What I will miss about Cameroon”. I guess it is all just a reminder that without challenges we can never grow.
That seems like a really good place to end this post, but apparently I don’t know when to stop so I am just going to keep going. I have so much more I want to mention! On Monday after the conference we went back to the hotel briefly before I went to get a new SIM card. Then I visited Muriel with Theodore (another volunteer) and Melissa and we had some wine before we went out for dinner. We went to this really nice pizza place, sat outside by the pool and had beers and pizza like the classy “blancs” we are. At this time I also got a chance to bond with some of the other volunteers that I hadn’t spoken with so much yet like Hadja and Emilia. They are two really cool girls and I am sad that their placements are over now so I won’t be able to visit them again until I get back to Canada. After dinner we were all going to go dancing but I turned in for the night because it had been so long since Roland and I had gotten a chance to talk seeing as my phone was indisponible for about a week and I had finally gotten a new one. Besides, we had all decided that Wednesday night would be our crazy night.
On Tuesday many of us went over to Muriel’s apartment and we had dinner and wine there. It was just lovely, Muriel is always an amazing host. That night I also had the chance to get to know Sandra a little better. She invited me to come with her and Melissa to watch her dance class as she is an intermediate in Kizomba. Kizomba is a style of dance a little like tango but with an African touch and I was so enchanted by it after that night that I went with her again on Wednesday to the group class before meeting up with the others. I think it goes without saying that I really enjoyed the class and I would love to continue doing it. In fact, Sandra said that I was a natural and I don’t not agree with her. Anyway, I can only be in Yaoundé so often, but when I go back in March (to do a presentation on social media for a non-profit) I will try and make it to the group class again.
The final thing I want to write about is Wednesday, which was our final night to party with Fred before we went our separate ways (me to Édéa, and the others to their respective placements). We started off with dinner, and then went out to a couple different clubs. We finished the night off in the morning at 6:30am by playing pool in a random bar as it got light outside. Melissa and I went back to Muriel’s apartment and found her up and ready to go to work because Thursday just so happens to be a weekday. I got an hour sleep, and then went to meet up with Evelyn and Adam at 9am because we had planned to go back to Édéa together in Adam’s car. My final success in Yaoundé was that I remembered in my exhausted and slightly tipsy state that I needed to buy a water filter before going back to Édéa. I am so glad I did because it truly saved me a trip to Douala. Maybe in the future I’ll be able to handle Douala, but even after three months it is a little too big and scary for me. Here’s to challenges to come!
I want to share one more thing before sign off. Sometimes my colleagues will send some random stuff via email but I usually do read it and this one in particular stood out to me:
Parfois, ce sont les enfants qui nous enseignent. Cette histoire en est un bel exemple.
Un jour, le père d’une très riche famille emmène son fils à la campagne pour lui montrer comment les gens pauvres vivent. Ils passent quelques jours à la ferme d’une famille qui n’a pas grand chose à leur offrir.
Au retour, le père demande à son fils :
- “As-tu aimé ton séjour ?
- C’était fantastique, papa !
- As-tu vu comment les gens pauvres vivent ? demande encore le père.
- Ah oui ! répond le fils.
- Alors qu’as-tu appris ?”
Le fils lui répond : “J’ai vu que nous n’avions qu’un chien, alors qu’ils en ont quatre. Nous avons une piscine, qui fait la moitié du jardin, et ils ont une grande crique. Nous avons des lanternes dans notre jardin et eux ont des étoiles partout dans le ciel. Nous avons une immense galerie à l’avant, et eux ont l’horizon. Nous avons un domaine, mais eux ont des champs à perte de vue. Nous avons des serviteurs, alors qu’eux servent les autres. Nous achetons nos denrées et eux les cultivent. Nous avons des murs autour de la propriété pour nous protéger tandis qu’eux ont des amis qui les protègent.”
Le père en resta muet. Le fils rajouta: “Merci Papa de m’avoir montré tout ce que nous n’avons pas.”
Le cœur de cet enfant est simple. Il n’est pas comblé par les possessions terrestres. Au contraire, il trouve des trésors dans le fait de posséder peu. Combien vous et moi avons besoin de cette mentalité ! Trop souvent, nous oublions ce que nous possédons pour nous morfondre sur ce que nous n’avons pas. Et cette course effrénée vers une énième possession nous rend d’autant plus insatisfaits !
Ce qui est un objet sans valeur pour quelqu’un, peut très bien être un trésor pour un autre. Ce n’est qu’une question de perspective. Quelle perspective voulez-vous adopter à partir d’aujourd’hui ?
This story made me think about my placement and what my goals should be while I am here. Although it seems that we are more fortunate in Canada, this might just be because we would experience a developing country from a different perspective and thus have a different understanding of value than the people that surround us on a daily basis in places like Édéa. I have found that people here rely more on one another in terms of protection and integrity. For example, their police officers may not do much, but your reputation would take a hit if you were to go around stealing all the time, and word travels quickly in Édéa. In other words, the structure here may not work the same way as it does in Canada but it does work.
À la prochain!