Sunday, September 29, 2013

Answers at the bottom of a bottle

Staring at a bottle of scotch.  It's Johnny Walker Red.  I prefer Black, but you can get a bottle of Red for the equivalent of 16 American dollars.  It is just me and the bottle though: no glass.  Drinking straight out of a bottle feels like a problem.  A glass would imply some sort of control over the situation.  Really though, it is just inconvenient to clean my one glass.  You have to go to the well, draw water, wash the glass by hand and then rinse and dry it or you end up with soapy tasting booze.  That's a lot of work when you don't really need the glass to begin with.

I haven't known what to write about for quite some time.  Lost the ability to express what I'm experiencing.  Mostly I'm just bored.

The little things people are always amazed that I deal with are really nothing.  To live an hour out on a dirt road from a town that is itself far off the beaten path.  To not have regular electricity (honestly, it is amazing I have any).  Water comes from a well.   Language, culture, isolation.  Food.  I live with an inordinate variety of animals.   You get used to it all.  It's not even hard after awhile.  Don't get me wrong: fuck cockroaches; I kill those on sight.  Flies too as they spread disease.  And I've poisoned a number of mice cause those bitches get into food that has been shipped specifically for me from America.  That's worthy of capital punishment in my book.  Ants, lizards, spiders, frogs, and the rest pretty much just passively exist in my home.  I don't care.  What gets you is when you ask yourself why you are putting up with all those things to being with.  And you don't have an answer.

Work is not going anywhere.  Everyone tries to tell you that it is the relationships you build, the individuals you touch and inspire, and the people who walk away empowered to change their lives.  That sounds all fantastic, but I don't give a damn.  Strange individuals?  Couldn't care less.  I care about friends and family, but strangers have never moved me in the slightest.  I want to change systems and create opportunities so that those who are actually worth a damn can move up.  I had amazing chances growing up mostly because of the hard work put in by my parents and theirs before them.  And because of our culture's idea that if you work hard you deserve to progress.  I have a debt to society and want to pay it by providing others with a chance too.  But not a handout.

Development is broken.  I could talk about it all day.  The Peace Corps was designed as a diplomacy organization and has just not sorted itself out to do development.  Virtually all the development organizations I have run into (and it is an extreme rarity) don't have people on the ground.  I may have already told this joke… Missionary sees an African in a hole trying to get out; he throws a bible to him and walks off.  NGO worker sees  an African in a hole trying to get out; he throws a bunch of money to him and walks off.  Peace Corps Volunteers sees an African in a hole trying to get out; he jumps in and asks him how he's doing.  "I really could just use a ladder."

I don't have an answer, but I'll keep looking.  I believe it might be at the bottom of this bottle.  If not, there are others to search.

Wait!  I just got it: the answer is "ladders"!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Good morning. How are you? Fine, thank you.

Cameroon is a bilingual country.  Supposedly.  Rumor is Paul Biya (the president since forever) added that Cameroonians, themselves, are not bilingual when asked about his own lack of English.  They teach some English pretty much everywhere, though it seems to never get beyond the introductive stuff.  I probably shouldn't talk much since I technically have a degree saying I speak Italian and the only thing left of that is a large amount of profanity.  All the same, I have only ever seem to have one conversation in English:

"Good morning."

"How are you?"

"Fine, thank you."

You cannot deviate from the script.  If I just say "morning", I've broken the rule and get to watch poor children's minds snap.  That probably says more about their lack of creativity than poor English skills, but it is painful.  (As to creativity, hand any kid crayons and tell them "Draw whatever you want!" and they will give you the Cameroonian flag.  It's patriotism bordering on fascism.) 

The Cameroonians that do speak English, speak what we might call Special English.  It is sort of a lowest common denominator version.  It is probably more about speaking slowly and clearly, but I hate it and can't bring myself to use it.  It is to the point that I'll switch to French even in an Anglophone area (that's right, I make people deal with my bad French rather than deal with their bad English; I'm a dick).  Occasionally Peace Corps Volunteers will drop into this Special English out of habit and I'm forced to hold back smacking them.  Honestly it sounds like how you'd speak to a child.  Or someone you are patronizing, hence the desire to smack.

I bring all this up because I ran into the weirdest guy today.  In the same way that I ignore people calling me "Le Blanc" or "Nasaara", I sort of just respond with the "How are you?" or "Goodmorning" and keep walking to the English routine (if you don't say my name, I don't stop).  This guy gave me a "What's up?" and a "Cool."  I can't recall hearing that even in English-speaking areas; in Mbakaou it was world-shattering.  He spoke English as if he had been to America.  Not even that silly Brit version of the language you occasionally run into!  Apparently he learned in Nigeria "from the streets".  I'm not super convinced he understood all of my own English, but I was still impressed.  The only weird part was that he sounded like he was a decade or two behind.  I felt like I was watching some film from my childhood.  Kept thinking of Marty McFly.  Still, even watching Cameroonian news in English isn't as easy as talking to my new friend, Marty.  It was heavy.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Traditional Medicine/Scary Witchcraft

There is a difference between traditional medicine and witchcraft.  But they both very much exist in my village.  I'd only every heard of it in passing while living in Bogo.  Here I actually tasted some concoction that could possibly cure every ailment ever to befall man (I made him and another bystander drink it before I'd try it.  He even washed out the glass between "patients", good on him!).

I've met a couple of traditional healers.  One of them actually comes into the clinic pretty regularly and has some basic knowledge of medicine.  Enough to refer people he can't help to us.  That a decent way to deal with these healers that are often pretty respected in the community.  Another one, who I talk to pretty regularly, is mostly a snake-oil salesman that sells some drink her makes out in the woods as a cure-all.  Everything from a cough to malaria.  That's less of a beneficial side to the coin.  They are both normal looking guys who just sell herbs and teas to folk.

They are nothing compared to the strange beliefs in sorcery here.  People take this dark magic very seriously here.  I didn't realize it at first.

I only know one sorcerer.  Honestly, he's not a bad guy.  I wish he's shower on the occasion, but other than that he seems harmless enough.  He walks around town blowing a horn to let people know he's coming around.  Children run terrified and hide.  Some adult women too.  They all hide around corners and such, because, while afraid, they really want to get a look at him.  Perhaps that's why we first bonded; children run terrified of me too.   

Meet our village sorcerer!  Terror of women and children both.
He wears different dirty clothes and ripped pants.  Never any shoes.  Horn and hatchet (in case any of those kiddies get close!) along with bag of assorted plants and animal bits.  Again, not the normal sort you run into stateside, but he could easily be a crazy homeless man.  He apparently can help people if they have been cursed or are suffering from someone who has cast a spell on them.  He can offer protection from curses and I've seen strange bags hanging over doors to keep your home safe.  I suppose he could help you curse someone else too, but he would not tell me if he did that.  I'm going with harmless enough.
Still, things crop up from time to time.  I ask where a road goes and am told it used to go to another village.  Wondering what happened, I am told that as an outsider I wouldn't understand.  I pressed and found out that people started dying there and were found drowned in the lake.  Many people moved; the rest died.  I walk by a burnt down house and am told a story about a sorcerer who killed children and used their bones to cast curses.  The community burned down his home and drove him out of the village.  There are more than one burned out house in town.  Recently, I've a few meetings in small villages cancelled;  people were afraid to go out.  Children were falling down in pain and crying out the name of their tormentor, a young man now branded sorcerer.  The Gendarme (sort of police) had to step in and hold him to protect the community.  What they told me is they were holding him for his own protection.  Mass hysteria or scared kids?

It is hard to reconcile these people's beliefs with reality.  My traditional healer friend really thinks his concoction heals people.  He's told me his grandfather knew a herb that could cure AIDS (told him to figure that one out fast and not only could we save lives, but probably get rich too).  The crazy sorcerer guy just wanted to take a picture with me because he wants to be friends.  Or possibly cast evil spells from a distance.  I don't know, but he SEEMED nice about it.  And also, I don't really want to piss him off.  Ya know, just in case.  But when these beliefs go deeper, they can really affect people's lives.  Villages disappear or people are driven out of the community for who knows what real reason. 

And most of all… I really hate having to reschedule so many damn meetings!  Already have to deal with the incessant rain…

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mon français

Bienvenue à le première post qui est complètement en français!  Vraiment je pense que ça sera le dernière post comme ça aussi, mais qui sais ?  J’ai pensé que ça serais une bonne idée d’essayer à écrire en français ; je ne pratique jamais en fait.   

D’abord, un grand « désolé » est en ordre, parce que mon français est un peu différent de tout le type qui existe déjà.  Mon français vient du français camerounais, mais c’est un français qui change beaucoup de place à place.  Et j’ai déjà habité partout.  Il y a une différence en générale comment on parle ici.  Par exemple, on peut dire « on va faire comment ? », mais en France on dit « qu’est-ce que on va faire ? ».  Un exemple semple, mais évident.  Aussi évident, quand je parle le français, je traduis vraiment d’anglais.  Donc ma grammaire est merde et mes phrases sont… aussi merde pour manque de un mot meilleure.  Ça, c’est un exemple.  Je n’ai pas une idée si un française dirais « manque de un mot meilleure » ou « je n’ai pas une idée » pour la question.  Il y a aussi le problème d’italien qui dérange mon accent.  En finale, je parle le français comme un américain qui a appris la langue au Cameroun et parle avec un accent italien inexplicable.   
Oh, le grande tour de français est à parler comme bâtard pompeux ; toutes les grandes paroles en anglais viennent de français.

Donnez un « merci » à spellcheck ou vous ne pouvez pas lire ceci.