Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Soo....I'm in Cameroon...and I have friends?

Well, my internship is finally here! It's my second full day in Yaounde and work just finished (because work finishes at 3 pm here.) My first couple of days have been fun, interesting, exhausting, and stressful all at the same time.

Let's start at the beginning:

I arrived in Cameroon Sunday night around 6 pm after about 24 hours of travel. At that point, I had planned to meet the my big head boss guy's driver. Seriously, this guy is the BIG HEAD BOSS GUY. People don't even call him by his name or by Dr., they call him "Monsieur le Docteur". All the time. Even when he's not around. So..nobody was there. I had by chance e-mailed someone there to ask for a phone number, so I was able to borrow someone's phone (at the price of $3 American) to coordinate with her. She said "Oh, you're arriving today? I'm going to call my friend and then I'll come get you." I wait. and I WAIT. An hour standing outside the airport with my bags as men came up to me asking if I needed a ride or help or a taxi or if I wanted to exchange my money right then and there. (Bad idea by the way, if you do that, which I didn't. It's totally fake currency) So eventually I meet up with none other than M. Le Docteur lui-meme le roi de Yaounde, Centre, Cameroun (from now on known as "M.L.D."). He's a very nice guy, and was sorry for all of the confusion surrounding my arrival. So my apartment and the office are about a 30 minute drive from the airport but I made it! I arrived and I passed out immediately after being told by M.L.D. that I could sleep in and that my co-workers would help me out in the morning.

Day one:

Long story short, I did not sleep in. I woke up to all of the girls waiting around outside the office for the girl with the keys. (By the way, the office is literally right next door to my apartment. Like...they use my living room as part of the office. It's in the same building basically as a dorm-type setup. I have bunk beds with a mosquito net (hurray!) and a desk and from my window I can see a papaya tree and a neighborhood of houses that we would consider "dilapidated", except that they have satellite tv and nice cars. )

Anyway, I woke up confused and gross, but well-rested. I showered, which was not a totally terrifying experience, and went to work. Everyone introduced themselves to me and then stopped talking to me...so that was kind of awkward. Eventually someone made coffee and they offered me a cup. Which I drank. Alone. On the couch. Though one would say that I'm pretty shy, I was baffled by this social situation. I had NO IDEA how to break through to these people. So I went with the strategy that my mom taught me when I started pre-school. I went up to some girls folding pamphlets and I said "Can I help?".

It kind of worked. It was still super awkward. They taught me how to fold pamphlets and then stopped talking again. Eventually I made conversation with a girl named Audre (like au-dray basically) and she offered to help me exchange my money and buy a cellphone. She also told me that her little brother, who studied law, was coming with us. Turns out the universal way for me to communicate with people is by discussing law. So we took a bunch of taxis and ended up downtown where I exchanged my money and bought a cellphone. I have to say that the way that both of these transactions occurred would not have been possible by myself because Cameroon has weird laws where you need to show your passport to buy a cellphone and create a bank account to exchange money. Christian, being a lawyer and a good business man, was able to work his way around these obstacles.

After buying the phone we ate "meal" at an outdoor restaurant under a canopy. I'm beginning to realize that Cameroonians eat one giant meal in the middle of the day (ours was around 4) and then snack whenever. This pleases me, as that's kind of how I eat. I had some plantains and potatoes and this huge bowl of yogurt with couscous. I appreciated the yogurt, not so much the couscous. I saw a kitty that looked like Leopold and "Payphone" came on the radio and I had a brief bought of homesickness, but it passed quickly.

After that, we said goodbye to Christian and Audre and I tried to take a taxi back to the apartment. We got in a taxi, except something didn't work out (I'm still not quite sure what it was) and he made us get out. So we walked. and we walked. and we WALKED. all the way back to the apartment, trying to catch a taxi along the way.

Catching taxis in Yaounde goes like this:
The going rate for taxis is 200 CFA, if you're going far you up it to 250 CFA so that the guy will accept your offer. You stand by the side of the road and you say something like this "250 CFA, two places, *neighborhood*" If they accept your offer, they'll point at you and stop the car. If not, you're SOL. The thing about this is, it's not like where you can miss a taxi in Chicago and just wait for the next one. If they don't like your offer, chances are the other guys won't either. Anyway, we ended up walking all the way back! Afterward I was so exhausted that I put on my pajamas, but just as I was getting ready for bed I heard a doorbell! Turns out I have one. It was Sophie, the lady who helped me find my internship, and her daughter. Sophie's sister had sent over some belongings for her via my luggage, so she came to pick them up! It was so nice to see a familiar face after an entire day of meeting new people.

Being white in Yaounde:
So...it's interesting, that's for sure. For someone who doesn't get a lot of attention normally, walking in the road and having people shout "LA BLANCHE! LA BLANCHE!" (The white lady! The white lady!) is a little strange. People touch my arm to see if some of the whiteness will rub off. They tell me I'm a "bonne blanche" (good white person) whatever that means. It definitely feels different than being a toubab in Senegal, but that might be because there I was with a group of students. Here, I'm the only white person I've seen since I left the airport.

I realize that my post has gotten extraordinarily long. So much happened in my first few days here and I haven't had a chance to write about any of them in the blog. I guess the biggest thing to pull from this is that, today I folded more pamphlets, and I showed my co-workers pictures of my family on Facebook and one of the girls wants to marry my brother. So...that's all you really need to take from this.

The girls were nice and left the wifi on in the office so that I can use it to catch up with my family and friends! It's so nice of them. Hopefully this will continue and I can keep updating you all.

Love from Yaounde,


Denise said...

haha "Payphone" made you homesick - probably picturing Sean's LOVELY voice.

Hannah Boldt said...

I'll have you know I'm living vicariously through your blog at work. I think I'm going to make this a regular thing.

So far so good it sounds like :) If only I could come and visit! Your apartment sounds joli! Snack timez 4ever.

Missing you, bonne chance, and just try to out awkward everyone. That's my usual strategy.

Ashley Koerner said...

Love the post Elena! Keep pushing on, and like Hannah said, try out everything awkward. Usually creates the best stories and great friends :)


jennyp said...

wonderful post elena. I can not wait to see pictures! you write so well- Gram sent me a message that she loved your writing! can't wait for the next post. I will be calling you this afternoon my time so early evening your time.

EP said...

Denise, that's exactly why it made me homesick! I'm so used to the rendition known as "I'm at a hee hoo."

Hannah you would love it here! I have bunk beds. You should visit. Also I told my co-workers about my friends who speak Wolof and they were like "...white girls? SPEAKING WOLOF?!?!?" It was pretty hilarious.

Ashley! I wish you were here so I could be an awkward Wisconsin person with you, but also you're in Switzerland so that's awesome...