Contrasts: Here and There

Before I went back to the US in December, I spent a lot of time at night, laying under my mosquito net, wondering what sort of culture shock I would encounter. I imagined myself doing/saying all sorts of weird things that would make me look villageoise in front of my friends and family. I think everyone else at home was kind of expecting that, too.

For the most part, though, I think I did a pretty good job of temporary reintegration, minus a few minor faux pas, like checking to see if water was running from the sink faucet so I knew if I could flush the toilet or not, forgetting that there was a microwave, and getting weirded out at night because I was sleeping without a mosquito net over my head. The creepy crawlies will attack me!!!

And coming back, nothing was a huge surprise. I remember the first time that the power went out since getting back to Cameroon. No biggie. And when water went out, too, I didn’t think anything of it.

In my head, I’ve somehow managed compartmentalize my life into a “Cameroon-functioning” side and a “developed nation-functioning” side. I did spend 22 years of my life in the US before embarking on this journey, so it’s not like I just suddenly forgot how to be American in the span of 1 year.

Nevertheless, the time when my brain gets completely boggled is when I listen to podcasts. Yep. That’s right. Podcasts. Of all things in this world, THAT’s what throws me off.

I’ve grown addicted to podcasts since arriving in Cameroon. I first started listening to them while I was training for the marathon. Afterall, if you’re a slow runner, it’s gonna take an eternity to run 18 miles on  a Saturday morning run, so you better have something good to listen to, ie podcasts.

Here, I’ve become addicted to NPR. All NPR. I really don’t discriminate. I. Love. NPR. Outside of that, I basically try to download anything and everything that looks remotely interesting, or maybe even not in the least bit interesting. It’s just nice to hear an American voice when I’m walking around village or alone in my house. I’ve gone on audio adventures with Boyd Matson of the National Geographic podcast, listened to Car Talk radio which reminds me of my dad laughing hysterically in the car while I rolled my eyes in the backseat, and I even listen to PetLife Radio. Guilty.

The weird moments happen, though, when I’m listening to, for example, Science Friday (love it!), and they’re talking about all these crazy new inventions/discoveries. The one that really got me was the 3-D printers that suddenly seem all the rage. Pour in some sort of liquid material into a “printer,” and voila! A 3-D object emerges! Apparently they are making programs with templates for different replacement parts. So, for example, broken vacuum cleaner piece? No need to go out and buy a replacement part. Just go on-line, find a template for the part needing replacement, switch on the printer, and there you are! Or, even crazier, they’re trying to PRINT OUT organs.

Whaaaaaaa?????

Here I am, in the middle of a village in Cameroon, under my little mosquito net, often with the power out, and I’m hearing about this crazy $hit coming to me via my little iPod.

My. Mind. Gets. Boggled.

There are kids here who are DYING, literally DYING, of simple water-borne diseases and malaria. Parents often don’t take their children to the doctor until it’s too late. Most people here do not filter their water. And we’re talking about 3-D organ printers??????

Sometimes it’s hard to even imagine that Cameroon and the US are on the same planet. Sure, Cameroon has made strides in technology in the past decade. More and more people are getting smart phones (I seriously have one of the crappiest phones of anyone in my village). We now have an computer center with internet, and people are slowly connecting via Facebook. But it’s just not the same thing as a 3-D organ printer.

Perhaps the most culture shock comes from listening to that damned PetLife Radio podcast, where there’s a veterinarian who talks about different pet issues. Well, first off, unless you’re in Yaounde, you won’t see anyone walking a dog on a leash. Or letting the dog inside the house. Or, in general, feeding the dog well, taking it for annual check-ups, etc. Dogs are considered “just” animals here, and with enough human mouths to feed, as is, a dog is seen as a creature that can fend for itself.

So on comes the host of the show, who talks about things like doggie vitamins, chemotherapy for cats, and overweight pets.

Let me repeat that.

Overweight pets. Overweight pets!!!! What?!?!?

The animals I see here are skin and bones. Even some children here aren’t well-fed, despite being in a region abundant in all sorts of foods. My dog Pumba gets fed on a daily basis, but I would definitely not call her fat, which is what everyone in my village seems to think. But in the US, we have overweight pets? And we put animals on vitamins and will give them chemotherapy if needed?

Sometimes I want to share these things with Cameroonians, but I know that I (and all Americans) will just get mocked. Or they will stare at me in horror and recount stories of how there are children dying every day from “ordinary” diseases here.

For now, though, I’ll stick to sharing photos from home and pictures from magazines. At least that seems more reasonable.

CONS:

  • My tummy still isn’t too thrilled with whatever war is going on inside my body right now. I’m not sure what I have but it’s not very fun, although, thankfully, not very severe.
  • Rameline has been having some chest pains recently that sound a little concerning, and she thinks it’s something a bit more serious.
  • Water and light have been super spotty recently. Hopefully they fix it soon.
  • I’m fairly used to getting asked for things by random people. But I was walking home the other day, and I passed an older woman, who kept asking me “How are you?” in the local language, to which I kept responding back, in Medumba. Finally, she shakes my hand, looks me in the eye, and says, in French, “Take something out of your bag and give it to me!!!” I immediately jerked my hand away and yelled at her in French that she was incredibly impolite. I always found older people to be nicer here, but I guess I was wrong about this one.
  • My host sister called me the other night, and while it was wonderful hearing from her, one of the first things she said to me was, “I’m taking a national exam in June. What gift will you get me if I pass?” A little bit of a shocker to hear over the phone after not hearing from her in months.

PROS:

  • Youth Day was on Monday. It involved a 2 hour long “parade” where each school got 5 minutes to do some sort of performance. I’m not really sure how I feel about it, because most of the teachers just forced kids to memorize things that the children definitely don’t understand themselves, the kids get yelled at/pushed around for making any mistakes, and often times, young girls in kindergarten/primary schools are made to do these weird sexy dances that get elites (often older men) to give them money. Hmm… But the GOOD part was that a primary school that Rameline and I worked with decided to show off their TippyTap handwashing station that we taught them to make. People in the crowd seemed interested by the apparatus, so I’m hoping that maybe this will stimulate some interest.
  • For Chinese New Year, I made some dumplings completely from scratch. Unfortunately, I think I cut the pieces of cabbage too large, so the texture isn’t quite right. But it’s still pretty damn delicious and lasted me all week.
  • I wasn’t in Bazou for my birthday, but the other day, I was at the Kenne’s house, and her kids gave me a gift of a bunch of different candy that they bought with their own allowances that they receive. I thought it was a super sweet gesture.
  • I taught at the middle school yesterday, and brought with my 5 bottles of water. One with salt (dissolved via boiling), one with a ton of chlorine, another with brown tap water from that morning, a clean one, and my favorite, seemingly “clean” water in which I had dipped a stick that had come into contact with Pumba’s poop. I passed the bottles around the class and told the kids to vote on which they thought was the cleanest. Of course, they couldn’t vote without consulting/copying others, so 28/34 kids ended up choosing the poopy water that looked “clean.” Upon finding out that that was the poop water that they had chosen to “drink” (they didn’t actually), they were totally grossed out, but definitely more interested in how to avoid such things. I had a fun time teaching :)
  • I’ve been chowing down on M&Ms that my parents sent me in a care package. I don’t think I ever realized how delicious M&Ms were. Til now.
  • I got another letter in the mail! Thanks, Melody :)

I think that’s all…Happy Valentine’s Day!

Peace and love,

Wes, Pumba, and Timon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Contrasts: Here and There

  1. Eric

    Hey Wesley! I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m addicted to NPR podcasts too, especially when I’m cooking. My favorites are Fresh Air, People’s Pharmacy, On Being with Krista Tippett, Planet Money, Car Talk, and TED Radio Hour (it’s like TED talks, but in radio form which is nice because I can listen to them without sitting in front of the computer). I also really like Radiolab.

    What are your favorites? I haven’t listened to the National Geographic podcast but I’ll check that out…. and maybe Pet Life too.

  2. Melody Porter

    Nice podcast recommendations, Eric. I would add to the list the nerdfest that is Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

    Also, thanks for the mention, Wesley! This feels like real fame to come up on your blog.