Between Chaos and Calm

My Across-the-Path Neighbors
While life here in Lomié, and the East in general, seems impossibly chaotic, extreme and often unforgiving (for clothes and human health in particular), I’ve noticed that despite all this there is a rhythm and symmetry to life here that makes everything that appears chaotic suddenly seem calm and rational. For example: Every morning I set my alarm for 5:30 for my morning run (I factor in about 30 minutes of hitting snooze), but even if I didn’t set my alarm, I would be jolted awake at 6am sharp, not by the roosters (which I’ve never had a problem sleeping through), but by the large family that lives next door who wakes and begins the day when the sun first peaks its head over the horizon. It’s not so different from 6:00pm when the sun suddenly disappears across the forested horizon without warning, when the roosters crow and make their way back into the trees, and when the woman and children next door quiet down as they finish cleaning their dishes. 

During the day everything is coated in bright orange dust. You name it, it’s covered – the sign that points to the market which once said ‘Marché’ is now merely a bright orange sign in the middle of the road, motormen who forget to wear headscarves now have natural orange dust masks, the bright green trees and the vibrantly colored vegetables seem to permanently be turned orange…as do my lungs and nostrils (have you ever blown your nose and had mud come out?). While the world is orange during the day, everything is coated in black at night. While Lomié was once praised for being just about the only city in the East that never had a power cut, we now live with daily power cuts from 6:00pm to 6:00am. In a world with no electricity at night in the middle of a sprawling rainforest without any other towns within a 4 hour radius, things get impossibly dark with the only exception being when there is a full moon and cloudless sky. While the temperature during the day reaches close to 100 or more with the heat index, at night it drops to 50 and cold dew and fog appear, only to be broken at 10am the next morning when the sun and heat reach their extremes. I seem to live in a world of extremes which bring a sense of balance to life here.

This too can be applied to my life as a volunteer here. While in the beginning I struggled to get even a bed made, I now am pleased to report I have a bed, full living room set, a wardrobe (I unpacked from my suitcase for the first time in 4 months!) and before the end of the month I will have a kitchen table large enough to play Agricola with my postmates. Yackouba, my trusty furniture man and perhaps soon-to-be third counterpart, has proven full of good ideas and sympathy in terms of my furniture. I think he has a better vision than I for how my house should be furnished (perhaps that is merely because he is the one being paid).

When I was first posted here, I did not work at the hospital and felt a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of creating projects here, but I now am full of ideas and I’ve taken the bull by the horns and started making things happen instead of waiting for them to happen. I don’t envision myself doing much work at the district hospital, not because there are no needs, but because they are needs I can’t meet. Nobody goes to the hospital because it is in disrepair, unsanitary and lacks water (even from a well) – and mind you, this hospital takes care of all villages from Abong Mbang to Ngoila and covers nearly the entire southern half of the East region. I can’t change any of that. The hospital staff invited me to observe and help with a polio vaccination campaign that is currently happening countrywide, but I told them that isn’t why I’m here. I’m not here to do meaningless scut work for the hospital. I’m here to do sensitization and to make small but meaningful and sustainable change in village. Whether or not I am here, the polio vaccination campaign and walking door to door would go on, so there is no point in them depending on me as a free worker when there are paid hospital staff sit around, learning nothing about earning a living. Whether or not I was here, all the children would get vaccinated and life would go on. No point in wasting my time when there are bigger fish to fry.

Yackouba (doing the typical 
Cameroonian forlorn facial expression 

for photos) and his mushroom. 

I try to resist the urge to call him Yacki.
Instead I walked to the local high school to introduce myself to the principal. After friendly banter in his office, which I should mention had about 15 empty beer bottles scattered about the floor, for 30 minutes, I finally asked if there was a health club at the school. He said there was and he called in the teacher who leads the group. Enter Hamadou, perhaps my new favorite man in town (a close tie with Yackouba, the market mama who brings me eggplants, and Jules, depending on the day). Hamadou was defected from Poli in the North region back in December. I joked with him about him being moved from one region to another region which is the complete opposite of his original region. He couldn’t seem to wipe his ridiculously adorable gap-toothed smile off his face during the duration of the time we chatted. He told me the health club started a year ago and mainly gathers to talk about diseases and to do some work in the community and to maintain the well from which the school gets its drinking water (as do I, so I greatly appreciate their work!). I told him I would be interested in meeting the group and gathering ideas of how to improve the group and make it more effective both at the school and in the greater community. He was overjoyed, and I think a bit relieved to have some help, and agreed that we would create a lesson plan early next week for the meeting on Wednesday.

I felt like I was on a high, so I headed over to Yackouba’s to see the progress of my wardrobe (which was completed). He gave me the details of the Baka pygmy cultural celebration that is occurring tomorrow at the radio station. I told him I’d love to be introduced with some of the movers and shakers of the Baka community to gauge their interest in doing something to ameliorate their grave health situation. Yackouba explained that the stigmatization around the Baka makes them feel inferior, causing them to remove themselves from the general Bantu population here. He said that me merely eating and conversing with the Baka of the nearby encampments will cause them to open up and be willing to form a partnership. I’m extremely excited to attend the cultural celebration tomorrow with Danny as well as to introduce myself to the radio station in hopes to begin a weekly health program after IST.

I feel like I have had very few down moments since arriving here in Lomié, and lately I feel particularly busy. Between the daily chores at my house (sweep, mop, clean shoes, organize and repeat), putting in commands for furniture and doing progress checks, mushroom project meetings, and between trying to forge connections around town to gather info for my needs assessment and for future projects, I feel like every day, every week, and every month flies by. I can’t believe I’ve already been here in Cameroon for over 4 months! As I was sweatily running about town today, Yackouba joked with me that while Danny relaxes and reads (I assure you, he does far more than that, but this week he had malaria so he has a legit excuse– welcome to the club, brother! Good to have you), I on the other hand am always working. “You never stop!” he yelled as I left his shop to run home to prepare my house for the arrival of my coffee table and to prepare him a thank-you-for-working-fast smoothie. His comment made me smile as I made my way through centre ville and the marche doing my rounds saying ‘hi’ and making small talk with all the shop owners and market mamas and papas I frequent. 

Every day I wish I had more downtime to just sit back and finish the book that I started back in PST or to send longer, more coherent emails to my friends back home, but I can’t say that I’m complaining about the new rush of potential work projects and the routine chores that consume the odd hours of the day. Until the day my projects have started and been taken over by locals, I’ll enjoy the hour a day I sit up in the platfort publishing these posts surrounded by nothing but the trees, sky, birds, lizards, and today the unforeseen arrival of rain. Like I said, in every respect, life here is insanely chaotic while being impossibly peaceful. Life here, although it sometimes may not seem like it, is a perfect equilibrium. 

1 comment:

  1. judy snyder20.1.14

    Good luck with all your projects!


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