An Unconventional 4th of July

While it doesn't appear so, these kids loved it...I think.
I wasn't planning on spending the 4th of July getting caught in a storm, shut in a dark and electricity-less room with my counterparts in silence for 2 hours, taking a moto through the rainforest, and trying to explain that no, I’m not French. I spent the 4th of July in a way quite opposite of what I had planned. While I was planning to go to Ngaoundéré like the rest of my friends, that didn’t happen for various reasons. Instead, I spent it alone in Lomié, but while I thought I’d just spend the day shut up in my house reading a book and trying to get the day over with as soon as possible, I instead made some plans to get some work done. And in the end, it wasn’t too horrible after all.

I didn’t tell anyone that it was an American holiday, mainly because I didn’t want to answer questions about why I wasn’t drinking and celebrating and with other Americans. Instead, I schedule my daily rendez-vous with Atangana and Yacouba as I do every day, and this particular day, they had a surprise for me. They called me up mid-morning and told me that today would be the day that we travel to some Baka encampments to look for beekeeping sites. I agreed and figured it was best to get out and take my mind off the fact I’m stuck in a god forsaken rainforest all alone on yet another major American holiday. I dressed up in the clothes from my most recent care package from my mom, donned my American flag scarf I found at the frip, and began walking to Yacouba’s workshop. As my luck would have it, a storm randomly broke out when I was halfway to Yacouba’s workshop. As everyone started to run for cover, I grabbed my skirt in my fists and made a run for it, sloshing through blood red mud and nearly wiping out mid-intersection due to my broken shoes (which now have no sole). I arrived to Yacouba’s shop, a little worse for wear, and he closed the door as rain pounded the metal roof. I took a seat on one of his newly made couches. I tried to make small talk, but the rain on the metal roof was far too loud. I gave up and we sat there in silence…for 2 hours. I guess I needed the forced meditation!

The Path to Mokongoya
After the rain calmed down, we hopped on some motos and made our way to Pohempoum encampment, or so I thought. But once we reached Pohempoum, we made a turn and started following a small walking path into the forest – away from Pohempoum. I looked back and Atangana and Yacouba and gave them my 'Ummm....?' look, but their facial expressions led me to believe nothing was amiss. I sat there as rain-drenched leaves slapped me in the face and mud splattered up on me from our moto tires. 45 minutes later, we arrived at the 30 person encampment of Mokongoya. I was greeted with many gaping stares, as I am likely the first white person to ever venture out to this clearing in the forest. After talking with our friend Ambassa, the encampment chief, and surveying the future beekeeping and soy spot, we all sat down on benches that sat 2 inches from the ground (perhaps the perfect height for a pygmy, but not so much a 5’5’ American) and I passed out the 4th of July cadeaux that my mom sent me for my follows PCVs and I. I handed out American flag glasses, gave children tattooes, and handout out some bracelets, all the while trying to explain in a language I don’t speak that no, I am not French but American!

Gifts come…never…for the Baka children, so they got a kick out of it, even if they continued to be confused about what I was celebrating. This wasn't how I envisioned spending my 4th of July. It was spent without the company of Americans, but I had the company of a few new friends. It wasn’t spent looking up at fireworks, but instead looking up at the canopy of the rainforest. It wasn’t a day off work, but rather a productive day at work. It was a very unconventional 4th of July indeed, but it is one that I will forever remember.


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