Friday, September 23, 2005

La Vie a Yaounde

Dear all,

Here I am - again, still - in Yaounde! You would think that with my new research job and all the perks of the university system, I would have Internet access every day...but oh no, things are not like that here. The lab is wonderful, but I cannot say that it is everything I expected: in some ways it is much more, and in others it is pitifully lacking. For example, I will start with the bad news. They only got Internet and phone connections last week, and because the university didn't pay the water bill, we have no running water. At least this maked the end of the day easier, because I am so excited to go home where I can pee, that I'm rarely reluctant to leave by closing time. That said, there are many things here that would make me sad to leave, were it not for the regrettable plumbing situation... The people are all wonderfully nice and welcoming, and I really feel at home here. I also getpretty special treatment - at least, I have for the last three days - and get to attend all sorts of meetings with the big boss, Dr. Mbacham. Next week we will go the the US Embassy for the monthly AIDS Task Force meeting; I think it will be a pretty neat experience, even if Mbacham says they're a silly waste of time. In the rest of the time, I have been doing preliminary PCR tests on merozoite (malaria parasite) surface protein genes in the lab with a PhD student named Palmer, and helping draft documents and organize fundraising for the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria conference (here, November) with two nice ladies. (Very nice; they share their bananas with me every morning!)

If we forget about the bladder issues, it might be surprising that I am consistently ready to leave work by 4 pm. My work at the biomedical laboratory nearly already feels like a family; and, funnily enough, my house seems to function as more of a physics laboratory than a family.
The experiment: sustainability of entropy, as a sole ruling principle.
The result: total chaos.
The kids are still pretty crazy, but when I do take charge of the sitaution, they respond pretty well. They've taken a real liking to my limited yoga poses that challenge flexibility and balance (thankfully I've retained some from my young JCC dance stardom - ha!), and so each night they crowd around me on the salon floor, and I show them how to balance on their hands, or their elbows, or make up some ridiculous kung fu moves. Hey, whatever works! When they're not being entertained, though, all Hell breaks loose. Parents still do not come home early enough, if at all, so the two eldest girls discipline their younger brothers with yells, hits, and kicks. Subsequently, when the sisters are in the kitchen making dinner, the eldest boy disciplines his two juniors with a belt. The two juniors then self-regulate with full-body tackles. Perhaps chaos is not the right term - there is a full-fledged hierarchy, and it's MADNESS!!! Given this, it was not astonishing that the father really admired my supposedly apparent ¨responsible character¨; but when he came home the other night and told me how much he liked me, and would like to marry me, I thought; ¨It's time to leave!¨ ... I have had an interesting time, but I'll be moving on this weekend to another family.

There have been some real blessings as well, the first of which is the work. Here are some more... My work is really far from the house - about 3 taxi rdies, through some bandit-ridden areas, each way. I tried to organize a regular driver with Thomas's cousin, but I had the wrong number, and so set out the first morning to take my first-ever, most dangerous-ever, solo taxi rides. The first driver to pick me up was so responsible and honest, though, that I asked him to be my hired driver, and he agreed. Further proof of my good choice was the fact that he knew how to get to the remote lab, without any of my own pitiful direction. How did he do it?, you must be asking! Well, it turns out that he is the brother of the lab director, Vitalis, and the same man that Vitalis had tried to organize for me the day before! Call it blind luck, a blessing, or the simply due to the fact that there is only one responsible and honest taxi driver in all of Yaounde - I don't know, but it's pretty cool! Also, here's another great thing...beignets. They are these fried dough balls - lighter than doughnuts, coated in sweet sweet sugar, and so ridiculously delicious when still warm - that are sold everywhere in the mornings. I'm totally addicted!

My driver Augustine and I are on a hunt for the perfect beignet; every morning we stop at a different place along our amply long route, and try some. This morning the beignet was not so stellar, but I also plaintain chips and peanuts, which more than compensated for the biegnet's lack of ridiculous goodness. (My morning runs along the highway have been really emotionally steadying, invigorating as usual, surprisingly safe, and extremely appetite-inducing.) The only problem was, this indulgent early diet PLUS the sweltering heat made for a pretty heavy morning, and I was not feeling so great for a while... Just a moment ago, though, I sat down on the lab's stoop overlooking the valley and facing mountain, peeled a grapefruit, and watched the afternoon storm clouds roll in. The cool breeze on my face, the pungent citrus and its cool juice, the expansive deep green in front of me - it was the ultimate, most refreshing, detox. Ah, I breathed; and right then, decided that I love this place. I have never been so stimulated - so culturally and socially and physcially and emotionally and intellectually stimulated - and, despite the inevitable ups and downs, I am having a great time.

Tomorrow I am heading out to play soccer with Palmer and his biomedical consultant buddies - between their necessary professional caution and their African football wildness, I have no idea what to expect. And, I bet, neither do they - cause I'm a girl!!! It should be a great time, and I hope to not get too too badly beaten.




Blogger Gray said...

I sure you could pee at the lab somehow... Don't they have any large flasks?

2:28 PM  
Blogger laura jill said...

and then you can autoclave your pee and use it as media to grow stuff in.

mara, you are amazing.
thanks for the saturday evening reading entertainment. i will write you soon.

10:02 PM  
Blogger pai hearts mara more said...

I miss you marrah!!!!

6:49 PM  
Blogger Alyse "I love Mara Too" Katz said...

Mara - your trip sounds surreal! I am not only jealous but also astounded that you are selfless and strong enough to travel all alone to Cameroon for the semester. I was in Namibia this summer and you put my cultural experience to shame. I love reading your blogs and about all of your African lovers. I miss you so much right now and I wish we could talk on the phone...or have a sleepover!! I miss those :)

Good luck on the rest of the semester, and take care of yourself!

11:06 PM  

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