Monday, October 24, 2005

A Glittering Weekend, featuring My First Glittery Dress

Dear all,

This weekend was incredible! I went Assiko dancing on Friday night - a lesson that ended, without advance notice, in a stage performance by two very amateur dancers (that would be me and Alla). It was great to be on stage and not taken too seriously; I think that if I had stuck out my tongue and done jumping jacks, people would have found it just as entertaining, and would have cheered just as wildly, as they did for my wobbly hip rotations and unconvincing snake impressions. We were even invited to sit on stage with the other performers after our little number...and our professional dancer status was confirmed when we heard the announcer say that we'd be there every night, so the audience should come back and see the white ladies dance again! I suppose that this is the price of good, free lessons: we better make progress each week, or else we'll be more of an embarrassment to ourselves than to the instructors. **The most spectacular act of the night tops the bottle-dancing from last time - here was a man, dancing for at least 10 minutes with jumps and rolls and shakes, with TWO bottles stacked on top of his head!!! I checked the bottom of the bottle for gimmicks, but the perfectly flat glass surface only proved that he's superhuman.** We (Alla, Josh, and Estelle's Cameroonian friend from university in Sweden - Raymond, and his brother and friend) went from Assiko dancing to Parallele's cabaret club for popular modern African dancing, then to some other fancy night club for popular American music and dancing. It felt a little wrong to come so far for Cameroon, only to escape into an American hole...but I can't deny that the whole night was fun, and I am happy to say that at least Cameroonian beer tastes better than American whisky. The night ended at 5 am, again with a sleepover at Alla's and a late breakfast of mangoes, bananas, boiled eggs, and avocado sandwiches.

I got home in the afternoon; then went to the Marché Centrale for groceries and cloth, where I had an interesting time alternately dodging demands for a loan of my U.S. passport, requests for my hand in marriage (or else just the money in my hand, please), and roaming livestock. I accidentally wandered into the street selling goats and fresh poultry, and tip-toed for a treacherous 100 meters in an effort not to get completely covered in shit... Needless to say, it diminished my appetite - and I afterward had a very hard time remembering the vegetables and spices Habiba had asked me to fetch. The cloth store was closed (so I will buy my skirt for Assiko later this week), and so I thought I might check out the Score supermarket, celebrated for its American layout and international cheese selection. I entered enthusiastically, with high hopes of finding a nice strong cheddar and seaweed for sushi - but instead was immobilized in my own dazed state and puddle of drool, unable to navigate through the packaged cream-filled chocolate biscuits, instant cous-cous mixes, and canned escargots. It just didn't make sense to me anymore - the vast selection, in a country where shopping choices are only about quantity and never about quality (do I want one or two bags of okra? should I buy tomatoes from my neighbor on the right or on the left?) - was paralyzing. I have always been a bit indecisive when faced with such ridiculous things as Chinese takeout menus and wall paint swatches, and now the only decision I could handle was to LEAVE. I grabbed a package of whole wheat bread (safe choice), inquired after a copy of The New Yorker (fruitless, predictably), and ran outside to join the street vendors.

That night at home, I was obviously still a little wiped out and hoarse from the past 24 hours' activities - and Ousman, like any good parent, saw right through me. In less than 2 seconds of interrogation, he had the whole night figured out:
"Did you go dancing again last night?" (Yes...) "Ah, I can tell by your voice." He points to his throat.
"Did you drink whisky last night?" (What??! Well, yes...but really, only one sip.) "Uh huh, I can tell again by your voice."
More and more I am convinced that Ousman is a great judge of character (I always like the friends he brings over), and that I am terrible at hiding my excitement and exhaustion. In the end I was eager to share the night's stories, and the family's only concern is that I take good taxis and stay strictly in the right, reputable places. The Assiko, Parallele, and American night clubs are all safe and friendly...with hosts who now know us and can lightly look out for our well-being. I also never leave my things lying around (all my money and papers stay in a zippered pouch wrapped around my wrist and clutched in my hand), and we take our own taxis whenever traveling in the dark. Needless to say, I feel better about traveling in a big group, and it helps to have a smattering of males and Cameroonians among us...

Yesterday I again ran up Mt. Febe, and it was totally fantastic. The view was amazing, and I especially enjoyed taking a new and longer route of descent - a winding dirt road past luxurious country villas, through serene outdoor village mass services, and along colorful Sunday morning markets. On the way down I also made a nice running buddy, named Serge, who I think is nice and a good running buddy for several reasons: 1) he's faster than I am, 2) he didn't ask for my number, and 3) he didn't ask for my number. If I am in town for it, we will meet the Sunday after next so that he can push me up the mountain even faster than today, when I ascended by myself... After running-showering-relaxing, I took Sadatou to visit my friend Bosco (fiancé of host-sister Charlyn in Dschang) in one of Yaoundé's newest, most undeveloped neighborhoods. It was exactly like being au village - pigs among pedestrians, unpaved roads, long muddy walks from the nearest street and shops to the houses, unfinished homes of crumbling brick and mud and tin roofing, and tiny distended-bellied kids running around with just their sandals on. We walked a sweaty 30 minutes to reach Bosco's modest (but proud and hand-built, though unfinished) one-room house, back-tracked 10 minutes to buy sodas, returned for 30 minutes to sit in the shade and drink and recuperate from the hike, and walked again for 20 minutes to catch a taxi home. It was clear, even on this short visit, how much time one needs just to LIVE in the slow and spread-out, undeveloped village world. No wonder there is little time and money to finish the houses or expand businesses - just to get home and take a break is work enough!

Sunday ended with a trip to the Muslim market to buy end-of-Ramadan-feast dresses. I got a nice glittery-yet-tasteful purple pants/tunic set (reminds me of some nice Indian clothes I have been known to go gaga over), and a breezy blue African dress with widening sleeves and a pretty embroidered neckline. I was accosted by vendors right and left; prices were bargained to one-third their original scales; everything was beautiful, and I wanted to buy it short, a typical and satisfying shopping trip! Because the glitters of the purple top originally repelled me, and I had resisted this as Ousman's choice for me, at home he made me model the purchase to Habiba to prove that he had had good taste all along. In the end, like in everything, I had to admit that he was right - it is a pretty cute oufit, is unlike anything I can find at home (and soooo Indian, yes!), and is, above all, purple. Once again, I am impressed and surprised by Ousman's choices; for a man who looks and dresses like P. Diddy, he is remarkably equipped with the knowing powers of a Jewish mother...and a good fashion sense.

When I gave presents to the family last night - PITT t-shirts, a Dr. Suess calendar, a world map, a frisbee, a set of UNO cards, and one bag of Jelly Belly candies - I felt that I had really shared the some of America's greatest highlights with them.

This weekend we will go to Sabga, Ousman and Habiba's beautiful mountain village in the NW, for the several days of Ramadan celebrations. Alla, Josh, and I will have to leave earlier than Ousman (who must stay for some family affairs), and I plan to stop in Bamenda, a bigger Anglophone town, for a day or two. Then the next weekend I will hopefully be off to Dschang for the funeraille (remember - a celebration, not a mourning) of Bosco's father, and will stay again with Thomas and Therese. After that is Charlyn and Bosco's wedding in Yaoundé...and I still have to find weekends to climb Mt. Cameroon in Buea, to swim at the black sand and white sand beaches of Kribi and Limbé, to at least pass through the big city of Douala, and to trek up North and see the desert lands of Cameroon. This trip is going too fast, and I think I might have to come back if I hope to finish everything I've started...

...That includes the PCR gels that are running right now, and which I have neglected in order to write this note. So - hi ho, hi ho, it's back to work I go! Love,



Blogger Gray said...

Hey, it's good to see that your still going out, and we have not completely put you off by our warnings. Your stories are excellent and a great way to remember there is a life outside our own. Can't wait to join you!

Love, Gray

8:08 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...


Wow, I can't even begin to describe how wonderful your experiences sound! I am filled with jealousy, but so so so happy for you!! I am also excited for you to come home and tell me all about Cameroon and the friends you've made, the food you ate, the runs you went on, etc... We miss you here at Penn, so don't forget about us!

Also, I am not sure if you are checking your Penn mail account, but Nishi wrote you about housing for next year...we want to live with you! I'm not sure about your thoughts on the issue, but try to let us know when you get the chance.

I finally joined the cross country team and am having fun with it -- although I can't seem to go very fast (I'm slower now than I was this summer) I really enjoy the other girls and all of the running! We took 3rd at heps this weekend no thanks to my almost last place finish, but I was bursting with joy for the team's success!! Nishi is injured and is not running Philly this year, and Jess is ready for New York's marathon this Sunday! Well, I know you're a busy girl, so I'll let you go, but I can't wait to hear from you again...Miss you lots!

Love, Michelle

7:51 PM  

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