Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Novella with My Nouvelles

Dear all,

This past week has been exhausting! I have realized that I approach every day of work as a long-distance run, daring myself to stay on my feet, alert and enthusiastic, for hours on end. Sometimes this is no small feat, and the challenges can be as much physical as mental. I have a blistered right thumb from vortexing samples straight out their 100°C heat bath, sore fingers and eyes from labeling 396 miniscule tubes, and a great distaste for the repetitive, mechanical tasks of the lab. (My only solace is that I will one day develop a computer program that labels tubes, and thus save the world from having to spend its time inhaling permanent marker and writing in size-9 font.) I also continually remind myself of two imortant things: first, the eventual work is much more interesting and rewarding; and second, if I can love cross country races, I can at least like this. The difficulties are compounded by the fact that the forever-hot climate and early-setting sun do a number on one's energy level, and I find myself crashing at about 8 at night...along with everyone else. We're in bed by 9, and up at 6, but it still never feels like enough sleep. However, everyone else gets just as tired from the heat as I do, so my case is not unusual.

Putting aside the long-distance analogy - which I'm sure painted a negative picture of work, since most people don't understand my love for running...but really, as I enjoy running, I enjoy the work day - work is good. Palmer and I are now finishing the most promising of our PCR tests so far, and we hope to have good results by tomorrow. (If all goes well, we will be running more samples under the same procedure, and get to label another few hundred tubes in the coming days. Fingers crossed?) The conference plans are plodding along, and I have launched into various PR activities...calling sponsor companies, securing contacts, and making reservations with the Swiss company. With each day I'm getting more familiar with the organization and history of the lab and conference; I no longer have to constantly ask questions, and I can work independently/productively for significant periods of time. I have also taken a more active role in some things - the AIDS Task Force, for example - and I love being able to finally give suggestions, make critical comments, and move things along. Actually, I am heading over to the US Embassy in an hour to help write the mission statement for the Task Force.

I got most interested in the Task Force when Mbacham and I went to their meeting last week, and I listened to their 2-years-in-perspective meeting to define the group's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT). First, the pace of the meeting was anything but purposeful: it started at noon, we showed up at 12:30, people sat at 1:00, we ate from 1:00-2:00, talked from 2:00-2:30, and broke up half an hour before the scheduled 3:00 end time. When Weaknesses came up, somebody helpfully suggested that we change the category name to the kinder ¨Challenges¨ before proceeding, for that would feel so much nicer! (But then, reallllly, how would SCOT sound? Swot is productive - you can almost swot a fly or, better yet, a mosquito...but Scot's just a nice bloke, and I doubt aggressive enough for the critical review the Task Force so badly needs.) We made it past Opportunities without problems, but Threats was a real issue...indeed, a real threat. People voiced concern about the unpleasant experience of entering the Embassy, due to the unfriendly security guards, the need to surrender cell phones, and the group's lack of special ID badges. I wondered why the greatest threat was one to their comfort, and not a threat to progress/adventure/discovery/change, which really should be the AIDS Task Force's major objectives... As a newcomer, I felt comfortable expressing these views from my outside perspective, which probably enabled me to be the most honest and critical person there. It felt good to play an active role and to share disagreeing opinions - and I know I wasn't even too obnoxious, because I still got two phone numbers and a invitation to the go to beach at the end of the meeting. Ah, Cameroonian men!

What can I say? Home life is groovy. We have been having a nice time sharing lives in the Ousman/Habida household - I went running with the eldest girl, Saddathou; got braids (rastas) and returned the service with the younger girls, Alima and Adama; made Italian food (pasta, tomato sauce, pesto) and home-made ice cream with the whole family (gloriously introduced via the banana split); and helped push my friend's car out of a ditch with Ousman and neighbors at midnight last night. The incident followed the Rosh Hashanah party I attended at the Israeli ambassador's house, which attracted an astonishing 40 (forty!!!!) Jews from around the country for dinner. We met at 7:30 and dined for honestly four hours. ...It was intense. If there's any way to describe delicious 10-course feasts, it must be with a mix of total satisfaction and utter belly pain. (For as much as I adore and embrace Cameroonian cuisine, the hummus, chocolate, dates, apples, pomegranate, Algerian cous-cous, olives, cheese, pistachios, sun-dried tomatoes, orange juice, strudel, and buttered green beans, all of which are hard to acquire here, just made my heart melt.) Between the 7th and 8th courses, I looked down the table and saw people literally sweating as they ate... It was so good, and so overwhelming! The shofar blows were modest and the service quiet and frequently interrupted, but the whole experience made me feel very much at home - or at least, nostalgic for home. L'SHANAH TOVAH, everybody! (Afterwards, my new friend and her dad drove me home...and as he backed out of the driveway in the unfamiliar street, he accidentally ran into a shallow sewage ditch. Nobody was hurt, and the most difficult part was waking up the neighbors to come out and push.)

This weekend I played soccer with Palmer and his buddies. They are all in their semi-fit 30s and have high expectations for their soccer skills, so there's plenty of running, shoving, slipping, and more than anything else, debating. Nearly every 5 minutes, we found another player on the ground with an injury...but as they're all medical doctors or consultants, they took care of each other and managed to keep the game going. I so badly wanted to score a goal and show them that a girl - and not just that, but an American girl - can play soccer, but alas, my feet were not blessed with the magic touch, and I will have to wait until next week to stun them. They enjoyed my game anyway, and I have been invited to play every weekend. Following the match, we ceremoniously converged at a nearby bar, and drinks were served to all the players. An interesting conversation ensued, in which one man said that Cameroon should lose to Egypt in the coming World Cup qualifier (08 Oct), for football victories only distract the country from its real problems. He was surrounded, questioned, yelled at, checked for sanity, ...and the rest of the time was spent with people on their feet, hands waving and tongues wagging, discussing the match. I'm buying tickets with some friends tomorrow.

The run with Saddathou on Sunday morning was incredible. It seems that there is a voluntary city-wide push on weekend mornings, starting at 7 and going til about 10, to "make sports" (as people say here, literally translated from "faire du sport" in French). Thousands of people come out to climb Mount Febe, the highest of 7 hills that surround the city - old and young, skinny and fat, barefoot and shod, fast and slow, ... There are public calisthetics at the base of the mount, mild stretches and picnics at the top, and people huffing and puffing all along the winding 3- or 4-mile ascent. It was amazing! Any health-concerned U.S. city would do well to throw its Atkins books in the toilet, and get its people to run up and down a mountain once or twice a week. On the other hand, it all seems a little suspect... Like the soccer player said before, this shared activity and jovial sportmanship can distract people from real problems, and I wonder if the government plays some role in encouraging/sponsoring the Mount Febe runs and calisthetics.

This is, once again, a long-winded note. Happy New Year to you all! Thinking about you every day...love,


P.S. Ramadan starts tomorrow, and since it coincides with the Jewish day of fasting and atonement, Yom Kippur, I will use it as a spiritual equivalent and substitute. I look forward to sharing the experience with the family, but I am trying not to kid myself into thinking that it's going to be easy... To enjoy my last daylight meal of the next 30 days, I ate chocolate and haricots koki for lunch today. The afternoon is young, and the sun is still bright in the sky, so I will go now and see what else the streets hold for me to enjoy!


Blogger Christy Misogianes said...


OMG! yay it's you! Sorry I have been meaning to check out your blog FOREVER! That's so exciting that you are actually in cameroon!!! EEE!!! Anyway, Things are really great here except that I miss you a lot. It's true, last week a bunch of us got together for restaurant week and it just was not the same without you. It stinks too cuz next semester I'll be abroad. I'm actually going to Edinburgh, Scotland and so is Jared! We're really really excited :) Apparently they have a really good history and psci dept. Hmm...what else is new? Well, this summer was really good, but I was really glad to be back at Penn. Africa was amazing! I was only there like 10 days, but I still miss it! (I was in South AFrica, Botswana, and Zimbabwe) SO COOL! Did you work at the French camp again this year? I forget. Guess what else, for CityStep we have 3 guys this year! yay!! And also! 1 of them is hot and indian!! no joke! but the bad news is that he's a senior... Well that's it for now! I'm bookmarking your blog so that I don't lose the page again. I love you and miss you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

8:33 AM  

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