My week was a little bit out of the ordinary, which is actually a good change from doing the same thing every week. It started last Saturday, when my proviseur called in the morning to let me know that I had to be at school at 6:30AM in order to catch a bus to go to Abong Mbong for a Teacher’s Workshop. All of the teachers in the department, where I live had to go. (It would have been nice to have known a little bit beforehand, but at least I didn’t get a call Monday morning!) Because I had to leave so early Monday, I decided to leave Bertoua a bit earlier than normal, which was lucky because I saw what has to be the craziest thing ever and honestly I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t had seen it with my own eyes. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera, so you’ll just have to take my word for it!
On the way back to my village I kept seeing people carrying cassiers or crates full of beer bottles. I thought it was a bit weird, but maybe there was just a shipment. And these tiny village bars don’t get a lot of business?? (Because bars normally get 20 or 30 crates at a time) But the more we drove the more people I saw carrying beer bottles and not just in crates anymore. There were people of every age carrying bottles in bags, on their head, basically in just anything they could find. Which was a little weird, but then I saw it. A beer delivery truck had fallen over. There were people everywhere, inside of the truck, outside of the truck essentially stealing beer from this truck. They were climbing all over the truck, it was insane! I saw a gendarme truck and I thought oh they are going to restore order! I was a little naïve, they were taking the beer too!! For the rest of the moto ride I saw people running with empty bags, I’m assuming to go try to grab beer.
The interesting thing is that there was another beer delivery truck that fell over on the other side of my village. The crazy thing about this is that this road is the national highway. But it is just a dirt road. Unfortunately since the roads are so bad, there are many accidents. But on the brightside, on the trip to Abong Mbong, which is 120 KM from Dimako going towards Yaoundé, I saw that the asphalt goes almost all the way to Dimako now. Everyone has been telling me that there would be asphalt soon, but I just thought it was just talk. But since August the asphalt has gone almost the whole way from Abong Mbong to Dimako, there is only a couple kilometers left until my village! So maybe before my two years are finished they will finish the road and make it go all the way to Bertoua, thus making my rides safer. Even better, they put in a lot of speed bumps on the road!
So on Monday, I showed up bright and early for the bus, much to everyone’s surprise. I guess they don’t understand that I show up when they actually tell me too. So I waited around for an hour, which in Cameroonian travel isn’t that bad… Plus I was in a car and they didn’t make 5 people sit where only 4 should! So the ride to Abong Mbong wasn’t that bad! When we got there, my colleagues made me eat. Which was a little weird, but thankfully I did. I didn’t understand what or how long the workshop would last. So afterward I went to the high school where the workshop was and walked into a giant room full of about 300 people and I was the only white person. This was a little bizarre especially since everyone stared at me and probably was wondering what I was doing there. I sat down at a desk and waited for it to start. From about 10 – 14, there were speeches made, all in French. I am not going to lie, I fell asleep a bit, but I wasn’t the only one! My excuse is that waking up at 5 AM and having to listen to 4 hours of speeches that have nothing to do with me and in French none the less, isn’t all that interesting!
After the speeches, all the teachers split up into subjects. I went to the English workshops. That was a lot of fun because we got to listen to presentations in English. Every time they made us do group work, I got to do all the work because the people in my group were too afraid to speak English in front of me. But some of the other participants spoke so much just to show how much English they knew. At least that was fun for me to witness! The presentations were not that useful, in fact it was just like Training, but minus my friends and I playing scrabble on my kindle during the presentations.
At 1730, they finally let us go! Unfortunately none of my colleagues were still there, so I decided to go to the hotel, where the proviseur reserved a room for me and drop off my stuff. But I was starving so I went off in search of food. There was a boutique across the street from the hotel and unfortunately they didn’t have food, but the owner told me to go to the center. Outside of the boutique I was just deciding what to do, when I ran into one of the English teachers from the workshop. I asked her if she was going to the center of town and she said yes and then I invited myself to walk with them. I normally wouldn’t be so forward but I was all alone and hungry and she seemed nice. On the walk to the center, I was talking with her colleagues and they were all really nice. Half way there they wanted to stop to grab a beer, but because I was hungry and just wanted to go home after dinner. I said that I would just continue by myself, but they refused. And we went somewhere closer to eat, le petit marche.
When we got there they asked me what I wanted to eat. I didn’t really want to eat fish, but that appeared to be my only choice. But they pointed out 2 marmites (pots). I decided to investigate, after opening 1 pot I decided that that was enough, that I was going to eat fish. I asked what was in the marmite and they responded l’elephant. I wasn’t sure if I heard that correctly, because I know out in the East there is a lot of bush meat, but ELEPAHNT! I have never heard of anyone eating elephant! But they verified it not once, but three times. I decided NO on the elephant, especially since I was going to have to voyage back to my village, and I wouldn’t have wanted to if I was having stomach issues and who knows what would happen with elephant??(I say this delicately, but they really don’t lie, PCVs really do talk about their bowel movements, in fact we talk about it pretty much daily, I never thought I would, but I do ahaha…) So I decided to play it safe with the fish. The English teacher’s colleagues were are very nice and polite and I am glad that we had a nice talk about Cameroon and America (Yay goal 2!). After dinner I caught a moto back to my hotel and went to bed.
The next day at the workshop was pretty much the same, except they said to be there at 9 but they didn’t show up until 930. And then all the workshops were supposed to stop at 11 for the closing ceremony which didn’t start until 1430. So I was basically sitting in my desk when people kept coming up to me and asking what “La blanche” was doing here. After awhile this gets annoying, especially when you can smell the alcohol on their breath. So finally when one man wouldn’t stop calling me “La Blanche” and wondering out loud why I was mad and if I hated Africans. I finally turned to him and told him my name isn’t “La Blanche” and then I asked him how he would like it if I called him “Le Noire” and then he got offended, because he obviously didn’t like it. Thankfully there was another man who was very nice and polite and explained that it is impoli to call Americans or Europeans, or basically anyone by their skin color, and that HE as a teacher should know better! I love people like that, who stick up for me! It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I really appreciate it.
After the closing speeches, we finally finished around 16, and then we proceeded to “Item 11” or food! After eating, some of my colleagues walked to the center of town to catch a car going to Bertoua, so we could just hop off in Dimako. Unfortunately I always get in the WRONG car, because everyone was fighting with the chauffeur over the price. They kept saying that it was 1500CFA (3$) to go to Bertoua and 1500CFA (3$) to go to Dimako, even though Bertoua is 30km from Dimako. Many people thought that price was unfair, I just kept quiet and just went with what the majority thought. After we had failed to get them to lower the price, we still had to wait an hour to fill up the bus. Unfortunately, at this time the sun had started falling and it was getting dark. Although I was in a hurry to get home before it was completely dark, the chauffeur, however, was not in the same mindset. He stopped for everyone on the side of the road, even if they weren’t in a village. At one point there were 21 people in the first 4 rows alone. That doesn’t include the last 2 rows, where there was at least 12 people plus a couple of children. By my estimation, there were 40 people in this Coaster bus at one time. I think that might be a record even in Cameroon.
This bus ride had to be one of the most amusing, at least of my time so far (this is including the time, I got conned and didn’t even end up with a seat, during site visit). It seemed as if one thing after another had happened on this trip. First off the charger, the guy who helps the chauffeur, collect money and load the bus with both people and bags, refused to give me my 500 CFA change. He said that he was going to use it to help another passenger pay. Fortunately my colleagues stood up for me and got my 500 CFA back. It is very ironic, because he wouldn’t accept money from this one woman, because she didn’t have it all right away and when she got off the bus, she just left without paying. I think he should have at least taken what money she had offered, but I guess that is just his loss.
All along the way we kept picking up people and when we were finally full (even by Cameroonian passengers), some of the people offered to pay the ones who just got on to get off because there was just no more room. Unfortunately, they didn’t take the offer. I really wish they had left, because within the group was the craziest man ever! He wouldn’t leave me alone and kept trying to talk to “La Blanche,” for some reason he thought I was Spanish so kept trying to speak Spanish (even though I haven’t spoken Spanish since high school, I knew that what he was saying had NO relation to Spanish, in fact it was more Franglais) He kept trying to talk to me using anything he had, from saying that he was a handsome man, to trying to give me a dead porcupine. He kept waving the dead animal in my face, and for those of you who had any doubts, that is NOT the way to court me. He would not give up for a good 30 minutes, and kept trying to get me to leave the van with him. But the funniest thing was that when he finally left he fought with the charger over the porcupine, he succeeded in getting it, but then someone in the bus said “But the white is staying with us!” It was very funny. I think that this was honestly the funniest ride I’ve had in Cameroon, but luckily (I guess) I have 22 more months to see if that will hold out.
On Wednesday, school went back to normal (especially since no teachers or admin was there). But while I was teaching the sophomores, I heard this noise; I wasn’t sure if it was an animal or a person screaming in pain and looked out across the street, where the gendarmes offices are. And saw that it was a woman screaming and there was a crowd gathering. I asked my class what the commotion was all about and they told me that it was people being sent to prison, in ironically Abong Mbong, where I had just come from. The funniest thing about this was that they got a WHOLE bus to themselves, talk about comfortable! But I doubt the comforts of a prison in Cameroon…
Unfortunately in class on Thursday when I was doing roll call I found out that one of my 6th grade students was one of the people sent to prison. Apparently he was taking bottles from the truck that had fallen on Sunday. That wasn’t the problem I guess, but that he argued with the gendarmes when they wanted to take the bottles he had taken. I am really distraught about this because he was a great student. He clearly likes English and is good at it and the fact that a 12/13 year old got sent to prison over such a bull shit issue sucks. I really hope he comes back soon, but I’m not really sure what the procedure is for this. The only thing I can is on verra…