Grand North met Grand South this past week, thanks to a committee meeting for the National Girls’ Forum in Ngaoundere, Adamawa region. I lugged myself the ten hours to our regional capital in a Peace Corps car, then 70 seater bus. The next day logged 19 more hours on a rinky dink train, delayed due to God knows what. There Molly, my travel companion, and I shifted and slumped in our seats, trying to catch a few winks before a full day of meetings (The sleeper car was all sold out). Finally we pulled into the station a half hour after noon, having parked our rears in gear a little after 5 the previous night. Sarah and Shanna met us at the station, donning helmets and hailing motos to our brainstorming session.
The next few days are a blur of watching Girls on a small computer, ten of us gathered around, a toga party, countless sheets of flipchart paper being scribbled on, furrowed brows, tired eyes and a praising of the computer Gods for causing no major malfunctions during our massive type-up sessions. Peanut dusted brochettes were snacked on, chai was consumed, naps were taken, and an overdose of internet was becoming a distinct possibility with every passing minute on Facebook.
As a reward for our hard work (and a longing to see my friend Sean) Molly and I continued north to the North region. There we were met with heat and savannahs stretching for miles. If I live in Tarzan, Sean lives in the Lion King. We took walks around the baobabs and sat to watch the sunset. We explored the capital city of Garoua, a short drive from Sean’s. We managed to explore a literacy center and the artisanal market, where I made a surprising find of an actual leopard-skin wallet. I slurped smoothies at a well know Peace Corps hang-out and shoved head-sized mangoes into my mouth.
The Grand North has always been touted by Peace Corps volunteers to be a completely different world than the Grand South. Cameroon is known as Africa in Miniature, and is said to have all the major ecosystems found in the continent. Even knowing this I felt underprepared for what I ran into. Not only is the environment different, a slow rippling heat contrasted with my heavy and oppressive heat, the people are also unlike anyone I know in little ol’ Nguti.
The Grand South seems to be a hotbed of agitation. We drink too much, fight too much, and are generally ‘hot and bothered’. Pidgin is a language unable to be spoken at anything below 50 decibels and if someone isn’t staring you in the eye and giving you a hard time, they’re not actually happy to see you. Screaming at people is a daily thing for me, a way of life. I’ve fallen in step with the rhythm of’ I scream at you for giving me a whiteman price, you yell at me about me trying to cheat you, we make a deal and I promise to come back next time, walking away laughing’.
In the Grand North I was greeted instead without so much as eye contact or a head nod. People were more reserved, but incredibly kind. When they said they wanted to just do you a favor, just talk to you, just feed you, just help you—they meant it. As a girl constantly wary about men who ‘just want to talk to me’ it felt strange to unwind and let go of my snappish attitude and constantly flippant sarcasm. It had been a long time since I ran into generosity without a catch.
Even the racist generalization of choice, ‘nassarra’, rolled off the tongue more eloquently than the grating taunt of ‘whiteman’. Where in my village I hear a nasally ‘whiteman, dash me some ting!’ I instead just heard ‘nassarra, bonjour’ or ‘nassarra, ca va?’ The malicious tone involved with picking out and taunting an outsider was gone.
This isn’t to say that I don’t miss what is now home here in Cameroon. In Nguti I can be brash, brazen, potty mouthed me and there isn’t a person that glances twice. My hair remains uncovered, I wear what I want to, and I’m considered elite in my community, which comes with the ability to be outspoken and contradictory with no adverse consequences. Not to mention, I’m a day’s travel from the beach.
Now my northern trip is over, much to my chagrin. I really enjoyed my time there and hope to go back as soon as I’m able. But, a week or more away from post starts to eat away at you, especially when you’re missing a puppy and a postmate back west. Until next time, I’ll leave you with a few pictures of my tour de nord.