Y’all, I’m homeless. I don’t have Nguti and I don’t have Atlanta anymore. I’m just a floating speck making my way from place to place in this big ol’ world. The most current place this speck has managed to land? The Yaounde volunteer transit house, also known as ‘The Case’.
Pronounced ‘cause’, the Case is the mothership for volunteers. Like a mothership, it too is an alien world. 24 beds, a bevy of couches, a place that passes for a kitchen—this is the breakdown of the Yaounde Case.
This place has the stylings of a poor frat house. Walls are adorned with the occasional map, a possible picture, and all the signatures of previous volunteers. The tradition goes back several years: If you peace out, you sign out. Scrawls have made their way onto ceilings, beams, and most other available surfaces. Bookshelves house out-of-date books and the occasional best-seller. Topping these shelves are knickknacks left behind by PCVs, some quite beautiful and others worthy of head scratching. Couches are mismatched, the curtains the decedents of previous sheets, but I’ll be damned if we don’t have the nicest television in town.
The Living Room:
At any point in time, a baker’s dozen or so manages to populate the couches at the Case. Strategic battles are won and lost over the power strips that provide juice for the ever present laptop every PCV has situated in their lap. A standard sight is a laptop per person, a movie playing on the television, a video streaming from Youtube, a Skype date happening, and perhaps a iTunes playlist being broadcasted over someone’s speakers. The living room also functions as a dining room, disco hall, therapist’s chamber, home office, and napping grounds, depending on the volunteer.
The epicenter of volunteer debauchery, this is where everything goes right, or wrong, in the Case. I’ve been here for meals so amazing we cheered with each forkfull. I’ve also been here for culinary disasters so pitiful that I left the building just to escape the acrid output of a failed feast. All volunteers store their food here, and despite warnings, some forget to label their food with their name. Forgetting something like that provides almost instantaneous feedback, and it’s a promise that the next to time you peek in the fridge to grab your soda, yogurt, smoothie or sandwich, you’ll be shedding a few tears when you see the empty space on the shelf where you food once lived. Label or die is the law in these parts.
The Case houses four separate sleeping quarters for those passing through. The largest is labeled the Brady Bunch Room, each set of beds being named after a kid from the show. Sleeping up to twelve, it’s six bunk beds situated in an air-conditionless room. Luckily, Yaoundé is known for fairly fair weather, and the heat at night isn’t what keeps you up. Instead it’s the 11 other people muttering, snoring, or occasionally screaming in their sleep. Most volunteers are on the anti-malarial mefloquin, a drug known to cause vivid (and sometimes, terrifying) dreams. Some of us act these out a little louder than others. Other possible rooms to sleep in are air-conditioned Scooby Doo (bunk beds Shaggy and Scooby), the en-suite-bathrooomed Three Stooges (bunks Larry, Moe, and Curly) and the coveted quiet room, which bears no pop culture references. What it lacks in pithy names it makes up in comfort. Currently, one of the two full-sized, double mattressed beds has reports of bed bugs, so the room sleeps just one. For the duration of my Yaoundé stay, that one … is me.
Another source of abject thievery, no toiletry is safe in the Case bathrooms. Though making the mistake of leaving around soap, razors, or shampoo is asking for pilfering, the pain of not knowing who might have washed their butt with your Dove is assuages a little by the fact that these bathrooms come complete with piping hot, steam inducing water. Pores open, shoulders relax, and cares melt away if you’re lucky enough to be in the Case at a time where a longer-than-5-minute shower is a possibility. Expect someone to check the handle or accidentally turn off your light approximately every 30 seconds.
Though we are old enough to spearhead development work in third world countries, we are not old enough as a whole to keep a transit house anywhere near sanitary. It doesn’t help that Cameroonian things have a way of appearing grimy, even when scoured. No home here actually looks clean to the naked eye. In Nguti I had the option of sweeping as many times a day as I could muster: the dirt was still there. The Case is no different, except that instead of one human and one dog contributing to the filth, it’s 20 plus white people trying to take a break. Luckily for us, we do have a housekeeper on weekdays. He is amazing and rights all of our wrongs. Weekends however, appear like a post-apocalyptic wasteland came to town. Mice often scurry in and out of strategic hiding places (read: our luggage), roaches the size of mice meander around in search for crumbs. Mosquitoes like houseflies land on any part of the body they can find.
Even with all the bad, the Case has a lot of good. For instance, it’s housing me for the next month for the low, low price of 500CFA, or a dollar, per night. I get my own room thanks to some luck, get to check out the latest movies, and get free internet with which to Skype family and friends. Sure, it’s like living in a bad sitcom, but in a way, it’s home.