Dear Year-ago Georgia,
How many dollars would you have bet yourself that you’d be freezing in Africa a year into your Peace Corps service? You live on the equator, and darn it if you don’t wish you had a pair of fuzzy socks or footie pajamas.
The year you’re about to go through will be the hardest one of your entire life. You’re 22, though, so that’s not really that many years and ‘hardest’ may be a relative term. You will learn lessons you neither needed nor wanted to ever learn. I am here as the ghost of Gootee past to lead you through some of those lessons, because you’ll be letting them sink in them the hard way.
Lesson #1: You are not a superhero. Don’t drink the water.
As a wise friend once said to another slightly less wise friend who drank the tap water here “It’s good, until it isn’t.” Yes, you might have survived that one time you forgot to put bleach in your water filter. Yes, the water might run clear and you might have swallowed a little in your shower. Yes, that one time at puff puff and beans you downed an entire glass will zero ill-effects. It only takes one bad batch of water, one dead thing in the river or one leaking latrine, before you’re worshiping a porcelain god on the floor of your dirty African bathroom.
Lesson #2: There is no such thing as ‘medium-rare’ in Africa.
Doesn’t that chawarma look tasty? Freshly killed cow dripping fat onto the rotisserie below. The center of the bee-hive shaped meat tower bright pink—like a big beefy steak, but in sandwich form. Mmmmmm….
WRONG. NO. DO NOT EAT THAT SANDWICH.
Remember the porcelain god from lesson one? Well, he’s got a buddy called bucket. You, bucket, and toilet will have a seriously hot date later that night if you dare put that pita-wrapped Trojan horse in your mouth without making sure it is well, well done. Sure, you think it’s just a vector for deliciousness. As it turns out, it is also a great way to lose five pounds overnight.
Lesson #3: Whoever you are currently around is now your ‘gang’.
Life is too short to be a whiney brat who sits on a couch while other people have fun. Sure, you connected the first year with a lot of people, some more than others, but those people live really far away now and you can’t see them too often. When you’re stuck in a city you might as well suck it up and go hang out with the surrounding volunteers. Chances are, they are awesome people. Even if they’re not, that’s nothing a few beers can’t fix.
Lesson #4: Fat people make for better car rides.
It’s like an extra shock system for the shamble of a vehicle they call a car here. Plus, big mamis will let you nestle into them for the duration of the ride. The sweat’s kind of gross, but giant arms makes for good pillows.
Lesson 4.1: The car isn’t “full” until they doors don’t close. My current record involves ten people and a chicken in a 80s Honda Civic.
Lesson #5: Carry your contact case with you everywhere.
You have only a vague idea of where you’re sleeping on any day of the week. It might be in a bed, it might be on the floor. Your back is already going to hurt—spare you eyes and bring a case.
Lesson #6: You can be a bitch if it’s for a good reason.
In the states I often was told that I was ‘sweet’. Sweet is another word for pushover, for those readers that aren’t in the loop. I did a lot of nodding, I really hated when people weren’t happy with me, and if someone needed something (and often even if they didn’t) I’d give it to them.
That is not how you operate a year in. The South West was a notoriously loud and aggressive place. You have literally screamed at people over less than a dollar. You’d sometimes passive-aggressively elbow people in the market. That one time you tore down that dude and his friends who asked to marry you in a bar, hard and in pidgin. You’d do it again, too.
Sometimes you gotta show you’re the alpha female, kind of like with dog packs. If you let them run over you once, they’ll do it again. The South West runs off of screaming contests. You yell, I yell, we walk away friends. The world keeps spinning.
Note: This only works for the South West. You really scared those Muslim vendors up north with your pidgin/French/English tirades.
Lesson #7: You only really need three spices to make a delicious meal
Lesson #8: You will forget America.
You’ll only get parts of celebrity news. You’ll fail to recognize new trends. You’ll lose the ability to discern whether a song is by a Cameroonian artist or an American one—and this will scare you. There’s not much you can do about it. Just call it a fair trade for a cool adventure. You don’t need celebrities in Africa (you do, however, need quite a bit of bug repellant.)
Lesson #9: You’re going to have an awesome tan!
But really unfortunate tan lines.
You should probably wear more sunblock, while we’re on the subject.
Lesson #10: Childhood fears can be re-acquired.
You are now afraid of the dark, any loud noise, things that go bump in your ceiling at night, walking alone, heights, the Cameroonian equivalent of the Boogie Man, things that live in the forest, accidentally peeing yourself on long and bumpy car rides, and graveyards.
Lesson #11: There is never a good-enough last hug for your family and friends.
There just ain’t. You’ll miss them every day.
One year down, only a year and some change to go. How I made it to this point, I’ll never know. It’s mind-boggling to think I haven’t set foot in America for an entire year. The newest stage is bording the plane right this second, according to Facebook updates, and I’ll be usurped in my title as ‘newest, first, and only Youth Development stage’ in a mere 24 hours. I never though Cameroon could feel like home, but it does. I never thought I’d be able to hack it by myself, but I can.
So here’s to the second year, may it be chock-full of things I didn’t think I conquer.
Present Day Georgia Who is Stuck in the Bamenda Case for Another Four Days.