In just a few days I’ll saunter onto a stage, sweaty palms and half a ream of paper in hand, and give my second pidgin speech at a Peace Corps swearing-in ceremony. I’ll likely smile too big, and perhaps will even forget my own name. At this point, it’s all just par for the course.
Of course, this time the ceremony isn’t my own, but the ceremony of the trainees I joined for two weeks this past October. Their induction marks the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps Cameroon, and in celebration the government of Cameroon and head honchos at PC/Cameroon have joined together to put on what should be quite a show.
In preparation, I’ve obviously written a speech. Less obviously, I’ve commissioned an entirely new outfit, pieced together a playlist to sound at our North West region booth, and… practiced my make-up.
Make-up might be towards the top of the list of ‘ways I’ve changed during my service’. I know I’m preaching to the choir, and the people reading this largely knew the Georgia that took place in America, but since puberty I have been an advocate of make-up, for reasons that are both personal and societal.
Personally, I enjoy make-up. Before school, work, or downtime with friends it was ceremonious, almost, in its application. I went through my favorite songs on my iPod and slowly and purposefully broke out the concealer, foundation, eye liner, eye shadow, mascara, and whatever else I felt needed to grace my face for that day. I’m someone who paints as a hobby. This daily routine felt like creating a new masterpiece every time I reached for my kit of brushes and blushes.
Socially, make-up was just another way to meet expectations. Being from the south, I went to a good southern school with beautiful southern belles and handsome southern gentlemen. While some of us didn’t sport the seemingly standard-issue uniform of Uggs and Northface jackets, most women I knew wore make-up. I felt more beautiful with it on. I felt more normal with it on. A naked face was a naked me. Make-up was comforting.
Getting to Cameroon quickly dashed any hopes I had for sporting make-up on a regular basis. Hot and sweaty, Bafia forced me to pare down my daily routine, generally to just some mascara and eyeliner, a swipe of lip gloss possibly thrown in for good measure. Nguti only confirmed that wearing make-up would be a rarity. I stood out enough at is, painting my face in a small rural village with humidity of 99 % only guaranteed I would be a mascot for weird-white-woman-kind. Make-up was pushed to wayside.
Now that I’m in the North West, it gets broken out more often. It’s cooler here and sweating off half an hour of work is less of a risk. Still, I haven’t in all of my time here applied the amount of make-up that is currently residing on my face. Just an hour ago, I decided tonight would be the night for a television test run. If I was going all out for my pidgin speech on Wednesday, I had to take a crack at it before the big day. For the first time in over a year I’m wearing quite literally everything I packed in my make-up bag somewhere on my visage. Even lipstick.
And how do I feel? Well, I feel like I have a bunch of crap on my face and I’m afraid to touch anything for fear it’ll smear and be ruined. Sure, I look a little better. Fancier, maybe. More dressed up. But honestly, the difference between Georgia before and Georgia after (picture below) is not astounding. Looks like I found out the hard way that spending hundreds of dollars every year on crap from the same aisle that houses all the other accoutrement that women don’t need is, indeed, at least a partially wasted effort, especially if you have zero televised appearances that day. All it took was a year in Africa.